Being a veteran is a not a get out of jail free card from unemployment – veterans don't inherently deserve a new civilian position once they leave the military. Part of what makes a vet a vet is an engrained sense of accountability and initiative, even in the career hunt. Entitlement is not a core value.
I considered it a true privilege when I had the opportunity to discuss career progression with a retired Air Force 06. We met once at a conference and he later ended up becoming high in my husband's chain of command in the service. Before I met this individual, I was informed of his astute leadership potential by my direct commander that I was an exec for, and he definitely lived up to that credibility as a person and a leader. This 06 was a C-17 pilot who went by the Call sign "Rockin," as in "Rockin Johnny Roscoe." Rockin is now retired and is an Airport Director and government consultant.
When Johnny and I spoke on the phone, he brought up some valid facts that I feel I sometimes gloss over when writing articles. My last article put full responsibility on employers who want to hire veterans to make a decision to move forward. While that is still extremely valid, veterans also needs to take responsibility for themselves to talk about who they are as people, not just ex-military. The reason employers want ex-military applicants is because of all the strong attributes they can bring to the organization, not just because it is the humanitarian thing to do. No veteran would claim they wanted a pity position.
Rockin's point is this: at what point can a veteran stop claiming they aren't being hired because they are a vet? At a certain point, a veteran should look at what they actually did during their job search and weigh what they can bring to the table in terms of skills and traits. I reflected on this, and immediately agreed that was a valid question. He said to me, "Liz, I met you only a couple times, and I knew from your background and my interaction with you that you would be reliable, but it wasn't only because you were in the military—it was because of the other attributes you carried individually and what I knew you did as a person."
As Johnny and I continued our conversation, I learned a bit more. In his current position, he is the hiring manager for every employee within his division and was given the opportunity to fill the positions of two employees who left to obtain advanced education degrees. For both positions, Johnny reviewed over 150 applications. Out of those, approximately a dozen were veterans with some being retired and others having only a few years of service.
"As a veteran and someone who spent 26 years in the Air Force," said Johnny, "I believe I have a solid understanding of what the core potential is for every veteran, even the short-timers, and yet I was disappointed in the applications I saw from veterans because I know better. I know what veterans are capable of, and as a minimum what they should have done in the military to set themselves apart from others, and that is what I was looking for."
Johnny continued on to explain the fact that "literally, every single veteran undersold themselves and failed to adequately describe in their resumes how some of those core traits enabled them to succeed either in the military or in the civilian sector. A specific example is initiative."
Johnny was specifically looking for candidates that had initiative, and he could have assumed that all the veterans possessed that, but he knew that not all service members and veterans are the same. "Initiative is a trait I valued highly while I was in the Air Force," said Johnny, "and just as I looked for it in those I worked with and supervised in the Air Force, it is even more valuable to me now in the civilian sector. If you can't prove to me how you showed initiative to solve problems and get work done in the military, where I know you had the opportunity to do so, why would I assume you can do it for me now?"
From what Johnny noticed, many of the resumes seemed to attempt selling the concept of being a veteran instead of the experiences that made being a veteran a strong asset for the job. Johnny commented, "I don't know for sure if it's a sense of entitlement veterans may possess who are looking for employment simply because they have been told they are important ,which they are," or, "a sense of ignorance or misunderstanding in how to tell the story of their successes."
Not a single veteran applicant made it to the interview process with Johnny because all of the non-veteran applicants were able to show that they had inherent initiative or could cite examples of how they made a difference in their previous roles. "Sadly, I didn't see any explanations in the veteran applications," said Johnny, "and I was shocked and disappointed simply because out of the dozen or so I had, surely one of them if not all could have easily proved it to me. In the end, I simply couldn't take a chance just because someone was a veteran."
Being a veteran does not guarantee a new role, and the fact that a prior service hiring manager like Johnny Roscoe can be disappointed in a veteran resume is a great reminder that it takes time and effort to actually create a proper resume to sell yourself because you have the proper skill-sets. Even a cover letter to explain what you bring to the table besides awards and decorations will do you more justice in the long run.
We claim veterans are proactive, so that means proving just that to employers within their applications.
After graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2006, and obtaining her masters in Industrial Organizational Psychology, Liz McLean spent five years as a Logistics Readiness Officer. She joined the civilian recruiting world in September 2010 helping both the military and civilian populace find their roles in the workforce. Liz has worked in Corporate HR (Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI and Hewlett Packard) and individual staffing agencies to create robust programs and collaborations between veterans and employers. She currently writes for Task & Purpose and travels for speaking engagements to both the employee and veteran community.