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Boots on the Ground - Finding Your Veteran Partnership

In my recruiting efforts I do some soft skills training. I work with my partners’ referrals on interview tips, how to work with co-workers, how to receive constructive feedback and so on.

Recently in Las Vegas I collaborated with the Wounded Warrior Project. Of course, my flight into Sin City was delayed and I showed up late to the training. I showed up late for a meeting with nine veterans. Now, to a veteran, late means fifteen minutes prior to the time you’re supposed to be there and I arrived an hour later than scheduled.

I was sweating and apologetic as I unpacked my gear and, as I tend to do, made some terrible jokes about why I was late such as “the first topic today is showing up on time” and I introduced myself as the Tom Cruise-loving kid from Connecticut. Nine veterans, half of whom looked like WWE wrestlers, just stared at me wondering what this scrawny kid was going to teach them about getting and keeping a job.

I went around the room for introductions, gathering resumes and tried to gain my composure. “Twenty years of service, secret clearance, jumpmaster, Iraq, Afghanistan, bombs, wounds, pride.” I felt like Tom Cruise in a room full of Jack Nicholson’s in my favorite movie A Few Good Men.

How dare I stand there in my blue shirt and pink tie deciding whether or not they were a right fit for the company? I was overwhelmed. Out of my league, but I was also impressed and proud to be in this room with these heroes, so I marched on. By the time we finished the introductions, my PowerPoint was up and for the first time since I’ve been conducting this training I felt I couldn’t teach this material. It seemed too elementary, too basic and just silly to teach to these guys. One comment was, “I was sick of having bullets flying by me, so I’m looking forward to a career in the civilian world.” Yeah. And I was just complaining about waiting thirty minutes for a rental car at the airport.

I had to make a move. So, I shut down my computer and decided that we were going to just talk. I challenged the group. First I asked, “I’m looking at you all and I’m looking at your resumes. Why don’t you have any jobs or why do you want to change the jobs you have?” Silence.

On my right side I noticed this gentleman who dominated his introduction and a few curve ball interview questions I had pitched his way during the introductions, becoming agitated, so I called him out. He simmered a bit and then he exploded, “In the military you showed up on time, you did your job and you didn’t complain. In the field it was life or death. You counted on the men and women around you because if they failed you it was your life.” Heavy, yet telling.

Before I could ask another question or comment, the Warrior next to him jumped in, “The only jobs I get an offer for are security. I was a Platoon Sergeant!” They all opened up. The bottom line is recruiters and hiring managers often don’t know how to assess the talent that is in front of them and are often unaware of the talent they are missing. And I hear it all the time. They don’t have that experience – they do! They’re overqualified – yes, but want that job! At the end of the day we were high-fiving and sharing personal stories on life. Three Tips for Employers: 1) Outreach: Work on that partnership relationship. It takes time and effort. I’m not going to lie, some veteran groups are better than others, but it is up to you to find out. Don’t get frustrated, be patient, and communicate your needs effectively. “Waiting is the hardest part.” – Tom Petty 2) Don’t Judge a Resume by Its Cover: Unfortunately we utilize the resume for the end all, but trying to fit all that great experience into a one- or two-page resume can be tough and sometimes we find they’re too long. Thoroughly read the resume and look for keywords. Learn those keywords. Relate that experience to what you’re looking for. Talk to the veteran! “Yeah, ’cause you can’t judge a book by its cover. “My papa used to say: ‘look, child, look beyond.” – Stevie Wonder 3) Don’t Assume Veterans Are Overqualified: Yes they are! But as mentioned above, these veterans are getting low hourly jobs in security or some other related field. They want that career and are not afraid to show you their worth and work their way up. Be upfront and honest with them and let them decide whether the job is “below them.” “You Won’t Get Fooled Again.”– Roger Daltrey, The Who As my final point, I want to make it clear that you don’t owe it to the veteran to hire him or her based on the fact that they served this country. For that, a good gesture is to let a veteran grab the aisle seat on the plane, buy them a drink or shake their hand. As an employer what you owe veterans is the opportunity for them to tell you about their talents and desire to be the best employee at your company. Give them that chance, just don’t think you did.

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