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To honor veterans, focus on careers, not quotas

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Uber will now tell you if your driver is a military veteran

A few weeks ago, I spoke with a hiring manager at LinkedIn who had just wrapped up a summer term with an MBA intern who had recently left the Army. The veteran was phenomenal, she said—a strategic thinker and tenacious worker who took control of his team and coached them to success with ease. But there was something different about him.

LinkedIn’s culture is more informal than what he was used to, and the hiring manager learned that she needed to coach him to speak up in meetings with superiors if he had differing opinions.

Everyone valued his input, but he assumed that when senior leaders were having a debate, it wasn’t his place to join. His innate respect for authority came across, initially, as stiffness during interactions. She also noticed that he only reported status updates when things went wrong. If everything was going according to plan, she never heard from him.

As a veteran myself, I know that situations like this are not uncommon when veterans transition from the military to civilian life. When the hiring manager explained how the intern didn’t give enough positive updates, I knew exactly what was happening: in the military, you don’t use valuable radio bandwidth to say “We’re doing great!” when someone else might need that channel for a MEDEVAC at any moment.

More than simply focusing on our veteran hiring rate, we need to honor our veterans by making a real investment in helping their career development and professional integration.

Once I explained to the hiring manager some of the differences between military and civilian culture, a lot of her intern’s mannerisms made more sense, and she better understood the bridges that needed to be built the next time a veteran joins her team.

This example illustrates perfectly the next level of how we can help veterans entering the civilian workforce. More than simply focusing on our veteran hiring rate, we need to honor our veterans by making a real investment in helping their career development and professional integration.

In the past five years, the unemployment rate for all veterans has been nearly cut in half, with the rates for post-9/11 veterans dropping even more significantly, from 12% to 4.4% during that time.

Recent research by the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Program found that hiring veterans has become one of the top three recruiting priorities among American businesses, with 90% of HR professionals citing veteran recruitment as important to their company. So clearly, we are doing something right.

But the research also shows that most HR professionals have little to no understanding of the military — only one in five of those surveyed felt extremely familiar with our military and its ranks and structure, and more than half said they had poor to no familiarity at all, which isn’t shocking considering how few Americans (less than 1%) have served in our most recent conflicts.

. The story here is that better corporate education on the front end leads to better careers for veterans on the back end.

Perhaps fueling this problem, Hiring Our Heroes found that 80% of companies don’t have training to help non-veteran employees relate to veterans.

The real question for big business is whether it’s worth the investment to develop programs like these. It turns out that despite the massive investment that corporate America has made in recruiting veterans, nearly half (44%) are leaving their first job out of the military in their first year, which means that veteran hiring initiatives and low unemployment rates aren’t enough.

Of those veterans who left, nearly half either found a better job or said that their first job didn’t align with their expectations, while 55% were looking for greater career growth potential.

That could be the result of the HR team not placing them in the right role in the first place, perhaps because the company didn’t train their hiring managers to understand the veteran’s qualifications or to understand how to bridge the cultural divide when the veterans started work.

If veterans don’t feel at home, they’re not going to stay. The story here is that better corporate education on the front end leads to better careers for veterans on the back end.

I challenge you to ask yourself how your company is honoring veterans’ futures instead of just acknowledging the great things they’ve done for us in the past.

 

For challenges like the gap between military and civilian cultures, greater dissemination of tools like the PsychArmor Institute’s Military Culture trainings is a strong place to start.

I challenge you to ask yourself how your company is honoring veterans’ futures instead of just acknowledging the great things they’ve done for us in the past.

Are you recruiting veterans simply to fill an open job, or are you laying the groundwork for them to have fulfilling professional careers?

Are you training your recruiters to understand the qualifications of their veteran applicants to ensure they are placed on a path to growth, or are they simply meeting your veteran hiring targets?

Are you training your hiring managers so they can best integrate veterans into their teams and make the most of this incredible talent pool?

While the low unemployment numbers for veterans are encouraging, we cannot be complacent and let our efforts stop there. With the right resources, and the desire to do better, we can set veterans up for lasting professional success in civilian careers.

You can learn more about the resources LinkedIn provides to veterans and employers seeking to hire them here, and can join in our conversation about how to #HonorOurFuture online.

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