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Hiring Veterans? What Employers Need to Know

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fizkes/Getty Images

Veterans of the U.S. armed forces offer a unique and diversified skill set that could benefit small businesses. If you're looking to expand your team, consider the value that veterans could add to your workforce. 

"From world-class technical training in their occupational specialty to intangible skills such as discipline, leadership, and the ability to think on their feet, veterans are able to continue their service to their country in a different way when they make a successful transition," said Kim Morton, vice president, communications at JPMorgan Chase and former spokesperson for Hiring Our Heroes

If you have open positions at your company, a veteran might be the perfect fit. Here are some things to keep in mind when hiring candidates from this highly skilled talent pool.

Veteran unemployment in the U.S. is a problem that today's employers need to help solve. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics has cited a steady decline in the veteran unemployment rate, which reached 3.2% in September 2019, this group historically experiences higher unemployment and poverty rates than nonveterans. 

"This is not only an economic issue but a national security issue," Morton told Business News Daily. "If this generation of veterans believes that there won't be employment opportunities for them, the next generation for the all-volunteer force will be hesitant to answer the call to service." 

But hiring veterans isn't just for the good of the community – it's great for employers, too. Service members are well equipped to handle the modern business world because of their military training and background. 

As Army veteran and entrepreneur Jerry Flanagan puts it, because veterans possess and "encompass the military-bred qualities of respect, integrity and trust," they offer employers characteristics that can be difficult to come by in today's corporate world. 

Some of the key strengths a veteran can bring to an organization include 

  • Adaptability: Joe Cecin, a former Army Ranger and CEO of Hylan Group, said that veterans are trained to deal with a dynamic landscape, and are taught to "adapt, improvise and overcome." They're built for an ever-changing business environment and are prepared to face its challenges, as any strong candidate should be.

  • Transferable skills: Veterans possess skills and competencies that meet the needs of today's employers, therefore making them viable candidates in today's job market, said Jennifer Renee Pluta, assistant director of veteran career services at Syracuse University. Problem-solving, teamwork, performing under pressure and the ability to work with others from diverse backgrounds are just a few of the practical skills veterans bring to the table, she said. "Many of the employment opportunities that are available in the civilian workforce are represented in some way in the military," Morton added. "As such, veterans have not only received high-level training in their specific job fields, but [they also have] discipline that is instilled in them from day one of putting on the uniform. [This bolsters] their abilities in organizational and project management, as well as leadership and accountability."

  • Dedication to a team: You're not likely to find a veteran who wants to push others down or take all of the credit for a group effort. Service members know that it's the combined strength of a team that gets the job done, and everyone's role is equally important. "One thing veterans have in common is a commitment to a purpose bigger than themselves and a willingness to push through adversity," said Kate Jackson, vice president of talent acquisition at the Institute for Corporate Productivity. "When people first join the military, they raise their right hands and swear to uphold the Constitution and commit to following lawful orders. In this act, they are putting a larger purpose ahead of themselves and ahead of the pursuit of their own comfort and safety. They bring this commitment to 'completing the mission' and a wonderful sense of teamwork to their employers after the military." Cecin noted that veterans know how to follow directions well, which also makes them a great addition to any team. "Military leadership begins with being a good follower," Cecin said. "Before you are given a position of responsibility, you must demonstrate that you can take the leadership of others." 

Although veterans can and will adapt to post-service life, employers should recognize this group is making a major change. It's important to be respectful of the extreme culture shift veterans undergo when re-entering the civilian workforce. 

"The first post-military job is the hardest transition," said Jackson. "The civilian work world has a different culture, vocabulary and expectations, which will need to be learned. Transitioning veterans have already shown they can learn a new language and culture – military jargon, dress and behavior, etc. There is a steep learning curve, but this is a talented and agile demographic." 

Employers should also recognize that seemingly unrelated military skill sets can, in fact, be translated to a business environment. While veterans' skill sets might not be a direct match for your open position, their technical aptitude will allow them to develop the skills quickly, said Pat Dean, recruiting manager at Caterpillar Inc. 

