Veteran Underemployment, the Self-Inflicted Wound

Potential

For the last half of 2014, veteran unemployment was at or lower than civilian unemployment. In fact, many would argue there is no veteran unemployment crisis in this country, and while I agree, this is only half the story. For the most part, veterans who want jobs have jobs. Hence the key word jobs, not careers. The bigger issue is veteran underemployment.

Today’s Armed Forces are the most educated, well-trained, and dedicated military our country has ever seen. There are countless reasons why organizations benefit from hiring veterans, ranging from tax breaks to the knowledge that they are hiring the cream of the crop in the job market. Companies realize this and, without a doubt, are hiring veterans. Although veterans are working, in most cases, they are not working in jobs and positions that reflect their true potential and we as veterans are partially to blame.

I recently had a lengthy discussion with a military veteran who just weeks ago retired after over 20 years of service. This senior NCO had done some amazing things over the course of his career, but the one thing he did not do is prepare himself for life after the service. Because he was part of the drawdown, his retirement basically snuck up on him. He is not alone. Despite the military’s best efforts to prepare transitioners, so many veterans leave the service without a solid exit plan.

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Here are some key strategic errors many transitioners make that leaves them underemployed:

Timing. Whether you are entering government service or corporate America, you must understand that the hiring process is lengthy. The time from initial application, interview, and hire can take three to six months or longer. So what does this mean? It means you have to apply backwards planning to your transition plan.

For example, let’s say your discharge or retirement date is 1 August, with terminal leave starting 31 June. Let’s say you want to take a couple of weeks to rest and relax after transition, and you want to start work on or about 15 July. This should tell you to start applying for jobs as early as January. Waiting until June is way too late.

So how does poor timing lead to underemployment? First, as your transition date gets closer, you might be pressured to take the first thing that comes along regardless of pay and benefits. After all, it’s a job. You might also be willing to accept a job well below your pay grade until something better comes along. Not much of a plan, is it?

Education. It’s no surprise, more education is directly related to a larger annual income. Furthermore, a person with a high school diploma is far more likely to be laid off than a person with a bachelors degree, and far more likely to have longer gaps of unemployment.

Whether you stayed in the military for four years or 20 years, there is no excuse for not completing a degree. With the GI Bill, tuition assistance, and loan repayment, the military is basically giving away a free education. If you choose not to take advantage of those programs, you will be facing underemployment. It’s great that you were a Platoon Sergeant who led men into combat, but if the job you want requires a degree and you don’t have one, then what?

Some companies will take military service over a degree, but don’t count on it. Don’t give a company a reason not to hire you. Make an educational plan early in your military career and execute.

Resume. Veterans accomplish a great number of things while in uniform, but many do a poor job of capturing it on a resume. A civilian recruiter or hiring manager may not know what a squad leader is, so why would you list it on a resume? “Squadron Commander” may be a key phrase for you, but the person, or computer, screening your resume has no clue what that is.

Resumes must be tailored for the job you are applying to and free of military jargon. It needs to be free from spelling and grammatical errors. It needs to be “civilianized” for corporate America and in a completely different format when applying for federal government jobs.

Professional On-line Profile. Most people have social media pages. No matter how private you “think” your social media page is remember this… it’s not! Potential employers regularly review social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, and others. This is common practice and NOT a practice just reserved for potential employees who will need background checks.

It’s great that your LinkedIn profile picture is of you in your dress uniform, but could that cause a barrier between the hiring manager that knows nothing about military service, or a corporate recruiter intimidated by all the medals and badges? I like the Facebook profile picture of you having a hefeweizen in Heidelberg, but what would a potential employer think? The picture of you and your team in full body armor with your M4 slung across your chest in front of a LAV-25 is sweet, but could it scare a hiring manager?

As you prepare to transition and start the job application process, think about your online profile. Think about it through the eyes of a recruiter. Think about it through the eyes of a hiring manager. If you need to clean it up, clean it up!

