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Why Hire SOF?

By Patrick Twomey

According to author and marketing consultant Simon Sinek, the first big question to be considered is “why?” When it comes to veterans in the workplace, this is certainly a question many employers will start with. Why hire a veteran, particularly a Special Operations Forces (SOF) veteran? The answer is often hard to articulate, as the skills and experiences that SOF veterans possess are often difficult to translate into corporate-speak.

When comparing the résumés of two candidates, it is far easier for recruiters and hiring managers to go with the one presented in familiar language with relatable experiences. The format of a résumé and cover letter is relatively restrictive and can make it difficult for a veteran to provide a full illustration of their expertise, competence, and, perhaps most importantly, their adaptability.

Culture can also be an obstacle for veterans to overcome. Military culture and leadership emphasizes the team, military writing is typically very circumspect, and SOF culture encourages “quiet professionalism.” Conditioned to not brag about what they did in the military, it can be difficult for a veteran to describe their skills and experience in a manner that stands out. As a result, recruiters and hiring managers often have no idea what they are looking at, or they may have preconceived notions about SOF, and as a result the veteran’s résumé is often overlooked. I will try to bridge this gap in understanding, and do a little bragging on behalf of my fellow veterans and provide a few reasons to grant a more thorough reading and greater consideration to their résumés.

One of the first things any employer looks for is relevant experience. This is entirely understandable; human resources departments need to know if candidates have the required competencies. Experience gives the HR departments data to analyse and rate potential candidates. This is likely where most veteran’s prospective candidacies go off the rails. Poor translation of military duties and responsibilities into corporate-speak is one aspect of this. I would suggest another factor is an incomplete understanding of how military experience positively affects a candidate’s ability to adapt and thrive in a new job. In addition to possessing the required competencies, military experience also breeds confidence and the self-assurance required to persist in the face of adversity, and to adapt to new and changing circumstances. Military experience provides an ability to read new situations and lead or follow accordingly. This is the type of experience SOF veterans in particular have in spades.

SOF members are put through a punishing selection process that only the most resilient, calm, confident, and adaptable can pass. This is essential since SOF missions are often ambiguous. Even the most junior members of the team are given a great deal of responsibility since team sizes are usually small. The initial training Special Operators receive is comprehensive, but it is only the beginning – a foundation on which to build. Each mission or deployment is unique, and every member will have to become a subject matter expert on extremely varied specialties throughout the rest of his career. These specialties will depend on the needs of the mission and rarely on personal aptitudes or ambitions. Sometimes these extra duties will be glamourous, like becoming a sniper, but just as often these tasks will be much less glamorous but every bit as essential to mission success, such as small engine repair or cooking.

One mission I was involved in was in sub-Saharan Africa, and due to the requirement to keep the team size small and reduce the logistical support requirements of the mission the decision was made for the teams to supply and feed themselves largely from the local economy. You won’t see a burly tattooed Special Operator grocery shopping in a local market or sweating over a primitive stove on a recruiting poster, but this is precisely what I saw. It wasn’t in the least bit glamourous, but, like everything else this operator did in his job, he took it very seriously and was meticulous in his preparation so he could do the job to the best of his abilities. Food is an essential element in maintaining morale, and his diligence ensured it stayed high. He managed the food budget and the menu in addition to his regular duties, training and mentoring the local forces we were there to support.

This operator’s example is quite common. Despite popular depictions of SOF—shooting, skydiving, clearing bad guys out of buildings, etc.—there are many mundane-but-necessary activities Special Operators perform that recruiters and hiring managers are likely not aware of, be it cooking and cleaning, or employing diplomatic skills to build bonds with partners and allies. Contrary to what people may think about SOF, humility isn’t just a desired trait, it is an essential one; it is key to a Special Operator or Supporter’s ability to learn and master tasks and skills efficiently. Being humble is what enables a Special Operator or Supporter to properly learn his job, to raise his hand and ask questions instead of pretending he knows something, to do the dirty work if it is required for mission success, or better understand his colleagues and subordinates. All of this valuable experience may be missed with just a quick scan of a SOF veteran’s résumé or cover letter.

If you’re a recruiter, hiring manager or someone who reviews résumés for your company, I hope these vignettes come to mind when selecting the best candidates to help your company compete. If you’re an Operator transitioning to the civilian sector, I hope you search through your service for examples like these in order to relate to potential employers and help them see that your experience goes well beyond simply having done the duties listed in the job description.

Still serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, Patrick Twomey served with CSOR from 2006 to 2015. He is currently completing a degree in Psychology in order to become a commissioned infantry officer.

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