Archive for September, 2015

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Veterans are in high demand – at least that’s the word on the street. Everywhere there are hundreds of job fairs, websites and organizations stating that there are hundreds or thousands of jobs out there for veterans. Small businesses to corporations pride themselves on being “military friendly” by appearing in a major magazine, hiring a fraction of veterans into their workforce and having a veteran transition program – which could be many different things. People in every corner of America are thanking veterans for their service and telling them how marketable they are.  With all of these great qualities, you’d think that getting hired into a job would be a piece of cake for a veteran, right?

The truth of the matter is that things are not as easy as the general public make them out to be.  Believe it or not, civilian employment can be intimidating to veterans. They are out of their comfort zone of the uniform and are now in a world of uncertainty. They are being courted by companies that say they need their military skills and experience for positions that are sometimes completely unrelated. Something that most veterans don’t know is that the results of landing a dream job right away are not typical. Veterans may spend hours each night on job boards, even military-specific ones, shooting out resumes and not hearing anything at all. Only 5% of veterans might find themselves in a job interview. And when the interview leads to a rejection phone call, it can leave the veteran feeling less and less confident about their choice to seek civilian employment. But what is the most disconcerting aspect about all this is that some employers who reject the veteran still claim to be “military friendly.” It seems like a slap in the face to a person whose service was once praised but is not even worth a job offer by the ones s/he served. In an essence, most veterans find themselves in a position of weakness when it comes to job seeking.

I definitely felt the resentment a few times in my life. Left active duty, went back to school, got a job but continued to look for one closer to home, went to job boards and heard nothing, went to job fairs and heard nothing, interviewed with military-friendly employers and got no results, then ended up working for the military again. Even at a job fair that was specifically for veterans, I left with a bad taste in my mouth because I couldn’t imagine myself working for those kinds of companies. It did, however, land me a few interviews afterwards. I’ve been told that just getting to the interview stage is a great opportunity in itself, and looking back at that experience I now realize how important the part of the interview is when they ask you, “what questions do you have for us?” Knowing what I know now, I would ask this question to a military-friendly employer out of general interest:

“What does your company offer that the military doesn’t offer?”

With this simple yet bold question, the tables are turned in the job seeking process. In an instant, I as a veteran no longer feel as if I am the one proving myself to a giant organization – it is now their turn. Too often people forget that part of the interview process is for the company to sell itself to the job seeker with hopes of “buying” or investing in his/her talents. If a question such as this is asked in the right context to a military-friendly employer, a whole new set of possible talking points opens up.  What really makes your company “military friendly?” What specific military skills are you looking for? What kinds of opportunities are you offering specifically to veterans? Does your benefits package include comprehensive health care, tuition assistance or retirement? Can I achieve the same camaraderie from your company as I did in the military? How is your company serving our country? Does the job offer anything more exciting than jumping out of an airplane or firing rockets (probably shouldn’t ask this one)?  The list goes on.

An important point that I believe companies should remember is that when courting veterans to fulfill employment goals, not all veterans are being forced out of the military. In fact, a small percentage are involuntarily separated against their will – many more leave the service because they have seen enough, be it combat, bureaucracy or hardships on family and quality of life. As they search for something better, they do not necessarily need a civilian employer to fulfill that dream. Many veterans participate in non-profits or start their own companies. If it came to it, they could turn right around and jump back into the military very easily, whether it be active or reserve duty. Disability also won’t stop many veterans from staying in the service – take a look at Master Sgt (ret) Leroy Petry of the 75th Ranger Regiment, who served for several more years even after losing his hand in combat.

Bottom line is that veterans are not dependent on any company, no matter how military friendly they might claim to be. However, that doesn’t mean that veterans aren’t willing to create friendly, positive relationships with employers. Not everyone is desperate – they are simply looking for something that could be as fulfilling as their military service once was. If a military-friendly company is truly able to offer that kind of environment in return for a diverse set of skills developed from the military, both elements will have achieved their goals.