Hire a veteran!

A while back I was asked to speak at the opening of the Cleveland 2012 Hiring Our Heroes job fair which took place yesterday. At first I thought to myself: “Why in the world do they want me to speak at a job fair? I haven’t looked for a new job in over 20 years!”

Then I read an article here about why companies do or do not hire veterans. It discussed some of the barriers employers perceive in hiring vets and I was surprised at some of the misconceptions and concerns employers might have. After talking to the folks running the fair I decided I would address some of these and describe to potential employers the type of person they are likely to get when they hire a veteran. You know how I like to dispel myths. 

The biggest problem according to the article I link to above: It’s difficult to figure out how to translate military skills into applicable work experience in civilian life.such as responsibility for a big project or management of a team of workers-  

Really? When I read this I laughed out loud. A Lieutenant has probably managed up to 40 or so troops in his platoon. A Captain is likely to have been a company commander managing from 150-200 personnel. That’s like managing a small business!

On the enlisted side we have troops who came in as teenagers and by the time they are 20 years old have lead up to 15 or so troops in combat as a squad leader.  By the time they are 26 or so they are platoon sergeants training and leading 40 man platoons. It’s kind of funny, on one hand we have a 20 year old leading 15 other guys in combat, making life and death decisions. Yet employers wonder if this same kid can handle 8 other guys working on a civilian job or deal with the stress of a deadline. 

But many veterans don’t know how to present their military skills to accentuate those talents.

Here’s a quick translation from military to civilian lingo: you say management, we say leadership. In the military we teach that leadership is the art of influencing people to do things they may not normally want to do: “Like show up to work on time?” I said that and the crowd chuckled as most people are somewhat familiar with the consequences of being late in the military. But leadership, as I said, is about influence not simply barking like a Drill Instructor. The bellicose Sgt glaring and yelling at everyone within sight and hearing is another misconception employers may have.  Military leadership is not all done at the top of our lungs. If it were I think I would have burst a blood vessel by now. Positive influence, mentoring, and setting the example are all part of leading others.

All in all I’d say many veterans don’t always successfully translate military lingo and experience into something civilians can understand. It’s one of the reasons why they need to attend transition classes before they ship out. If you’re in the military reading this I advise you attend these classes a year before you PCS. Sign up now.

More than half of the employers also expressed concerns about post-traumatic stress and instability after deployments.

There are a lot of popular misconceptions floating around about your service members. One is that every veteran must have some kind of latent PTSD and is a ticking time bomb waiting to shoot up the joint. Frankly, I’ve heard more about school shootings and post office gun battles than vets going on a rampage. Contrary to the popular media, PTSD does not make you unable to distinguish between right and wrong. It does not make you crazy or turn you into a monster. It’s not something I think employers need to worry about. As a matter of fact, I’ll wager veterans come to work with less emotional baggage than your average civilian of the same age. They’ve developed the emotional and psychological armor to deal with the real world. The big girls and big boys are the ones coming home. The idea we all come back unstable is an outright lie.

Employers also said another problem was a mismatch between the skills veterans have and the ones they need for civilian jobs.

Yes, they are pretty much all overqualified.  Again, I feel the biggest setback is translating military lingo to something employers understand. If, for instance, they understood seeing prospective employees have attended NCO School meant graduation from a leadership/personnel management course, they might look at vets in a different light. Companies usually pay thousands of dollars for their people to attend similar courses in the civilian world.

Another misconception about vets claims people only join the military because they have no other choice. It is contended they are less educated and live in poverty to begin with. The truth is military members are better educated and have more money than their civilian counterparts. Don’t believe me? Ask the Heritage Foundation.

There are many intangible benefits to hiring vets. They understand concepts like teamwork, it’s no longer just about them. They show up on time and understand commitment having shown it with their service. They are trainable, our military is capable of doing anything you tell them to. They are not a one trick pony. We can blow up bridges and we can build them. Not only are they capable of defeating their enemies on the battlefield, but they have rendered aid to strangers in Japan, Haiti, Pakistan, built schools and infrastructure all over the world.  They’ll do what is expected of them and are willing to work.

