What Employers Say about Hiring Veterans - Behind Closed Doors

In November 2015, representatives of 40 companies and six industry associations from across the state of Alabama were invited to meet with the Governor of Alabama and key state leaders to discuss Veteran hiring. The State Department of Labor and Still Serving Veterans planned and presented the event.

These were hand-selected companies, representing a variety of industries, company size, and geographical locations. These are companies who care about Veterans and yet, when asked for anonymous answers to the question – what are the real barriers to hiring Veterans? -- their feedback was quite eye opening. Here are some of their major concerns:

1. Translation. There was a strong belief that the challenges of translating military experience, real skill-set, and level of responsibility into something meaningful for a given employer for given jobs was a major obstacle to hiring Veterans. Some employers wanted to learn more and were looking for mechanisms and tools to do so. Others placed the onus on the Veteran to make the translation. Many employers cited poor resumes, written in military jargon, as being an obstacle to hiring.

"Vets have good resumes but some don't do well in job interviews. Candidates do not relate their military story to the job requirements he/she is being considered for."

2. Military Stereotypes and Organizational/Cultural Fit. It appears that most of the negative views of Veterans were related to those just making the military-civilian career transition for the first time. It is apparent that some respondents were talking from first-hand experience, while others were relating stereotypes. Whether fact-based or not, the major concern was related to the perception that military members are accustomed to operating within a structured, rigid, “do as your told” culture and unable to “fit” within a less rule-bound, less directive, less compliance-based setting found in many civilian organizations. These concerns about cultural fit are reinforced when Veterans are arrogant, abrasive, have unrealistic expectations in terms of their qualifications and pay or expect civilians to understand what they did in the military.

"They want to command or expect civilians to understand how they did things in the military."
"Their ability to adapt to things not being structured to their standard."

It would be wrong to imply that all participants shared this negative stereotype of Veterans. There were positive comments. Nonetheless, the question posed to the breakout groups was intentionally stated in terms of “barriers and concerns” to get beyond political correctness and platitudes. If these participants did not care about Veterans, they would not have invested their time, money, and brain-power to participate in this Summit.

3. Lack of Experience, Skill or Qualification. Beyond simple translation of military specialty codes, many attendees indicated that Veterans simply do not have the necessary skills to fill the jobs that are available within their organizations. Training programs, to include internships and apprenticeships, were cited as being potential solutions to these issues.

"We don't have the time or money to train someone when we can hire someone who already has the skills"

What does this mean for you, the Veteran job seeker? Here are several actions you can take to counter these concerns:

  • Resumes. Spend time on making your resume your own. Focus on the job or career you are seeking. Focus on the employer, not yourself. Clearly link what you know how to do with what the employer is seeking for a specific position. It is your job to verbally and in writing, connect the dots between your military experience and the job you want. If you can’t make this connection, it is unrealistic to expect a civilian employer to do so.
  • Expectations. Be realistic about your salary expectations. Use tools like Indeed.com’s salary tools and Salary.com to research the pay scales for the particular level of work in your location. Research shows that while many Veterans lag behind their civilian counterparts for the first few years after they leave the service, within three years or so they have caught up and exceeded their military counterparts.
  • Organizational Culture and Cultural Fit. The stereotype of the rule-bound, do as your told, robot of a soldier, sailor, airman, or Marine is just that, a stereotype widely recognized as generally unjust, untrue, and unfair. Nonetheless, the reality is that this is a widely-held stereotype and you must be prepared to counter it.

Beyond salary, many Veterans are unrealistic about the organizational level at which they are qualified to enter an organization. Proving yourself and “earning your stripes” is a process as common to the civilian world as it is in the military. You typically must “pay your dues” and demonstrate your value and competence.

Some of them think they should automatically be supervisors or managers because they were leaders in the military

Unfortunately, the feedback about some Veterans being arrogant, abrasive, and displaying a sense of entitlement is true. We see it in some of our Veteran clients. One of the first task of transition is letting go of these attitudes and behaviors that may have been acceptable in some military settings, but hold you back outside of that setting.

While you may have to set aside and let go of some believes, behaviors, and attitudes, you must also hold fast to the important and good things. Everyone has their list, here is mine. I want to remember…

  • I can put mission before self.
  • I can work in harsh conditions with limited resources and get stuff done.
  • That it may be five o’clock somewhere, but it is 0200 here and we’re going to get this job done.
  • I can take orders and give orders.
  • I work independently or as a member of a team.
  • I can have your back and you have mine.

Employers want us to remember these things too. Rank, entitlement, expectation, arrogance, abrasiveness, and unfounded judgments about “civilians” stand in the way of finding a good job and career. Keep the good and let go of the rest.

Finally, seek out help. Come see or contact Still Serving Veterans.