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Employers Think Vets Are Great. They Just Don’t Hire Them

by
John Zappe
Nov 11, 2010, 3:43 am ET

Amidst the rah-rah news yesterday about the drop in unemployment claims, little  notice was paid to another one of the data points in the weekly report from the Department of Labor. The number of newly discharged veterans filing for unemployment was down for the third week in a row.

The number of vets receiving unemployment benefits also dropped, by 14,445. That would be reason enough to celebrate today, Veterans Day, were it not such an aberration. The week before the number rose by more than 17,000, the largest increase since the DOL started keeping track in 1986. It would be worth celebrating if the number of vets on unemployment wasn’t 44,500 and rising. A year ago, 33,400 vets were getting unemployment benefits. In 2008, the number was 22,900.

Whether or not there’s an error — the weekly numbers are regularly revised — isn’t important. Instead, it’s the inescapable fact that US service men and women are having a harder time finding jobs than the civilian population.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the unemployment rate for veterans who served after 9/11 at 10.6 percent, a full percentage point higher than for the population as a whole. Women vets fare even worse. The unemployment rate for them is 11.9 percent; men are at 10.4 percent.

When you compare recent vets to civilians, the contrast is sharper still. The civilian-only population (people in the workforce who have never served in the military) have an unemployment rate of 8.8 percent. For civilian women it’s 8.4 percent.

Why the disparity is a question with multiple answers; none of them a complete answer.  The Army, the largest branch of the armed forces with more than half a million active duty personnel and the branch that transitions some 150,000 soldiers annually, doesn’t know.

The Department of Labor, which administers many of the federal programs for transitioning military and veterans, says the poor hiring climate is exacerbating the usual problems of conforming military experience to civilian jobs, and communicating the values of leadership, mission, responsibility, and the like to hiring managers and recruiters.

Keith Anderson, a recruiter and principal at Impact Military Talent, describes the communication problem this way: “A squad leader has more management experience after a year in Iraq than any middle manager anywhere. But they have to be able to explain that and show a recruiter how that applies to the civilian job.”

One of the challenges, he said, is getting the vet to even recognize the applicability of what they did in the military to a civilian job. He mentioned a woman captain who managed a logistics operation of 200 supply convoys a day out of Fallujah during some of the worst of the fighting. “She has to recognize just how much of what she did translates into civilian life and tell that story. It doesn’t come off a resume,” says Anderson.

That translation problem begins even before a veteran gets to the interview. The resume itself can be a jumble of military jargon, meaningless to most recruiters, unless the job seeker is careful to “civilianize” the job.

A survey by the Society for Human Resource Management says 60 percent of recruiters found “translating military skills into civilian job experience” to be one of the challenges to hiring ex-military.

There are others, as the researchers discovered. Forty-eight percent of the recruiters thought the transition from a military to a civilian workplace culture was a challenge to hiring veterans. So were mental health issues, said 46 percent of the survey respondents.

On that latter point, a Rand study, “Invisible Wounds of War,” found that some percentage (up to 17 percent) of troops deployed to a combat zone showed signs of PTSD, though the percentage drops after several months of being home. Getting a handle on the prevalence of PTSD, traumatic brain injury, and depression is difficult, the Rand report points out, because many veterans and military personnel won’t report it out of a realistic fear it may hurt their employment chances.

However, on the former point, about the cultural differences, Anderson says it’s “a bad rap,” a hangover from the “old Army. That world of command and follow just doesn’t exist the way it did when we had a draft. It is a new world for the military today with a volunteer force.”

Bill Scott, a VP at military recruitment specialist Bradley-Morris, says he still hears about the culture issue from recruiters and hiring managers. They worry that their new ex-military hire won’t take initiative, but will wait for orders; a concern that arises more with career or long-term enlisted personnel, than with officers.

The bigger issue, he says, is communication.

“If the candidate isn’t well coached, even if their military job was exactly what the civilian job is, they may not be able to articulate that to the hiring manager, so they won’t get the job,” Scott explains. “We work for the employer, but we don’t want them to miss a great candidate because of something like that.”

Charlie Florance, today a project manager with Con-Way in Indiana, was on active duty for several years with the Army Reserve, rising to executive officer, when an illness cut short his career. Before separating from the service, Florance, like all transitioning personnel, went through the mandatory workshops that included career counseling services.

