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An Untapped Resource

I’ve been out of the active duty military for about six years now, and every time I hear another veteran talk about reintegration into the private sector being more terrifying than any combat mission, I nod my head in agreement.

Even though I owned my first business, completed my undergraduate in marketing and had plenty of experience in the private sector before leaving for Infantry Basic Training, the fear of the unknown when I started out processing was as real and dark as any had been in my past.

Part of it may be the feeble attempt made by the military upon transition. In my experience, I was required to take a transition course during my last few weeks in the Army.

This consisted of a handful of soon-to-be former soldiers and myself sitting in a classroom, receiving “death by PowerPoint” tips and guidance on things like resume-writing, job searches and interviewing skills.

As we neared the end of the course, I couldn’t stand another generic Army-issued video, so I asked our instructor about his private-sector experience. Apparently, in the eyes of the Army, being a soldier for twenty years and retiring qualified him to move directly into teaching a course about working in the private sector.

Yes, his only private sector job was teaching us how to get a private sector job.

You can’t make this stuff up.

What I’ve found from my time in the private sector, through interactions and discussions with various management or HR types, is that the people on the other side of the interview table are just as unprepared as the veteran going out for their first job interview.

And as with most major difficulties or misunderstandings in life, this too seems to be almost completely attributable to communication issues.

There are numerous companies across the country, large and small, that have made a pledge to hire veterans, with some even going so far as training the veterans for a specific job no matter what their background and military occupation was.

There are even more non-profit, charity and head-hunting organizations which have sprung up with the sole purpose of helping veterans find corporate jobs after their separation from the military.

But with veterans writing perhaps their first resume after leaving the Army, the task of translating their skills, duties and experience can be quite a challenge. On the other side of the table, a hiring manager or HR rep may think something like Special Forces Medic or Air Force Combat Controller sounds pretty cool, but has no idea of how to translate it to what their organization needs.

At the end of the day, no matter how big their corporate heart or desire to help the veteran community, they can’t just create a job out of thin air and pay a veteran to sit idle at a desk – they have to know where to best utilize this precious resource.

But there are some companies out there willing to jump right in and take advantage of everything a veteran brings to the table. I was contacted a few weeks ago by an old friend from my time in Special Forces who got wind of a company named ExBellum that had a program he thought would be right up my alley.

The founder of ExBellum (a former SEAL himself) had recruited a Special Operations veteran to work for a large Fortune 500 company to fill a vacant position in their middle management. In short time the company was so impressed with his performance they partnered with ExBellum to create an internship, and created something I wish other companies would be smart enough to follow.

Impressed with the crucial decision-making and myriad other skills they saw in Special Operations veterans, the company chooses roughly ten of us to compete, every quarter, for a high-level internship to learn everything about their business, from the top.

They understand that while it’s difficult to translate on a resume, the ability of a veteran to be thrown into almost any situation with little-to-no resources and quickly size up the situation, find a solution and prioritize a path to that goal is exactly what we were taught during our time in uniform – and is second nature to most of us now.

And that seems to be where the miscommunication lies: while HR reps and hiring managers spend their time writing specific job duties and qualifications listed, they don’t expect to see a bullet point on a resume for “jack of all trades, master of none.”

But that’s exactly what military experience gives those who make the most out of our time in service.

I’ve heard a lot of discussions about vets not knowing how to translate their skills into a resume format, but I don’t think the problem needs to be fully addressed on that side of the house.

There are different formats for the interview setting, and companies who want managers or leaders with experience in more than one niche would do well to look to the veteran community and conduct interviews for the person, not bullet points and job descriptions.

Now, I’m not saying that every veteran should automatically be placed in the line of succession to be the next CEO, but I do feel many companies would be well-served to adjust their hiring practices to facilitate this untapped resource that we have, waiting to be utilized.

Of course in order to make these changes, any large corporation would first have to follow the most important lesson learned for both military and corporate strategy: to adapt.

 

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