In 2011, 11 major companies founded the 100,000 Jobs Mission to create a forum to advocate for veteran employment. Since then, the coalition has obliterated its original goal of hiring 100,000 veterans by 2020. To date, over 190,000 veterans have been hired as the coalition has grown to include more than 170 companies. In 2014, the RAND Corporation published a report based on analysis of interviews with 26 of the member companies, representing a diverse set of industries, “from retail trade to health care to finance and insurance.”

Although this report was primarily written with the coalition members and government organizations in mind, it provides veterans with a valuable resource for better understanding the different factors that can impact a company’s efforts to recruit and retain more veterans. Here are a few of the highlights:

The Good News

  • Veterans are widely praised for their leadership, trustworthiness, enthusiasm for teamwork, flexibility in changing environments, and their comfort working in a fast-paced, complex setting with minimal stress. Rest assured, companies love this about veterans, and it makes us valuable members of the team.
  • Although incomplete, the data gathered so far seems to indicate that veterans perform slightly better than average workers, and are retained at nearly the same rate as civilians in the same company. This would seem to argue against a common misperception among some managers that veterans may be more likely to leave a job quickly because of struggles adapting to the private sector.
  • Veterans appear to be hired at an appropriate level when they possess the proper skills, and there is no particular bias for officers over enlisted. Where discrepancies in hiring at different ranks are identified, they are explained through differences in education level and years of experience required for the position in question, or the average salary requirements of applicants offered a position.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder-related stigma was not reported to be an important factor in deterring companies from hiring veterans. As the report notes, this actually contradicts another recent study that looked at this question.

Room For Improvement

  • RAND noted that many traditional job fairs provided companies a terrible return on investment. Many companies are apparently just as fed up with these meat markets as transitioning service members and veterans are. However, instead of urging companies to give up on job fairs as a tool for hiring veterans, the report encourages companies to focus their resources on job fairs that allow companies to pre-screen applicants and conduct virtual interviews. Crucially, companies report more and better hires from such settings. This is one more reason for veterans to focus their limited job-seeking time and energy on these kinds of job fairs instead of the more traditional job fairs that do not allow pre-screening.
  • Managers are often a bigger hurdle to hiring more veterans than the recruiters themselves. Managers are tasked with hiring the most qualified people possible in a limited amount of time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, if they don’t have a strong understanding of the military and the skills that veterans can offer their organization, they may be reluctant to “take a risk” on hiring a veteran when a civilian who has already done the job in question has also applied.
  • Skill mismatches are still one of the most significant obstacles preventing many companies from hiring more veterans. This is especially true when you consider the population of veterans coming from combat arms branches of service. Although infantrymen and others may joke about communications, supply, or intel specialists during their time in the military, these non-combat arms soldiers have an extremely low unemployment rate compared to their more “hardcore” peers. There is a huge supply of veterans from the combat arms branches without specific technical skills from their military training in the workplace, and there is a correspondingly low demand for workers with combat skills but little technical training.
  • Many corporate settings are structured in a way that can confuse veterans who are used to a strict rank hierarchy, and the report indicates that this is a commonly cited frustration for many veterans in the coalition companies. Be prepared for more ambiguity about roles, responsibilities and reporting lines than you were accustomed to in the military.

Here are some recommendations for veteran job seekers based on the advice that the RAND report provides for members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission:

  • Focus your job fair energy on those job fairs that allow you to give potential employers your resume before the actual job fair. This enables employers to notify you before you arrive when they are interested in an interview and helps keep you from feeling like you are simply wasting your time. Or look for companies at job fairs, such as Hirepurpose, which act as veteran advocates for service members transitioning to the civilian sector. Hirepurpose’s advocates travel all over the country to career fairs on military bases and give you access to a wide breadth of companies seeking to hire veterans.
  • Transferring your skills to your civilian career is the key to a successful transition. You may be the most high-speed mortar section leader of all time, but would you expect AT&T; to hire a civilian with no technical experience for a great position in a technical department? There are two ways to overcome this perceived skills gap:
  • Take advantage of the technical training opportunities that are available to you while you are preparing to the leave the military, and continue to do so after your transition. The RAND report repeatedly emphasizes that coalition companies should seek to link up with great veterans through programs like SkillBridge, the Army Career and Alumni Program, and the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Veterans Employment Center. Coalition partners regularly participate in events and programs put together by these and other organizations, and this is one of the best ways for a veteran or a service member in the process of transitioning to secure a good job before they end their time in service.
  • Spend some time with a career counselor to discuss ways to reframe the skills that you have already gained during your military service in terms that will make the most sense in the industries that interest you. This is harder than it sounds, and if you don’t do it, your interviewers will know when they ask, “What do you think that you would bring to our company?”

The 100,000 Jobs Mission report provides veterans with valuable insights into how a company might actually try to change its hiring and management policies to make it more veteran friendly. RAND identified a number of major hurdles that prevent many companies from finding and hiring talented veterans that meet their needs, including the perceived skills gap, and the problem of the low return on investment for sending recruiters to traditional job fairs. Fortunately, veterans can arm themselves with this knowledge and meet a company halfway by translating their skills into terms that will make sense in the private sector, and participating in the kind of high-visibility, employment and training programs that many companies turn to when they are looking to hire skilled veterans.