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Secrets to the Veteran Job Search

veteran job search

“I hope that being good at one makes me better at the other”.

Veteran Job Search

If you are a veteran looking for a job, specifically making a transition from one industry to another, I encourage you to “blend in” or “fit in” to the culture you are applying for. It doesn’t matter if you are in a specific minority, over 40, fresh out of school, or someone making a career transition: it is critical to fit in with the culture of the company you are interested in. Different companies have different corporate cultures so dress and speak appropriately for the culture. The military culture is vastly different from most corporate cultures. In the same way, camouflage is used to blend into the surroundings so you “fit in” and don’t “stick out,” your resume, your vocabulary, and your physical presentation should help you do the same with your veteran job search.

Veterans’ unemployment rate is higher than the national average

This is a touchy subject, so if you are a veteran or are close to someone who is, please know that the intent of this post is to help veteran job search from an HR perspective. The goal is to give job-hunting advice for veterans (or anyone else switching careers/industry). This is not a post that is going to try to explain why hiring veterans is such a good idea.  That is obvious.

     From the Movie: We Were Soldiers

     Jack Geoghegan (Chris Klein)“What do you think about being a soldier and a father”?

     Hal Moore (Mel Gibson)“I hope that being good at the one makes me better at the other”.

We need to fit in

When I decline someone for ANY position, it isn’t because they are too old, too young, or because of the color of their skin. It isn’t because they are a veteran. One reason fully qualified candidates are declined is because of a concern over the culture fit with not just the team but the company as well. We want to make sure the team they are going to be working with is comfortable with the candidate. We also want to make sure the candidate is comfortable with the team.  Candidates are declined because they give the impression that they won’t “fit in” with the group. I don’t look for a perfect fit, but I am hoping it is close.

In combat, I can be an expert marksman sniper, but if I am wearing Black camo in a snow environment, I am going to stick out. In the job search, my resume is my weapon, the words on that resume are the equivalent to the ammunition I use is for a specific mission. The way I visibly present myself is part of my camouflage.

Applying for a civilian or military position?

I recently had coffee with a veteran about his job search. He is a very likable guy. Smiles a lot, articulate, and easy to get along with. Dressed appropriately for the industry and the times. On the surface, he has all the qualities needed to get hired. His problem was that his resume still sounded like he was in the military. It would have been a great resume if he was applying for another military position, but he isn’t. After we discussed his resume and what companies are looking for he exclaimed “I get it!  You are not looking to hire a soldier you are looking to hire a Project Manager”. Bingo. He hit the nail on the head. We are looking for a manager, not a soldier. I think that being good at one makes you good at the other, but there is a time and a place for each.

His resume listed his military accomplishments using military terminology and gave the impression that he was still in the military. My subconscious radar wondered if he could make the transition. The job description is looking for a set of “corporate” skill sets, but he described his accomplishments in “military speak”. The trick is to list the accomplishments so that they RELATE to the job description.  How he presents his accomplishments and what he was applying for, although highly related, are two very different perspectives.

We gotta give the impression we moved on

If I just broke up with a girlfriend and all I do is talk about the old girlfriend, no new girl with any self-esteem is going to be interested. I need to show I am ready to move on, that what I learned from my prior Girlfriend will make me a better Boyfriend. I need to do this without droning on about the Ex.

In the veteran job search, your life experience, background, and exposure to different cultures help make you a better employee, but we are not looking to fill the position of a soldier.

Demographic Differences:

My father served in the military and many of his friends and colleagues served as well. When he was coming of age, serving in the military was a very familiar concept within the US.

However, within my demographic, military experience is still a foreign concept. Yes, I know we have troops in the Middle East, but I don’t know very many people who have served. I actually know very few. Maybe it is because I live in the Pacific Northwest, maybe it is because I didn’t grow up in an era where there was a draft. I believe that personal familiarity with military experience is a foreign concept to many hiring managers of my generation.

Just as there are a lot of stereotypes about different minority groups, there are stereotypes associated with being in the military. If you are applying for a non-military position there are a few things that you can do to overcome these stereotypes and “fit in”.

Avoid a resume with accomplishments written in military terms.  Soften up the wording to “blend in”.

Avoid using words that are commonplace in the military and uncommon in corporate America. These words will only reinforce that what the reader may already be concerned about. Even if you didn’t carry a gun, the stereotype will be that you did. A few examples listed with alternatives.

  • Tactics / strategy:  practices, methodology
  • Personnel: teams, groups, workforce
  • Branches:  locations, offices
  • Deployed:  Implemented, rolled out

What to think about during the interview

  • Addressing people as “Sir”:  Sir is not a term used in Corporate America and will only reinforce your past.  Address people by their first name.
  • Talking about politics, gun control, etc.: Do EVERYTHING you can to avoid this topic. You would be surprised how often I hear these topics come up casually from folks with military backgrounds. I realize it is a big part of who you are, but stay off this topic. This is a set-up for failure if you are NOT from a military background. If I am asked about politics in a new group, I try to say something like “there are a lot of new developments that I am still reading up on, I don’t have all the info ”. . . .  and then change the subject.
  • Military haircut: High and tight (or anything close) is a dead give away. This may be a big part of who you are, but I am trying to figure out who you are going to be. For women avoid the “hair pulled up in a bun” look. Wear your hair down.
  • If you are wearing the same glasses you wore in the military, update the style. The face and eyes are the first things most people see.  Modernly styled frames can set a different tone. Aviator style prescription frames are dead giveaways.
  • Mustache only facial hair. Mustaches ARE making a come back, but this is a niche segment and not everyone can pull it off.  I realize this is a tough one to swallow, but if you are looking for a job, military or not, shave. Exceptions include fireman, policeman, cowboy, and major league pitchers. Even for these positions, the absence of a mustache isn’t going to lessen your chances. No one is going to say “We can’t hire this guy, he doesn’t have a mustache”.
  • Big military watch. Oversized face, glow in the dark numbers, etc. I realize that these are a big fashion statement, and I wear a divers watch myself, but unless it is a Rolex Submariner, I would just leave the watch at home. Most cell phones tell time these days.
  • When you give an answer, elaborate on your answers.  This is not a time for “Yes” and “No” answers. This is REALLY not the time for “Yes sir” or “No sir” answers.  We need to hear about your experience with specific examples.

I practice what I preach

I practice the same as above as it relates to me being a minority. I was born and raised in America, but I have an Asian sounding name. When I look for a job or am introduced to a new group, I list my American nickname on the resume so that any shortsighted hiring manager would not jump to the conclusion that English is a second language.  I am trying to blend in. I don’t want them thinking they may have a tough time understanding me.  My first name may be Zatoichi, but I go by “Harry.”  Trust me, it happens.

P.S.  No wheenyness here and I don’t feel like this is selling my soul.  I got in the door with “Harry” but my co-workers gave me the nickname HRNasty.

See you at the after party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone who is good at something. “He has a nasty forkball”.

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