Despite today’s high unemployment numbers, employers continue to struggle finding job candidates with the right soft skills, such as leadership and problem-solving abilities. Veterans, however, faced demanding situations during their military service, and they're better prepared to handle high-pressure conditions, says Nancy Hammer, senior government affairs policy counsel at the Society for Human Resource Management.
Unlike technical skills, these soft skills are not easily taught, especially in the civilian setting. Workers entering the work force straight out of school typically haven't been involved in situations that call for the kind of leadership that veterans have faced. Developing those soft skills takes experience; those skills simply cannot be taught in the classroom.
“These soft skills, such as being a team member and working under pressure, come through experience,” Hammer says. “It’s trial and error, and sometimes when you’re newly in the work force, you haven’t had a lot of experience like that under your belt, but someone who has served in the military has been in those situations.”
While veterans possess the skills many employers are seeking, there are some challenges when it comes to assimilating veterans into corporate culture, Hammer says. For instance, most corporate cultures are not as structured as the military. Making the transition from a rigid environment where success is specifically defined to one that is less structured gives veterans a hard time because it is not always clear to them whether they are meeting expectations.
“Some veterans find it difficult when they’re not getting the kind of feedback and progress that they did in the military,” Hammer says. “They may get a sense of anxiousness because they don’t know where they stand, how they’re doing and stacking up.”
To help veterans make the transition into corporate culture, many employers offer mentorships or affinity groups, Hammer says. With their shared experiences, mentors or affinity groups can help veterans address any problems and learn corporate culture as they move into civilian roles.
For employers that do not have mentorship programs or affinity groups, Hammer recommends they outline clear expectations and regularly communicate with veterans. Managers should also be trained on overseeing veteran employees in order to understand their experiences. While this approach is helpful for any employee, it is especially beneficial as veterans make the transition into the civilian work force.
Moving forward, Hammer expects more employers to turn to veterans for unfilled positions. In fact, according to a recent SHRM poll, 64 percent of employers have hired military veterans over the last 36 months, representing an increase from 53 percent in 2010.
“More employers are looking to make special efforts to hire veterans,” Hammer says. “They’re not just waiting for veterans to come to them, they want to go out and find people, and I think it’ll continue to improve.”