Q: I served two combat tours in Iraq as a U.S. Marine over a two-year period, and I continue to serve as a reservist. I knew firsthand how hard it was to find work once rejoining civilian life, even with sufficient on-the-job experience. My job in Iraq was to help build a local city government by working with local politicians and leaders. I managed 140 Marines and a $25 million budget. When I returned home and interviewed for a job in a Minnesota town with a population of 3,000 (where I would manage three staff members and a $5 million budget), I was rejected because my resume didn't include working in American city government.
Employers tend to pigeonhole returning veterans; they think we're qualified only for jobs as security guards, diesel mechanics or truck drivers. They miss how military training prepares men and women to be team players, to focus on responsibility, to be accountable and to fulfill deliverables on time. Nearly everything we do is transferable to the public and private sectors in the workplace.
What we do have trouble with is redefining what we did in the military so companies understand our experience and value our skills. We may not see the immediate comparisons translating our military rank and responsibilities to job titles and deliverables, but those skills are there. If veterans are lucky enough to get interviews, we may not be good at selling ourselves to hiring managers. The military trains us to downplay our individual achievements, so we have difficulty discussing accomplishments for fear of sounding arrogant.
I felt for the men and women who experienced the same rejections as I did, so I created an organization to help do help bridge the communication gap. I have the same entrepreneurial drive as an IT pro building a startup. The only difference is that I focus on helping individuals instead of raking in money.
In doing that, I fulfill my own sense of pride knowing that I am truly trying to better people's outcomes.
Typical job hunters are told to follow their passion, but they seem to think that they are also entitled to make big money early on. Though I was turned down for jobs because I was not qualified in an exact area, I now meet with top management of companies nationwide to help them create and develop veteran hiring programs. To those who are told they just don't have the right background to do the work, I encourage them to hold onto to their confidence and to not let others discourage them. Please encourage companies to open their minds to hiring veterans, and guide veterans to join the Veteran Talent Network http://www.genesis10.com/us-military-veterans/join/. Abandonment at home hurts as much, if not more, than it does in the field.
A: Job candidates run from highly qualified to unqualified, from educated to uneducated, and experienced to inexperienced, and the ones who get hired are not necessarily the ones who should get the jobs. A woman who works at a small, privately owned company wrote that the owner liked one employee he hired so much that he gave her a raise three months later. Meanwhile, she was near illiterate and he had hired her to handle internal communications. Not one memo was written without serious errors, but the positive side was that her writing provided company-wide laughter with every email.
Apart from trying to foresee why certain people are hired, facing discrimination of veterans head-on is a valuable undertaking. Hopefully, as companies learn about the many transferable skills individuals learn while in the military, veterans will gain the confidence to market themselves, knowing that they can make valuable contributions to the corporate world as well as to the country.
Lindsey Novak's column, "At Work," can be found at creators.com.