During my career I have been fortunate to have worked with ex army officers and NCO’S (non commissioned officers). One of them was my manager and today I still rank him as the best manager I have ever had. Others have been clients and candidates for roles I have been recruiting for. All of them had exceptional leadership qualities, were people I admired and knew I could trust and rely on. One of the best hedge fund sales managers would go out of his way to help me if I asked him to recommend someone for a role I was working on.

Recruiters and hiring managers use traditional job descriptions which are usually a list of things the person must have, such as 5 years experience, degree, language skills, knowledge of x, y, z and which is then followed by a list of personality traits (which are hard to measure as they are often very subjective) such as self starter, takes initiative, team player. Then the final part is a list of responsibilities and duties. These are used to filter out people who don’t have the things on the list. There are two problems that this creates and the first is that it does not define superior performance and since everyone wants to hire a superior performer this will not help you to do this.

 If you want to hire a superior performer, you must first define what superior performance is.

The second problem is that it screens out some of the best performers.

If traditional job descriptions were used rigidly in the financial industry and in the executive search business then no ex army personnel would ever be hired as recruiters or as sales people.

What ex army officer, the day they resign their commission, has 5 years sales experience selling derivatives to institutional clients or helping a hedge fund raise $100 million from institutional clients?

Fortunately some people have more common sense and apply a different logic when it comes to hiring top performers. One way to sum up that different approach is to look for people who have done something comparable to what you want them to do.

Let’s look in more detail how this simple but overlooked idea has been used to hire ex army officers into the financial industry and in to the executive search profession with some great results.

 The two core traits of all successful people are:

  1. Talent * Energy squared (where Energy = drive, ambition, determination, hard work, personal energy, motivation)
  2. Interpersonal Skills (specifically the ability to get others to cooperate)

If you are an officer in the UK army it takes drive, ambition, determination to reach that level. Contrary to what people might assume about army officers they don’t just order the men under their command around but tend to lead by example, build trust, gain respect, treat people in a respectful manner and expect high standards. This instills confidence in their leadership and men under their command will give their full cooperation when it is required. Officers are well aware of the term friendly fire.

Ok so what if they have these core traits how does that make them suitable for sales and recruitment and how does the term comparable come into it.

Job specific traits: All successful people have the 2 core traits but they must also have the job specific traits for the role that needs to be filled.

  1. UK ex army officers are superbly well organised – its been drilled into them for years. This ability has moved from conscious learning to unconscious processing. They don’t have to think about it anymore, it’s not even a discipline for them, they just operate in this way just as if it was walking across the room. In real terms it means a well-organised desk, office, files, marketing material, computer and any other resources. They will know where everything is and in sales and recruiting this is a must. You need this trait to achieve the measurable tangible results in either sales or recruiting.
  2. Ex UK army officers are goal oriented. All military exercises are goal oriented, all training is goal oriented and so every sales person and recruiter has to be goal oriented.
  3. They are superb planners and strategists. Both essential qualities for sales & recruitment.
  4. They are engaging and confident and as a general rule tend to be tall (yes we are still primitive in our response to tall people and statistics show tall people holding more senior positions in companies). Good qualities when selling and interviewing.
  5. They have excellent presentation skills as it is part of the work they do.
  6. They are intelligent with many holding advanced degrees gained during their service. This allows them to learn about finance, complex solution selling, the structure of business sectors etc.
  7. They are problem solvers. They need to be able to solve problems in battle which range from lack of resources, faulty equipment, unpredictable weather conditions, different cultures and values to name a few. All recruiters and sales people face problems and must be able to adapt quickly to come up with improvised, creative and innovative solutions.
  8. They are analytical.
  9. They do not blame others for their failure or lack of success. The best sales people and recruiters ultimately know that they are largely responsible for their own success.
  10. They know how to persuade, influence and motivate. This is exactly what sales people and recruiters must do to win business, negotiate compensation and change people’s minds.

You can tie each of these traits to the expected results in both these professions. It's not just about having the traits it’s about directly linking the traits to the results that need to be accomplished.

Does this mean that all ex UK army officers will be successful in these two professions? No, it does not, and if it were that simple the banks and hedge funds and executive search firms would be awash in army officers.

  1. You may have drive, be ambitious, determined but if your are not motivated to do a specific type of work you wont be successful. Not every army officer would like to work in these professions. Some may be more motivated to go into an operations role but what ever role they take on, their chances of success will be directly linked to doing a comparable role - not identical - just comparable.
  2. Not every officer who has gone through the experience has the right mix of the 2 core traits.

Talent shortage or not seeing where talented people have done comparable work? Hiring managers should consider anyone who has done something comparable to what they want the new hire to do and so widen the net to find more qualified candidates. If you look at your own career I bet that if you have had any kind of career change that the new role will have some comparability with your previous roles.

A word of caution: Do not look for transferable skills as this will bring you back to writing up a skills infested job description, make sure you look for comparable work. If they have done comparable work then they will have whatever it takes to do it at your company.

For job seekers this principle too has relevance. If you are looking for a career change look at new roles that might be comparable and structure your CV and what you say in the interview to show that you have done comparable work.