Combating higher unemployment rates among post-9/11 veterans.
By Bill Hatton
Do your hiring managers know how to translate a military veteran’s resume into civilian language? If not, they’re not alone. Veteran unemployment rates remain high, so many companies are taking a pass at military veterans.
In fact, the numbers are daunting: Post-9/11 military veterans are unemployed at rates two percentage points higher than the general population, and have been consistently outpacing the average for years. These numbers are higher even though military veterans are much more likely to be high school graduates (99 percent are versus 91 percent of the general population) and are well-trained workers who have proven themselves in a variety of stressful environments.
These percentages add up to about 250,000 unemployed military vets. Another one million veterans are expected to be mustered out in the next few years, offering companies a steady source of talented individuals in a variety of fields—but also the potential for a frustrating job search for many of them— not to mention hiring managers’ missing opportunities to find good people.
Part of the problem: the language of the military. There’s frequently not an obvious match between military job titles and civilian job descriptions, between military experience and civilian needs.
Plus, in recent years, high unemployment often meant hiring managers could wait for someone with previous experience (and previous track record) that was a close fit for what they are looking for. So it was usually easier for a hiring manager to pick up the next resume in a stack than translate “battery commander,” “assistant G-3 training officer,” “army ground liaison officer,” or “mobilization and plans officer.”
Translation often involves looking at the following:
Transferable skills. Leadership is a big one. Even though post-9/11 veterans are younger than the average job-seeker, they often have superior leadership training and experience than others of similar age.
History of results. Accountability is big in the military—they can often point to specific tasks they were given, steps they took, and results. Being able to tell a story involving specific goals, limited resources, thinking through a solution, acting on it, and what the results were—that all goes a long way in the private sector, too.
Specific skill sets that may not be apparent. For example, a veteran may have more experience with skill sets like budget management or safety compliance than they think. Because many are young and have only been employed by the military, they may not realize just how many skills they have, perhaps in materials handling and disposal, inventory management, equipment inspections, and IT/communications.
Bottom line: Veterans—and companies seeking to place them—need some help talking to each other.
Streamlining the Process
One company that’s helping crack the code from the veterans’ side of the equation (and thus making it easier on hiring managers to understand veteran qualifications) is recruitment process outsourcing (RPO) firm PeopleScout. They’ve hired job counselors who are veterans themselves to talk with unemployed veterans, assist them in understanding how to translate their experience into civilian language, and then help place them at PeopleScout’s client firms.
PeopleScout has also worked with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to organize 100 job fairs for veterans around the country last year, resulting in more than 7,300 veterans finding employment. It placed 11,000 veterans in 2012, and is on pace to place 15,000 in 2013. And PeopleScout itself has hired numerous veterans, and its parent company, SeatonCorp, committed to hiring 2,000 more veterans this year.
Since Spring 2013, PeopleScout has been assisting Walmart in it’s public commitment to hire 100,000 veterans over the next five years. As part of that experience, the firm broadened the concept for placing veterans and announced a new Veteran Talent Exchange Platform built specifically to add additional companies.
Walmart, Bank of America, Delta Air Lines, and Covance all are partnered with PeopleScout for the Talent Exchange. What makes this platform different is that if a veteran goes through the application process with one company, and for whatever reason, the process doesn’t result in a placement, it doesn’t end there. The veteran can opt-in to add their profile to the exchange and gain access to other company’s job postings. Thus, if the road ends with one company, they can continue with another, streamlining the job-search process, and giving vets (and companies) another bite at the apple.
Patrick Beharelle, CEO of Seaton, says “There are a lot of people who are coming out of the military and they are not really sure what they want to do, and they are not sure how their skills will translate into the private sector. For many of them, it’s an exploratory period of deciding what they want to do, and which employers are interested in hiring them. Many of them have very, very good skills and training, but they’re not sure how to translate them.”
For example, Beharelle recently spoke with a veteran at a job fair who was about to exit the military and wasn’t sure how he was going to support his family with a private-sector job, because he wasn’t sure how his military experience would match up with private-sector needs.
“I asked him what he did, and he said he was in the logistics function, and would drive a big rig truck around Afghanistan,” Beharelle recalls. “He said he didn’t know what he was going to do, and I said, you must realize that there are a lot of those types of jobs in the private sector. In fact—and he wasn’t aware of this—there’s a shortage of big rig drivers in America and the pay rates are solid. The average big rig driver at some of our clients makes more than $70,000 a year.” The veteran had a commercial driver license, but “it didn’t occur to him that that training and those credentials were of value.”
Misunderstanding exists on both sides: “Employers struggle with making sense of what veterans did in the military,” explains Beharelle. “If you haven’t been in the military, the lingo, the jargon, the promotions, oftentimes are misunderstood or not understood at all.”
One answer: Use veterans to assist in recruiting. PeopleScout exclusively uses military veterans who can help identify skills and experience. One such recruiter is Brian Ekerman, recruitment center operations manager, who is a veteran career counselor on the Walmart account.
“Let’s say a soldier was an infantry platoon leader. He might say, ‘I was just an infantry soldier; I have no transferable skills.’ What we do, as veteran career counselors, is say, ‘Hold on – you do have transferable skills because you led 25 people, you managed a budget of $300,000, and you came in under budget for a project.’ So even though they may not think they have relatable skills. And we’re able to put them into civilian skill sets.”
Thavone Khounthikoumane, operations manager, adds that they ask veterans for success stories and coach them on how to tell those stories. “These military [people], they usually don’t like to puff their chests and talk about themselves, so we have to get that out of them,” notes Khounthikoumane.
Take homes: Hiring veterans requires effort on both veterans and hiring companies. Veterans may not be used to speaking in terms of civilian language and need help translating. They may not understand what’s available in the private sector. And they may be reticent to talk about themselves. Still, veterans offer a variety of strong skill sets for employers willing to make the effort.