This multi-part series entitled "Lies They Tell Transitioning Veterans" first appeared on the RecruitMilitary website and was contributed by Peter A. Gudmundsson, a former U.S. Marine artillery officer and the CEO of RecruitMilitary, a leading provider of veteran hiring solutions.
"Individuals play the game, but teams beat the odds." — Navy SEAL team saying
Last year, the George W. Bush Center identified 45,000 non-profit veteran service organizations in the U.S. Clearly, there are a lot of good-hearted and patriotic Americans who want to help veterans with their employment, health, social, and commemorative needs. Yet as with most service initiatives, it is at the individual level that people can do the greatest good for veterans. By understanding the needs of job seeking veterans of your acquaintance, you can have a profoundly positive effect on one or many members of America's finest.
A difficult aspect of the transition to civilian life is the feeling of being alone. Military life is many things both good and bad but little of merit is accomplished without the collective effort of teams of all sizes. The job search process, however, is profoundly lonely. Candidly, success or failure in the job search is indeed primarily the result of individual focus, effort, and luck. But the veteran job seeker is not alone and the many citizens who seek opportunities to assist are proof of this support and sea of goodwill. Good intentions are not enough, though, and some well-intentioned support efforts can actually be counterproductive.
For those who want to help veteran job seekers, there are a number of active roles to play:
- Offer Candid Feedback ("Tough Love") — Sometimes transitioning veterans lack the self-awareness to understand how they come across to others. A friend, peer, or mentor can help them understand how their dress, attitude and preparation contribute to job search success. It is important to be diplomatic and supportive but firm and direct.
- Model Effective Networking — Veteran supporters will often open up all of their contacts to the job searching veteran without providing guidance, direction, and counsel. "Here is a list; start calling" is not a strategy. Instead, dole out your contacts in digestible increments of three or four individuals with a clear rationale that support a clear plan. Make sure the veteran knows how to engage and follow up with reach resource and what questions he seeks to answer. Be sure to warn your contacts that they will be hearing from the veteran and why. Then, reward the veteran's professional behavior with more contacts to reinforce his progress.
- Spread the Word About Opportunities — If you hear about a veteran job fair or similar event, spread the word with a simple call, email, or text. My company, RecruitMilitary, has a free "Veteran Advocate" program that allows you to easily spread the word about upcoming events. Remember that the negative voices inside some veteran's heads will discourage them from attending. Like talking a shy friend into accompanying your group to a social night out, you have to be persistent and upbeat. Job fairs can be very effective sources of information, contacts, and jobs but only if the veteran shows up prepared and focused.
- Educate Your Organization — If you work at a company or another organization, take the time to evangelize the value of hiring veterans. It amazes most veterans just how much ignorance and misunderstanding exists among recruiters and hiring managers when it comes to former military talent. You can model the value and educate your peers when opportunities arise.
- Help the Veteran Think Clearly — Similar to the tough love mention above, you can help veterans by challenging their thinking about why they fit for a particular role or organizations. Like rehearsing an actor who is reading lines for a role, you can help with mock interviews and offer "what if" pushback for candidates who are weighing alternatives. "Dude, you said that you hated New York. Why are you interviewing for a job there?" is a very good question. Job seekers often make decisions with the experience of a teenager and the judgment of a drunk. A friend can help them steer clear of classic mistakes.
- Fitness — The stress of a job search is real. Maintaining physical fitness is one of the best ways to fight stress and maintain health. Invite your job seeking veteran friend on a run, to the gym, or encourage them to join a local Team Red White & Blue chapter.
- Fraternal Support — Recently, Sebastian Junger has written on the challenges veterans face in the context of understanding our anthropological need for tribal affiliation and interaction. Today's younger veterans may be reluctant to join "funny hat" veteran service organizations like the American Legion, VFW, or AMVETS, but they need the social support of fellow veterans all the same. As a veteran supporter you can encourage participation in official or informal social groups of whatever sort. They don't have to be official veteran service organizations but many of these offer excellent programs.
- Encourage Them to Help You — One of the best ways for a veteran job candidate to develop and preserve a positive mental attitude is to feel useful and supportive to other veterans. Good networkers are eager to give more than they take. By enlisting the veteran job seeker to help you with your professional or personal needs, you will be helping him or her to advance as well.
- Let Them Whine; Then Refocus on Activity — Everyone has bad days in job searching and sometimes one just needs to "bitch and whine" a bit. This is ok and natural. The challenge is for the veteran job seeker to get up, dust off, and get back in the search after a self-pity session. Succumbing to the "woe is me and no one will hire a veteran" narrative is the path to failure. As we have covered in this series before, veteran job search is fundamentally similar to every other job search. In fact, veterans enjoy benefits and access that others lack. Help a job seeker by allowing them to vent and then refocus them back to the task at hand.
Job search is hard. Like everyone else, veterans can struggle with the formulation and execution of their job search plan. The key challenge for enterprising veteran job seekers is to leverage the available support without being sucked into the vortex of the "veterans as victims" mentality. On an individual basis, you can assist or even change a veteran's life for the better by following the recommendations above.
We owe a lot to our veterans. Getting beyond a simple "thanks for your service" and having a real impact requires more than good intentions. By following these tips you can make a difference where it counts: one veteran at a time.