I was recently working at a career fair for Military Veterans when a young man in uniform approached my booth. He had a lost look on his face, so I asked if I could assist in any way. He paused a moment, took a deep breath and sighed: “I keep going around to all of these booths, and I feel overwhelmed. I’m looking at the prospect of getting out [of the Military], and it’s daunting. I feel like I’m completely alone. The corporate culture feels like everyone is out for themselves, you know? In the Military, it’s not like that, you’re always part of the team.”
I sat with this thought long after the career fair ended. I felt sad. Many organizations recognize the benefit of hiring Veterans, but how do they support these individuals once they are in the door? I arrived at my office the next day and was greeted by my close friend and colleague – a gentleman who has been on active duty for the past 10 years, and who is also a current member of the Army National Guard.
I shared with him my conversation from the career fair; he wasn’t surprised. He had experienced similar feelings while transitioning into the civilian workforce. He understood the struggle of being without support, of feeling “completely alone” and not initially having a network dedicated to helping steer his transition.
My colleague shared with me key areas in which many transitioning Military Veterans have difficulty, three intentional steps you can take to support them, and how we can all work together to make a difference:
1. Uncover and Instill the Value of Teamwork
It’s easy to see how transitioning Military members can feel isolated in the workplace. Many organizations place a high emphasis on individual output – from daily activity and metrics, to performance reviews and compensation. However, institutions from the US Military to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have uncovered that, as human beings, our brains are mapped to a collective intelligence: We are hard-wired to think better together than on our own.
Human beings have lived and worked in communities for centuries and achieved amazing feats. Look at how the internet has evolved through crowd sourcing and peer review! Through promoting a culture of teamwork, focusing on team performance and group goals, and creating opportunities for “team”/employee-led committees, company culture not only becomes more inclusive for Veterans but better as a whole and more productive.
2. Create Intentional Networks
A key element in helping my friend and colleague find success in his transition from the Military to civilian workforce was the intentional creation of a network. In my friend’s case, he achieved his Project Management Professional (PMP) certification and built his professional networks through a local chapter of the Project Management Institute (PMI).
Individuals and companies alike can also build connections for Vets to further their professional development. Veteran-specific professional mentoring programs, networks and communities are a great resource! Employers can connect Vets to a successful member of the organization (ideally another Veteran) in order to serve as a resource; individuals can also do their part to connect their Veteran colleagues to professional organizations, meet-ups, and/or LinkedIn user groups.
3. Present a Clear Path to Success
Most individuals with a rewarding career in the Military are organized, insightful and goal oriented. In many ways, because they’re used to systems that presents a clear picture of what success looks like and the steps needed to get there. It can become confusing, then, for Veterans accustomed to this kind of structure to enter a world where employee performance and compensation structure can be discretionary or ambiguous. Many Veterans struggle with mapping their road to success with a given company simply because the information isn’t made available or clear.
This leads an otherwise dynamic and engaged Veteran employee to become disengaged to the point where he/she may leave the organization or, more importantly, feel unhappy and unfulfilled. Transparency, honesty and clear goal setting creates a positive culture for ALL employees – but especially helps individuals with a Military background find alignment with business objectives so they can leverage the leadership skills they were hired for.
Career coaching programs are another fantastic option companies can leverage to help Vets capitalize on their value within the workplace and establish long-term professional goals. According to Forbes, more companies are aligning employees with a coaching program to reduce turnover and increase job satisfaction. In fact, professionals aged 22-37 who are planning to stay with their employer for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not.
Through Operation Transition, WilsonHCG is dedicated to connecting Military Veterans – our contacts, peers, colleagues, friends and family members – to supportive networks, relevant and actionable information, as well as career transitioning resources. Learn more at the link above, our Facebook page and LinkedIn page, and subscribe to the WilsonHCG blog below! In the weeks and months ahead, we’ll be sharing content here for and from Veterans on a number topics related to transitioning careers and Veteran recruitment.