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Returning U.S. Veterans Face Long Job Searches

By Kathy Gurchiek  11/18/2008
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For 17 percent of U.S. veterans returning home from active duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, it takes more than six months to land a job, and it takes a year for almost 1 in 10 veterans to get hired, according to a recent survey.

“I don’t find it alarming,” Rosemary Haefner,’s vice president of HR, said of the numbers. “I would say it’s extremely hopeful and optimistic,” she told SHRM Online.

The time frame for veterans is not much longer than the time it takes for civilian job seekers to land a job.

The median job search among about 3,000 civilians securing a position in the third quarter of 2008 took nearly 4.4 months, according to a Job Market Index that Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc. released in mid-October 2008.

“The companies that are hiring right now, they have a lot of candidates, their pipeline is full,” Haefner said. findings are based on a survey conducted in August and September 2008 with 3,388 hiring managers and HR professionals and 6,842 full-time U.S. employees.

While there were assumptions from veterans as well as HR professionals and hiring managers that landing a job after returning from active duty would take “a year or more,” the findings show that is not the case, Haefner said.

Translating Skills to Workplace

An employer’s inability to understand how military skills can transfer to the workplace is the biggest challenge returning veterans face, service members told Other obstacles are a lack of a college degree, the low number of jobs in their area and inexperience with interviewing for civilian jobs.

Haefner is optimistic, though, that those are challenges that “are absolutely things that could be worked on,” such as showing veterans how to write a resume that removes military jargon and acronyms while showcasing their skills with a business context.

“They are attractive candidates,” Haefner said. She noted in a press release that “employers value the diverse skill set that veterans can bring to their workforce and how those workers can have a positive impact on their bottom lines.”

Asked what are the most important qualities veterans bring qualities to the workplace, hiring managers and HR professionals cited veterans’ ability to be team members (74 percent), a disciplined approach to work (73 percent), leadership skills (66 percent), respect and integrity (64 percent), and ability to perform under pressure (62 percent).

A Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) poll found HR professionals citing similar qualities that they believe veterans bring to the job, but 88 percent of HR professionals responding to the survey said that their organizations have not made a specific attempt to hire vets returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Almost two-thirds (62 percent) told SHRM that their organization has not hired any Iraq or Afghanistan veterans in the past 36 months,

Most of those who took SHRM’s October 2008 poll work for privately owned, for-profit organizations (53 percent).

Employers “desperately” need candidates with leadership skills, Haefner observed. She suggests considering veterans to help fill that need. Vets also can address employers’ concerns about workplace readiness because of the training they undergo as part of their military service, she added.

“A lot of people will just assume [veterans] have training to be a wonderful police officer, but there are a lot of other things [veterans] can bring to the table,” she said.

Twenty percent of employers said they plan to recruit vets actively over the next 12 months for positions in information technology, sales, management and engineering, according to

Those “are very good numbers,” Haefner said. “You’ve got to put that in context with the market.”

October 2008 saw the loss of 240,000 U.S. jobs, bringing the total number of jobs lost since December 2007 to 1.2 million, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

“We’re also in the fourth quarter of the year,” she said. “If this was two years ago, I would say [that 20 percent is] a little lukewarm. … Now it takes on a whole different meaning.”

Programs for Employers

Getting assistance identifying and reaching out to qualified veterans would be the biggest help—almost half of HR professionals said it would help a lot—in recruiting and hiring veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, SHRM found in its poll.

That was followed by programs to help vets transition from military to civilian workplaces, information, and support for dealing with potential challenges such as a veteran’s injuries, mental health issues or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Help is available, an article in the December 2008 issue of HR Magazine points out, such as the federal Transition Assistance Program sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor.

America’s Heroes at Work, a government initiative launched in August 2001, provides web-based resources for employers and others who employ veterans and first responders with a traumatic brain injury and/or post-traumatic stress disorder.

There’s also the HireVetsFirst web site, which gives access to several resources for businesses, and every state has an agency that provides employment services to veterans. Employers can check with these state agencies, as well as with the U.S. Department of Labor, for help in hiring veterans.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at

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