Why You Should Hire Employees with a Volunteer or Service Background

Stanley McChrystal thinks employers should ask job candidates, especially young people, what national service they have performed. That’s because McChrystal believes national service – in the military or with organizations such as AmeriCorps — develops essential leadership skills that American businesses sorely need.

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In fact, McChrystal believes every American should serve at least a one-year stint with some national service organization. “Serving together to solve public problems will build attachment to community and country, understanding among people who might otherwise be skeptical of one another and a new generation of leaders who can get things done.”

He should know. After retiring as a retired 4-star General from the US Army, he founded the McChrystal Group, an organization devoted to helping businesses worldwide create innovative leadership solutions.

The Vision of Service as Leadership Development

Stanley McChrystal advocates “providing at least one million opportunities each year for young Americans to spend a service year with peers who are different from them — by race, ethnicity, income, politics and religious belief.” Why? Because exposure to service among those who look, act, believe and live differently than one's self means growing, expanding and developing a greater sense of connectedness and responsibility. 

As McChrystal writes, “We could unleash the energy of our young people to tutor and mentor students in low-performing schools; support the elderly so they age with dignity; help communities respond to disasters; assist veterans reintegrating into their hometowns; and perform a thousand different tasks of value to our country.”

Employers Can Play a Pivotal Role

Past service is a hiring plus. In fact, HR managers say candidates seeking employment should volunteer as a way to boost their job-worthiness.

According to a decade-long study conducted by the Corporation for National and Community Service (which is a federal agency charged with promoting volunteerism), candidates who did volunteer work were 27% more likely to be hired. The agency explains that skills acquired through service make individuals more capable in any work environment.

Employers of National Service is a consortium made up of the Peace Corps, the Peace Corps Association, AmeriCorps Alums, the Franklin Project at the Aspen Institute, and the Corporation for National Community Service. It actively encourages hiring of national service alumni, by touting the attributes acquired while doing this work, traits such as:

  • Strong leadership skills, even in unpredictable and/or difficult environments
  • Problem solvers
  • Motivated
  • Flexible
  • Innovative
  • Passionate
  • Outcome-oriented
  • Fast learners
  • Work well with diverse teams
  • Ability to mobilize others to address pressing challenges
  • Able to achieve significant results with limited resources

What Employers Can Do

Companies can overtly solicit candidates who have national service experience. Employers of National Service actually serves as a matchmaking organization that helps AmeriCorps and Peace Corps alumni and prospective employers connect with one another. About 500 employers – public entities and non-profits as well as private companies – have joined the program so far.

The potential candidate pool is far larger — since AmeriCorps was created in 1994, more than a million individuals have served. And employers have been hiring former Peace Corps volunteers for more than five decades.

Selling service from within

Employers cannot directly offer or suggest opportunities such as AmeriCorps to existing employees, because those things are jobs in themselves. However, the broader concept of service and volunteerism is a perfect match here. Fostering a genuine atmosphere of teamwork and belonging is key to retention, and an increasing number of employees are focused on community, sustainability, and making a positive impact. 

So companies are increasingly promoting volunteering individually or as part of a corporate-sponsored group. And they’re selling these opportunities as part of their company’s benefits package.

Business News Daily notes that, “Creating a culture of volunteerism within your company doesn’t just help others, it also helps your organization.” They cite results of a Deloitte survey that showed:

  • 89% of employees say companies that sponsor volunteer activities have a better overall working environment
  • 70% say volunteer activities are better than things such as company-sponsored happy hours when it comes to boosting morale
  • More than 75% say volunteering is essential to their well-being as an employee

Unfortunately, not even 40% of employers have such programs in place. But employees don’t always get it, either, says Deloitte. And that presents a golden educational opportunity for employers. For example, 75% of millennials claim they would be more willing to volunteer if they knew how their service is actually helping. (Over all ages, that figure is 61%.)

Employers are also in an ideal position to teach employees how volunteering benefits them as individuals, personally and on the job. While 80% of hiring managers see volunteerism as a leadership indicator when it comes to promoting employees, a mere 18% of employees realize their volunteer work can help them get ahead at work. Even more surprising, more than a third don’t think of volunteering as a way to develop new skills. Yet these are some of the very reasons forward-thinking companies promote service.

America’s Charities “inspires employees and organizations to support causes they care about.” They get right to the bottom line, noting that companies that offer volunteer and skills giving programs can save money by boosting retention. “Replacing top performers can cause service disruptions for your customers and requires a substantial amount of financing, extensive training, employee workload balancing, and handling cultural shifts.”

Encouraging employee involvement, on the other hand, boosts engagement. And, according to a PwC study, companies with the highest levels of employee engagement “realize substantially better customer engagement, higher productivity, better retention, fewer accidents, and 21% higher profitability.” Engaged workers are even healthier.

Reap the Benefits of Promoting National Service and Volunteerism 

“If you’re an employer who wants to hire talented, dedicated, patriotic, skilled, tireless, energetic workers, look to AmeriCorps, look to Peace Corps… Citizens who perform national service are special. You want them on your team.” So said President Barack Obama in 2014.

Your company can take proactive steps to add these individuals to your team. You can also establish a program that encourages existing employees to volunteer their time and skills to serve the greater community, either individually or as direct representatives of your organization. Stanley McChrystal would be proud. And everyone can reap the benefits.

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