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What civilian employers really think of you
by Carolyn Heinze, Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: CSX

You’re stiff. A little too serious. Not really interested in negotiating with people - you’d prefer to bark orders and boss them around. When it comes to what civilians think of those that have been in the military, we’ve heard it all before. But what about civilian employers? Are employers’ perceptions of veterans just as narrow?

employers perceptions of veteransLike pretty much everything, it depends. Ruth Somoza at United Rentals - a Greenwich, Connecticut rental equipment provider and a Civilian Job News Most Valuable Employer (MVE) for Military® - would respond with a qualified ‘no.’ As Corporate Human Resources Generalist for the company, Somoza takes a proactive approach to recruiting and hiring former military members. “This company takes its veteran initiative - as far as recruiting anyone actively - as one of its major priorities,” she says, adding that the organization reaches out to veterans to ensure that they are aware of what United Rentals, as an employer, can offer them - including those military members who may be called to duty while on the job. “It is one of the most important aspects of our recruiting method.”

However, not all civilian employers are familiar with what the military is really about, notes Lisa Rosser, former military member and a speaker and workshop leader at the Herndon, Virginia-based The Value Of a Veteran - a firm that offers training to civilian employers on how to recruit former military members. “There is still a huge hurdle in getting employers, recruiters and hiring managers to understand the military skill sets,” she says. “A lot of that stems from the fact that very few people have served in the military, and that one percent of the population that has served has not been in the position to do the recruiting and hiring.” The result? Many of the ideas that people have about veterans are derived from what they see on television. “They walk away with the impression that we shoot things, we blow things up and we run things over with tanks; and that’s all well and good but that’s not what they need in their organization. They don’t realize that we actually have accountants, doctors, lawyers and pharmacists - all of these basic skill sets that they would love to hire.”

Coupled with this is the limited assistance military members receive in transitioning back into the civilian world - something that Rosser believes should be initiated much sooner than it usually is. “We are not currently doing the veteran a good service in letting them know that these are the kind of skills that employers are looking for,” she says. “We are not helping them along the way, during their military service, to understand that what they are doing currently is going to serve them well when looking for a civilian job. Make sure that you capture this information, keep it in an ongoing resume or skills list so that when it comes time to put this together, it’s not an overwhelming task.”

Somoza notes that many of the skills her organization seeks are those that veterans have already acquired in the military. “A lot of what they develop while they are serving our country is what employers should consider essential to hiring,” she says. “We are very customer-focused at United Rentals, and what we see in veteran candidates is the ability to focus on completing a project.” Because veterans are accustomed to moving up through the ranks of the military, they tend to be comfortable with developing and growing with a company - a quality that civilian organizations value in a climate where employees are increasingly difficult to retain. And, Somoza adds, veterans are well-equipped in the area of problem solving: “They are able to face adversity; if things don’t go as planned, they know how to adjust to change and are able to maneuver in different environments.”

Headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, the Chesapeake Energy Corporation (another Most Valuable Employer (MVE) for Military) focuses a significant amount of its recruiting effort on the increasingly large pool of veterans out there. “Most military candidates have a strong character about them, and we find their integrity to be very high,” says Mikel Lucas, a field recruiting manager at Chesapeake and himself a former Marine. He notes that the veterans his organization recruits tend to excel in areas where safety is paramount, largely due to the principles and skills they acquired in the military. “Chesapeake is one of the largest drillers of natural gas and oil in the nation, and safety is something that we look at closely. We like to hear examples of how they applied safety in the military.” Lucas underlines that it’s these anecdotes that can make or break one’s chances at being considered for a position. “They should also be willing to give real-world examples in an interview,” he says. “You have to synchronize them with the language of the civilian world and be able to explain yourself in civilian terms.”

Aside from translating military jargon into civilian-speak and emphasizing the transferable skills that military members have acquired, Rosser underlines that veterans need to have an understanding not only of employers’ perceptions of veterans, but also of how recruiters actually recruit. For example, keyword criteria in applicant-tracking systems are often the deciding factor on whether or not a resume actually makes it to the recruiter’s desk. “Resumes that don’t meet the keyword criteria automatically get rejected,” she says. “Even in the good times, they were still getting many resumes for every open position they had.” With the recent more-challenging economy, recruiters are now faced with anywhere from 100 to 400 resumes for every position they have open - and many of these applicants are extremely qualified, which makes the competition for available work rather fierce.

To counter this, Rosser counsels veterans to make the hiring manager’s job as easy as possible. “We have to make an effort, on our end, to try to meet that employer halfway,” she said. “I’m working on trying to get the employers to meet us halfway, but veterans have to make some kind of an effort.”

Somoza agrees that when it comes to deciphering resumes, hiring managers could use a little help. “There is almost like a different language when you are dealing with someone from the military when they talk about their capabilities, skills and rank,” she says. “A recruiter wouldn’t necessarily have the terminology to translate those skills, and the onus is on the candidate to explain what they did, what their qualifications are and what they can offer to that company based on their background in the military.”

Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer/editor.

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