By John Sumser
Job Hunting for Veterans is very different than it is for civilians. Veterans face misunderstanding and suspicion in their search for work. Translating military experience into something a civilian boss can understand is a unique challenge.
The United States Military is a land unto itself. It's a place where the language is a sub-dialect of English focused on the specific tasks and realities of military life. It's hard to overestimate the difference between being inside and being a civilian.
At about $1 trillion in annual budget outlays, the first layer of Defense spending is over 4% of the economy. When you add the local impact of those dollars, it's easy to argue that Defense has a 10% footprint. The size of the budget swings significantly depending on whether the military is actively engaged in conflict operations. The world that gives us veterans is a big maze.
It involves a lot of people. Roughly 1.5 million people are active military, 500 thousand civilians support them, another 900 thousand are in 'reserve' forces. That's nearly 3 million before you count the various shapes and kinds of Defense contractors, vendors, suppliers and family members. (Wikipedia)
The unique tasks and orientations of the military make it a relatively closed ecosystem. But when it shrinks and swells, it has significant consequence for the worlds around it. Military veterans have extraordinary levels of experience. Responsibility, which is won slowly in civilian life is big and rapidly acquired. Being responsible for the lives and safety of your peers on an always on basis matures active duty personnel quickly.
This means that veterans face different competitive pressures than the rest of us. When there are a lot of veterans in the market for work, things seem harder.
Because it is a highly technical environment, veterans are comfortable with the complexities of decision making in a high stress, high data, high ambiguity environment. Typically, great responsibility is placed on the shoulders of relatively young people. After time in the military, the rest of the world seems smaller and less important.
Under 'normal circumstances', about 250 thousand people leave the active duty military each year. As the various global conflicts conclude that number will grow for the next several years. The predictable problems associated with translating military experience into civilian language significantly slows the rate at which veterans make the transition.
The unemployment rate for vets is bad and getting worse. "Fair or not, eight years in the Army is viewed by some employers as eight years without private-sector skills and experience," says Business Week. "The skills issue is particularly troubling. Hiring is strongest in jobs that require specialized education, and weakest for blue collar jobs......Even military jobs that are in the right ballpark for growth industries - say, software or electronics technician - may involve specialization that doesn't readily apply to Silicon Valley's Web 2.0 or software-services jobs."
If you are a veteran getting ready to join the civilian workforce, here are several things you can do to ease the transition.
- Start reading FastCompany. This site and magazine are the best single source for insight into the language and culture of American business. Remember, you are coming from a different culture and you need to 'go local'. FastCompany will give you the clues you need to start to pass as a native. After a while it gets easier.
- When you move from the military to civilian life, you always go from being a little fish in a big pond to being a big fish in a little pond. The trouble is that your colleagues may not know this. Be patient as you learn about new work environments.
- Glassdoor is a great place to survey both the ways that people think about their employers and what it's like to work there. Read about the employers you'd like to work for.
- Some common military management techniques don't work quite as well in the civilian world. The difference is that employment is generally 'at will' for both employer and employee. The great things you learned about 'toughing it out' don't translate very well.
- Being in the military forces you to be very good at decision making. Most civilians don't have this sort of leadership experience. If you relax, you can emerge as a natural leader because of your training.
- Understand how your military skills translate into civilian skills. Both Military.com and Jibe.com have useful ways to translate your skills into job requirements.
- Prepare to work hard on the transition. Time in the military is a firm foundation for the rest of your life. The first step in making the most of it is learning to translate it into civilian terms.
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