Communication Challenges Can Become Military Veterans' Employment Barriers

By Eytan Hirsch Jun 5, 2012

Military veterans face a significant communication gap with hiring managers when searching for jobs in the civilian workforce, according to the findings of a May 30, 2012, survey conducted by

In the current economy, finding a job is difficult for anyone regardless of one’s background or skills. For veterans, securing employment can be an even greater challenge because of the complexities that come with the transition from military to civilian life.

Monster polled more than 900 veterans and more than 900 U.S. employers who had hired an employee with prior military experience in 2011 for its Veterans Talent Index (VTI), the second in a series of reports that shows the needs of service members transitioning into the civilian workforce and what employers expect of them. The results suggest that most veterans are leaving the military with the skills necessary to succeed in civilian jobs but that an increasing number of employers sense that they are not fully prepared to do so. When the first VTI was published in November 2011, 77 percent of employers surveyed said they thought veterans were prepared for a civilian career; that figure fell to 39 percent in May 2012.

Executive Vice President of Monster Worldwide’s Monster Government Solutions, Steve Cooker, said that the issue is not whether veterans are qualified for jobs but that often they have difficulty learning the language of the civilian hiring community.

“We hear from companies all the time [that] understand the business value of hiring veterans and putting their hard-earned military skills to use in a civilian workforce,” Cooker said in a May 30, 2012, news release about the survey results. “But there is a definite communication gap when former military men and women attempt to convey those skills to recruiters and hiring managers.”

Veterans’ Most Common Job Search Challenges

  • Finding a job that matches what I want (e.g., salary, location, etc.).
  • Finding opportunities for which I am qualified.
  • Having employers understand my skills and experience.
  • Applying military skills to a nonmilitary setting.
Source: Monster Veterans Talent Index, May 2012.

The military can provide people with unparalleled skills and learning experiences that can benefit many organizations. And 75 percent of veterans said that the skills they have acquired are relevant to civilian careers, which appears to be a sign that they feel relatively confident about their potential to succeed in the civilian workforce. However, just 47 percent of this survey’s respondents said they believe that they are prepared for their career transition out of the military; only 29 percent are confident about finding work that suits them.

T.L. McCreary, president of the Monster-affiliated job site, said that this increasing frustration and lack of confidence among veterans stems primarily from the results of their job interviews and how they present themselves to hiring managers. McCreary, a retired Navy rear admiral, emphasizes the importance of discussing specific military skills that can translate into civilian skills, such as discipline, teamwork, problem-solving and working under pressure. Avoiding military jargon and knowing how to spell out one’s strengths effectively can make all the difference in an interview.

“It seems like the veteran and the employer are talking past each other at times,” he said. “Being able to actually discuss and match your skill set to what the employer is looking for is key.”

Veterans are not the only ones who need to change their communication approach. Hiring managers need to ensure that they ask the right questions when interviewing veterans for jobs within their organizations. Rather than simply asking them how they define themselves based on their military skills, employers should ask veterans about their specific day-to-day activities in the military, McCreary said.

In the past, many employers surveyed admitted that their primary motivation for hiring a veteran was not necessarily the skills that he or she possessed. Two common reasons that employers have cited for hiring veterans were their sense of patriotism and taking advantage of the corporate tax credits the federal government provides for hiring them. Other factors survey respondents noted include the fact that veterans often already have needed security clearances, their knowledge of government jobs and being a family member or friend of the veteran.

Employers are moving more in the direction of hiring veterans, though, because they view them as the most qualified candidates for the job. In the latest Monster survey, 70 percent said they hired veterans because they were the most qualified candidates. That’s a 7 percentage point increase from the company’s November 2011 survey results.

In addition, 99 percent of respondents said that once they do hire a veteran, they believe that their work is equal to or better than that of nonveteran workers. The same percentage reported that they would recommend hiring a veteran in the future.

Eytan Hirsch is a staff writer for SHRM.

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