Principal Consultant, Career OverDrive!
Very often, it seems, we find that military veterans have difficulties in their transition to the civilian workforce. In particular, there is often the difficulty of landing a job quickly, this is even more of an issue when we are still dealing with a very bumpy or uneven economic environment. Even more pressing for many military veterans is first determining what job they are capable of doing and would like to do and then communicating that to the prospective employer or hiring authority.
The Silicon Valley Business Journal recently ran an article on this topic so for this post I'd like to dissect part of the article and offer some advice to the men and women who have served our country and now are transitioning out of military service and into the civilian workforce.
By Preeti Upadhyaya
Silicon Valley Business Journal
Date: Monday, November 11, 2013, 5:37 am PST
Mark Green spent eight months looking for a job in Silicon Valley after leaving active military service last year. He had been working as a telecoms signal officer for the U.S. Army, and expected his years in service would quickly land him a communications and networking job in the Valley.
"Between San Jose and San Francisco, there's a lot of industry there," said Green. “I looked at all the major companies in Silicon Valley —Apple, Google, Cisco — and a lot of times they didn’t even want to talk to me. I was just trying to get an informational interview, but they just told me to apply online."
Career OverDrive!: Many people, including civilians already gainfully employed, face these exact same issues. And it seems to be a real paradox. The hiring company may actually want to hire you, you may even have the right skill set and fit the corporate culture. However, unless you can (a) identify and contact the right person and (b) properly package and present yourself either to land an informational interview or to move your candidacy forward you'll find yourself blocked like Mark was. The good news is, though, that there are specific tactics and approaches available (see: Fire Your Recruiter!) to avoid the dreaded "apply online" blow off or redirect.
Green, who eventually landed a project manager role at San Jose-based Cisco, said tech companies aren't doing enough to help the thousands of service members who are entering the civilian workforce every day.
“Tech companies have all these veterans initiatives. But often, they’re just sound bites and spin," Green said. “I went to Apple just to meet with someone and they said the same thing — just apply online. A lot of doors were closed in my face.”
Green said he faced a common problem experienced by veterans re-entering the civilian job market: the difficulty of relating his Army experience to the business world.
But these efforts are still not enough to help veterans compete on an even playing field in uber-competitive Silicon Valley, said Green.
“Companies need to join together to explain to veterans how to translate their skills, what training is needed and what the options are,” Green said. “That will help vets be more competitive in Silicon Valley.”
Mike Dougherty, another Army veteran, said hiring managers often did not see the value of his military experience to the business world.
“I told them about being a platoon leader going into Bosnia with the 1st Armored Division across the Sava River,” Dougherty said. “And the hiring managers just said, ‘What does this have to do with this job?’"
Career OverDrive!: This is a big myth that entraps and then sinks many candidates: "Well, the hiring manager should see how my experience (or skill sets) fit in with this job." The fact is, it's extremely rare for this to occur unless you have a checklist-worthy resume (often a cookie-cutter resume/background) that obviously meshes with their job spec. Expecting the hiring manager to see where you fit or to tell you where you fit is even more rare in a hyper competitive market like Silicon Valley and frankly in any market given the current economic realities. We can't expect nor should we expect a prospective employer to be able to understand how or why a candidate may fit a particular job as it requires the employer to put in too much effort and in some cases it even expects that the employer be a mind-reader. All candidates need to be able to map and align their skills and talents with the employers needs (both stated and hidden) and show what value they are able to bring to the table. In addition, candidates need to be able to develop a resume and other marketing tools that make them first a "must meet" candidate (see: High-Impact Resumes) and then second they must develop the interviewing and presentation skills to make them a "must hire" candidate (see: Crush Any Interview!).
That disconnect between military work and civilian jobs is one major factor driving the high unemployment level among younger veterans who may have gone directly into service and have little to no formal training or credentials that hiring managers look for. The overall veteran unemployment rate in the U.S. is 6.5 percent, and 9.7 percent for post-9/11 veterans, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Dougherty believes that veterans inherently bring dedication, commitment and integrity to a company, but they may be ruled out because of a lack of a degree or certification. Dougherty said. “A lack of formal training can be a handicap, but you have to emphasize those life skills.”
Career OverDrive!: Most veterans have a lot more valuable skills to offer than than they normally imagine. Much of this can again be overcome by taking a talent inventory, an interest inventory, identifying strengths and then polishing the way the veteran is packaged and presented to the prospective employer.
To better prepare for the tough job market for veterans in Silicon Valley, going back to school is a good option, especially for younger vets, said Mario Asencio, a veteran who left the Marine Corps in July.
Asencio, 26, is currently pursuing an MBA at San Jose State University.
“I did throw out my resume to a few companies, but nothing came of it,” Asencio said. Today, he hopes a business degree will help him achieve his dream of managing supply chains for Nike in Latin America.
Career OverDrive!: There's is nothing wrong in seeking to acquire additional skills or to leverage the signaling value of a degree. But it's also a HUGE mistake to assume that "going back to school" will automatically land you your dream gig or that it's even necessary. The unemployment and underemployment rate of college and university degree holders shatters this myth. The necessary skills to do a job can very often be acquired through self-study, short certificate programs or on the job training in a very short time while focused on monetizable skills. Beyond the acquisition of new skills or a formal education, the job seeker can utilize the SWAN principle of "Sell What's Available Now" to more effectively package and present one's current skills (and potential) which is far more effective, less risky and cheaper, both in terms of the initial direct outlay of money for the education or training but also the opportunity cost of not working during that time (that is the wages forgone or lost by going to school rather than working). Don't get me wrong, a formal education can be a huge asset, but it all depends on what you are planning to do now and in the future, and it is very importantly we realize there are alternatives ways to land a job and build a career. And as mentioned above you can't expect results to coming in the 21st job market by "throwing a resume out there" -- for 99% of the people, that isn't going to work. We need to stop thinking volume, stop thinking shotguns and start thinking targeted, sniper shots. Less volume, but highly targeted, highly relevant and laden with value. The key to this is to send out small amounts, of highly targeted resumes and get market feedback, use that to then continue to refine and improve your resume and other marketing tools as well as your interviewing skills. Many folks, though, veterans and civilians alike, internal this valuable market feedback as "failure". Let me be clear here: It's only failure if you (a) label it as failure, (b) don't learn from it and (c) refuse to get back up. I know you're better than that and you do, too. So stay positive and working on continually improving both your skills and your job searching skills.
Here some additional resources for transitioning military veterans:
- https://h2h.jobs/ Hero 2 Hired is a job site for veterans that helps translate military skills to civilian job descriptions.
- http://www.studentveterans.org/ The Student Veterans Association helps veterans with resources to succeed in higher education and post-graduation.
- http://edd.ca.gov/ The California Employment Development Department has resources for veterans like job boards and a resume uploader.