Keeping Veterans Confident: Your Skills are Valuable

If you’re a veteran looking for work, 2015 could be a good year. The percentage of unemployed veterans has been decreasing steadily for four years, and reached a 7 year low in March of this year. Even among the group of veterans who are most affected by chronic unemployment, the servicemen and women who joined the military post-9/11, the Bureau of Labor Statistic reported that unemployment fell to 7.2% in 2014, down nearly 5 percentage points from the previous year.

But even with all this good news, there are still over a million unemployed veterans looking to enter the workforce. This is a complicated problem; there is no quick and easy fix that will help these willing veterans find stable employment. A key issue is that veterans don’t understand just how valuable their military experience actually is in the private sector. Oftentimes when veterans return to civilian life, they simply don’t have the context for how the skills they gained in the military can work toward helping them develop a solid resume, ace an interview, and ultimately land a stable job. This misunderstanding can lead to missed opportunities for employment, or can keep veterans from gaining their full potential in the job market. Keeping veterans confident that the below skills they’ve acquired in the military are not only applicable, but actually in demand, for private sector jobs is key to helping ease the transition.

  1. Goal-oriented: This skill could not be more valuable. As the average American develops a shorter and shorter attention span, the proven ability to be laser-focused on completing a goal can set a candidate apart immediately. Veterans have developed the ability to focus entirely on a mission or task and see it through to completion. This should be front and center on a resume and made very clear in a job interview.

  2. Responsible: While this may seem like a generic positive trait for the average job-seeker, it takes on a whole new level of importance for a veteran. Most candidates that recruiters or HR representatives screen understand responsibility differently than a veteran does. The non-veteran candidates might have been responsible for a major project or campaign; a veteran has been responsible for others’ lives. This kind of seriousness and understanding of responsibility make veterans a solid, reliable hire for private sector employers.

  3. Hardworking: Again, this could be seen as a generic positive trait or a resume booster for non-veteran job applicants. But put it in perspective: a typical private sector employee might view “hardworking” as willing to put in the extra hours now and again to ensure a timely delivery or a project or report; a veteran understands “hardworking” as working all day, every day for months at a time, rain or shine, good day, bad day, or worst day. While active, veterans had to stand behind their work ethic every single day in front of not only their commanding officers but also their team.

It looks like 2015 could be a good year for unemployed veterans if the trends continue, especially for the post-9/11 vets. But there is still work to be done, especially when it comes to informing veterans of the opportunities in the job market and just how prepared for those opportunities they actually are. We need to continue to encourage unemployed veterans, and even employed veterans who have settled for a low-paying job, to keep applying and keep interviewing. There’s a market out there for them to take, we only need to educate them on how ready they are to take it.

Rifle to Resume: The Transition from Military to Corporate America

Many of those who have served under estimate that transition from when you leave the service to when you actually step foot inside a private or public company for your first interview.  Rewind to January 2004 and I was no exception. After serving four years as a logistics manager and spending some time in the Middle East in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, I was virtually clueless on how I should prepare myself for what we would call “the civilian world”. As scary as this sounds, I embarked on a journey that took me through the US Army’s ACAP (Army Career and Alumni Program), through buying my first suit at Dillard’s in Lawton, Oklahoma to my first job as a car salesman in Orlando which lasted a whopping two weeks.

Armed with my college credits that I obtained while in service, along with my ACAP resume and portfolio, I exited the military thinking the transition would be rather easy. I thought to myself that employers would be eager to grant interviews once they saw my military experience. Top that off with my cool “I love me book” and I thought I was golden.  This was really the complete opposite of what I experienced. After I drove out of the state of Oklahoma and settled down in Orlando, it took many months for me to find my first full-time job. I began to resume my college coursework online and eventually became an employee of Frito Lay a division of PepsiCo Corporation.  In many ways, my position at Frito Lay emulated my military career. The hours were long as I would start my day at 4am, and would not come home until 6-7pm at night. I was constantly on the road in my box truck, and I was very active. The work kept me in shape as I delivered product, built marketing displays, and loaded and unloaded trucks on a daily basis. I also had to remind myself that I was not in the military anymore so I needed to soften my approach a bit, and understand and use diplomacy at all times. Aside from the long hours, I would then come home at night and study to obtain my Bachelor’s degree and eventually my MBA. The usual 55-70 hour weeks along with 30 hours of weekly study kept me quite busy for the next year and half. I was working toward my ultimate goal of landing a job as a project manager and eventually a corporate accounting role.

For those of you who have served and are thinking about getting out of the military or already have begun the transition, please allow me to offer the following advice:

  1. Be proactive and Do Not Wait… The Army ACAP program starts you 6-months prior to your contract end date. I would start on your own a year out..
  2. Pick a career and stick with it! Try to use transitioning skills if possible.
  3. Start working on your resume and be sure you understand how to transition military lingo to corporate jargon.
  4. Education, education, education… I cannot stress this enough. Take as many courses as you can and if possible, leave the military with your degree already in hand. You will have a significant competitive advantage.
  5. Network as soon as you can. Build your contacts via word of mouth, social media, Careerbook, etc..
  6. Buy yourself a nice suit to wear to your interviews.
  7. Also invest in a book to help you understand what type of questions you will be asked during an interview and how to answer them.
  8. Most importantly- Prepare yourself for the journey and know that with the right mindset, and the tips I offered above you will succeed and find that perfect career!