Why These 'Translators' Are Vital to Helping Vets Find Careers

Why These 'Translators' Are Vital to Helping Vets Find Careers

BURLINGTON, NJ - FEBRUARY 8: U.S. military personnel about to terminate their government service attend a class February 8, 2013 where an instructor provides private sector job search and employment training at the Joint Base, McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst facility in Burlington, New Jersey. The 4-day program formerly known as Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and now renamed the Transition Goals Plans Success (GPS) is given jointly by the Department of Defense, Labor and Veterans Affairs. The military service men and women are given advice on how to seek jobs, write a resume, conduct an interview and respond to oral and written job questionnaires at private sector companies offering employment. Nationwide unemployment figures for military veterans is 2-3% higher than the national average.

SourceRobert Nickelsberg/Getty
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Why you should care

Because your next best candidate may feel more comfortable in uniform.

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Imagine moving somewhere new, where you don’t understand the language. You’re not sure about the day-to-day rules — the customary etiquette, beliefs and behaviors seem different, undefined. Feeling adrift, you try to stumble through, but the more you struggle, the more you start questioning why you came. It’s nothing like where you’ve been, but you can’t go back.

It may sound like a bad dream, but for many veterans, this is exactly how it feels to start their first non-military job. The differences between civilian working life and the armed services are stark — and disorienting. In fact, veterans struggle to adjust to the civilian workforce so much that, according to research by VetAdvisor and Syracuse University’s Institute for Veterans and Military Families:

44 PERCENT OF VETERANS LEAVE THEIR FIRST CIVILIAN JOB WITHIN A YEAR, AND ANOTHER 21 PERCENT LEAVE BEFORE THE END OF YEAR TWO.

A major problem? The language barrier. Jamal McCall spent 12 years in the U.S. Air Force before deciding late last year that it was time for a challenge outside the armed forces. Job hunting was “very frustrating — you get a lot of noes,” he says. Veterans can find themselves stuck in unsatisfying jobs, which McCall attributes to trouble “articulating our skill set.” Despite being qualified, “it’s tough for us to put it on paper,” McCall explains. Talk of squadrons, awards and units, after all, “doesn’t translate to the corporate environment.”

The VetAdvisor/Syracuse report seems to prove McCall’s point. Reasons cited for quitting by those surveyed included unfamiliar work culture, work that lacked meaning and scant opportunity for career development. The findings suggest that care isn’t being taken to assimilate veterans into new work environments, and that employers fail to recognize these employees’ true potential. Many veterans find themselves with unfulfilling jobs instead of fulfilling careers.

We heard from a lot of our veteran employees that, because they felt so untethered, everything seemed foreign.

Elizabeth Lynch, Military and Veterans Affairs

“We heard from a lot of our veteran employees that, because they felt so untethered, everything seemed foreign,” explains Elizabeth Lynch, the JPMorgan Chase executive director of Military and Veterans Affairs. In response, a dedicated veteran recruitment team now helps applicants “translate” skills onto résumés. The veteran internship program also presents corporate culture in more familiar terms: comparing company values to military values, showing the differences between corporate and military communications, and helping employees understand roles in terms of their “mission” and their “team.”

The banking giant has also piloted a mentor program pairing new veteran employees with established veteran employees. The point, explains Lynch, was to improve retention by “tackling any issues they might have within those first 12 months.” McCall, who this year moved from his New Mexico military base to work for JPMorgan Chase’s technology division in Florida, speaks highly of these techniques, especially the mentor program. “My mentor was immensely helpful because he understood the things I was going to struggle with or that wouldn’t make sense to me, and jumped on them right away,” he says, noting that without this support, “I would have had more of a learning curve to fight against, and I wouldn’t have been able to adapt and move forward as I have.”

Lynch acknowledges, however, that helping veterans into roles that best suit their skills remains a work in progress: “We’re asking, what are those bright spots where veterans are bringing specific skills needed by the firm? How do we make sure we’re using that great fit?” The company has identified several “job families” — such as technology, operational roles and cyber security — that fit the bill, and hopes such insights will improve retention going forward. Another challenge, Lynch adds, is making understanding a two-way street: “We’re also thinking about what managers need to understand the veteran perspective.” A training program geared towards just that is in the planning stages.

McCall agrees more mutual understanding is needed. Veterans are versatile in both skills and experience, he says, and deserve proper opportunities. “You have to avoid that approach of thinking you know what all vets bring to the table,” he says. “You have to take the time to understand exactly what you’re getting.”