What employers are really looking for

I have been fortunate to participate in no small number of veteran employment panels in which human resources professionals and corporate recruiters share their insights with veterans.  Time and again the same question invariably is posed to the panel:

“What are employers really looking for?”

That really is the million dollar question, and it is invariably answered with a single word:

“Skills.”

It sounds simplistic, but it’s true.  Employers are seeking to fill holes in their organizational chart, and those holes must be filled by people who are qualified to perform the tasks and assume the responsibilities that come with the job.  Those who have served in the military are certainly ready to assume the responsibility that comes with a position within a company; after all, responsibility is what wearing a uniform is all about.  Responsibility to protect and defend the nation and its citizens, responsibility to  comrades in arms, and the responsibility to effectively lead others with both compassion and professionalism.

A sense of responsibility and commitment is part of being in the military, and it doesn’t vanish once they hang up their uniforms.  It is a part of their character.

What veterans and transitioning military lack, however, are skills.

Let me back up a moment to explain what I mean.  In the military each and every man and woman is expected to master not just one, but two sets of skills: those skills that define their Military Occupational Specialty (MOS – such as artillery, administration, maintenance, etc.) and those skills that define their military service.  They can learn everything from how to drive a tank to how to fly a stealth bomber through their technical training regimen, but before they get the keys to an M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank those who sign up must first begin the acculturation and training process that brings them into the martial fold.

They get to go to bootcamp.  Or OCS.

Whether as a recruit or an officer candidate, the privilege of wearing the uniform must be earned through the successful completion of an intense entry level training program.  Regardless of which service a person joins, he or she must go through the crucible of acculturation that forever changes them from a civilian to a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine.  Once the right to wear the uniform is earned the newly minted graduate ships out to their MOS school, which is where they learn how to perform their specific job.

It doesn’t end there.  Throughout  a person’s military career (whether it be three years or thirty), he or she is continually learning about leadership, reinforcing a committed work ethic, and being a member or leader of ever growing teams in addition to increasing their technical expertise.  In short, military professionals are developing their skills continually from the day they join until the day they leave.  The skill sets of those in uniform don’t stop expanding until they get out.

It is the skills that come from being in the military that employers are looking for.  In the words of an army veteran and CEO of a multimillion dollar medical technology company:

“I want to hire people who were just like I was when I left the military.  Eager to learn, eager to work, and eager to be part of a team that is out to accomplish something.  I want to hire veterans because I know they will work hard and I don’t need to teach them how to work with other people.”

In short, the business world is looking to hire people with the skills that come with being a military professional.

The problem is that so many veterans only identify themselves by their MOS skills and as a result they sell themselves short.  They only see themselves as an infantryman, an truck driver, or a bulk fuel delivery specialist, and they present themselves as such.  I don’t know how many times I have heard “I’m just a dumb grunt.  Nobody is hiring grunts in the civilian world!”, but it’s somewhere in the thousands.  And that is the problem.

Veterans need to present themselves to employers as solutions to their manpower problems, and a big part of being the solution are the “soft skills” that those in uniform possess.  Things like commitment, sense of responsibility, work ethic, and leadership.  The corporate executives and hiring managers I speak with are unanimous in their desire to hire people with those qualities, and those are qualities that all veterans (except for the knuckleheaded few) possess.

Veterans and those transitioning out of the military will be more successful in their search for a new career if they can present both the soft skill set that the acquired while in uniform and the skills that meet the needs of the company. The rub, however, is how to learn the specific skills that the employer is looking for.

Those are the skills that I referred to earlier.  Job- or industry-specific skills.

There are many ways that veterans can build their specific skills set, and a great many of those ways are completely free.  Veterans can research the requirements for a job or industry that they like through websites like careerbuilder.com and monster.com.  They can meet with people already in the industry through networking events such as the Marine Executive Association, NavNet, or social networking groups such as meetup.com.  They can participate in local company and industry sponsored programs such as the Business 101  or nationwide programs like the MedTech and BioTech Veterans Program (MVP).  By conducting research, networking with others, and taking advantage of free industry sponsored training a veteran can tangibly begin to fill the gap in their skills and make themselves more competitive for the great jobs and careers that are out there.

There are a lot of ways to build the skills that employers are seeking.  All you need to do is get started.

Military/Veteran Transitionnews for 2/5/14

Military transition and veterans affairs news of the day for 2/5/14

Good news story of the day

Helping wounded vets move from ‘surviving’ to ‘thriving’  (Stars and Stripes)  Back when Michael Baker was a nuclear submarine technician in the Navy, he was a triathlete who spent as much time as he could exploring the Hawaiian outdoors near his naval base.

Military transition

Helping Transitioning Servicemembers Find Jobs Before Becoming Veterans  (The Huffington Post)  You’ve heard it said countless times: “It’s easier to get a job if you already have one.”

New website launches to help Montana veterans  (KXLF.com)  Lieutenant Governor John Walsh announced the launch of a new website to help military personnel transition to civilian life.

The 10 Best Jobs For Veterans  (Forbes)  Many veterans returning to the U.S. from stints overseas have years of job experience under their belts, yet they feel daunted by the challenge of making the transition into the civilian workforce.

Military veterans graduate from Boston Fire Academy  (The Daily Free Press)  After 20 weeks of grueling training, 51 military veterans were inducted into the Boston Fire Department on Tuesday with Boston Mayor Martin Walsh in attendance.

