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As the Call of Duty Endowment spends this Veterans Day joining with the rest of our country in thanking those who have served, we want to continue to shine a light on the issue of veteran unemployment. On November 7, 2013, the Endowment recognized seven of the best nonprofits who are helping to place veterans into jobs at a press conference and symposium in Washington, DC. Below features video highlights from the event, as well as a short overview of veterans hiring best practices, as discussed by the nonprofits.
Veterans Employment Best Practices
Insight from the Call of Duty Endowment’s 2013 Seal of Distinction Winners
On November 7, 2013, the Call of Duty Endowment hosted a three-panel symposium featuring representatives from each of the Seal of Distinction winners who discussed the principles that help their organizations succeed. Although each organization serves slightly different subsets of the veteran population and provides a wide range of services, nine overarching themes emerged from the panelists’ remarks.
1) Educate the gatekeeper
Even with companies that publicly support hiring veterans, a disconnect between executive leadership, recruiters and hiring managers (those who have final approval on a candidate) can keep job-seeking veterans at bay. Despite corporate initiatives, the staff that flags resumes on a day-to-day basis may not understand how to interpret veterans’ experience.
As David Muir of the Veteran Staffing Network explained, HR “screeners” who determine which applicants gets into the organization need education on handling veteran applicants. Muir went on to describe how hiring managers look for resumes that fit a well-established pattern and may not understand how a veteran’s experience applies to the job in question.
Hiring managers who do invite veterans for interviews should also understand how to push past their innate humility. Muir noted that, “We need to educate those front-line interviewers…to identify when they’re interviewing a vet that they might need to pull an answer out…Veterans by nature are humble, because they’ve been taught to think in terms of team accomplishments over individual ones.”
2) Expand beyond the transaction
Effective organizations don’t just “put a veteran on [an employer’s] doorstep,” Lisa Anderson of the Salvation Army Haven’s Return to Work Program explained. Instead, these organizations deliberately establish trust and build rapport with businesses that want to hire veterans.
That relationship begins with identifying the best point of contact within the business. Sometimes that’s a member of executive leadership; other times it’s the assistant to an executive or a member of the HR team. But the exchange cannot be “transactional,” as moderator Brian Kropp of CEB described. Within the context of an established relationship, veteran employment organizations are more likely to succeed at placing multiple veterans in an organization.
3) Lighten the employers’ work load
Before many of these nonprofit staffers served veterans, they first worked in the private sector, some specifically as recruiters or headhunters. Applying that experience – particularly the recruiting mentality – to the veteran employment initiative is key. They should approach employers as headhunters would, saying, “We have this pre-qualified person. We have done your work for you. We are saving you time. This is not going to cost you anything. We have screened this person for this particular position…. When can we schedule the interview?” Lisa Anderson described, adding, “We get a lot of ‘yeses’ with that.” By reducing the workload of potential employers and their staff, these nonprofits have more success with companies.
To succeed, however, this approach must build upon a positive initial experience. As Anderson explained, nonprofits have to get to know the veteran, understand how he or she best communicates, and ascertain completely that the veteran matches up with the opportunity before presenting him or her as a candidate. The first veteran the nonprofit presents must be “absolutely on target,” for subsequent placements to succeed, and the nonprofit should follow up afterward as well.
4) Turn job seekers into job hunters
Panelists agreed on one point in particular: Veterans are ill-equipped for the civilian job hunt. Veterans are “not selling themselves…when they go and interview,” said Blas Villalobos of U.S. Vets. He explained that veterans nonprofits must “retrain them…to understand that what they bring to the table is great, it’s of great benefit to the employer” because “these vets don’t really understand how much value they bring.”
Vin Perrone of Veterans Inc. argued for the importance of helping veterans rewrite resumes “out of military language and into civilian language.” Practice also plays a key role, he explained, whether that’s rehearsing through mock interviews or preparing to dress appropriately for interviews.
Stabilizing non-employment factors can also help veterans focus on the job hunt. Kevin Martin of The Weingart Center said his organization works to provide transitional housing and stabilize the veteran’s family environment, which makes them “better prepared to go out and find a job.”
