Employers today are looking for employees with the potential for leadership and a desire to learn and grow. Veterans check those boxes easily — but not all employers know how to attract these applicants in the first place.
"Veterans are disciplined. These are workers accustomed to rising with the sun and getting the job done," Christopher Plamp, CEO of Hire Heroes USA, told HR Dive in an interview. "If you can get through basic training, you've learned core skills like working well under pressure and team work."
Today's military is also the most diverse it's ever been. "You won't find a workforce more ready for inclusion than veterans," Plamp said. "Everyone is part of the team." In addition to working with diverse members within their branch of service, many veterans have worked with civilian and military personnel from around the globe.
But as veterans adjust to civilian life, hiring managers need to be aware of language and cultural barriers that may make it difficult for veterans to showcase the skills they bring to the table.
The language gap
Beyond the soft skills they've acquired, the wealth of experience dealing with myriad challenges may not be easily translatable for recruiters not well-versed in military speak, meaning they may miss out on top talent.
"Hire Heroes tries to attack the problem from the other end," Plamp said. "We help veterans create resumes and improve interview skills by showing them how to articulate what they did in service that helps find jobs in civilian life. Many career military and entry-level service members have never written a resume or had an interview. They didn't need it to enlist or rise in the ranks." Hire Heroes starts with that basic skill to help them transition.
Another hurdle, he adds, is they tend to talk about what their unit did, rather than discussing what they, as individuals, contributed. "Getting them 'untrained' on group speak, identifying personal achievements, on a resume and in interviews, is the first step," Plamp said. For employers, that team mentality is vital to growth and productivity.
The military has its own verbiage that can be difficult for private employers to decode. Job titles may even be specific to the branch of service. "Staff sergeants may supervise 20 people and manage millions of dollars of equipment," Plamp said. "That level of responsibility is highly translatable to the private sector." But looking at the job title alone without delving into the details the candidate provides might not give much insight. He advises recruiters skip past the title and look more carefully into detailed descriptions of the work to find the translatable skills they're looking for.
Lower level rankings can be misleading, as well, Plamp said. In tech, for example, a candidate may not rise among the ranks, but still could have had a wealth of experience and training. Certification titles that are unique to the armed forces may not seem like a match in the private sector, he added, but they often are. While there are some resources for business to understand the language, Plamp recommended working with a veteran's agency to make sure no skills and capabilities are lost in translation.
One of the challenges Plamp hears from veterans is that language may deter them from applying for a job in the first place. When job postings include minimum years of experience or specific skills, veterans tend to self-exclude, even though their background has direct relevance. For employers dedicated to hiring this demographic, shifting the language to include "or relevant military or civilian experience" may be more welcoming to veterans.
Plamp also recommended that larger companies have at least one recruiter on worker who understands the lingo. This person can write job postings that are inclusive, review resumes or help other recruiters translate military jargon to civilian speak. For smaller companies, a veteran's resource group can provide the same assistance. Some companies, like Lockheed Martin, even have military skills translators on their job sites to help veterans find an opening that suits their skill set.
"Veterans who haven't had help making the transition are too often underemployed," Plamp said. "This cycle can be self-repeating, as they move from one job to another, all below their skill set or capabilities." His team helps them break that cycle and get on to a better career path. "Once they get on a good path, they now know how to find the next path on their own," he added.
More reasons to hire vets
Veterans have other bonuses for businesses: upskilling and increasing their knowledge base may be covered under the GI Bill and other educational options. Many tax credits are available for veteran-focused hiring and training initiatives.
Veterans have the soft skills, like leadership and discipline, that employers are looking for. They have potential to grow and even have assistance from the government to get them there. As employers seek to expand their diversity and inclusion initiatives, paying close attention to language may help talent professionals land the right candidate.