Have you checked your own perceptions of "Military Skills" lately?
Recently, I read a report for CBS News by Norah O’Donnell and Olivia Rinaldi highlighting an issue that has confounded me for years: the underemployment of military veterans. Even today, as so many employers struggle to attract, hire, and retain talent, these extraordinarily qualified individuals continue to be overlooked.
It’s not (exactly) for a lack of trying
For years, the military, veteran’s organizations, and multiple large employers have invested in veteran employment programming, all aimed at helping veterans do better at job searching, prepping for interviews, and adapting from military to civilian work. From what I’ve seen, these are well-designed and effective programs. Yet, according to data compiled and published by Military Connected (a project funded by top-rated charity PPF.org), veterans seeking non-military employment are still 70% more likely than their non-military peers to be placed in post-military jobs that are a step down from their most recent military role.
Seriously, how can we still be so bad at this?
Researchers at Duke University may have uncovered one reason. Turns out, many of us have some deeply held, unconscious biases and perceptions of veterans, military work, and “cultural fit.” While non-profit organizations focus on teaching veterans to do their part in the civilian job market, there has been a stunning lack of training and support to help employers do theirs. There is very little support for business leaders, human resources professionals, or hiring managers who need to understand this uniquely qualified talent pool, how to reach them, how to interpret their resumes and qualifications more accurately, or how to onboard and support newly hired veterans to be successful and stay. This lack of knowledge is often rooted in obsolete attitudes about the definition of the word “qualifications.” Far too often, veterans’ resumes never even make it past the first screen, simply because they lack a traditional college degree.
Check Your Bias
During Duke’s experiments (that included 3,000 hiring managers and recruiters, as well as people with no hiring experience), when military veteran candidates and non-military candidates were presented as equally qualified, the veterans were consistently perceived as having lower leadership competence, emotional intelligence, creativity, and interpersonal skills than their non-military counterparts.
It’s a paradox. We hail these people as heroes. Yet we perceive them as “belonging” in a rigid workplace that is based on order taking, narrow roles, and excessive formality – and not in our fast-paced, innovative business environments.
But here’s what’s important about these perceptions: they’re inaccurate. And they’re harmful, not just to the veterans we’re leaving behind, but to our own teams who would benefit from their contributions.
We Can Do Better
I was excited to see that Military Connected has just announced a new employer training program to help us all better leverage this under-valued talent resource. I hope you’ll take a look at it, reach out to them, and let us know if you find additional, similar organizations and resources.
Our veterans come to enter the civilian job market with the skills, experience, and education (whether hands-on or traditional degree-based) that we need. We just need to start seeing those qualifications through the right lens. This Veterans Day, the best way to thank our veterans might be to take concrete steps toward hiring more of them.