Veterans deserve better than the status quo

meanwhile at the transition office…

In the post 9/11 economy it’s safe to say that many (if not most) employers understand that the value of hiring veterans into their organization goes far beyond patriotism and honoring the service of our fighting men and women. Today’s veterans are among the most highly trained and competent practitioners and leaders. Veterans bring an ideal mix of professionalism, dependability, loyalty and integrity you simply will not find anywhere else. I suspect you already know this, and I suspect that you’ve at least thought about hiring more veterans for your organization. The challenge for you dear reader — whether you’re an employer, a veteran, or simply an interested bystander — is that the institutional process designed to support you is fundamentally broken.

I founded Veteran Insider in response to my own transition experience from the US Army in 2011. After seven years of service, including three deployments (32 months total) to Iraq and Afghanistan, I found myself struggling to find viable employment opportunities in the private sector. I had an undergraduate degree, a Top Secret clearance, and extensive experience in the highly versatile intelligence field…but more often than not, I couldn’t even get an interview.

I worked with the Veteran Service Organizations that you’ve heard of — most notably the VA — and in every case I found the organization unwilling or unable to address me as an individual with skills and abilities shaped through my own unique military experiences. Instead, I found myself grouped into a bucket with every other veteran with my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS). The result of this approach was a gross miscalculation of my personal skills and value proposition to potential employers — I was being misrepresented to employers and pursuing opportunities which did not appropriately align to my skills. Looking back, I’m happy to take the blame for the shortcomings in my transition…after all, it was MY transition experience; on the other hand, how would I have known any different at the time?

But the problem extends beyond the inability to see veterans as individuals, in many cases the so called Veteran Service Organizations created to support veterans during and after transition do more to hurt veterans than help them. Every military branch has their form of a transition program designed to help new veterans assimilate to the civilian world and — for lack of a better term — reintegrate into normal society. The problem is, the majority of civilians (read “veterans and military spouses”) and government employees who administer these programs have — more often than not — spent little or no time in the private sector themselves. I cannot think of a better example of the blind leading the blind, aside from the literal interpretation of course.

I have personally sat through “transition workshops” where groups of 20 or more veterans at a time are coached to “deflect” questions about their military experience or “turn the question around” on the interviewer: “how much do YOU think I should be paid?” These aren’t one-off examples, these are commonplace stories that I hear over and over from the veterans I talk to every day. And let’s be clear — I don’t think for a second that the people in these transition programs are trying to do anything other than help veterans transition into the private sector. These are good people who believe in what they’re doing; but the reality is, by and large, they’re doing more harm than good.

The simple truth is that most of the veterans I know think of military funded transition services as little more than a box they have to check as part of the clearance process — the process through which active duty service members are “cleared” to transition into a reserve or inactive status. The majority of veterans end up trying their luck with the standard job board solutions — which necessarily subjects them to the faulty MOS based “skills translators” I referenced earlier. The problem with the standard job board solution is that there’s an assumption that the user knows what they’re looking for BEFORE they get to the job site. Think about it….how do you run a keyword search for employment opportunities when you don’t know what keywords you should be searching for? And when a veteran turns to a skills translator instead?…that’s where the opportunity for growth and career development dies. Very often, veterans don’t know what they should be looking for, and the assumption that veterans want to stay within their MOS is far from safe or reasonable.

So finally we return to Veteran Insider, one solution to this massively important and complex problem. We’ve developed Veteran Insider using private sector data to interpret the knowledge, skills, and abilities the private sector actually cares about. Rather than rely on military training to tell us what every veteran in a given MOS is capable of, we focus on the individual experiences of each veteran and hone in on the skills they developed in the execution of their military mission(s). Do we find common data points among each MOS? You bet! But we also see a lot of variability in the skills profile of veterans with the same MOS. Take two veterans with similar backgrounds and put them in a room, they may exhibit skills that align at 96%; but that 4% misalignment is anything but trivial. That other 4% is the difference between a veteran and the right veteran; it’s the difference between a j-o-b and a career.

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