Paul Hammer has overseen TWC interns at Izar Capital Group, a private market merchant bank and strategic advisory group he co-founded in 2003, for the past five years. A boutique shop, Izar Capital welcomes veteran interns into a business world they have likely had little to no experience navigating. From his perspective, it is the maturity, leadership and drive veteran interns bring to the job that have proven most impressive.
In observation of Veterans Day, The Washington Center will honor our interns who have served in the military in addition to their academic pursuits, and celebrate our internship partners - like Izar Capital Group - that host them. The Veterans Employment Trajectory (VET) Initiative helps student veterans translate their unique blend of military and college skills into successful careers.
What is your name and role at this organization?
My name is Paul Hammer and I am a Senior Managing Director for Izar Capital Group. I am also a co-founder of Izar, which was established in 2003.
When you were starting your first internship or entry-level position, what piece of advice do you wish you had been given? Would it still be applicable to your current veteran intern? Why or why not?
There were no such things as internships - as we think about them now - when I was starting out. The reality for entry-level positions, though, is that they are basically the same today as when I started. My advice is the world is a lot bigger than you think. This isn’t a veteran-only comment, this applies to any intern or person starting a career. People don’t fully understand or expect the level of competition out there. There are seven billion people competing for your job. Second, which is probably the hardest, especially given that everyone comes into an internship or first job theoretically with great skills and resume, the humbling thing I wish I had been told by somebody is that you’re relatively useless for quite a long period of time in a new organization. The sooner you realize that, the more absorbent you’re going to be about the norms, language, rules, models, etc. that govern the way that place works. If you can put aside all of your previous successes and just be a sponge, those individuals rocket to the top much faster than people who think they’ll apply their awesomeness from the start. You don’t know how to use your awesomeness yet. I think those are really important, especially for veterans because, in the military, you are taught to add value immediately. Taking a step back and absorbing things and then moving forward is a massive help and I wish I had done that.
Has your organization made it a priority in the past to employ veterans? If so, what spurred your organization to do this?
We’re a small, boutique shop. Therefore, our hiring needs are very exclusive. I think having the experience of hosting so many veteran interns since we started five years ago, several interns each year, we definitely would hire a veteran if it fit our needs. We would tend to think the veteran mindset is more mature and more developed than a typical non-veteran, if I can generalize. They’ve shouldered greater responsibilities than your typical college intern. Our last veteran intern was incredible: great leadership and smart, a model employee.
Are there unique skills that veterans bring to your organization?
Absolutely. We have a tough working environment as corporate finance problem solvers. For younger people who are joining us, they have to have the ability to understand that the little things that typically occupy one’s mind during the daily grind need to be pushed aside quickly. So far, I find veterans have the better ability to do that because they’re more mature. There’s also that leadership quality among veterans. If you’re working among a small team, under high pressure and needing high achievement, you have to be able to work well with people under strict timelines.
Given that veterans’ prior work experience was with other veterans, how do they interact with new colleagues who may have only known civilian life?
Veteran means a lot of things, it doesn’t just mean combat veteran. It could be medical, technology, combat; the military is a large organization and provides a diversity of experiences. Some veterans may have had more contact outside the military than others. Sometimes you have square pegs for round holes that have to be figured out, and for others their leadership wins out. Our most recent intern was great. He was a combat vet. He took the time and effort to mentor others who were part of the team and set the tone through his professionalism. That’s a quality I would expect veterans to have that others may initially lack.
Have you witnessed veterans contribute valuable insights to a task or project based upon their service?
The one quality that has shined through in our experience is leadership. We are a corporate finance problem solving shop. That doesn’t have a direct translation to anything the military does. Whether calling it project management or leadership, there absolutely is a much more mature outlook that is present among veteran interns’ approach toward getting things done, to allocating tasks and assigning responsibilities to team members in terms of achievement.
Is there potential for upward mobility within your organization for the veterans you employ? If so, are there personal success stories of specific veterans who have risen through the ranks of your organization that you can recall?
We are absolutely looking to hire the best. We would love to have our most recent intern as a new hire. The subtle trade we enter into with our interns is they give us their all and we try to propel their career while they are here or when they are looking for their next gig. I’ve written many, many references for grad school or a next job, basically anything they may move onto after this. If they do well here, we owe that to them for the rest of their careers. We have our own LinkedIn alumni group for just our interns. Whether they want to talk with me anymore or not, they can talk with their peers and get value before, after or during their internship.
Maturity is unattainable without pure life experience. That is something a vet is most likely to provide. The overall leadership mentality of no whining, get things done is required in military service.
Is there anything that working among veterans over the past few months has taught you of which you were previously unaware?
Living in D.C., in my industry, I am around senior level military folks, professionally and socially. I would argue those people are tops in our society, based on what I’ve seen. They are always learning, always pursuing another Master’s degree, always striving to do better. I think those are qualities that America would be better served if we all had. We seem to reach a point after college or grad school where we think that’s enough. Now it is about me. How comfortable can I make my life. That’s a horrible way as a society to continue your betterment. Working with vet interns has only confirmed my observation and expectations.
How would you convince a hiring manager not experienced in hiring veterans that it is a worthwhile decision to make?
Look at the composition of a team, what is needed to create a high performance team for you? To me, that would require some element of maturity. Maturity is unattainable without pure life experience. That is something a vet is most likely to provide. The overall leadership mentality of no whining, get things done is required in military service. That’s attitudinal. That isn’t codified by books or lectures and that is what a veteran will bring to your organization and why they are valuable hires. Our business is serious work. We’re not giving out jobs. It is a massive time, energy and intellectual commitment to the people we bring in here to mentor and offer an opportunity to see things that they may never have seen serving in the military. The trade for that is we want people who can add value to the team. As part of a team, our veterans have proven that ability and fulfill a pretty important role.
The VET Initiative offers student veterans a path to demonstrate the skills and experience acquired from their service and make significant contributions to the civilian world. If you’re a student veteran looking to transition to the civilian professional world, find out more about the VET Initiative.