Military Myth Busting: 3 Things Hiring Managers Get Wrong About Veterans
For military veterans in the U.S., November is a time to be honored for their service and sacrifice as our nation observes Veterans Day and National Veterans and Military Families Month. Communities come together throughout the month and recognize veterans through ceremonies, parades and other celebrations. However, the service and contributions for which these brave women and men are celebrated is frequently misunderstood by employers, hindering veterans’ pursuit of meaningful career opportunities in the civilian workforce.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics , the unemployment rate for veterans in the U.S. has trended lower than the national unemployment rate throughout 2022 – a testament in part to veterans’ determination and disciplined work ethic. At the same time, veterans are disproportionately affected by underemployment – working in a job lesser than their experience merits – relative to the rest of the workforce. A report from Call of Duty Endowment and Zip Recruiter found that as many as a third of veterans are working in roles that do not reflect their skills and abilities – a rate 15.6 percent higher than job seekers who have not served in the military.
This challenge can be attributed in part to preconceived notions among employers about veterans’ skills and experiences. As someone who is fortunate to work with many veterans – including several in Kelly Science, Engineering, Technology & Telecom and through K-Vets, Kelly’s veterans affinity group of which I am privileged to be the executive sponsor – I’ve seen firsthand that these perceptions run contrary to reality. By dispelling three of the most commons myths, we can empower more veterans to achieve their potential in the civilian workforce while opening the door for employers to an untapped pool of talent that can give them a competitive edge.
MYTH: Skills gained through military service are not transferable to the civilian workforce
The U.S. Military comprises more than 2 million people across the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. Within this expansive community, there is an even wider variety of roles, skill sets, and specialties. On the surface, many roles may appear to be so unique to the military that the skills one would gain in that role would be difficult to transfer to the civilian workforce. For example, how would a former Marine apply front-line combat experience to a data analyst position at a financial services company?
The reality is that veterans bring a wide range of transferable skills, both hard and soft – from leadership and communication to problem-solving and poise under pressure. It’s also important to understand that not every military job is combat-related. IT, electrical and mechanical engineering, and supply chain management represent just a small sample of the diverse skills and experiences one can gain in the military that are in high-demand among civilian employers. The key for HR teams and hiring managers is to be intentional in mapping veterans’ military experience to the roles for which they recruit and leveraging external expertise to do so, such as the talent acquisiton and development resources offered by the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University .
MYTH: Reservists and Guardsmen require too much time off to be productive
While some companies actively seek out veterans to join their workforce, those same employers may hesitate when it comes to hiring Guardsmen and Reservists. They worry that employees with “a foot in both worlds” will spend too much time focused on their military duties to add real value to their business.
The reality is that National Guard and Reserve members generally dedicate one weekend per month and two weeks each summer to military training. By planning and maintaining an open line of communication between these employees and their managers, guardsmen and reservists can contribute at a high level in their civilian jobs. The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) , an office of the U.S. Department of Defense, offers programs and resources for employers who are interested in better understanding how to support employees who serve in the Guard and and Reserve. Hiring managers will also benefit from familiarizing themselves with the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which includes provisions for employees who take time off for military service or training.
MYTH: All combat veterans suffer from PTSD
While PTSD is a serious mental health condition that disproportionately affects veterans, not all combat veterans suffer from PTSD – most do not. According to data from U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), PTSD affects 11-20% of combat veterans who served in Iraq and 12% of combat veterans who served in the Gulf War. Furthermore, PTSD is not exclusive to veterans. Any individual who experiences a traumatic event can develop symptoms of this condition, so misperceptions about this condition as it relates to employability have the potential to adversely impact a much larger portion of the workforce.
Regardless, a PTSD diagnosis does not preclude an individual from succeeding in the workplace – many will not experience any noticeable symptoms at all. In fact, employment has been shown to play a positive role in the recovery of people diagnosed with PTSD. With this in mind, organizations should proactively work to support mental health across the board by assessing roles that may have a higher likelihood of exposing at-risk individuals to trauma and making reasonable accommodations to help employees succeed. Not only are veterans with PTSD protected by the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) just like employees with other mental health conditions, it’s simply the right thing to do.
Ground your veteran hiring practices in fact
One of the most meaningful ways we can honor veterans for their service is to ensure that they have the career opportunities they deserve in the civilian workforce. Are you doing everything you can to support veterans? Examine your hiring policies, identify and eliminate biases that create barriers to opportunity, and ensure your culture is inclusive of talent from all backgrounds – including military veterans. The Veterans Employment Toolkit – offered by the VA – is a great place to start.
Don’t fall for the myths. Veterans make great employees. And in a tight labor market, tapping into this pool diverse and highly skilled talent is crucial to your success.