Mind Set. It’s outstanding that you’re a retired Master Gunnery Sergeant. I am proud of you for retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel or Navy Commander. Thank you for your service. I hate to break it to you though, your rank does not matter to anyone outside the military.

Just because you were a Brigade Command Sergeant Major does not entitle you automatically to a six figure corporate salary. If you are lucky enough to land that job, congratulations. For everyone else, you are starting over and need to understand that.

I am not saying you should apply for entry level positions and be underemployed, I am merely stating you must have realistic expectations of the job market and realistic expectations of the level of jobs you should be applying to. Otherwise, you are setting yourself up for frustration and might find yourself in a position where you have to take the first thing that comes along.

Lets imagine for a moment that you are one of those who did not serve in the military. After 10 or 20 years of doing one kind of job you decide to change to a new career field. Virtually the same thing would apply to that civilian, they would have to have realistic expectations. If you were a senior software developer and then decided to get into automotive design you are not likely to head an automotive design team right off the bat.

The key take away here is whether you spent four years or twenty four years in the service, you must have a plan to “rebrand” yourself. Although you are a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine for life, one day you will be a civilian. It’s never too late to plan for life after the military.

~ Article written by Jason Caswell, Forward March Inc – Director of Training and Talent Pipeline Services

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Hiring Military and Veteran Talent

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Part 2 of a special 3 part series:

Hiring Military and Veteran Talent

Attracting military talent can be an overwhelming task, especially for those organizations that do not understand military culture, but attracting military talent is only part of the puzzle. The second piece is the military veteran hiring process.

Here are four things to think about when hiring veterans.

Screening Military Talent.

Often, military resumes can be confusing and too easily dismissed by recruiters and hiring managers.   So what exactly is a Yeoman or a Boatswain Mate in the Navy? What does an Air Battle Manager in the Air Force do? How do the skills of an Army Infantryman translate into civilian skills? What does a Marine Corps Basic Field Artilleryman bring to the table?

Veterans from each branch of service will be given a job specialty and in some cases, more than one job specialty. Many of these jobs transfer directly to civilian occupations, such as a human resource specialist or a lab technician. Some other military specialties may not. The bottom line here is that these are merely the jobs that the service member went to school to learn, and do not paint the whole picture of the intangible skills a veteran possesses.

Let’s go back to the Army Infantryman, for example, and break down a typical career. While it’s true, an infantryman might not be a direct fit for a specific job in your organization, many of the skills and education he receives over the course of a career are invaluable. Sometimes we need to look beyond titles.

A senior infantryman, over his career, has led hundreds of people in the most demanding and chaotic of situations imaginable. This person most likely completed a special duty assignment as a recruiter, drill sergeant, or instructor. He might have performed career enhancing positions such as an equal opportunity advisor, doctrine writer, or advisor to a foreign military. He may have even completed congressional fellowships and been assigned to Capitol Hill, or might have even worked on a Commanding General’s staff. He has attended dozens of professional military education courses or even cross trained into other military specialties. He most likely has a graduate degree. So as you can see, an infantryman at face value might not be a good fit, but when you peel back his various assignments and accomplishments, it’s clear that the individual is bringing a lot to the table.

Instead of filing military resumes into the trash, take the time to look at them and truly understand what it means to serve our great nation. Don’t dismiss applicants simply because they are veterans; embrace their service, support our troops, and schedule them for an interview.

Interviewing Military Talent

Now that we have tackled the screening process, let’s move into the interview. I am sure, at this point, the resume has generated more questions than answers, and that is perfectly acceptable. After all, that’s what the interview is all about.

Perhaps the best way for an interviewer to understand what a veteran did while in the military is to use a technique called behavioral event interviewing. This technique asks the candidate to describe situations and experiences they had while in the service. The answers to these questions cannot be rehearsed ahead of time and allows the veteran to open up about their military experience. Their answers will also help the interviewer find how their experiences and background will fit into the culture of the organization.