One of my Reserve Staff Sergeants came back from Afghanistan last year and went looking for a job. He walked into some kind of counselor’s office whose job it was to help folks find work. The counselor immediately advised the Marine he should just go on unemployment and not worry about a job for the time being. The SSgt stated he wasn’t interested in unemployment, he wanted to work. The counselor continued to push the unemployment route until the SSgt thanked him for nothing and walked. The SSgt is currently in Officer Candidate School becoming a Marine officer.

The kind of people coming home from the service want to work for a living. They are not looking for employers to give them something for nothing. They understand values like fidelity, commitment, and integrity. In the Marines we like the say the Corps does three things: make Marines, win battles, and return citizens back their communities better than when we got them. There are some great citizens coming back to your community. Put them to work.

Semper Fidelis!
America’s SgtMaj 

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  1. SGM,
    After I retired, I looked for some other jobs to keep me busy and stuff that I liked to do. On one application they asked:
    “Have you ever been exposed to a stressful incidnet?”

    Pick one.

    Supervisor jobs: At one interview the 30 something year old started telling me supervisor problems they had in the past. When I gave them possible solutions, they started to write them down. At that point I decided I should start a company teaching folks who’ve never been in the military how TO LEAD.

  2. SgtMaj

    After I retired, it took me several months to be able to change SNCO Academy to Management Schooling and being a LAR platoon leader in Iraq to a manager responsible for X millions of dollars woth or gear and 24 lives. When you talk to Marines, try to convince them to start talking to hiring people in careers they want a year out and sort out the “phraseology” you were speaking about. I was hired to be a Manager at a K-Mart with well over 100 employees. I didn’t take it when I was offered a position teaching Counter IED, but it took me three months on terminal working very day to get both offers. I tell every Marine leaving the COrps now to start early and build contacts and rehearse the assault, I mean practice the interview, before they are near terminal. Also, the long haired, bearded “civilian” look doesn’t work with most employers. Thaks for the posts and Semper Fidelis and thank you for a great blog!

    Sean Perry, SSgt USMC (Ret.)

  3. My cousins, both who left the military after a couple of years, volunteered for my public health research studies a couple of years ago. The deal was a free trip to nyc, a Broadway.show, and room/board… Just help me out two days a week for four weeks.

    They did some filing, interviewed older adults about influenza vaccines, and conducted community assessments. They completely impressed the project director that worked for me with their politeness, efficiency, and eagerness to move onto the next task. Real testament to translation of military skills…

    They were a wonderful addition to my research team. I wish I could have hired them…

  4. I wish my googlefu was better…

    There was a study, done some time ago, about the reality concerning Vietnam Veterans and their impact on society.

    Surprisingly, the study found that as a demographic, the Vietnam Vets had a higher employment rate, less violent crime issues, less drug use, etc and so on, than any other like sized chunk of the American pop.

    Hollywood has much to answer for, on that day when answers come due.


  5. Mark, Happy 4th to you!

    Suz, any time!

    CI Roller, you could make a mint with that school. Just change lead to personnel management and you’d be rich!

    Sean, we just have to keep putting the word out. Hopefully some of the Marine will listen. Thanks for reading!

    Mr. T, not sure what you are implying. I know next to nothing about the Heritage Foundation except they did the study. Maybe you know something I don’t?

    Helminth, hopefully they got the project manager to write a letter of recommendation letter. Great story!

    Grimmy, Hollywood doesn’t do reality remember?

  6. The company I work for, the biggest of big oil, preferentialy hires vets. Why? Pretty simple; they (we) tend to be low maintenance, self motivating problem solvers and leaders. I’ll take a young Sgt or Lt. over a freshly minted Phd from MIT any day. No substitute for real world experience.

    Semper Fi


  7. Jim, the action oriented types always seem the mess up the whole stand around with your hands in your pockets thing.

    Pax, yeah, but you Aussies freak out about guns too much. Can’t even take a picture with one without making it a national incident. What’s up with that?

  8. Sergeant Major,

    Through the years I have interviewed well over 1000 candidates for positions at all levels in manufacturing operations. Some of these had prior military service. Having spent several years in the reserves equipped me to better understand how military experience can be an advantage for some of the positions I was filling.

    There is a large, maybe huge, problem when it comes time for people with military experience seeking work in the civilian sector.

