This week, our nation honors all who have served in our military with Veterans Day commemorations. Beyond the verbal tributes, however, one important way to honor them is to listen to them to gain an understanding of their unique perspectives and needs when reentering civilian life and looking for work.
“It has been a tough, tough road,” says Marc Gonzalez, who was recently hired as the director of operations at GetOutfitted, a startup company in Colorado. Gonzalez spent 17 years on active duty in the U.S. Navy, fighting in both Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
Ultimately, he came to see a job search as no different than a deployment. Gonzalez explains: “There will be a lot of times or days when you are wondering, ‘Just what am I doing?’ You don’t see the traction, but you just get up every morning and you do the job.”
He continues: “I’m very appreciative to the American people for saying, ‘We want to support our veterans’ … but I want to look at companies who label themselves as ‘veteran friendly’ and ask: ‘What does that really mean?'”
Like others who were interviewed for this article, Gonzalez argues that human resources and recruiting departments are rarely poised to recognize the skills that any veteran brings to the table, whether for entry-level or leadership positions.
If you are a veteran, you face the challenge of learning how “to present your hard and soft skills, as well as your experiences in a manner that will be understood by the civilian market,” says Keith Wiggins, who served in the military for 23 years and now counsels job-seeking vets.
“Someone who has done three to six years of service usually doesn’t have a strong employment background or an understanding of how to build a résumé and do a proper job search,” he says. “Someone who has gotten out with about 10 years of service has accumulated a certain amount of experience and then has to learn how to organize that in a manner that they can present themselves in a marketable means.”
Wiggins offers this advice:
• Use your time in the military to plan for what you will be doing afterward. Do things now that will be necessary to make you marketable later.
• Make certain to obtain all the appropriate certifications that will be important in the civilian market. Whether you are a helicopter mechanic, work in HR or whatever else – figure out your parallel civilian role and what credentials are required for it.
• Determine your soft skills. If you are in a combat role, your immediate “hardline skills” may not readily transfer.
• Access your college career center. As a graduate, you should look to your college for advice about résumé creation, how to research opportunities and what you want to do next.
• Network online in order to network in person. Gonzalez tells the story of how he found his current job by doing a basic LinkedIn search for “operations” and his location. He thereby identified the head of a company, who invited Gonzalez to connect and speak about his vision for the company. “And he rest is history,” he says.
• Get in front of people face-to-face, and explain how you fit in. Don’t ask them to figure it out. “The more you see people face-to-face, the better the traction you will get,” Gonzalez says.
• Be selective about your background and what you focus on. You don’t have to show everything you did on your résumé. Instead, focus on those areas of your work and achievements that can be related to the civilian world.
• Stay away from military jargon. The military has a language all its own, and it can be incomprehensible and intimidating to those who aren’t familiar with it. Avoid uncommon acronyms, and put things in terms that your audience will understand.
• Ask for help. There is often need to have someone counsel to help understand what you are doing in the military that is similar to what you want to do afterward and how to translate that vocabulary effectively.
Both Gonzalez and Wiggins stress the need for employers to make better efforts to understand the underlying skillset and attitude that nearly every vet possesses: discipline, focus, the ability to adjust to new circumstances quickly, individual responsibility, leadership and management.
And of course, there is that enthusiasm and “never accept defeat” attitude that is always a tremendous asset to bring to a work environment.
To all our vets: Thank you for your service!
Arnie Fertig, MPA, is passionate about helping his Jobhuntercoach clients advance their careers by transforming frantic “I’ll apply to anything” searches into focused hunts for “great fit” opportunities. He brings to each client the extensive knowledge he gained when working in HR staffing and managing his boutique recruiting firm.