“It was easier for me,” he said, “because I was in a command situation and had that experience.” The training, he recalls, was helpful, but it wasn’t personalized. Even though he worked with a counselor, “it was clear there wasn’t enough time to work with me.” Nor did they have contacts or the network connections that are so important to social recruitment.

So he contacted some of the search firms that specialize in military personnel and ended up working with Bradley-Morris. From the recruiters there he got a resume makeover, access to online interview simulations, coaching on communicating his experience, and referrals to job fairs.

All of it was well beyond what the Army offered. Three months after making his initial contact he had three offers and a job.

“I was an officer, so I had it better than if I was an enlisted man. I had more responsibilities and more opportunities open to me, ” Florance explains.

What the Army — and, presumably, all the services — could do, adds Florance, is to “send everyone to school for job searching. Especially for the younger enlistees who come right out of high school, teach them how to search for a job. How to network and teach them how to tell their story to a company.”

Recruiters, too, can do more. The SHRM survey found that in the three years prior to the report, almost half the companies hired not one veteran. Out of the 47 percent who did no  veteran hiring, only 11 percent made any effort to hire a vet. Compare that to the 53 percent of organizations that did hire a vet. Half of them went looking for ex-military.

Remarkably, both groups of organizations — those that hired a vet and those that didn’t — agree on the positive benefits workers with military backgrounds offer. With almost identical percentages (above 90 percent) they agree that veterans bring a sense of responsibility to the job, have the ability to work under pressure, know how to see a task through to completion, and offer strong leadership skills, among other positives.

If you need any added incentive, the federal government, and many state governments, offer free or subsidized training. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit offers credits of varying amounts including $4,800 for each disabled vet hired. Hire a vet who’s gone through the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program and the government will provide a salary supplement.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

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  2. Maureen Sharib

    “What the Army — and, presumably, all the services — could do, adds Florance, is to ‘send everyone to school for job searching. Especially for the younger enlistees who come right out of high school, teach them how to search for a job. How to network and teach them how to tell their story to a company.’”

    I’m wondering if there’s another underlying issue with education. Is a high school diploma (or a GED which I suspect some percentage of enlistees possess) enough on a resume to get the job done?

    This is another one of those nasty dirty secrets in recruiting – the preponderance of preference to hire only those with college degrees.

    As unemployment rises does also escalate the power and might of companies to demand Bachelor degrees for their floor sweepers?

    Four in the corp is its own special kind of education and as such ought to carry more weight than it does on the education section of anybody’s resume.

    Maybe along with the opportunity to attend college after military service included with those VA benefits might also be a reasonable cost of living package that enables them to do so. It’s been my experience with veterans that one reason they did not attend college after military service was that there was no financial support included that enabled them to do so.

    Not everyone can go to school and work 40+ hour weeks to support families and as this link:
    http://tinyurl.com/dm5or4
    demonstrates a little over half of all enlistees across all services are married.

    Maybe things are different – I’m not sure. It appears maybe they are (somewhat):
    http://tinyurl.com/2gxfdbr

    I’m wondering if there is a typical profile of an enlistee and a typical profile of an officer?

    I understand wondering these things aloud is controversial but as a sourcer I find starting at the beginning with a broad picture allows me to zero down to the nitty gritty of problems.

  3. Maureen Sharib

    “What the Army — and, presumably, all the services — could do, adds Florance, is to ‘send everyone to school for job searching. Especially for the younger enlistees who come right out of high school, teach them how to search for a job. How to network and teach them how to tell their story to a company.’”

    I’m wondering if there’s another underlying issue with education. Is a high school diploma (or a GED which I suspect some percentage of enlistees possess) enough on a resume to get the job done?

    This is another one of those nasty dirty secrets in recruiting – the preponderance of preference to hire only those with college degrees.

    As unemployment rises does escalate also the power and might of companies to demand Bachelor degrees for their floor sweepers?

    “Four in the corp” is its own special kind of education and deserves far more accord on a person’s resume than it typically receives.

    Perhaps along with the opportunity to attend college after military service included with those VA benefits might also be a cost of living package that enables them to do so. It’s been my experience with veterans that one reason they did not attend college after military service was that there was no financial support included that enabled them to do so.

