At first glance, the recent reports on the employment of veterans make it seem like things are looking up. For example, the overall unemployment rate for all veterans dipped down to 6.6 percent this year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
However, post 9/11 veterans have a 50 percent greater unemployment rate than the average civilian population, and even though studies show, according to Crain’s Detroit Business, that it’s good for business to hire veterans, it remains true that they have a more difficult time finding the jobs they want than their fellow non-veterans.
Veterans who are still searching also claim that they face discrimination or a general sense of hesitancy from hiring managers due to preconceived misconceptions or generalizations about their mental state or applicable skills. This forces them to remain jobless or in low-paying positions well below their expertise, such as janitorial or security work. The pool of unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is also expected to grow and outpace the rest of the general population, making it more important than ever to address this issue head-on. James Jones, co-chair of the non-profit Call of Duty in Arlington, Virginia, earnestly states, “There is still much work to be done for our nation’s youngest veterans.”
We reached out to lead HR professionals and asked them about the advice they give the veterans they work with who are looking to transition into the civilian workforce. Subsequently, we have compiled the following list detailing the most important points for veterans to consider.
1) Use Your Benefits
Take the time to research and understand the multitude of resources and benefits available for individuals in your unique situation, both before and after service. The government has propelled an array of measures forward, including various education and transition programs. According to Tobin Pilotte, a VP of Marketing and Technology (for Forward March Inc.), “taking advantage of education benefits and working on a degree is a very valuable way that one can advance their career opportunities before [or after] exiting the military.” According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, roughly half of all veterans do not use these education benefits, but doing so will help you become an even more competitive candidate.
Pilotte also notes the value of military training and credentialing that will translate to various career fields, providing licenses and certifications that are great for putting on a resume. Furthermore, all five branches of the armed forces have their own credentialing and transition assistance programs, such as COOL (Credentialing Opportunities On-Line), which aids Army soldiers in identifying the certifications and licenses that relate best to their Military Occupational Specialties (MOSs).
However, some claim that current veteran initiatives fail to take a comprehensive approach to the issue. We suggest that rather than depending on these programs alone as a solution, use them as a tool to educate, empower and prepare yourself. In the end, the goal is to build a complete tool kit out of the existing tips and resources available to you.
2) Leverage Your Unique Experience
According to Derek Bennett, chief of staff for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, “there are some job skills a number of young veterans pick up during their time in the military that translate fairly well to jobs outside their branch of service,” such as leading troops in combat, managing highly-valuable equipment, and serving as leaders. With their qualifications, and having been previously screened by the government in a process that 80 percent of the country would fail, as Bennett explains, veterans should have an unemployment rate of zero.
Veterans have a drive and work ethic, among many other qualities, that distinguishes them from other candidates. Peter Leighton is a Senior V.P. of Recruiting for Combined Insurance, a company that makes it a priority mission to seek and hire veterans. He emphatically states that veterans are uniquely dedicated, passionate, hardworking, and goal-oriented. Their discipline and commitment to helping others, along with their experience with training and authority, truly sets them apart. They manage time well and know how to lead or function as part of a team. “These are all traits we see in our most successful agents,” he says.
However, Leighton clearly identifies one of the largest parts of the problem: “many [veterans] don’t understand how to extract those qualities from their military positions and repackage them on their resumes.” This leads us to the next step.
3) Prepare for Writing Your Resume
While this tip can be seen on any average job-prep list, it is especially important for veterans to pay close attention to. A common challenge for veterans is being able to translate their unique skills into terms that relate to corporate or civilian roles. They are said to struggle to connect and need a hands-on, personal approach for communication. You can potentially take lessons learned from using actual translators in the fields of foreign countries and apply it here.
After you’ve identified the industry or position you want to transition into, do your research and map out the skills that repeatedly come up. From there, you need to learn the language of an HR manager or lead recruiter of that industry and be able to translate your military skills into that civilian language. Distinguish between what’s relevant and what’s not and go from there. As Leighton points out, “most civilian employers wouldn’t have a need for a gunner’s mate. But we know that gunner’s mates are analytical, good managers, detail-oriented, strategic thinkers, problem solvers, and are comfortable operating and servicing machinery, which are all desirable and employable qualities.”
To start, however, it’s vital to point out the importance of becoming familiar with the tools and platforms hiring and recruiting managers use. How will they be looking at you? The truth is, more often than not, your first impression will appear on a piece of word-processed paper. Many people, veteran and non-veteran, make the mistake of thinking this is the easiest step. There are a multitude of things that need to be learned about the technology and format that you will ultimately need to use to present yourself, and these tools are not as intuitive as you might think. Ensure that you don’t get lost in translation at the expense of an avoidable mistake and enroll in certified training courses to adequately equip yourself.
4) The New Interview
While there are countless articles that detail all the various ways to approach the interview stage, this key process may prove to be a different challenge for veterans. As Bennett points out, “you have to talk about yourself and for some vets, that’s tough to do. For years they were worried about the team, not the individual.” This is when honing in your confidence becomes paramount. Don’t be afraid to ask for help practicing, or do so in the mirror, as this proves to be a useful exercise for getting used to speaking in a specific way about yourself.
According to Joseph Terach, CEO of a resume resource company (resume deli), another unique challenge of this process is the fact that some questions that veterans will have to face vary greatly from the run-of-the-mill list. These can include, What do you see as the biggest challenge to transitioning from your service position to the private sector? What is your time commitment for reserve duty and will that interfere with your work here? What is your most relevant accomplishment as it pertains to this job? Take the time to think about these questions and talk about your answers with people you trust will know how to guide you.
5) Reconnect and Network
After being largely disconnected for so long, with mere blips in communication to and from home, it’s important for veterans to remember how connected today’s world is, and how they can use that to their advantage. There are more ways and opportunities to network that extend beyond career fairs. Career fairs are extremely useful, and you should adequately research and invest in those opportunities, but don’t neglect the options at your fingertips. Research various online groups for transitioners while also utilizing well-known social platforms like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Don’t shy away from letting people know what you’re looking for, whether that be by word of mouth or status updates. Use and widen your network with the knowledge that they will want to support you.
At Webucator, we know that unemployment, especially for our military veterans, is a problem. Our servicemen and women have sacrificed selflessly to serve on our behalf and deserve our support on their journey into the private workforce. We’re happy to now be offering free Microsoft training courses every month, and giving back with unlimited free self-paced classes in Microsoft Office, Photoshop, and more with the coupon code ‘VETERANS‘. We hope these resources help veterans along the path of transition from military service to the civilian job market.