Why are many veterans still unemployed? The Center for a New American Security conducted interviews with 87 individuals from 69 companies to find out why – from an employer’s perspective:
1. Skills translation: Unless you’re applying for a defense contracting job, you have to translate your military skills into civilian terms. Civilians don’t understand your acronyms, MOS, and military terminology, and they aren’t going to take the time to learn. Seek out individuals from the desired industry and have them review your résumé. Or use a job skills translator such as the one at Military.com.
Many companies use software to screen the applicant pool. If the software finds words that don’t align with the industry, such as military jargon, your resume will get kicked out. The bottom line is: if your résumé doesn’t contain the right key words, you most likely won’t make it through the screening process.
2. Negative stereotypes: Some employers believe that veterans can be too "rigid" or formal. Overcome these stereotypes by preparing for your interview. Have a civilian play the role of an employer asking you questions about your background, experience, and qualifications. Consider recording the interaction on your smart phone or video camera, and the interviewer can critique your performance.
Other stereotypes include problems with anger management or post-traumatic stress. If you are faced with these challenges, 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.
3. Skill mismatch: The military helped transform you into a great leader with an excellent work ethic. But some employers are looking for specific skills. If you don’t have these skills, you may be out of luck. Look for creative ways to build new skills relevant to your target industry. First, check out job listings in that industry to identify skills that employers are looking for, or ask someone you know in that industry. Focus on the skills that you can build in the near term.
For example, take a community college class and approach the professor about doing a side project or independent study in which you can demonstrate the application of the skills you are learning. Look for volunteer opportunities in which you can demonstrate those skills. You may be able to help out in the business office of your church or local community. Or you may be able to run the fundraising or marketing efforts for a local charity event. Temporary employment agencies are another consideration; sometimes starting in a temp position may help build relevant skills and lead to a permanent job.
4. Concern about future deployments: National Guard members and reservists face this challenge, especially if they are seeking employment with small businesses. Be familiar with the laws protecting NG/reservists and be honest about your continuing military commitment. Recently, we became aware of a situation in which a reservist may have misled a company to secure a job a couple weeks before deploying with his unit. Actions such as this not only tarnish the reputation of the reservist, but also make it difficult for other veterans trying to secure a job. Be candid and up front.
5. Acclimation: Employers are concerned that veterans don’t completely fit into corporate culture. Interview preparation can help you practice interacting in a less military, more corporate manner. Finding out about the corporate environment is also helpful. What terms are used? How do people dress (business or business casual)? How formal is the culture? Connect with someone in that industry or, better yet, the company you are applying to, and find out about the cultural environment and norms.
Prepare yourself for hurdling obstacles such as the five listed above – and good luck in the job hunt!
Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick are student veterans at Wharton’s MBA for Executives program. As part of a school project, they created a blog, Switch, to help vets transition more smoothly and find jobs. The blog has posts about transition considerations and critical resources.