The core goal, panelists agreed, is to equip veterans to succeed. They need an environment conducive to job searching, a resume translated for civilian understanding, interview skills, and confidence in how their military experience can serve their future civilian employers. These factors take a veteran from being a “job seeker,” as David Muir put it, to a “job hunter.”
5) Stay on Target: Refer rather than replicate
For veterans nonprofits, success hinges on focus, understanding what you don’t do – and referring unrelated requests accordingly. Veterans employment organizations must stay on target, finding jobs for vets. Sometimes that requires referring veterans who need services of a different kind and not diffusing the nonprofit’s efforts by trying to offer services outside of their scope.
Dan Kloeppel of Corporate America Supports You specifically discussed eliminating so-called “sympathy fatigue,” whereby his organization’s employees got sidetracked by sympathizing with veterans’ challenges rather than focusing on finding them employment. The better option, Kloeppel explained, is to refer veterans to an organization that specializes in veterans counseling. “[We say] I understand but…here’s a number to call; here’s a website to go to,’” Kloeppel said, “[explaining to the veteran that] ‘We’re here to put you to work.’” As Will Webb with Still Serving Veterans explained, the way to stay efficient is to “refer rather than replicate.”
6) Integrate with partners
The veterans employment services space has exploded in recent years, resulting in a range of veterans organizations that includes government initiatives and programs, non-profits, public-private partnerships and now even “private-private partnerships and public-public partnerships,” as Will Webb noted.
Effective veterans nonprofits integrate with complementary counterparts, creating partnerships that allow them collectively to serve veterans in a larger geographical area or for a broader range of needs. Achieving what Ross Cohen of Hiring Our Heroes called a “fluency of conversation between the different initiatives,” allows veterans employment nonprofits to assist – and receive assistance from – partners, maximizing their ability to aid veterans in finding jobs.
7) Buddy up
Younger veterans, who suffer unemployment at a significantly higher rate, differ from veterans of previous generations in how they search for civilian work. As Vin Perrone noted, older veterans would join organizations such as the American Legion to network. Younger veterans are less inclined to do so.
But navigating the transition to civilian work in isolation makes a difficult situation even more challenging. So, as Perrone described, Veterans Inc. works to “buddy them up,” inviting young veterans to social gathering where they play video games, eat pizza and meet members of the Veterans Inc. staff. These interactions give case managers the chance to initiate a relationship that can lead to job placement.
As David Muir of the Veterans Staffing Network explained, social connections in the workplace can bolster a veteran’s success once he or she finds a job. Having a “battle buddy” can help veterans assimilate and settle into their new occupation.
8) Take the job (then climb the ladder)
Veterans don’t always feel challenged or fairly compensated by the jobs they are first offered out of the military, several panelists commented. To many, available civilian jobs pale in comparison to the level of responsibility and complexity of their military experience.
But long periods of unemployment don’t sit well with potential employers, Dan Kloeppel explained, so the advice to veterans is most often: take the job. Dr. Anthony Hassan of the Center for Innovation & Research on Veterans & Military Families at the USC School of Social Work echoed this sentiment, adding that he advises veterans to “get in the door” as a first step. After that, veterans should “find a mentor” Hassan advises, and work their way up the organization—this often happens quicker than they expect when employers experience their capabilities first hand.
9) Track and evaluate
“Insist on everybody in the organization doing it,” Dan Kloeppel said of tracking progress, “from the people that are working with the applicants and recruiters to the applicants themselves.” Kloeppel’s organization, Corporate America Supports You, has the lowest per-veteran placement costs of the Seal of Distinction winners. He attributes that in part to the importance of incorporating technology to drive down costs and to evaluate what’s working – and what’s not.
Without tracking, quantifying and evaluating data, Kloeppel explained, “You don’t know what you’re doing well, and you don’t know what you’re doing wrong.”
These nine principles are the “secret sauce” behind winning organizations’ success at efficiently placing veterans in jobs. Seal of Distinction winners were selected from a range of national applicants and vetted by Deloitte’s professional auditing service to ascertain their integrity and financial viability for meeting veteran employment objectives.