Friday, November 11, 2011

Hiring Veterans: They've Already Worked Hard for You. Hire Them Again

Today is Veterans Day. Perhaps you've already celebrated it by hiring a military veteran. That would be nice; our veterans could use the help: "The jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans is an estimated 12.1 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics," ABC News' bloggers wrote yesterday.

Think about how much veterans have already done for us. Think about how much they know, how much experience they have working under pressure -- and how hard they've worked already. You'd think military veterans would be the first to fetch the very best jobs in this challenging economy, and yet their unemployment rate is significantly higher than the national average. Why is that? It's a question #TChat tackled Wednesday night, and the always-sage community brainstormed the many possible reasons.

The Federal(list) Papers

This is about the contents of their resumes, and this is not about the contents of their resumes. Here's how @dawnrasmussen put it:

Besides Dawn, who thought of that one? In key ways, federal resumes differ from private sector resumes, and military vets are stuck with their federal papers. In the colloquial sense, they have great resumes; in the technical sense, they do not.

Here's a limb to climb out on: When it comes to innovation, we know that the public sector often lags the private one. OK, that's just my way of injecting some politics into a discussion about resumes. Whether or not you agree might provide the basis for an interesting debate, but according to at least one professional resume writer, the federal resume doesn't resonate with private sector employers:

Tracking and Tracking

Numbers tracked are of use to HR, and @DaveTheHRCzar provided the following, sage tweet:

Stop me if I'm wrong. Actually, just stop me. This one is scary. I suspect that the military has a knack for accuracy in the tracking of data, and a question like Dave's prompts a corollary: Is 12.1 percent the real unemployment rate for everyone? [shudder!] Let's hope not. For military veterans alone, it's highly discouraging. But the question demands consideration. At times, Bureau of Labor Statistics' data can be spotty or suspect. It could be that vets don't have it any worse than the rest of the employable public, just ... just as bad.

Another tweeter, @DavidALee, threw into question the ability of typical applicant tracking systems to properly catalogue the kinds of skills that military veterans list in their applications:

That's another good question. The typical ATS reflects the typical HR vendor's mindset, and @BrendedMWright aptly observed that, just like (possibly) their ATSs, employers may not understand or recognize what military veterans bring to the table:

Know-how vs. Knowledge

This seemed to be the big one.

Present economic conditions have been particularly tough on those with only high school degrees, and some may think this adds some logic to veterans' plight. But it's a shaky assumption. Although a cursory search of the Web yields little hard data, the anecdotal evidence out there seems to point to the contrary. While conventional wisdom presumes that many veterans go straight from high school to the military, bypassing college, various G.I. programs and the like suggest that a surprisingly high percentage of actively serving members of the military may in fact have two- or four-year degrees. At the very least, a good percentage of them will attain one, at some point.

So, scratch the hypothesis that military veterans are unemployed because they lack a higher education. Whether or not that's fact and part of the reason, very few veterans are bereft of marketable skills that would benefit employers across many industries looking to fill a broad spectrum of roles. And even if most military veterans indeed lack a college education, hiring organizations might want to assess their preconceived notions about what a qualified candidate is. After all, does a qualified candidate for a professional position need to possess a college education?

Boy. The worms have escaped the can on that one, and the cat has exited the bag. (How has the cookie crumbled?) We won't debate the value of a college education this evening, but tweeters @Ray_anne and @DrJanice did make pertinent observations:

Are they on to something? Possibly, and the circumstances may apply to the plight of plenty of non-veterans who also lack an education from an institution of higher education. Yes, the liberal arts are edifying, but knowledge of literature doesn't trump literal know-how and ability when it comes to doing a good job, at a job. If you're an employer, and your reflex is to jump to the conclusion that a college degree of any kind is necessary for a new hire to succeed at your organization, check your reflexes and reconsider that jump -- it might be off a ledge, for all you know.