    Not everyone can go to school and work 40+ hour weeks to support families and as this link:
    http://tinyurl.com/dm5or4
    demonstrates a little over half of all enlistees across all services are married.

    Maybe things are different – I’m not sure. It appears maybe they are (somewhat):
    http://tinyurl.com/2gxfdbr

    I’m wondering (at the risk of being skewered for asking) if there is a typical profile of an enlistee and a typical profile of an officer?

    I understand wondering these things aloud is controversial but as a sourcer I find starting at the beginning with a broad picture allows me to zero down to the nitty gritty of problems.

  4. Joshua Letourneau

    Great article – I actually presented on “Hiring a Disabled Veteran – Not Gone, But Forgotten” at North Alabama SHRM 2 weeks ago (prezo can be found at: http://www.slideshare.net/jletourneau/hiring-a-disabled-vet). Pay close attention to the suicide rate of returning Vets – it’s astounding and disturbing.

    What you’re not mentioning in your article is that Corporate America loves those who were Officers and/or those with “Technical Skills”.

    However, not everyone who joins the service completed college first (don’t forget the ‘little’ topic of Socio-Economics and how many join the service for a platform to attend college when they are done with their commitment).

    Take the Marines, for example. Not everyone joins the Corps to sit in the safe confines of the air-conditioned, command-and-control tent. Some people wanted to take the fight to the enemy after 9/11 – sitting on the sidelines isn’t for everyone. Some of us are more “hands-on”. Scribes are a dime a dozen; Warriors (great ones) are tougher to come by.

    I can honestly attest that at 22 yrs old, I had the toughest job I’ve ever had to this day – Platoon Sergeant with the responsibility for health, morale, well-being, and training/development of a 37-member Special Operations-capable Platoon. Were the skills I learned truly “non-transferable”? It’s actually laughable today – technical skills and knowledge comes and goes . . . but it’s the bedrock of judgment, discipline, integrity, decisiveness, courage, loyalty, endurance, etc. that make us who we are.

    The bigger issue is this: How does the 35-yr old Hiring Manager feel about hiring a 25-yr old that has substantially more on-the-ground leadership experience (with lives actually on the line)?

    There is much to discuss here – thanks for bringing this conversation to the table.

    P.S. Just for some further food for thought, here are some quick links to similar articles I’ve written for FistfulOfTalent:

    bit.ly/NotGone (“Not Gone, But Forgotten: The Truth About Disabled Vets Returning to Work”)

    bit.ly/militarybearing (“http://www.fistfuloftalent.com/2009/07/military-bearing-breaking-it-down.html”)

  5. Tracy Brisson

    Thanks for this great article. I read the garbage on Penelope Trunks’ blog yesterday on her take on veterans and this was a great reminder that people in the recruiting and career space do understand what soldiers go through, what strengths they have, and are looking for ways to help.

    I just started my career coaching practice a few months ago, but I am particularly interested in working with female veterans. My best childhood friend served in the Army and I saw how little career support they get, despite their great skills. I have set up a scholarship so that 10% of my coaching earnings go to providing free career coaching for female veterans who need assistance. I am still a few clients away from giving a scholarship, but I am excited to do my part for our country and people who have sacrificed their lives for me.

  6. Brenden Wright

    Josh brings up some great points. As a Marine veteran myself, it sickens me to see statistics like this. As far as I’m concerned, any combat vet ought to get a Ph.D. in leadership. But as Josh points out, the majority of enlisted service men and women (who also represent the largest majority of those leaving active service) don’t have college degrees. In my experience, I’ve seen an emphasis placed on a college education by hiring managers who never served in the military and who also had the opportunity and financial resources to go to college. The military needs to do a better job in transition assistance and companies need to understand the value of a veteran. @Tracy – P. Trunk gets me fired up all the time, so I’m off to read this “garbage” you mention.

  7. Keith Halperin

    @Brendan: You are quite right. Any company that requires hires from top tier and elite university graduates is implicitly anti-veteran, because veterans (particularly enlisted veterans) are among the least likely to attend such places. I challenge these companies to remove this anti-veteran discrimination, and replace it with a pro-veteran hiring policy- that veteran status provides added eligibility (as you see in government jobs) to hiring, not decreased eligibility.

