In spite of a strong work ethic and dedication to mission accomplishment, many veterans continue to find it difficult to secure a position in the civilian workforce. The Center for a New American Security conducted interviews with 87 individuals from 69 companies to find out why this may be the case, from an employer perspective. This information is valuable from the perspective of a veteran searching for a job so that they can overcome these hurdles, but also from the perspective of employers who would benefit by helping to bridge the gap.
1. Skills translation
Unless veterans are applying for defense contracting jobs, they have to translate their military skills into civilian terms. Civilians don't always understand military acronyms, MOS, or military terminology, and they aren't going to take the time to learn.
Veterans should seek out someone from the desired industry to review your resume. Another option for veterans is to try a job skills translator, such as the one found on Military.com, to turn their military lingo into civilian, work-friendly keywords. Large companies tend to use programs that screen resumes for proper keywords. If a resume doesn't contain the right key words, you are unlikely to pass the initial screening process.
Employers are taking the correct first step by visiting Military.com for articles such as this, but can further their efforts to meet veterans in the middle by familiarizing themselves with the skills translator, so that when they see veteran resumes, they are better equipped to understand what the applying veterans have accomplished.
2. Skill mismatch.
The military helped transform the men and women of the armed forces into leaders with excellent work ethics, but that does not mean veterans are trained to do every job. Veterans would do well to remember that employers are looking for specific skills, not just general potential. If you don't have the skills required, consider taking classes in the specific field, look for volunteer opportunities, and consider temp agencies or work you can do on the side. See job listings in your industry of choice to identify what employers are looking for, or ask someone you know in that industry for an informational interview, then hone in on the skills you need to improve.
Employers should keep an open mind and make it clear on job postings and websites what they are looking for. It may simply be an issue of skills translation as discussed above. However, if it is a matter of skill mismatch, being clear about what you are looking for will help future applicants ensure they are training in the right areas and targeting the right classes, internships, or other jobs as they strive to find the right fit with your company.
3. Negative stereotypes
Some employers see veterans as too rigid or formal. Other stereotypes include problems with anger management or post-traumatic stress.
One way veterans can work to overcome the stereotype of rigidity is to prepare for interviews. Have a civilian play the role of an employer and ask questions about your background, experience, and qualifications. Consider recording the interaction on your smartphone or camera, and ask the interviewer to debrief you on your presentation. If you are faced with the challenges associated with anger management or post-traumatic stress, help is available at VA facilities and Vet Centers. You can also reach out to Give an Hour or other related organizations. It may take some help to get back on your feet, but don't let that stop you from furthering your career.
Employers would benefit by remembering that this perceived rigidity is simply a sign of discipline and hard work. Veterans have learned to be adaptable and will soon learn to fit into your culture as well, especially if you make it clear what your culture is and what your expectations are.
4. Concern about future deployments
Guardsmen and reservists face challenges associated with having to miss work for deployments, especially if they are seeking employment with small businesses.
These individuals must maintain familiarity with the laws protecting reservists and be honest about their continuing military commitment. Be candid and upfront, and remember to communicate how this is good for the organization and the benefit you will bring to their mission accomplishment. It is about your development and serving your country, but we can always benefit by thinking about how our actions fit into the big picture (in this case, your potential job).
Employers should recognize that most veterans and active duty members of the military hold themselves to a high ethical standard, and will therefore be forthcoming regarding any commitments they may have. If you are dealing with deployments for guardsmen and reservists, consider the leadership and training this is instilling in your employee, and appreciate how this will help them to make a better contribution to your company's success in the future.
Some employers are concerned that veterans don't completely fit into corporate culture. Fortunately, employers can do their part to communicate their culture, so that the veteran can determine this for themselves before applying for a position with the company.
Veterans, research prospective employers and make sure you see yourself working there. Interview preparation can help you practice interacting in a less military, more corporate way. What is the corporate environment like? Is it formal? How do people dress (business or business casual)? What terms are used? Connect with someone in that industry, or better yet the company you are applying to, and ask about the cultural environment and norms.
Often the concerns employers have about veterans are simply stereotypes or small hurdles that can easily be overcome. Work with each other through communication, training, and (once on board) mentorship programs. Employers will be rewarded with discipline and strong work ethics from their new veteran employees, and veterans will be rewarded with a workplace that better understands and values them.