    Most job applicants have no idea how to write a good resume. Every time I change jobs I do my utmost using different resources to write the best resume I can. Then I go to a professional resume writer who thoroughly reconstructs and rewrites my best effort. I am amazed at the transformation. Professional resume writers stay abreast of the latest trends in what HR departments, resume screening software, and hiring managers expect to see in a resume. The rules and expectations change very quickly. Amateurs who write their own resumes can only expect amateur results when hunting for jobs.

    I have seen resumes written by people who purport to prepare military people for the civilian job market. Every such resume I saw was junk. All these people did was to transcribe what the military people said into a grammatical structure and then put it into a one-size-fits-all format.

    There is a very important difference between the imperatives of the civilian job market versus those of the military world. In the civilian world we have to measure and report results that make a difference to internal and external customers. How much did we improve profit, or grow revenue? How many new products did we design in the last year? How much did we reduce cost which increasing production? How much did we improve trade working capital? How much did we reduce the defect rate?

    In resumes from military candidates I read a great deal of maintaining, not continuous improvement. For example, “Responsible for $8.2 million of equipment.” or “Responsible for the health, welfare, and training of 42 enlisted personnel.” The typical response from a civilian hiring manager is, “So what?” We need strong change agents, not maintainers. I have never sen in a resume from somebody in the military an understanding of satisfying customers … and, yes, military personnel do have customers.

    Another issue is that while in the military our training is how to perform effectively as part of a larger team in which each person knows what to do. In the civilian working world, while teamwork is crucial, hiring managers want to know what job candidates did as individuals to make a measurable difference. Extracting that story from the military experience can be a challenge. You, the readers of Castra Praetoria, and I know there is a valid story to be told be those making the transition from military to civilian employment.

    There is a crying need for professional resume writers who can translate the military experience into results-oriented stories that will better enable military personnel get hired in the civilian world. I have not yet met a resume writer who can do that, but I’m sure that there are a few out there.

    I’m sure you can see my e-mail address. Please feel free to contact me directly if you’d like to explore this topic further.

    Best regards,


  9. One issue that I never see addressed is how veterans are years behind their civilian counterparts. I got out, spent two years finishing my degree, and haven’t found a job yet in a field full of openings. Why? Because I don’t have any experience in the field. Every job wants you to have experience, and nearly every internship requires you to be a full time student. Some even expect you to have prior internship experience! Many internships are unpaid, but how are veterans with mortgages, bills, and families going to survive with unpaid jobs?

    And government jobs are no better. They don’t hire veterans over more qualified people. They only hire veterans over equally qualified other people. So they don’t bother with me because all the other college grad kids spent four years racking up internships.

  10. Pax, I’ll look that up.

    Helminth, good on ya!

    LTMG, I think you make a good point. When we talk quantitative and qualitative info, we don’t always teach Marines what that really means. Not losing $8.2 million in gear isn’t really making much of an impact. Increasing a platoon’s Physical Fitness Test score an average of 25 points from 2d class to 1st class shows more influence. I also cannot see your e-mail but mine is under the “Ask America’s SgtMaj” link.

    Female Marine, this entire subject is something I never tackled before. Like I said in my post, I really didn’t know what to say as a guest speaker not knowing the challenges vets faced after getting out. Learning is occurring. But the LCpl Wiseass in me is wondering what would happen if you began your resume: “Four year internship with the world’s premiere expeditionary maritime institution…”

  11. Ha. Clever approach, but it doesn’t replace having the necessary technical experience. 🙂

    Which is another feature of the problem I mentioned of veterans being behind their college grad peers. The focus is always on getting veterans’ military experience translated to civilian-speak. But many of us don’t want civilian careers in the fields where our military skills would apply, and I have yet to find anyone offering to help us get a leg up in entering new fields, especially those that require certain skills. (like mine)

  12. Look at the situation from the military’s point of view. If there are barriers to exit, like the difficulty translating military experience to skills the civilian sector needs, then retention levels will be higher.

    Recruiting, selecting, and training new personnel are very expensive. This is equally true for both military and civilian environments. Retaining military personnel longer is a win for the military leaders.

    It will take a particularly clever person wanting to exit the military to carefully plan for and get help writing a cogent resume that will attract the eyes of HR staff, HR screening software, and hiring managers in the civilian world.

    I think there’s a market for this kind of transition service, but I don’t know where to find it. Moreover, the exiting service member will have to pay for this service which is too close to the often corrupt “you pay me a large upfront fee and I’ll find you a job” companies. Military service members usually don’t have money to waste.

