Despite all the effort and available resources today, transitioning military, military spouses, and Veterans still face a tremendous challenge in finding a job in the civilian market. The reasons are obvious and most can rattle off why — military skills translation to its civilian equivalent is lacking; there is a lack of awareness of civilian job opportunities; and well-intended but grossly misguided advice is everywhere.
However, no one is addressing the root cause of all these problems, which just happen to be the very same issue that the civilian labor market experiences as well. There is a fundamental and endemic problem with how labor demand (jobs) and labor supply (people) align for job seekers and employers. The problem stems from the overall archaic, chaotic, and analog nature of job searching where resumes and job descriptions tend to be the only currencies to match jobs with qualified applicants. Unfortunately, the problem is even more pronounced for a Veteran because of the cultural and vernacular divide between military and civilian ecosystems. Companies consistently fail to successfully recruit Veterans, transitioning military, and military spouses at an acceptable level even though that pool is deep and full of professional, talented, dedicated, and driven individuals with highly relevant and valuable skill sets.
If the Department of Defense (DoD) really wants to make a material change and difference on how soldiers connect to job opportunities, it needs to completely rethink its approach and tackle the problem like it would in combat — think, Sun Tzu’s “…know your enemy, know yourself….” Currently, the DoD and the servicemember know very little about the overall demand side of the labor market (jobs). As transitioning servicemembers begin their job search, they are blind to what companies look for and value. This leads to the servicemember transmitting, figuratively, their skills and abilities in the blind on random frequencies or shotgunning their resume to anything shiney hoping that a potential employer on the outside will hear or see them. Conversely, companies cast a wide net into the sea of military candidates hoping that they find a match only to find out they’re fishing in the wrong areas. The current matching methods are inefficient, cumbersome, and frustrating on both sides.
Let’s dig deeper
Where exactly are we going wrong? The tools available to Veterans to find jobs are out there but remain ineffective.
Resumes. As mentioned earlier, resumes are an extremly poor medium to convey your experiences, skills, and capabilities. Military personnel spend a significant disproportional time on their resumes compared to the 7 seconds a recruiter or company representative looks at them, then only to have a company’s applicant tracking system (ATS) kick it out because it didn’t have an appropriate key word cocktail in it. However, more importantly, most resumes are written in a vacuum and only highlight what the author thinks is important and gives no regard to what the labor market values.
Job Boards. The Monsters, Indeeds, and ZipRecruiters of the world tend to be a natural immediate step for the new job seeker, but, unfortunately, those sites yield very little actionable results. There is always the exception but the predominant experience is that they are mostly noisy, word search-based, and cumbersome.
Job Fairs. A Job Fair is nothing more than ‘live action’ job board. Everyone crams into geographic or virtual ‘time and place’ and end up scrambling for a recruiter’s time. With the recent rise of virtual job fairs, job seekers talk over eachother in chat rooms in order to gain the attention of a recruiter but ultimately told to go to the company’s career page because the recruiter doesn’t know what that job seeker can do nor does the job seeker know which jobs he/she qualifies for. The job fair event ends up being a waste of time for all parties involved.
TAP. DoD’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is a necessary and valuable program for all transitioning servivemembers. It provides information and training to ensure Service members transitioning from active-duty are prepared for their next step in life — whether pursuing additional education, finding a job in the public or private sector or starting their own business. However, eventhough the job searching element of the program is well resourced, it is lacking. In essence, it’s a ‘blind leading the blind’ situation. You have individuals from companies that won a TAP service contract based on lowest price providing advice and direction to transitioning servicemembers. Additionally, participants will spend countless hours working on their resumes — multiple versions in most cases — and assisted by resume writing advisors, who meet minimal qualifications and have no true insight to what is valued in the labor market. Allegedly, DoD spends $50M+ annually on resume writing services for its servicemembers. That money is being thrown at the wrong solution. It should be redirected to relevant and innovative programs that introduces a servicemember to how the civilian labor market works and what is currently valued in the work place.
Networking. Networking is a great job searching tactic but not available to everyone. Most military job seekers’ network is limited or not relevant and only benefits a handful of Veterans. Networking is random and circumstance, and can not be scaled to benefit all.
VSO. There are thousands of Veteran Service Organizations (VSO) who are eager and willing to help in anyway they can; however, those organizations are limited and can only address a fraction of the needs of those in the Veteran community. Furthermore, some VSOs overheads and associated operational costs ultimately limits the overall effectiveness of that organization, which makes you wonder who is ultimately benefiting from some of these organizations. That is a discussion for a later time.
About the Author: After a military career and many years as an executive in the defense services industry, Jeff Gibson and his colleagues have built and currently running Oplign, LLC. Oplign is a labor data analytics company that is dedicated to changing the behavior on how individuals find jobs and companies optimize their labor force. Click here to learn more.