Realizing the Potential of Veterans Transitioning to Civilian Jobs

43% of veterans leave their first civilian job within a year, citing a lack of personal development and opportunities for career advancement. I was one of them, and so began one thousand job rejection letters as I looked for something that gave me the kind of purpose I had left behind. At nearly a year of unemployment and submitting an average of three applications a day, being turned down a thousand times becomes a thing more and more difficult to weather. When going into the career search from a world where help was not asked for, the mission was all and you accomplished it no matter what, coming face to face with that which is faceless was a difficult chasm to cross.

 

The transitioning veteran - realizing their potential

Cross your arms. It’s ok – no one is watching. Easy, right? Now cross them the other way. Not so simple, was it? You’ve done a thing one way for as long as you can remember, it’s now as normal as breathing. Doing it differently caused you to, quite literally, get all tangled up.

Now imagine living life a certain way. Rigid. Regimented. Weeks of boredom punctuated by moments of chaos. Placing your life in the hands of someone, and someone placing their life in your hands. Eating, sleeping, working, and living with the same people for months at a time without a break. Sharing those experiences and forever having them a part of your memory.

Then one day, after years or decades of this life, the time comes to put it all behind you. The chaos and boredom manage to average out to something resembling what people might refer to as a “normal” existence, you have to pick your clothes out at the beginning of the day, the food gets better, and the faces seen during the day are replaced with different ones at night. You’ve gone from being on Active Duty to being a Veteran, and possibly in knots for your efforts.

 

Taking off the uniform

Transitioning from uniformed service to the civilian world is a change unmatched elsewhere. We have already covered part of the lifestyle, but what about the really sobering challenges? In the United States, an estimated 4.5% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are unemployed, compared to a run of record low nationwide unemployment. In Australia, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that approximately 5.3% of veterans who had recently left the Australian Defense Force had experienced homelessness in the past 12 months, a higher rate than the 1.9% for the general population. Worse, the suicide rate of US veterans has reached over 20 lives taken per day.

The science and statistics behind these and other numbers are varied and offer a considerable swath of reasons and solutions. The loss of identity, the loss of tribe, a rift between the uniformed and civilian populations, and a misunderstanding of life in the civilian world are all on the list. Some of these challenges can be prepared for, some have to be managed as they occur. Mental health efforts, counseling, acknowledgement of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury as diagnosable and treatable within the warrior culture, and outreach efforts all help make the transition smoother and more productive with the assistance of veteran support organizations, friends, and family.

 

Not just one bucket

Not all veterans are coming out of the military with these sorts of obstacles to clear. They have a considerable skill set waiting to be utilized. Even a junior enlisted coming out with just four years in uniform has likely led a team of fifteen with three direct reports. In their realm of expertise are skills like crisis management, peer counseling, budget management, scheduling, business continuity, disaster recovery, and contingency planning. There are no certificates for a Veteran’s experience, no degrees or diplomas, because these proficiencies typically can’t be taught.

Veterans have been put in charge at age 21, and often come out looking to find a leadership role with a different organization. They’ve been in different branches of service. They’ve been different places and held different roles. Some are out in three or four years. Some retire at twenty or thirty and are looking for a second career. Some go straight to school, or learn a trade, or use the trade they learned while serving. Some head straight into another government role while others want to leave taxpayer funded responsibilities well behind.

 

Where I landed

I found help from a number of places. Transition programs abound. FourBlock, Veterati, USO, and Hiring Our Heroes work tirelessly to fill in the gaps that mandatory transition programs leave. There are companies out there with aggressive and well-publicized veteran hiring campaigns. However, it was an SAP employee who was a member of my MBA cohort and a fellow veteran, who referred me for a role at SAP Concur. The pivotal words in the first interview with the recruiter was, “You sound really senior for this role. Now the other role you applied to, the hiring manager wants someone with more enterprise software experience, but I’m going to pitch you again. I’ll call you in two days.”

 

So began my career in Critical Incident Management at SAP Concur. I now manage the P1 process, ensure customer trust is maintained, and determine what happened so we don’t have the same issue again. My manager likes to say I wasn’t brought into the organization because of my extensive knowledge of enterprise software, but “because I could drive aircraft carriers through tsunamis.” The SAP family saw something in me, and I’ve been excited to call the Bellevue office my second home since.

 

How can you help?

Veterans additionally have a tendency to mistranslate their military expertise when it comes time to find a job. Not just “a” job, but “the” job. In all their years, never was a resume drafted, never was a job interview conducted. Methods for proving proficiency were on the spot, as well as documented annually via evaluations against their peers. The word “audit” was a thing from a finance world far, far away, while “inspections” came on all days at all hours. Officers who attempted to wield tools were admonished by Enlisted to put down the wrench and step away from the toolbox, so leadership did not always arise from technical experience. They’re not necessarily interested in heavy equipment operation, law enforcement, franchising, warehouse work, coffee making, retail sales, or going back to work for the government.

This Veteran’s Day, here’s the ask: Ask to read a veteran’s resume. The goal here is twofold. First, give the veteran an opportunity to translate their skills into things that are corporate or civilian applicable. Talk with them about degree programs, certifications, and opportunities that may align with their skill sets. Help them turn their resume into something that a recruiter or hiring manager would better understand. Second, take the opportunity to read about what they are proficient in, what their ambitions are, and what capabilities they might be able to bring to an organization (like SAP!) that there are no degrees or certifications for. As a recruiter or hiring manager, develop a better understanding of their background and goals. Be more than Veteran Friendly – be Veteran Ready.

To those reading who have worn a uniform, across all of SAP, thank you for your service. To those who served well in advance of me, thank you for paving the way. And for the team that gave me a chance, thank you for seeing the potential in me.

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