Texas A&M Students Launch New Program To Help Aggie Veterans  (TAMU Times)  A new branch of the Student Government Association (SGA) at Texas A&M University, with the specific purpose of helping Aggie veterans, plans the first national military veteran conference in higher education  Friday and Saturday (Feb. 7-8) at the university.

Veteran students meet with the Secretary of Veterans Affairs John Scocos  (University of Wisconsin Superior)  Fifteen UW-Superior students with military experience were able to connect one-on-one with the Wisconsin Secretary of Veterans Affairs John Scocos on Monday.

Veterans

Veteran Groups Launch Pre-Emptive Strike on Federal Budget  (The Wall Street Journal)  Four major veterans advocacy groups called for more veteran health-care spending in the next federal budget and changes to a number of Department of Veterans Affairs policies, in their annual outline of legislative goals released Tuesday morning.

New UC panel to aid military veterans  (Fox 5 San Diego)  The University of California on Monday announced the formation of an advisory  group to help military veterans address specific issues and succeed in earning  degrees.

Villa Park VFW Bringing Veterans Welcome Home Back Home  (Chicago Tribune)  The popular and effective Veterans Welcome Home and Benefits event is coming back to the VFW Post in Villa Park.

Despite progress, VA still has 400,000 backlogged claims  (UPI)  The Department of Veterans Affairs cut its backlog of hundreds of thousands of  disability claims by nearly one-third last year but is still struggling to  modernize an outdated processing system, a report released Monday by the Iraq  and Afghanistan Veterans of America found.

Veteran Hopefuls Use Bravery, Heroics in Bids for Congress  (Roll Call)  Veterans regularly run for Congress, but this cycle features candidates armed with particularly impressive biographies involving escapes, captures and military adventures that Tom Clancy would have struggled to dream up.

Veterans affairs

VA Launches Online Tool to Calculate Post-9/11 GI Bill Benefits  (Department of Veterans Affairs)  The Veterans Affairs Department today launched a new online tool to make it easier for veterans, service members and family members to calculate their Post-9/11 GI Bill benefits and learn more about VA’s approved colleges, universities and other education and training programs across the country.

Feinstein bill pushes housing for homeless vets at West L.A. VA campus (Los Angeles Times)  Sen. Dianne  Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a bill Tuesday to smooth the way for the U.S.  Department of Veterans Affairs to partner with private agencies to develop  housing for homeless veterans on its West Los Angeles campus.

VA Offers New Tools to Ensure Post-9/11 GI Bill Beneficiaries Are Informed Consumers  (The White House)  What’s the first thing you do when shopping for a big-ticket item?

Report: Rocky Hill veterans’ housing goes unused  (The Washington Times)   Five houses in Rocky Hill that state officials set aside and renovated for  Connecticut military veterans have sat mostly empty for several years, while  statistics show one in 10 homeless people in the state is a veteran, according  to a published report.

Report: No ‘evidence of planning’ from Obama administration to help veterans  receive benefits  (The Daily Caller)  The Obama administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has no long-term  plan to correct the errors that have left hundreds of thousands of veterans  waiting months to receive benefits, despite President Obama’s State of the Union  vow to fix the problem.

Government concedes negligence in Legionnaires’ lawsuit  (TribLive.com)  House legislation that would make it illegal for veterans hospitals nationwide to conceal disease outbreaks won passage on Monday evening with bipartisan approval.

Senators want answers on veterans records breach  (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)  Both U.S. senators from Missouri are seeking answers about the potential fallout for veterans and their families after a former clerk admitted misfiling hundreds of military records at a St. Louis warehouse.

Former fighter pilot named new director of Punchbowl  (Star Advertiser)  A former Air Force fighter pilot and onetime inspector general for Pacific Air Forces will become the new director of Punchbowl Cemetery March 9, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced.

Benefits

Tax break for young military retirees stirs debate, clears House committee  (The Spokesman Review)  Idaho doesn’t charge its state income tax on military retirement pay for those age 65 or older, but it does tax pension benefits for military retirees who are younger than 65.

In new pitch to pass jobless pay, Harry Reid sweetens deal with measure to restore military pension cuts  (Washington Examiner)  The Senate this week will make another attempt to pass an extension of federal unemployment insurance by tying the effort to a plan to restore military pension benefits.

Senate to take up comprehensive veterans reform bill Thursday (The Washington Times)  Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vermont  independent, said Tuesday a comprehensive veteran’s reform bill could be brought  up on the Senate floor as early as Thursday.

Florida Legislators aim to increase veterans benefits  (First Coast News)  Lawmakers are debating new programs that will impact the more than 1.6 million veterans who live in the state of Florida.

Veterans Service Organizations Urge $72.9 Billion Investment in Veterans’ Health Care and Benefits  (Boston.com)  Four of the nation’s leading veterans service organizations—AMVETS, DAV, Paralyzed Veterans of America (Paralyzed Veterans) and the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW)—are urging the Administration and Congress to provide $72.9 billion to sufficiently meet veterans’ health care and benefits needs.

Senate panel to mark up bill repealing military pension cuts  (The Hill)

The Senate Armed Services Committee will mark up a bill next week to repeal the $6 billion military pension cuts included in last month’s budget deal.

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