    Thanks,
    Keith

  8. Karla Porter

    I don’t believe the issue is diploma vs. degree. The issue is that a higher percentage of veterans degreed and non-degreed are unemployed. Newly discharged veterans – specifically those who have no civilian job history prior to enlistment, often have transition challenges. Recruiters like Josh, Brendan and me understand how to work with a veteran, but those who never served in the military often do not. The Top 100 Military Friendly Employers overwhelmingly have a veteran on their recruitment staff to work with veteran candidates for this reason. Any company/agency/recruiter who wants to have an edge can work to understand how best to work with veterans as candidates – it’s a smart business decision.

    Here is an excellent article on veterans and college http://is.gd/h0YT5 and my thoughts on how recruiters can improve their recruitment strategy by working with candidates who are veterans http://is.gd/h10tV.

    P.S. @Tracy – You rock.

  9. MyVetwork | Blog | Bosses Like Veterans; They Just don't hire them

    [...] Employers Think Vets Are Great. They Just Don’t Hire Them by John Zappe [...]

  10. Joshua Letourneau

    It’s funny to think that this is a “Maverick” concept, but how about Organizations hiring actual Veterans (as Recruiters) to work with Veteran Candidates? Yeah, you can attend any number of various “training seminars”, but unless you’ve walked a mile in a Vet’s shoes, you can’t truly appreciate what a Veteran goes through in their “transition to civilian life.” Here’s a tangible example: When face-to-face interviewing a Vet Candidate, I can pick up on visual cues that tell me the Candidate is engaging in a learned stress response (you can see their “game face” on, their shoulders are tense, they’re ready to “react on a dime” physically, etc.) This is exactly what you’re taught – to improvise, adapt, overcome, and be ready for anything at any moment. Civilian Recruiters can’t relate to this – this might sound funny, but after you’ve been shot at and taking incoming fire, your demeanor changes a little bit.

    To a Recruiter who was actually a Veteran himself or herself, working with Vet Candidates is nothing like the misconception of “placing a square peg in a round hole.” I cringe when I see many “training sessions” that position Veteran Candidates as ‘exceptions’ “needing lots of guidance.”

    Truthfully, Veterans make outstanding employees (and CEOs, in fact), but one of the most difficult part of the “transition” is not knowing how to relax military bearing during the civilian interview. Personally, this was my downfall when I first got out of the Corps. I’m not ashamed to say that my first job after leaving the Corps earned me $8/hr – yep, “peanuts.” I wound up taking the job through a Temporary Agency because I wasn’t getting offers in my ‘entry-level’ interviews. I can recall an interview with a Gentleman who was about 5 yrs older than me – he asked my greatest leadership accomplishment, so I told him that in live operations, my Platoon had zero casualties (“We brought everyone home alive and in one piece.”) At that point, he laughed and ended the interview saying, “Man, you’re way overqualified for this role – seriously, this job would be too much of a boring cakewalk. We normally hire people for this role that have much less ‘life experience’ than you.”

    So as to conclude this post, let me offer one of my biggest quandaries these days:

    Why do we see F500 Organizations hiring individuals to lead “Veteran Recruitment Programs” that were not Veterans themselves? If they weren’t Vets themselves, of course their first inclination is not going to be to hire Recruiters that are Vets as well. As such, the cycle of futility continues. Let’s stop playing games here and cut to the root of the issue – if you want to improve your Veteran Recruiting Program, hire a Leader who’s actually walked a mile in a Vet’s shoes.

  11. Brenden Wright

    Hoorah Joshua. And Semper Fi my friend. Happy belated birthday!

  12. Tracy Brisson

    @Joshua. All great comments. I think a question would also be whether veterans are looking at recruitment as a good career option and what could be done to make that happen. Perhaps a free or discounted recruiter boot camp to help them with transferable skills? I am not sure if you saw this press release/report by LinkedIn, but HR/Recruiting/Staffing was not ranked in the top 10 industries of people who identified themselves as veterans in their profiles. http://press.linkedin.com/LinkedIn-Veterans-Day

    I saw a documentary on HBO a few years ago called The Recruiter about a military recruiter. If I remember correctly, the soldiers they interviewed thought it was a lousy assignment, which I thought was interesting. Not sure if those feelings translate to recruiting in general.

    @Karla- you rock, too.

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