Employers motivated to hire military veterans often express the frustration that veterans make it hard to evaluate, assess, and qualify themselves as candidates for open positions. While many civilian employers would like to hire them, it can feel as if the veterans put stumbling blocks in the way of a smooth process.
What are Veteran Applicants Doing Wrong
Three things veteran job applicants consistently do (to the dismay of civilian employers) are:
- Present poorly written resumes. To the employer, the resume is often the first impression. Whether presented in an email, in print, or attached to the online application system, employers often see resumes from veterans that are ill-formatted, don't highlight applicable skills or experience (or show that the skills gained in the military are relevant to the civilian job for which they are applying), and are overall confusing to the civilian reader -- recruiter or hiring manager.
- Use of jargon and acronyms. The military is filled with contractions and jargon that are confusing to non-military personnel. When a resume includes acronyms without clarifications or are too acronym-heavy, civilian employers are turned off from reading more. In conversation or the interview, the use of military acronyms without explanation can be off-putting and intimidating to the listener, and appears as "posturing," thus distancing the applicant from the employer.
- Not asking questions. In the job interview, employers look forward to the questions asked by the candidates. Because most veterans have never applied for a job, and are often not skilled in interviewing, they hesitate to ask questions about the company, interviewer, or job. This is a missed opportunity!
What Can Employers Do?
When veteran applicants don't present their best selves, employers are at a disadvantage to accurately evaluate their fit for the job and the company. What can an employer do to better attract qualified veterans to their company? The answer lies in training, communication, and understanding.
- Train recruiters to read resumes. Hopefully every resume that crosses a recruiter's desk is tailored to the job description. Unfortunately, many veteran candidates have not learned to "civilianize" their experience and align their background with the specifics of the job description, making it difficult to understand. Employers can train their recruiters and hiring managers on:
- Understanding transferrable hard and soft skills from a military veteran candidate
- Assessing the jobs, roles, and awards that transfer from the military to the civilian workforce
- Developing rapport with military veterans to better elicit quality responses and descriptions of their work history
- Considering personality and character in a military veteran applicant. While the veteran applicant might lack some transferrable skills and certifications, the character traits gained could make them a compelling candidate.
- Improve communication. Help civilian recruiters and hiring managers learn how to get deeper and better responses from veteran interviewees. A veteran is trained to give succinct, factual responses to questions. Encouraging the candidate to elaborate, share examples, describe their value/contribution, and imagine how things "could be" are potentially challenging for veteran applicants. When the recruiter or hiring manager asks more open-ended questions, shares common experiences, and demonstrates empathy, the ability to create rapport and trust with veterans begins. Additionally, help the veteran job applicant correct the over-use of jargon by asking clarifying questions. Instead of letting the candidate repeatedly use jargon and acronyms during the entire interview, ask them to explain each one. If they don't get the hint after a few minutes, remind them that you are a civilian and these terms are unfamiliar. Again, ask them to clarify.
- Understand the military mindset. Whether someone spends four or forty-four years in military service, they learn a different work style, culture, and set of habits. For recruiters and hiring managers, understanding those differences and helping veterans bridge the divide between civilian-speak and military-style is a worthwhile investment of time and effort. The first step is to encourage civilian recruiters and hiring managers to ask, listen, and learn about the military culture -- for instance, understanding the values, priorities, and chain of command style of work. Through formal or informal events where veterans share their experiences and learnings, civilians can hear veterans talk about the challenges of transition, and explain how their skills translate to civilian work.
There are challenges in hiring someone from a background, culture, workstyle, and training that doesn't completely parallel civilian job requirements. Overcoming these challenges with training, compassion and understanding returns huge dividends! Veterans are amazing employees who should be encouraged to join the ranks of leading civilian employers.
About Lida Citroen
Lida Citroën, a branding expert based in Denver, has made a career of helping people and companies create new or enhanced identities. She is passionate about helping veterans learn how to compete for careers in the civilian sector. A TEDx Speaker, Lida presents her unique personal branding training programs across the U.S., at military installations and events, serves on the Board of Directors of NAVSO volunteers with ESGR, and has produced numerous programs and materials to help military veterans successfully transition after service. If you have a transition question Lida can help answer, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also the author of the best selling book, "Your Next Mission: A personal branding guide for the military-to-civilian transition," available at www.YourNextMissionBook.com and on Amazon.