Although employers are trying to improve translating military skills to their civilian jobs, veterans frequently face hurdles around required degrees, certifications and licensures despite their experience in the field and military training.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart aired a very eye-opening segment about the difficulty of turning military experience into civilian employment. The two former Iraq War combat medics in the segment shared their challenges and explained the need for a better transition program, education around resume writing and the need for veterans to come home with better certifications.
DirectEmployers has several staff and Member company representatives that are veterans, including Alicia Wallace of WellPoint, Mike Seidle of DirectEmployers Foundation and Lance Sapera of 24 Hour Fitness. With Veterans Day being earlier this month and the public discussion around returning soldiers, I reached out to them for insight about how their experiences helped them in their civilian careers, and sought their advice for veterans currently searching for gainful employment in the civilian workforce. Here’s what they had to say:
Alicia Wallace, MBA, EEO Program Manager, Disability Outreach, HR, Diversity & Inclusion, WellPoint
“My transition from the military to corporate America was a long one. My first job out of the military was with the Department of Defense then with the Department of Labor. I served In the United States Army on active duty as a non-commissioned officer after attending several years of college. I moved quickly through the ranks from Private First Class to Staff Sergeant within six years as a Nuclear, Biological & Chemical Sergeant. I was selected as a unique member of the U. S. All-Army Track & Field team. I won a very grueling competition at Fort Stewart, Georgia, toughest female in the 24th Infantry Division and was recognized by General Norman Schwarzkopf. I was also the first female ever assigned to the 91st Chemical Company and first female selected to coach the Army’s track team.
“Continue to learn as much as possible while in the military, go to school and obtain a degree, if possible, around your military assignments. When transitioning into a civilian career, identify one that best fits your experience level, education and offers the best use of your skills. Also try and access which type of environment and industry works best, one which is highly structured? One where innovation is valued? What about working as part of a team? Or working independently? Take the time to do a personal assessment before diving in. Unlike military assignments, civilian environments don’t change managers and teams, every 2-3 years. You may work under the same boss or with the same team for many years.”
Mike Seidle, Director of Development, DirectEmployers Foundation
“When I got out of the service, my military experience allowed me to get a part time job that paid enough for me to support my family and attend college. Between Veterans benefits and my job, I was able to escape the college experience without student loan debt. Employers were absolutely willing to give a vet with an honorable discharge a shot… even against far more qualified candidates. When I left college and joined the workforce, employers seemed much more interested in my military experience than in my education.
As a business owner prior to joining DirectEmployers and in finding my job at DirectEmployers, being a veteran was always a plus. “
“Make sure you are being hired by the right employer — a company where you can see yourself working for years. If you see a potential employer treating people in a way you would not like to be treated or doing things you would not want to be asked to do, then find another opportunity.”
Lance Sapera, Director, Talent Acquisition, 24 Hour Fitness
“When I retired from the Navy, I was both excited about the opportunity and apprehensive about joining the private sector. Fortunately, I had a strong network of family, friends and professional acquaintances supporting my transition. And that is my top piece of advice… let others help you! “
“Finding a job can seem overwhelming, particularly in this economy, which is exactly why military veterans, retirees, and military spouses need to take advantage of the many programs and initiatives designed to assist their transition. For starters, I recommend the following:
- Leverage your network. Who do you know that knows someone in the company(ies) you want to work for? Reach out to veterans that completed a successful transition; they want to help you.
- Attend the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and take the activities seriously (resume writing, interviewing, financial planning, etc.). Learn about the resources available and use them. Military spouses should leverage the Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP).
- Take time to think about what you really want to do. What are you passionate about? Most military personnel took the next job their detailer assigned them. That is not the case as you transition from the service. For example, do you want to lead teams, or do you want to be an individual contributor? Do you want to use your technical expertise, or do you want to teach, coach or train?
- Identify your strengths. Employers value the leadership, discipline, flexibility, teamwork, and countless other skills veterans embody; use these to your advantage.
- Identify companies that share your values and have a purpose you embrace. Military Friendly companies are a great place to start.
Thank you Alicia, Mike and Lance for your time, advice and service to our country!