Hire a Leader – Hire an NCO


By Debbie Gregory.

The unemployment rate for Post-9/11 Veterans in September, 2012 was 11.7%,  and was lowered to 9.1% as of September, 2013. Veteran jobs and Veteran hiring programs are responsible for lowering that percentage. Over the last few years, most large corporations that do business in the U.S. have implemented various versions of programs designed to hire, train and employ Veterans. While these Veteran job creators have done a tremendous job in dropping the unemployment rate for post-9/11 Vets, there is one glaring concern about their application and hiring process.

Many employers who are aggressively promoting their Veteran hiring initiatives are also automatically disqualifying individuals for certain leadership, management and administrative positions based solely on whether or not an applicant was an Enlisted Service Member or a Commissioned Officer. Companies such as General Electric and Booz/Allen/Hamilton, among others, have separate career paths for Enlisted Veterans than what they offer for Commissioned Veterans. While these companies realize the high level of leadership and administrative experience that Commissioned Officers possess, they are failing to recognize the leadership experience and administrative abilities that former Non-commissioned Officers (NCO’s) have to offer.

NCO’s are the Enlisted leaders of our Armed Forces. NCO’s have earned the reputation as the “backbone” of the military. While it’s true that a lot of the major decision making comes from the commissioned ranks, those orders and all decisions for day-to-day operations are carried out by NCO’s. Images of the formidable Drill Instructor, yelling in a recruit’s face, the stalwart Petty Officer keeping his sailors calm on deck, and men in helmets taking their lead from a man they call “Sarge” are all examples of the tradition of the NCO that movies, books and TV shows idolize. These men and women are the everyday face-to-face leadership that command, control, reward and reprimand our troops. Companies should make sure that they don’t dismiss the talents and experience on NCO’s based solely on whether or not they were saluted.

Companies should always choose the candidate that is best suited for the open position at their company. They should also hire according to their standards. And Commissioned Officers are great assets to any company. But if an enlisted Veteran who earns a Master’s degree and a Commissioned Veteran with a Bachelor’s degree apply for the same job, these companies would automatically reject the Enlisted Vet; according to their current hiring filters. The purpose of this article is not to chastise employers for their hiring practices, but to educate them on a valuable resource that they may not be recognizing. If companies can see the value in hiring battle-tested leaders into roles more fitting their experience, there might be fewer open management spots available in the job searches. And who knows, maybe the unemployment rate for this generation of warriors might actually lower another 2%, falling under the 7.4% unemployment rate for non-Veterans.