At Astra, we’re always on the hunt for great people who can make the right decisions, even in fast-moving situations. Shift, a VC-backed startup that works to help current and former members of the military get great jobs at great companies, is an important partner for Astra in that quest. Kelly Mullane (KM), VP of Talent at Astra, sat down with Shift founder and CEO Mike Slagh (MS) to talk about why veterans are uniquely qualified for today’s workforce, the challenges of transitioning to the private sector, and the successes Shift has seen so far.
KM: At Astra, we’re big admirers of your mission, and the candidates we’ve evaluated so far. I’m curious where the idea for Shift came from, and how your personal experience played into it?
MS: Before my time in the military, I helped get a tech company called ID.me off the ground. I was the product and tech lead for the company. I knew I eventually wanted to serve ever since I experienced 9/11 in high school, and that left a deep impression on me. But this experience of launching an ambitious startup and raising venture capital left an impression on me of the type of people you need on your side to do something that’s never been done before.
In the military, I was a bomb disposal officer in the Navy. I got to work with a group of people that I thought were some of the best problem-solvers on the planet, and everyone had incredible decision-making skills under pressure. It was like this counter narrative to what I had heard before entering the service: that members of the military are order followers, that they only thrive in hierarchical organizations where there’s always an answer. But in the last 20 years, members of the military have been operating in environments where decision-making is pushed down to very low levels. These are folks who work really well with others, no matter who they are or where they come from, who are really resilient, and excited to learn new things. That’s what the modern workforce looks like.
These are folks who work really well with others, no matter who they are or where they come from, who are really resilient, and excited to learn new things. That’s what the modern workforce looks like.
KM: That skillset is incredibly appealing to the work we do at Astra. But how do veterans find these opportunities?
MS: You can’t access opportunities that aren’t visible to you. If you don’t know what the full opportunity set holds, how can you make the best decision for yourself, or for your family? You can’t maximize your potential. That’s why a company like Shift has to exist.
KM: And what is the challenge veterans face as they’re trying to get hired in the tech world?
MS: When hiring managers see that someone has experience from a tech company, they know that experience is valuable. The thing about the world we live in is that military experience is just not very well understood by the vast majority of folks out there. There is this delta for military veterans.
KM: For us, working with Shift feels like an opportunity to not only bring in people who have served our country, but also to bring in folks with more diverse experience, which can help us make better decisions as a company. But even companies like ours have a very limited amount of time to review applications. How do you help your veterans break through that noise?
MS: In the military, you’re not really hiring or applying for jobs. You get who gets sent to you. In the private sector, the accelerant is really having full control of your own story. With veterans, where we tend to shoot ourselves in the foot is that we’ll share about our broad capabilities. I can troubleshoot a jet propulsion engine and sign a partnership agreement with senior government officials in Oman. But you need to really tailor your story and highlight your relevant skills to the jobs you’re applying for. Otherwise, we can come across with split personalities. We need a story that cuts through and makes perfect sense.
KM: What kind of success stories have you seen so far?
MS: We’ve been able to place some folks into pre-IPO companies like Okta, Snowflake and Affirm. And they’ve seen tremendous outcomes for their families. I want veterans to have great economic returns, so they can help build the future of America they want to live in, 10, 20, 30 years in the future. I refuse to live in a world where my generation of veterans is perceived or treated in the same way as my father-in-law’s generation from Vietnam. Our goal is to change that narrative and see them thrive.
KM: For companies out there who haven’t made hiring veterans a priority, why should they consider it? Why are these folks uniquely qualified for the modern workforce?
MS: The military is the most diverse workforce on the planet. And every member has been part of the biggest social experiment of all time—bootcamp, where everybody wore the same clothes and shaved their heads and had to form bonds based on mutual respect and shared values. They work well with everyone, no matter where they come from or what their politics are. They’re resilient, they can pivot fast toward new goals, and they have an obsession with learning new skills. They’re going to succeed anywhere in the modern workforce.
(Photo courtesy of Shift)