"Many military specialties are combat-related, [but] there are many skills and experiences that every veteran possesses that translates well to the business world," Cecin added. "Try to discover the specific duties veteran [candidates] performed in the service – they may surprise you with their versatility."    

Ready to find your newest employees from the veteran talent pool? If so, start by doing your research to expand your understanding of military culture and experiences. Pluta advised hiring managers to read articles on the subject, or simply ask a veteran. 

Morton noted that her organization is a one-stop-shop for employers who are interested in developing their own military hiring strategy and learning best practices on how to relate to the military culture. If you're looking to learn more about the subject, there are a couple of resources to take advantage of, including The Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) and Veterans Job Mission

The IVMF offers a comprehensive guide that is the product of a major collaborative effort between the IVMF and more than 30 private sector employers and organizations. The guide contains policies, practices, and resources for recruiting, assimilating, retaining, and advancing veterans in the workplace. The Veterans Job Mission joined forces with the IVMF to develop leading practices for employers to use when creating or enhancing their veteran hiring program.

In addition to informational resources, the government provides financial resources for employers looking to hire veterans. The Work Opportunity Tax Credit and Jobs Act (WOTC) is a federal tax credit available to employers for hiring veterans and individuals from groups who have consistently faced barriers when looking for employment.

Qualified veterans fall under this category. A qualified veteran who is eligible for WOTC is a veteran who has a service-connected disability, is unemployed or is receiving SNAP (food stamp) benefits. WOTC can reduce an employer's federal income tax liability by as much as $9,600 per veteran hired, it requires little paperwork and the certification process is uncomplicated. 

A qualified veteran, however, differs from a protected veteran. According to the Department of Labor, a protected veteran includes the following categories: 

  • A disabled veteran "who served on active duty in the U.S. military and is entitled to disability compensation under laws administered by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or was discharged or released from active duty because of a service-connected disability."

  • A recently separated veteran, which is defined as a "veteran separated during the three-year period beginning on the date of the veteran's discharge or release from active duty in the U.S. military."

  • An armed forces service medal veteran "who, while serving on active duty in the U.S. military, participated in a U.S. military operation that received an Armed Forces service medal."

  • Other protected veteran "who served on active duty in the U.S. military during a war, or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge was authorized under the laws administered by the Department of Defense." 

Protected veteran status ensures that covered veterans are protected from discrimination based on military service, and they are entitled to reasonable accommodations if veterans suffer from a service-connected disability.

When you're ready to post open positions, a couple of good job boards to start with are CareerOneStop, which is part of the U.S. Department of Labor's site and the National Labor Exchange. Many higher education institutions have special programs and initiatives for veteran students seeking degrees after they've completed their time in the service. 

"Employers who wish to create or strengthen their veteran recruiting pipeline should look to colleges and universities," Pluta said. "This could be with existing institutions, or [they could] seek new relationships with colleges and universities that strongly support veterans." 

There are also countless local and national nonprofits dedicated to connecting veterans and employers; research the ones that serve your area. Larger government-sponsored resources include the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, the Department of Labor's Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), Hiring Our Heroes, which is a program of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, and American Corporate Partners, a nonprofit that pairs military veterans with corporate leaders to aid in the transition back to civilian life. 

Once you've hired a veteran, dedicate extra time and effort into molding that employee's skills and their role within your company. While that may seem like a strain on onboarding time and resources, Dean encourages employers and hiring managers to be patient. "The time spent developing veterans' skill sets will pay off with highly competent, responsible and loyal employees," he said. 

Veterans looking to re-enter the workforce post-military service should read this list of military-friendly employers. These opportunities are for veterans, as well as military spouses and other members of the military community. This list from MilitaryTimes ranks the top companies where veterans can land a civilian job. 

Nicole Fallon also contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Julianna Lopez

Julianna Lopez is a freelance writer, editor, and social media marketer. She loves all things New York, books, movies and theater. If you're interested in her services, you can reach her at lopez.julianna6@gmail.com.