Career Coach: Helping Military Veterans Succeed
By Joyce E. A. Russell
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one in 10 civilians ages 18 and over were military veterans in 2013. From this group of 21.4 million people, about 2.8 million served during the second Gulf War era, compared with 4 percent of veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam eras.
More than half of all veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, were between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2013. Generally, the unemployment rates for these recent veterans remains higher than for non-veterans, after adjusting for age and demographic factors.
Some of the reasons given for why veterans may have trouble finding jobs is their higher disability rates and their lack of obvious civilian work experience. In other words, they might actually have the right job experiences, it’s just that employers might not readily see the direct translation to civilian jobs.
A third reason involves the actual obstacles veterans face when making the transition to civilian life. For example, much has been written about the fact that vets often have to pass new tests and licensing requirements, despite all the previous training they have received. This can be exasperating to vets — that regardless of all their military training, education and certifications, they still have to show the value of these credentials to potential employers. A Pew Research Center survey noted that 44 percent of veterans who served in the past decade called the transition back to civilian life difficult.
While it may be more difficult for veterans to land jobs, once they have those jobs, they are viewed in a positive manner. Veterans are often rated strong in leadership and other qualities highly valued by employers. These qualities include communications skills, executive presence, discipline, high work ethic, motivation, perseverance, loyalty and adaptability. The same skills also make them ideal candidates for additional education or graduate degrees, which might prove highly beneficial in broadening their skill set or enabling them to switch career tracks.
Thus, it is critical that employers and educators learn to value the skills and experiences acquired in the military. Hiring managers and college recruiters can take some lessons from the top employers for veterans. These military-friendly firms, as rated by Forbes and others, include Amazon, AT&T, BAE, Bank of America, Booz Allen, Capital One, CSX, General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, PepsiCo, USAA, Union Pacific and Verizon, among others.
Examples of innovative practices abound at these companies. The financial services company USAA offers a Junior Military Officer Program, which gives veterans the knowledge and skills needed for a leadership career. USAA also has specialized recruiting programs, such as Combat to Claims, to attract veterans interested in insurance claims positions.
Similarly, Verizon believes veterans have strong leadership skills and meet the company’s values of integrity, respect, accountability and performance excellence. Verizon has created a website that allows veterans to enter their branch of service and specialty code to find job openings that match their backgrounds, experiences and education levels.
Despite these examples, many organizations could do more to recruit and support veterans. For starters, they should keep interview questions focused on the job itself, rather than asking about war or deployment experiences.
They also should help veterans who have been out of the civilian workforce for some time find support juggling work, family and academic commitments. They should provide clear expectations and goals. And they should use vets to assist other vets. This is something we do at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, where we hired a veteran to help recruit and support active duty and veteran students.
Employers also can use available resources to help vets transition back into the workplace. According to a 2012 study by the Center for a New American Security, more than 40,000 nonprofit groups now exist in the United States with missions focused on filling the needs of active-duty troops, veterans and their families. The Labor Department and its Veterans Employment and Training Service have released tool kits to educate employers and leaders on how to hire and retain veterans.
Google offers additional resources to help veterans coming home. The search engine site launched “VetNet,” which offers veterans three distinct tracks to organize their next life moves. These include “basic training,” which aids job hunters, “career connections,” which links users to corporate mentors and other working veterans, and “entrepreneur,” which offers a map to starting a business.
While a great start, much more needs to be done to assist our veterans once they come back. With so many active duty personnel returning to civilian life, the potential payoffs are huge.
Dr. David Miles writes:
Thank you for your forward and direct article on the issues of “Helping Military Veterans Succeed”. I do not disagree with any of your key points as discussed in the article. Where I do take exception is that you did not make the point that the Military does not go far enough to assist those leaving active service to understand how to interview (translate experiences to the private sector) so that they are selected. The veteran is good at learning, but if not taught, they do not know how to best respond. This is a vital “missing link” in the equation.
As a highly accomplished career coach and educated business person, along with chairing the Northern VA Work Force Investment Board, I just returned an hour ago from completing a training session for Career Counselors at Fort Lee, VA. This is my second volunteered presentation on base to now over 20 Army Career Counselors. I can assure you they are great at what they do, but if not given adequate and realistic content, we will continue to have a high unemployment rate.
While your article did not mention the issue of Vets with disabilities, another area I am very familiar with, there are additional issues here. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for this group on average is double to triple the norm. The biggest blockage, in my opinion, are the laws surrounding what private employers are legally allowed to discuss in an interview. The unintended consequence is an avoidance of hiring a Vet with any level of ability issues. Maybe we need to rethink these laws.
A third category, which enjoys a much higher level of success in the world of private industry are top ranked retiring officers. For these groups there are various networks that support them. Another words they make it happen with the appropriate mentoring and coaching.
Yes, employers need to do more, BUT so does the Government and the Pentagon. This is not an easy issue, but we could be much farther ahead if we focused our energies and not just say we all should do more. On our website, I wrote a blog called the “Canyon Without a Bridge” and received much feedback. The concept being the Pentagon says “this is what we will do” and business says “this is how far we are going to reach.” A canyon exists between these two and there are very few “bridge builders” to assist. Just a thought. Thanks for creating awareness.
The issue of unemployed Vets continues. This article from the Capitol Business is a great overview. I could not resist adding an additional perspective! Please feel free to send any thoughts to me and also, if you do have an opportunity to support this effort it would be of value.
This article was first published September 14, 2017 by Joyce E. A. Russell. Joyce is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at email@example.com. Dr. David Miles is Chairman of the Miles LeHane Companies, Inc. He is a member of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD), a member and founding chapter President of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the Association of Career Professionals (ACP) and a Charter Fellow of the Institute of Career Certification International (ICC International), as the largest global non-profit certification Institute. Author of The Four Pillars of Employable Talent and Building Block Essentials. Follow David on Twitter @David_C_Miles.