Veterans Believe Their Military Experience Hurts Job Search

Companies look for ways to bridge the perception gap between employers, veterans

Roy Maurer By Roy Maurer November 11, 2016

Nearly three-fourths of post-Sept. 11 veterans believe it would take them longer to find a job than an equally qualified nonvet, according to a new poll.

Even though the unemployment rate for veterans who have served since September 2001 was 4.7 percent in October 2016 and employers are supporting veteran hiring initiatives, the survey from talent acquisition solutions provider iCIMS reveals the fears and challenges many vets say they face during the job search process.

iCIMS collaborated with RecruitMilitary, a subsidiary of Bradley-Morris, the largest military-focused recruiting company in the U.S., in conducting the study among more than 708 post-Sept. 11 veterans to gain a better understanding of their experience and expectations while job hunting.

The most striking finding was that so many veterans feel their military experience is an obstacle to getting a job. Forty-one percent believe hiring managers do not understand their military experience, and 37 percent believe hiring managers devalue their military experience. Respondents also said that job postings require more specialized experience than they have (36 percent), that they have trouble translating military skills to civilian roles (28 percent), and that online applications are confusing or overwhelming (14 percent).  

Perhaps consequently, 47 percent of respondents have understated or excluded their military service on their resume or online job application, and among those, 44 percent were concerned their military service would negatively impact the hiring decision.

"It is evident that there is a disconnect and a lack of understanding between veterans and employers," said Susan Vitale, chief marketing officer at iCIMS. "Employers can bridge the disconnect by understanding what veterans really need to feel satisfied and fulfilled in a civilian career path."

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Becoming a Military-Ready Employer]

Closing the Perception Gap

Vitale said that employers should offer training programs for hiring managers on the benefits of employing veterans and educate them on how to recruit from this special talent pool.

Savage Services, a logistics and supply chain company based in Midvale, Utah, trains its hiring managers on eliminating any preconceived opinions about veterans and educates recruiters on how military jobs transition over to positions at Savage.

"Approximately 10 percent (320 employees) of Savage Services' workforce is veterans, and that number is set to rise over the next several years," said Cydney Garland, talent acquisition coordinator for the company. "We realize, often times, the interview process can be a deterrent to many veterans. To ensure we are not missing any candidates, due to a lack of communication between military terms and job ratings in the screening or interview process, we have implemented a training program [in Savage locations] throughout the country to inform hiring managers. Part of that training is explaining to managers the roadblocks veterans face, especially when it comes to finding a position that fits their experience."

Global consultant firm PwC, recently named as a top five employer for veterans by Military Times, created an internal playbook for recruiting veterans, which translates military experience and outlines resume searching tips for recruiters. "We train recruiters on what to look for and what to overlook, not putting so much emphasis on certain things," said Chris Crace, veterans advocacy leader at PwC. "We're teaching them to be able to interpret and read between the lines."

Bradley-Morris CEO Tim Best advised employers to set up a separate, modified military hiring track to recognize the differences in the process. "While more than 80 percent of the jobs in the military have a civilian equivalent, veterans don't screen like civilians because they probably didn't have the same job title in the military," he said. "Plus, the civilian hiring process rarely accounts for the high level of intangibles veterans bring to the table such as leadership, team-orientation and performance in dynamic environments, especially compared to civilian peers of the same age. You as a business are hiring for the things you can't train—those intangible attributes—and then you will train the veterans on your industry."

One way to differentiate the recruiting process is to recraft job descriptions, Vitale said.  

"Because someone who entered the military straight out of high school may not have a college degree or workplace experience doesn't mean they don't have the skills or passion to effectively fulfill the job," she said. "Focusing more on relevant skills rather than requirements surrounding specific degrees or years of experience will help employers be more inclusive."

Additional ways employers can close the military hiring perception gap include:

  • Getting executive buy-in. "When hiring managers and recruiters have marching orders from the C-level, it filters through the entire organization," Best said. "But be careful if you have the instinct to say that it's a company's altruistic duty. Instead, target veterans because you love the idea of a pool of talent that is always replenishing and you love the business impact that their unique experience can bring."
  • Hiring a veteran for "top of the funnel" candidate engagement as well as internal knowledge transfer for recruiters and hiring managers. PwC brought Crace to the firm 18 months ago to do just that. "Other companies have someone with a role similar to mine but they are not given the scope and ability to influence as much as PwC has given me and my team," Crace said.
  • Setting up a dedicated infrastructure. Veteran hiring is a human capital strategy at PwC. It is supported by a veterans' council, which is made up of senior leaders and chaired by the chief people officer, and a robust veterans' affinity network of employee advocates. PwC has also invested in a veterans-only recruiter and dedicated recruiting resources like a careers site and an internal referral program specific to veterans.
  • Asking for feedback. Nearly all (89 percent) veterans surveyed by iCIMS have never been asked by an employer or prospective employer for their feedback regarding its veteran hiring program. "In order to recruit and retain veteran top talent, employers need to be asking for feedback about the application, interview and employee onboarding processes to make sure they are not missing the mark," Vitale said.
  • Practicing transparency. PwC allows veteran candidates to speak with an internal veteran employee to give them a day-in-the-life experience at the company and coach them on things to be aware of. "The experience gives them a feel for the firm and the industry to see if it is a right fit," Crace said.

Start an Internship Program

Financial and HR technology firm Workday, headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., recently decided to "walk the talk" and build its own internship program aimed at breaking down barriers to employment in tech jobs and applying veterans' skillsets to tech-focused roles, said Carrie Varoquiers, vice president, global impact and president of the Workday Foundation.

The Career Accelerator Program is a six-month full-time paid internship with the goal of full-time regular employment. "Opening a door is one of the ways we can make a truly positive impact in supporting our veterans," Varoquiers said.

The first cohort of interns went through the program this year, which included two weeks of Workday human capital management training before being placed throughout the company.

"They work in application development, quality assurance, HR, finance—really across the breadth of the organization," she said. "Not everyone needs to be a coder. We still do matchmaking, just like when we recruit for any other position. We look at a veterans' resume and try to make sure that the transferable skills are applied to a position that would welcome that person's experience."   

The program had an 83 percent conversion rate to full-time hires, with all of the participants saying they would recommend the program to other veterans transitioning to civilian life.

Workday is aiming to double participation in the next iteration of the program beginning in February 2017.

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