During the 2019 Super Bowl, Google showcased an advertisement for the new search feature that helps military veterans who are looking for jobs. In recent years, there has been an increased focus on providing more job opportunities for veterans transitioning out of the army. Although veterans provide a wealth of talent and possess many of skills and abilities that are needed to close the job-skills gap, they are often overlooked by employers. Carlos Perez is the Chief Operating Officer at AAFMAA, the longest-standing not-for-profit association that empowers military families with affordable financial social. Perez sat down with Forbes to discuss how military veterans can positively impact the workplace and how to overcome some of the misconceptions that impact hiring and selection.
Janice Gassam: What are some of the unique benefits that veterans bring to the workplace?
Carlos Perez: First of all, [we] have…experience in leadership and managing people from your very earliest days in the service. Once you get beyond being in the army…you typically start leading some organization even if it’s a small team of people…maybe two to three people over your time in the service…that experience and responsibility grows.
Second…is the problem-solving ability…we are problem solvers. So, we typically are given some kind of a tough mission whether that’s here training in a unit or actually deployed somewhere on a real exercise. And so, you have to apply some kind of a methodology to define a problem, develop alternatives, and then implement a solution. So, I would say problem solving is something veterans have experience with…I know that there is often stereotypes in that regard but I do think that veterans have a propensity to understand how to organize people and units to accomplish some kind of an objective next.
I think the next two are related to each other and that is that veterans bring with them experience in different work environments. They can vary from the office to field work to overseas work or here in the U.S. and related to that is experience with different cultures…one of the neat things about serving the army, in my case, is I got to serve in three countries that I would probably never otherwise would have. Bosnia, Iraq, and Afghanistan and had the opportunity to interact with those different cultures and understand that people do things differently and not everybody does things the same way I do. The last thing I think is important is that veterans do bring diversity to the workplace…there is diversity in the population in and of itself.
Gassam: What are some tips you can provide employers when assessing veteran applicants?
Perez: Veterans have all of this experience but may not understand how to translate that into a resume that employers are able to understand and read. That is a fantastic question because it’s one of the hardest things, in my experience, to get veterans to understand…as we speak our own 20 languages and we have our own acronyms and they don’t translate well to a lot of civilian jobs. What I would say is it is okay to ask about the service member’s experience and what they did…I think it’s okay for the employer to say, “tell me a little bit more about what you did.”
Many [veterans] have experience managing inventories of repair parts. Many of them have experience managing teams of other mechanics and assigning workloads and distributing work. And so, if I just let the veteran tell me, ‘I was a mechanic’…as an employer I might miss out on the fact that this person really has a much broader skillset…I would say it’s okay to ask those questions and find out really what is it that you did tell me about your day-to-day work and see and see what that conversation leads to. So, the better an employer can understand the objectives and the skill sets, the more he or she can help that veteran understand the job that’s being offered and the company would be fulfilling.
Gassam: What are some misconceptions about veterans and how can these misconceptions be overcome?
Perez: Another good question…I think this is probably more personal opinion. I think that there is a misconception that the veteran is somebody who was working in environments so long that he or she may be a little less flexible in adapting to a different work condition, number one, and number two, that they might be rigid. That’s the stereotypical military person [who] is a very straight-talking, rigid, inflexible person and I really believe that that is a perception that employers should try to overcome. And what you will find when you engage veterans in conversations is that not only do they have a wide variety of skills and talents but…they’re passionate about different causes…they come from different backgrounds. Overcome that initial stereotype of the traditional service member and understand that they’re people just like you and me that they have families, they like to travel, they have hobbies off-duty and that the world is not necessarily the service to them.
Gassam: Is there any value to veterans being on LinkedIn?
Perez: I think it is absolutely valuable…for a couple of reasons. One, what you’re trying to do in transition is to make other people aware that I’m looking for a new job. By not taking advantage of LinkedIn and other social media like that, you’re really just eliminating a potentially large pool of people that might be interested in who you are. You should be able to give your resume to somebody that’s never been in the military and they ought to understand what you’re telling them.
I would say the same thing applies to LinkedIn. Basically, that’s your online resume. And I would encourage any veteran transitioning to develop a LinkedIn profile, to get a good photograph of what we call the head and shoulders shot…a professional, quality photograph…not just something that you have somebody snap [with] poor lighting conditions and then circulate that profile…the other thing is it can actually help the veteran in their job search…if I have interest in a particular field or company, I search that company…LinkedIn will tell me if I know anybody connected to that company and…that gives me a way to reach out to somebody and say hey I’m interested in company ABC. I absolutely encourage LinkedIn and I don’t know if you’re aware of this but LinkedIn offers free premium service to veterans that are transitioning for one year. So not only do you get the platform, but you get the full premium edition.
Gassam: For the veteran who is on the job market, do you have any encouraging words or any advice for that person? Especially the one who has been searching for employment for a long time and has been unable to find anything.
Perez: Yes absolutely. Transition is always hard. You always second guess yourself on whether you are doing the right thing or whether you are…searching in the right field. I would just offer a couple of tidbits…make sure you are focusing on your skills and what you might bring to the company, not necessarily what you did. A lot of times in the military we were rewarded for reporting on the great things we did…what you want to communicate to your employers is…the talent that you’re bringing to that company and how is it that you will help advance that company’s mission or objective or purpose. Number one, focus on skills not on what you’ve done. Number two, I can’t understate the importance of building and growing your professional network. Another observation that I’ll share with you is that we in the military view networking sometimes as kind of schmoozing, for lack of a better term. What I try to help veterans understand is that it’s not necessarily schmoozing it’s about letting people know what your interests are, that you are available and that you’re passionate about a particular job that could lead to employment.
And it’s absolutely imperative that you develop professional contacts that you stay in touch with people because I believe and I think the numbers demonstrate that most job opportunities for veterans transitioning come through some type of a network and few jobs come from a cold call application to a company submitted online. So, build that network and then after a long time [if] you’re still finding that you’re not successful, I would encourage…volunteering because volunteering or taking on an intern type of a role…could help you get a foot in the door to a company that you may end up working for long term. Don’t be afraid of being an intern. Don’t be afraid of volunteering.