Example of questions an interviewer might ask:

  • Tell me about a time in the Air Force where you really stepped up to a challenge, offered an innovative solution, or took a high risk that paid off.
  • Tell me about a project or task in the Navy where you found yourself having to react to a major unexpected obstacle or change. What was the situation and what did you do?
  • Tell me about a time in the Marine Corps you worked on a project where a very diverse group of people were brought together to achieve a common goal.
  • I see on your resume, you attended the Army’s Warrior Leader Course. What did you take away from that training and how does it apply to this organization?
  • Your resume stated you were a Platoon Sergeant in the Marine Corps. What exactly is a Platoon Sergeant?
  • What additional military training and experience do you have, that would make you a good fit for our organization?
Forward March Inc Military Hiring Guide

The Forward March Inc Military Talent Hiring Guide can be customized for your organization.

Verifying Prior Service

The primary means of verifying an applicant’s veteran status is by viewing the Department of Defense Form 214, or DD 214, as is it commonly called.  The DD 214 is basically a one page document that covers a service member’s entire career. It includes information such as their rank, military specialty, awards, schools attended, periods of service, and type of discharge. Since the DD 214 is filled with all sorts of codes, and phrases, this single document is a great source for interview questions.

When a service member is separated from the military, they are given two copies of the DD 214: a long version, or Member Copy, and a short form. The long form has specific information in regard to the type of discharge the veteran was given.

Employers can ask for copies of the DD 214 as a means of verifying prior service. Be cautious of how your hiring managers use the information as it could become an EO issue. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, the Veteran’s Administration, and the Department of Labor are all on the same page when it comes to asking for the DD 214. Asking a veteran, “Did you receive an Honorable or General Discharge?” is fine. Asking the reason for discharge, however, can pose a problem. Suppose a veteran received an honorable discharge but was separated for a medical reason. Asking why that veteran was discharged would force them to expose a medical condition, which in turn could lead to discrimination in hiring.

If the veteran applicant served in the National Guard, he or she will be given a similar form as the DD 214 called the National Guard Bureau Form 22 or NGB 22.

Our Camouflage to Corporate Conference can get you on the fast track to developing a Veteran Talent Pipeline. November 17th, San Antonio, Texas.

We can get you on the fast track to developing a Veteran Talent Pipeline. November 17th, San Antonio, Texas.

Military Talent Employment Laws, Rules, and Regulations

For companies that are committed to hiring veterans, not only are they getting top talent that is motivated, well-educated, and full of leadership potential, but there are many other incentives. Companies that hire veterans receive tax breaks, have employees with educational benefits, and see reduced manpower costs. Here are some key protocols in regard to veteran hiring.

  • Vietnam Era Veteran’s Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) prohibits discrimination against veterans and requires federal contractors and subcontractors to take affirmative action to employ veterans.
  • Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) protects the jobs of guard and reserve members called to active duty.
  • Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011 (VOW Act) provides tax credits to companies that hire unemployed and wounded veterans.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes nondiscrimination practices for the employment of people with disabilities to include disabled veterans.
  • Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) enforces, for the benefit of job seekers and wage earners, the contractual promise of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity required of those who do business with the Federal government.

Finding, attracting, hiring, and retaining military talent is a skill that companies looking for the highest caliber employees simply must have. Forward March not only trains top companies to do this, but we have also created a Military Talent Hiring Guide that teaches organizations the basics of military talent acquisition and retention. If your organization is truly dedicated to hiring veterans, leave it to FMI to help make it happen. Click here and take the next step by attending out upcoming Camouflage to Corporate event and gain the skills needed to achieve your veteran hiring goals.

MILITARY HIRING 101 EVENT

Did you know that Forward March Inc also has conducts Hiring 101 Events which will give you the information and tools you need to succeed in hiring the very best military candidates. Our highly successful solutions are based on the proven military leadership models and a systematic approach to organizational growth. Learn more here. 

~ Article written by Jason Caswell, Forward March Inc – Director of Training and Talent Pipeline Services