Giving Back to Our Veterans
In the business world, companies frequently express their desire to give back to veterans, citing a civic responsibility to repay the debt our nation owes those who have volunteered to fight and defend it. But what about hiring those who have served?
For many organizations, this aspect too often falls to the wayside, as hiring managers struggle to find veteran candidates with experiences and skillsets that match openings in their organizations. In the private sector, particularly within small- and medium-sized businesses well positioned to tailor hiring practices, our veterans deserve an opportunity to pursue careers that both explore and advance their passions.
Veteran Hiring: Perceptions vs. Realities
This is not just for veterans’ sake; bringing veterans onboard is also sound business practice. Our military places significant responsibilities on the men and women who choose to wear the uniform. It is not unusual for a service member under the legal drinking age to be put in charge of millions of dollars-worth of equipment or coordinate with international counterparts in high stakes, sometimes life-or-death, situations. We would be hard pressed to find many civilian jobs with equivalent levels of responsibility, let alone ones that can groom leaders and team players at such a young age.
The private sector, for its part, recognizes the value those who have served can contribute here at home. A survey of 69 companies makes that point clear: organizations of all sizes repeatedly cite the unique competencies veterans bring to the table, including leadership acumen, a mission-oriented work ethic, and the keen ability to make decisions in ambiguous, complex environments.
Despite widespread knowledge of these skills and the fact that more than 80 percent of military occupational series have direct civilian equivalents, veterans report finding a job is their “top challenge” – and a top cause for anxiety – when transitioning to civilian life. To put things in perspective, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 era veterans who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan was 5.7 percent last year, roughly two percentage points higher than that of nonveterans. Of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who do have jobs, 37 percent consider themselves underemployed.
When 8 out of 10 employers lack recruitment programs specifically targeting veterans, these statistics come as no surprise. So how can we – as hiring professionals, small business owners, or startup entrepreneurs – help close this gap and better bring veterans into the private sector fold?
Creating Veteran Opportunities
Employers – even those dedicated to bringing veterans onboard – are often unsure where to start. Sometimes this is due to a lack of relevant resources in a particular field, but often it is just the opposite. With numerous job boards and initiatives out there dedicated to showcasing veteran talent, how can organizations avoid confusion and pinpoint the right resource for them?
As the Human Resources Director for a growing organization dedicated to hiring veterans (right now, almost 20 percent of our workforce are vets), I have found the Department of Defense’s SkillBridge program to be an excellent place to start. This program helps match the more than 200,000 service members separating from military service each year with an appropriate civilian job. The program enables us at Acronis SCS – a medium-sized business started by non-veteran, John Zanni, that provides data security and cyber protection solutions to the US public sector – to bring transitioning service members onboard for a “no-cost internship” for up to 120 of their last 180 days of uniformed service. Some of these candidates already have relevant cyber and IT training or education, while others simply possess the drive and passion to learn. The program allows us the flexibility to provide on-the-job training in hard skills, so service members are ready to excel in the private sector, either in our organization or another, once their military separation is complete.
Building a Culture of Understanding
Beyond partnering with programs like SkillBridge that take much of the guesswork and legwork out of finding the right candidates, there are additional efforts organizations can make to ease the process for both companies and veteran applicants. First and foremost, this involves implementing a culture of understanding across hiring practices. Instead of writing off a veteran candidate because their resumé lacks keywords that match your open job description, think creatively about how the applicant’s military experience translates to your working environment. Do they have experience leading large or small teams? Managing expensive or sensitive equipment? Interfacing with the public, media, or international partners?
Keep that culture of understanding throughout the interview and onboarding process. Urge veterans to speak openly of their strengths during interviews, keeping in mind they have been trained to frame personal accomplishments through a team-oriented lens. Once onboard, have a program in place (either formal or informal) to connect new hires with other veteran employees, as well as civilians, who can answer questions and help ease the transition. And in the words of one of our own veteran employees, do not hesitate to put their “troubleshooter mentality” – the one honed during countless high stakes, “make or break moments” – to good use for your organization.
As I noted above, our CEO is not a veteran. Neither am I (though I have two sons that are). Yet, we knew from our company’s earliest days that bringing veterans onboard was the right move. While that process has required thoughtful consideration of our hiring practices, it has proven not only highly doable, but also well worth our time and effort. I have no doubt any organization will discover the same. As you seek to reevaluate or expand your own veteran hiring practices, please do not hesitate to use our company as a resource. I can be reached here, and CEO John Zanni can be contacted directly here. We have learned a great deal through our own experience, and are willing – and eager – to share our best practices.