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posted: 9/21/2014 7:44 AM

Career Coach: Helping military veterans succeed

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WASHINGTON -- According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly one in 10 civilians ages 18 and over were military veterans in 2013. From this group of 21.4 million people, about 2.8 million served during the second Gulf War era, compared with 4 percent of veterans from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam eras.

More than half of all veterans who served after Sept. 11, 2001, were between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2013. Generally, the unemployment rates for these recent veterans remains higher than for nonveterans, after adjusting for age and demographic factors.

Some of the reasons given for why veterans may have trouble finding jobs is their higher disability rates and their lack of obvious civilian work experience. In other words, they might actually have the right job experiences, it's just that employers might not readily see the direct translation to civilian jobs.

A third reason involves the obstacles veterans face when making the transition to civilian life. For example, much has been written about the fact that vets often have to pass new tests and licensing requirements, despite all the previous training they have received. This can be exasperating to vets -- that regardless of all their military training, education and certifications, they still have to show the value of these credentials to potential employers. A Pew Research Center survey noted that 44 percent of veterans who served in the past decade called the transition back to civilian life difficult.

While it may be more difficult for veterans to land jobs, once they have those jobs, they are viewed in a positive manner. Veterans are often rated strong in leadership and other qualities highly valued by employers. These qualities include communications skills, executive presence, discipline, high work ethic, motivation, perseverance, loyalty and adaptability. The same skills also make them ideal candidates for additional education or graduate degrees, which might prove highly beneficial in broadening their skill set or enabling them to switch career tracks.

Thus, it is critical that employers and educators learn to value the skills and experiences acquired in the military. Hiring managers and college recruiters can take some lessons from the top employers for veterans. These military-friendly firms, as rated by Forbes and others, include Amazon, AT&T, BAE, Bank of America, Booz Allen, Capital One, CSX, General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, PepsiCo, USAA, Union Pacific and Verizon, among others.

Examples of innovative practices abound at these companies. The financial services company USAA offers a Junior Military Officer Program, which gives veterans the knowledge and skills needed for a leadership career. USAA also has specialized recruiting programs, such as Combat to Claims, to attract veterans interested in insurance claims positions.

Similarly, Verizon believes veterans have strong leadership skills and meet the company's values of integrity, respect, accountability and performance excellence. Verizon has created a website that allows veterans to enter their branch of service and specialty code to find job openings that match their backgrounds, experiences and education levels.

Despite these examples, many organizations could do more to recruit and support veterans. For starters, they should keep interview questions focused on the job itself, rather than asking about war or deployment experiences.

They also should help veterans who have been out of the civilian workforce for some time find support juggling work, family and academic commitments. They should provide clear expectations and goals. And they should use vets to assist other vets. University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business, for example, hired a veteran to help recruit and support active duty and veteran students.

Employers also can use available resources to help vets transition back into the workplace. According to a 2012 study by the Center for a New American Security, more than 40,000 nonprofit groups now exist in the United States with missions focused on filling the needs of active-duty troops, veterans and their families. The Labor Department and its Veterans Employment and Training Service have released tool kits to educate employers and leaders on how to hire and retain veterans.

Google offers additional resources to help veterans coming home. The search engine site launched "VetNet," which offers veterans three distinct tracks to organize their next life moves. These include "basic training," which aids job hunters, "career connections," which links users to corporate mentors and other working veterans, and "entrepreneur," which offers a map to starting a business.

While a great start, much more needs to be done to assist our veterans once they come back. With so many active duty personnel returning to civilian life, the potential payoffs are huge.

• Russell is vice dean and director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management. She can be reached at jrussell@rhsmith.umd.edu.

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