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Bonus Content: Support the Troops

By Carolyn Heinze

You hear about them most on Veterans’ Day, how, after serving their country both in and out of combat, they return to civilian life to discover how difficult it is to find a job—even more difficult than it is for those who were never in the military in the first place.

President Obama attempted to curb this issue with the “VOW to Hire Heroes Act,” signed in November 2011—a follow-up to the U.S. government’s challenge to businesses to hire 100,000 veterans by the end of 2013, which was announced several months before the act was signed. A number of veteran-friendly programs ensued, all developed with the intent of making the military-to-civilian transition smoother, especially when it comes to being gainfully employed.

Opinions differ on how well any of this is working, but one thing remains clear: ex-service members still struggle with landing a job and, in the big picture, launching a civilian career. In January 2013, the Bureau of Labor Statistics had the overall unemployment rate at 7.5 percent. Male veterans were assigned a slightly more optimistic percentage—6.9—but their female counterparts weren’t as lucky, with an unemployment rate of 8.3 percent. What’s more, the White House estimates that over the next five years, more than one million soldiers will be returning home.

But those are just numbers. What’s frustrating for veterans, on both a professional and human level, is that while it’s often very clear to them what they can offer Corporate America, Corporate America doesn’t always get it.

Chad Storlie is a retired U.S. Army Reserve Special Forces officer who has served in Iraq, Bosnia, Korea, as well as throughout the United States. He has held a number of mid-level executive roles in marketing and sales for companies such as General Electric and Comcast. As the author of “Combat Leader to Corporate Leader,” and “Battlefield to Business Success,” he dedicates a significant amount of his time counseling both companies and veterans on how they can benefit from one another.

“What value does the military have for an organization?” he challenged. “World-class, combat-honed and expansive skill sets in strategic planning, war gaming—competitor-on-competitor role play—competitive intelligence, leader development, rigorous standard enforcement and innovation in execution are only a few of the cutting-edge managerial skill sets that the military brings.”

At St. Louis-headquartered Graybar, Director of Employment Practices and Policy Jami Boyles acknowledges the company’s efforts to incorporate the skills that veterans acquire in the service. “Many veterans have great leadership skills, are mission-driven and have a strong sense of loyalty—all of which are desirable traits as they enter the workforce,” she said. “With their extensive training and experience, they understand the importance of focusing to achieve results.” She added that Graybar places an importance on giving veterans opportunities that transform into long-term career paths.

One of the biggest obstacles that veterans face in even getting their foot in the door is that they’re just not that great at writing the type of resumes that recruiters are accustomed to seeing. Oftentimes, these resumes are lengthy and crammed with military acronyms and jargon that hiring managers don’t understand, making it difficult for them to visualize how the skills and experience the candidate acquired while in the service would apply to the position they’re seeking to fill.

“My first piece of advice to the employer is that you’ve just got to get over that and move past that, and not let it influence you, because that is the way that they are taught in the military,” said Emily King, author of “Field Tested: Recruiting, Managing, and Retaining Veterans” and a vice president at The Buller Group (bullergroup.com), an international recruiting and consulting firm. “For the time being, if recruiters ruled out every candidate because of that, there would not be a single veteran hired into civilian employment.” In this area, she recommends companies cutting a little more slack for veterans than they would for a civilian candidate. “You’ve got to dig for the gold and get beyond the appearance of the resume and look for what you need in it,” she noted.

King likens this to how hiring managers may handle job candidates who have just graduated from college. “I do encourage employers to think of veterans, in many ways, as they do campus recruiting,” she said. “If you’ve got someone just coming off campus, you know that they don’t know very much, and you know that they’re going to be on a learning curve.” Just because a veteran may be in his 40s doesn’t mean he or she is aware of how things work in civilian business. “Maybe they’ve had 10 or 20 years of experience in the military, so you expect or assume that they’re going to come in with this set of knowledge about how things work,” she explained, “and that’s not the case, and that’s where veterans stumble a lot. Respect that learning curve, put training and resources in place and be prepared for that veteran coming in so you can accelerate the learning curve.”

Where to Find Veteran Candidates

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor. She can be reached at carolynheinze@free.fr.

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