The War at Home: The Struggle for Veterans to Find Jobs – PART I

The War at Home: The Struggle for Veterans to Find Jobs – PART I

By Dialogo
April 02, 2013

In today’s tough and competitive job market, it can be challenging for any adult to land a decent job. Though education can definitely improve outcomes, sometimes it’s not just about the degree. Experience can also play a major role in helping people find jobs. Yet in some cases, experience can work against you. Just ask one of the many college-educated military veterans who serve their country only to return to find a job market that doesn’t want anything to do with them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for female veterans was 8.8% in January, compared to 7.5% for men and 7.7% for female civilians. And with an unemployment rate of about 20%, members of the National Guard and Reserve are faring far worse in the job market.

The Veteran’s Plight in the Job Search

Bruce Hurwitz created Hurwitz Strategic Staffing to promote the hiring of veterans.

“Twenty percent of jobs in the military have no civilian counterpart,” he said. “A truck driver is a truck driver, a warehouse manager is a warehouse manager, and a software developer is a software developer. But a sniper…”

Army veteran John Lee Dumas said he had zero anxieties about finding a job after graduating college and had been told that his military experience would give him a leg up on other candidates. But things didn’t turn out that way.

“I quickly found out that I was lumped together with recent college grads for entry-level positions, and that an employee that had two years experience at a job in a similar industry was considered way more qualified than I was, despite my four years as an officer in the army,” Dumas said.

When Dumas did find work, he said it was difficult to acclimate to the civilian office environment.

“I often found that my peers and above had a hard time dealing with my direct approach and attitude about tackling problems head on, often asking for forgiveness rather than permission,” he said.

Dumas found entrepreneurship was a much better fit for him, and he now uses the skills he acquired in the military to run Entrepreneur on Fire.

Statistics suggest that employers do want to hire veterans. According to a Career Builder survey, 65% of employers said they would be more likely to hire a veteran over another equally qualified candidate, while 29% of employers say they are actively recruiting veterans to work for their organizations.

So what’s the problem?

One issue is that veterans are too modest when it comes to stating their accomplishments in the military.

“For some reason, I’ve had veterans not tell me about their awards and honors, but it should all be listed – from commanders’ coins to medals of honor,” Hurwitz said.

Navy veteran Tim Graves, who has a career in workforce development helping companies understand the benefits of hiring skilled and experienced military veterans, agreed.

“[Employers] often complain that they can’t identify veterans because it is never on their resumes,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how long ago you served, you need to highlight that service.”

The Career Builder survey found that 30% of employers said it’s not always obvious to tell whether a candidate is a veteran.

“Military veterans are not taught how to self-promote,” said Lida Citroen, who has a resource on her website specifically devoted to help veterans transition to civilian jobs. “To be successful in service, it is important to put troop and mission ahead of self. Unfortunately, when veterans try to enter the civilian marketplace, they quickly realize they don’t know how to sell themselves to potential employers.”

PTSD and Deployments: Disclose or Not?

Some employers can also be hesitant to hire veterans with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

“As for PTSD, there is concern. But there is a simple answer. ‘I have PTSD. I take medication and once a week I meet with a therapist. If I am having difficulty, I know who to call. But I want to say something,’” Hurwitz said.

Graves said that PTSD shouldn’t be a factor in hiring, but it is.

“Anyone who has been in a traumatic situation suffers from post-traumatic stress, but not all of them experience the syndrome of PTSD,” Graves said. “People with PTSD are also protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act, so if you are systematically screening out veterans from your process because of this bias, you will eventually have to explain your underutilization of veterans to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs.”

Additionally, military reservists who could possibly be deployed may be hesitant to divulge that information to employers.

“They are protected under the law. I tell reservists not to bring it up, but if the employer asks, be honest about employment cycles,” Graves said. “They are protected under Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.”

Ted Daywalt, president of VetJobs, said he counsels those in the National Guard and Reserve to leave their military experience off the resume completely, due to a bias against hiring of NG&R.

The Trouble with Translation

Nearly every career expert will agree that translating military skills to the civilian workplace is one of the most difficult things to do for veterans on the job hunt.

“When you get out of the military, you need to know that things will be different,” said Army veteran Holly Mosack, director of military recruiting for Advanced Technology Services. “You have to realize that only one percent of the country has served in the military, so people can’t relate to your experiences.”

Hurwitz said vets should be more general in describing duties and veer away from graphic details.

“If you were responsible for a warehouse, you shouldn’t write that you were responsible for storage and distribution of bullets, mines, and guns because some civilian employers may become nervous,” he said. “All the civilian employer needs to know is that the veteran had to track 140 different units, each in quantities between 1,000 and 500,000, and successfully made 750 deliveries a day. A sniper can’t write ‘I killed the enemy without harming the civilians who were surrounding them.’ The sniper should instead write, ‘Focused and great under stress.’”

Steve Padhi, currently an active duty lieutenant commander in the Navy Civil Engineer Corps, had a four-year break from service in which he held jobs as a high school teacher and an engineer-diver.

“Even though I had five years of active duty experience after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy with a B.S. in Ocean Engineering, both the education and the engineering industries viewed me as entry-level, plus a couple steps for maturity beyond the average recent college grad,” Padhi said. “It was understandable in light of the highly technical nature of the job, which didn’t exactly match what I had done in the military. The discouraging part was that I only realized what those active duty years really meant to me when taking stock of my position relative to the other entry level peers. I didn’t see myself the same as them in terms of managerial potential, but that is the nature of business in a technical field.”

(To be continued…)