With Veteran’s Day still in our thoughts, you may be asking yourself how to help veterans. Sitting down with them for two cups and sage advice will go much further than thanking them for their service.
How To Help Veterans: Coffee And Questions
I’m a prototypical military veteran who joined the Air Force out of high school to leave the small-town USA. My options were limited based on my grade point average and worldview. The offer of college money, world travel, and getting out of town outweighed the fear of war. Watching the Twin Towers fall on September 11th, 2001, I realized why it’s called “the service.” It’s a higher calling, a purpose, regardless of why you joined.
The US Armed Forces Code of Conduct states: I’m an American, fighting in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I’m prepared to give my life in their defense. That purpose. Compare this to a business mission statement, and it’s little wonder vets have difficulty transitioning to “civilian life.”
When I left active duty, I was fortunate to get good advice. This is your job. I’ve mentored and been mentored on transitioning to “civilian” jobs. Below is what I’ve seen work.
Helping Veterans Isn’t Hard Work
If you want to help a veteran transition, ask questions. Most veterans want to work but have yet to learn where they fit in society. Military Police (31B) and truck drivers (88M) have civilian equivalents, but what about an interrogator (35M) or an M1 tank crewman (19K)? Jobs that wage war rarely translates to civilized society. It sucks for a veteran, but it’s what they know. If you ask a newly separated GI what they want to do, they usually default to “I’ll do anything. I want to work inside but also in the field.” This doesn’t translate well to a job req.
Here’s where you come in. Invite them out for a coffee and chat. Don’t take “no” for an answer. Military members are defined by rank and job, but civilian jobs aren’t as clear-cut. Ask questions and make them answer. Did they manage people? Did they do other things outside their job / Military Occupation Specialty (MOS – the two numbers and a letter shown above)? They likely did but didn’t realize these are attributes – not their MOS – to articulate when applying for jobs. The military is unique because leadership is given to members at a (corporately speaking) low level. Now, how to translate this to a job. A cup of coffee may be the window to their soul and help them find a new purpose.
Veterans Entering Civilian Workforce
When someone joins the military, they take a test and are given job options. It’s not real life, but it’s all they know. They need help understanding job applications, screenings, and interviews.
The best advice to give is they use the GI Bill benefits they earned while serving to go to college. First, this allows a gradual transition to society. They’ll get to witness how others interact while getting an education. A typical military conversation uses cuss words and often occurs with a fat dip in. They’ll get to see this is abnormal. Second, education can help them find employment. This is where you’ll steer your veteran to get a useful degree. A political science degree or one exploring the anthropological findings of how pizza caused the industrial revolution is useless. To avoid them spending GI Bill resources on worthless degrees, set them up with your network who have successful careers in engineering, construction, medical, business, or anything where they can walk off campus with a degree and job.
College Isn’t For Everyone
Many veterans don’t want to attend college or need a job to support their families. Again, please encourage them to use their GI Bill to participate in a trade school. Corporate life isn’t for everyone, and a mechanic or AC repairman makes excellent money. Then, leverage your network.
A veteran doesn’t know what to ask when job hunting. If you really want to help veterans, you’re going to have to be patient and stick with them. Coach them. How does their military experience translate to a job? You’re a translation service for your veteran. Before setting up a call with the veteran and your network, explain the disconnect and offer ideas of how their experience translates to your contacts. A good word goes a long way.
When the veteran leverages your network, ideally, it will lead to a job referral or the option of getting on a later call to discuss options to learn what skills they need to improve. Before this call, get a second cup of coffee.
Second Cup of Coffee: Bringing It Together
Your veteran needs a resume to get past the HR bots. Over your second coffee, you’ll need to discuss their resume and the concept that each job may require a tailored one.
Veterans are told to use their MOS description as a resume. It’s garbage, and no one outside the military will understand it. Ask them to send you their resume in a Word document so you can revise it. As a side note, this is where you’ll know if they want a hand-up or a handout. They’re looking for a handout if they can’t send you a resume in a format that a job application will accept. Your job’s done. They need to put in some effort. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it go down the water slide of life. If they send it, revise the top third and send it back for them to complete.
The Interview Process
Your final task is to teach them the interview process – what to say, how to answer questions, etc. I recommend the STAR method; Situation, Task, Action, Result. A veteran will understand this but in a different language.
Situation = Mission
Task = Their job in the situation
Action = What they did to accomplish the mission
Result = How it turned out
They had a lot of responsibility in a short career. Help them focus this into a format a hiring manager will understand by doing a mock interview.
Finally, reengage your network who can refer them to a role. They can assist with how to answer the questions to get a job. Heck, they may even get a job referral bonus out of it when the veteran is hired.
Final Thought On Veteran Assistance
Helping a veteran means steering them to a marketable education, creating a resume, helping them build a network, and coaching them through the hiring process. If you do this, you’ll have served a veteran who served their country and helped them to find their new purpose. By simply asking the question of how to help veterans, you are already doing more than most.