With their wide range of unique skills and proven adaptability, veterans are fit to achieve success after transitioning from active duty. Translating military skills to the skills required by prospective employers is critical — but many companies struggle with this and other aspects of attracting, hiring, and integrating veterans into civilian jobs.
This special episode of Talent Experience Live features a collaboration with The Bo and Luke Show podcast. Robert “Bo” Brabo and Luke Carignan — a fellow Phenom employee — interviewed Lisa Jaster, Army Lieutenant Colonel and the first female Army Reserve officer to become Ranger qualified. She shared critical insight on how companies can help veterans thrive in the workplace.
Watch the full episode below, or read on for highlights from the show!
How can companies better serve veterans?
Adapting from military service to civilian life can take a significant mental health toll on veterans. “We’re talking about the horrible statistic of 22 veteran suicides per day” or more, Carignan shared. “As a society, we can do better.” And as employers, it’s important to understand what accommodations veterans need to transition as seamlessly as possible from military service into the civilian world.
A big part of positioning vets for success involves simply understanding the unique attributes they bring to the workplace, according to Jaster, who currently serves as Partner and Senior Consultant with the management consulting and executive search firm Talent War Group.
Jaster, who has personally experienced these challenges, said that one of the most overlooked qualities of veterans is their empathy and experience with diversity that's gained through exposure to cultures around the world.
Living in close quarters with a diverse mix of people from different backgrounds also gives a depth of experience you don’t get behind a desk. “As veterans, we bring this … empathy to a vast and very diverse community [compared to] someone who’s grown up, went to college, got hired, and worked in the same community their whole life couldn’t possibly understand,” Jaster pointed out.
How can companies create a better candidate and interview experience for veterans?
Interviewing for a civilian job role is drastically different from the federal interview process, especially for veterans who rarely — if ever — have stepped outside of the federal workforce.
So, what’s one of the best things recruiting companies can do to ease the process? Have a veteran present during the interview who “speaks military,” Jaster said. This helps to ensure recruiters and hiring managers are eliciting true attributes from interviewees.
Educating recruiters on military job titles and basic terms they might see on resumes helps prevent companies from missing out on valuable veteran talent. For many TA leaders, the good intention is there, but knowing where to start is the hard part.
Jaster suggested looking for organizations like Team Red, White & Blue that create social opportunities for veterans and civilian supporters of the military community to connect.
Tip: Learn more with Phenom Military Code Search, a recruiting tool that helps employers provide an inclusive candidate experience for veterans.
What’s the #1 thing an employer can do to positively impact the veteran workforce?
Forming sponsorship programs for onboarding military veterans is simple, low-cost, and highly effective, Jaster said.
In the military, it’s common practice: When a service member moves to a new unit or location, they’re assigned to a sponsor who has similar life circumstances and interests to help them integrate into their new community.
Employers can do the same thing, Jaster said. Matching veterans with a mentor to help them navigate the workplace — from finding the lunchroom or the gym to understanding how to leverage the benefits program — helps them tap into the sense of community they had while on active duty.
“Those are all things that are very easy to do by matching name for name somebody who’s got a similar life story,” Jaster stressed.
What do veterans struggle with most when adapting to the civilian workforce?
Military life and work is highly structured. “You always know where you fit,” Jaster said. “You can google a duty description for every job you’re going to have in the military.” In contrast, civilian organizations tend to give employees more freedom regarding job duties.
While this is a positive thing for most civilian employees, military vets may struggle with this looser approach to success on the job, looking instead for concrete ways they can be productive in their new role.
“One of the joys and benefits of corporate America,” Jaster said, is that “there’s a lot more leeway; you can create a career path for yourself. But on day one, point me in a direction so I can feel like I’m adding value immediately.”
If your organization doesn’t have a structured mentor or sponsorship program yet, making sure that your newly hired veteran has at least one point person to show them the ropes can make all the difference, Brabo emphasized.
How can employers help veterans be successful in their job roles?
Translating military job skills to help veterans understand the value they bring to a civilian organization is key to helping them adapt. “The one thing I’ve found as a leader to be most beneficial is to bring those attributes out in casual conversation,” Jaster said.
She shared a powerful example of this practice from a time she mentored a young soldier who felt he didn’t bring any useful skills to his assignment. When Jaster found out that his civilian job had been delivering mail for USPS, she asked him to share how he would manage transporting a large amount of lumber to a military project site.
“He starts talking about checking weather apps, checking roads, checking bridge and wire heights for trucks,” she said — aspects of the job that no one else in the 37-person platoon had considered. “You’re a logistics specialist,” she told him. “Once he was able to hear that, he was also able to advocate for himself in his civilian job as well as his military career.”
How can veterans and military leaders help ease their own transition to civilian jobs?
For veterans unsure how to translate their military skills and job duties to the civilian market, Jaster strongly recommends using a military recruitment and placement firm. “Using a recruiter is really critical, because you have to have somebody in your life … to translate those skills.”
Brabo also urges the military to help veterans out by including reps from local and national recruiting firms in transition programs to make introductions for service members.
Recruiting and retention is always a big topic in the Army Reserves, Jaster added. “One of the things we need to do as military service members is do a better job of placing people in the civilian market. It leaves military members with a good taste in their mouth when they feel like their leadership cares about them as a whole human,” she said. “They are the best recruiting tool.”
Why is a smooth transition imperative?
Helping veterans move from active duty to civilian life is a serious task, and the transition is hardest within the first twelve months of leaving the service, Brabo said. Improving this transition process is important for companies looking to gain skilled employees, but it’s even more imperative for increasing veterans’ mental health and overall wellbeing.
Jaster is always willing to talk with TA professionals interested in improving their approach to veteran recruitment and retention. Find her on LinkedIn and check out her forthcoming book, Delete the Adjective.
For more about military hiring, check out Transitioning from the Military to the Civilian Workforce with Mike Barger