    I envision a network of very good and professional resume writers who have the ability to effectively translate military experience into powerful – and truthful – words that help to win job interviews. Does such a network yet exist?

    Good luck,


  13. I’m proud to say that I recently participated in the interview process at my company, during with an Army veteran was one of the candidates. I should say he wasn’t just one of the candidates, he was the best candidate for the position.

    I thought that one of his strengths was his ability to describe his military service and translate it into civilian speak for those who may not have understood how it applied to what we do.

    He earned a unanimous thumbs up from each of us who talked with him and is now a highly valued and contributing member of our Ops team, managing the level and delivery of parts into the field to support our install base.

    He looks at what our customers have, figures out what is needed to support repair and replacement, then makes certain that the inventory is available in a location near the customer facility. Simple logistics for an army sergeant who did exactly that through 3 tours in the sandbox.

    And nobody is shooting at him while he’s doing it for us.

  14. This is all well and good. Now, SgtMaj, I am certain you have met your fair share of the “10%” that we all know and have had the unfortunate privilege of working with. I, for one, work with a couple of them right now.
    When the increase in manpower to help sustain this meaningless conflict we’ve been fighting occurred, the standards and quality of recruit plummeted and consequently flooded our Corps with Marines that need a waiver due to their inability to properly wipe their own asses. Not to mention the influx of ASVAB waivers, drug waivers, background waivers, etc. These Marines are finding new ways to slither into the NCO and SNCO ranks. For the ones that the Corps were wise enough to release from its’ ice-cold, kung-fu grip, they are now the ones getting hired in the civilian world, and wreaking havoc among the civilian populous. Boasting false bravado, and the same shit work ethic they proudly displayed in the Corps, they are leaving an atrocious impression in the eyes of these civilian employers. Subsequently, making the employers averse to hiring any more of us.
    I’m all about hiring a veteran, if the veteran is worth his/her weight. A vet shouldn’t just be hired because they are a vet. The right person should be hired for the job, 100% of the time. Civilian, veteran, ASVAB waiver, or not.

  15. Female Marine, I’ve actually forwarded many of the comments here to folks I met with Hire Our Heroes. I’m not sure what the answer is but hopefully it is something which can be addressed.

    LTMG, I’m not sure putting barriers to exit the military is a realistic retention tactic. More effort was given to incentives to stay in during the past 12 years.

    Travis! Long time no see. Glad the interview worked out for everyone. It’s nice not getting shot at too.

    Constantine, we all know about ideal behaviors and not everyone lives up to the image we have of our service members. I have noted here before that boot camp and a few years of service do not undo a lifetime of poor decision making or a fundamental character flaw.

  16. Your story has a special meaning to me. Every statement, comment, story, action of employers, the next hiring of new employees, etc., rings a bell. I started off in the Marine Corps in 1959 MCRDSD and tansition into civilian life in 1968. During my Marine life, I was trained and retrained to led Marines from a PFC to Sg by my platoon commander, company commander, Battalion commander and platoon sargeants.. In civilian lifr I started as a trainee and became a department manager in 3 years For the next 24 years, I managed departments as small a 8 people, expanding to hundreds at the directions of Vice Presidents because of my ability to led and knowing my job from top to bottom Marine training). 50% of my employees were former military, all branches. Many are executives in industry now. Train them well and they will become the best employees and leaders in industry.

  17. I work in various capacities with a program called Vets on the Farm, set up to bring vets into all phases of agriculture, right down to food prep, or as it is often called, Farm-to-Table. The program covers all, from classroom learning to field internships. I mentor candidates on the fringe of this spectrum through hiring for my general contracting business. There is no substitute for a squared away vet when it comes to “getting it” and I will never go back. I pulled 3 years in the sandbox and
    know the drill. My company’s success is all about customer service and being squared away in an industry rife with clownshows and losers. A squared away platoon of customer service warriors has no limit to the amount of work they can get done, take from the competition, leaving a trail of happy customers who gladly refer us to everyone they know.

    I saw plenty of dead wood in the military, but for those who got the message of integrity and comportment, there is no equal. If they have the interest, and I can keep them busy, I won’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

    For any vet interested in a career in ag or food production, please look up Vets on the Farm.

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