Why are many Vets still unemployed? The Center for a New American Security conducted interviews with 87 individuals from 69 companies to find out why, from an employer perspective. Keep these factors in your hip pocket while you search for jobs!
1. Skills Translation: Unless you are applying for a defense contracting job, you have to translate your military skills into civilian terms. Civilians don’t understand your acronyms, positions, and military terminology, and they aren’t going to take the time to learn. Seek out someone from the desired industry and have them review your resume. Or, use one job skills translator listed on our Resource page. Many companies use software to screen the applicant pool. If the software finds words that don’t align with the industry (eg. Military terms), your resume will get kicked out. Bottom line is that if your resume does not contain the appropriate jargon 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 the 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 debrief you on how you came across. 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 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 the skills employers are looking for, or ask someone you know in that industry. Hone in 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. Temp agencies are another consideration; sometimes starting in a temp position may help build relevant skills and lead to permanent employment.
4. Concern about Future Deployments: Guardsmen and Reservists face this challenge, especially if they are seeking employment with small businesses. Be familiar with the laws protecting reservists and be honest about your continuing military commitment. Recently, I became aware of a situation in which a reservist potentially misled a company to secure a job a couple weeks before deploying with his unit. The employer did not know this at the time. Actions such as this not only tarnish the reputation of the reservist, but also make it difficult for other vets trying to secure a job. Be candid and up front!
5. Acclimation: Employers are concerned that Veterans don’t completely fit into corporate culture. Following the interview prep suggestions in #2 can help you practice coming across in a less military, more corporate way. 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, to find out about the cultural environment and norms.
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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.