Job Search Advice for Combat Vets from the Founder of SilentProfessionals.org
Veterans have a unique set of skills that make them successful contributors to the American workforce. From soft skills like leadership, clear communication and tenacity to hard or technical skills like coding, financial analysis and proficiency in multiple languages, veterans have many tools in their arsenal that make them ideal job seekers and candidates.
However, many vets face obstacles finding the job that fits their new lives. Combat veteran Adam Gonzalez can attest to the limited job options, hiring manager stereotypes, and the overall job search confusion that his fellow brothers and sisters in arms face.
“In my own case, the challenge wasn’t that I felt I was too good for the jobs I worked, the problem was in the fact that the only jobs for which I was considered were mindless jobs,” says Gonzalez frankly. “And combat leadership is anything but a mindless job.”
This is one of the reasons why Gonzalez founded SilentProfessionals.org, a private security job market. Silent Professionals acts as a translation authority between veterans looking for jobs and recruiters looking to hire unique veteran skill sets.
“While most of our job requisitions are coming from the defense and private security sectors, we are slowly garnering the attention of other industries such as the oil and gas, hospitality, and tech sectors. Some outstanding examples of companies that have been embracing combat veterans are: Halliburton, Amazon, General Electric, US Customs and Border Protection, Hilton Worldwide, and others.”
As we celebrate Veterans Day this month, we spoke to Gonzalez about Silent Professionals, his job search advice for veterans and what he’d tell companies about the power and professionalism of combat vets.
Glassdoor: Why did you start SilentProfessionals.org?
Adam Gonzalez: After having faced my own difficult transition from over a decade of combat, I reflected on the challenges so many veterans face in seeking meaningful employment. This is when I created SilentProfessionals.org – a job marketplace specifically for military and law enforcement veterans.
I realized that the way companies characterize veteran skill sets are poorly and narrowly defined and almost binary in nature. If you are a veteran with any clearly definable administrative skills, this might fit you into low to mid-level administrative roles in the private sector. If you are a veteran without clearly defined administrative skills, then this translates to a non-thinking and non-decision-making role.
In my own case, the challenge wasn’t that I felt I was too good for the jobs I worked — the problem was in the fact that the only jobs for which I was considered were mindless jobs. And combat leadership is anything but a mindless job.
Making decisions – being decisive – while taking full and sole responsibility, are skills and/or qualities that are squashed in large swaths of corporate America. After all, it is extremely uncomfortable to make decisions or let others make decisions when the stakes are high. What if the decision is wrong? Who will shareholders blame?
Combat veterans, on the other hand, make life or death decisions multiple times a day on a daily basis. The stakes are always high and if a decision is wrong, then self-blame is inescapable. These are the skill sets that hiring managers have difficulty translating to their job requisitions since these qualities are largely absent in corporate cultures.
Our veterans today bring a unique spectrum of skill sets to the workforce and, if well-utilized, will be a great boon for our country and economy. Companies are beginning to embrace this idea but are challenged in figuring out how this resource pool can benefit their organizations and how to find the right candidates for the right jobs.
Glassdoor: What are some of the common challenges vets face in trying to find what you call a “normal person job”? What are 5 to 7 skills combat vets have that translate into the work world that they may not know they have? How can they make their skills translate to civilian life?
Adam Gonzalez: I think there are great generalizations made in how people think of veteran hires based upon some overarching stereotypes – some positive, some negative. The truth is that veterans span an entire spectrum of capabilities, experiences, knowledge, character, and so forth. In public conversations, I hear people talk about hiring veterans as a positive thing. But in private conversations, I hear people speak more about the challenges of hiring veterans. For the most part I believe that the challenges hiring managers have in assessing veteran candidates have to do with a translation problem.
The magnitude in which each individual veteran develops any one skill set varies greatly, but veterans offer more valuable skills to the civilian workplace than they might initially imagine.
Whether military or civilian, just about anyone inherently recognizes that military veterans have intangible, or “soft”, skill sets (i.e. leadership, sense of duty, commitment, etc.) that would prove invaluable in any workplace. The problem with soft skills is that they are defined and valued differently by every individual since these are character and experience-based qualities, making it difficult to quantify. As a result, soft skill sets (arguably the most valuable skills in the workplace), are evaluated secondary to hard skill sets in the recruitment evaluation process. Most commonly, for any job requisition, recruiters have a checklist of skills and credentials for which they are seeking in a candidate. Without these major hard skills filled, there is a high likelihood that you may not even make it through the first round of evaluations.
This is why it is even more important for a veteran to first communicate their hard skills as they relate to the job being sought after. Some military occupational specialties (MOS) within branches, such as Finance, Quartermaster/Logistics, Aviation, and others, have more directly translatable hard skills in relation to the civilian sector than others; however, veterans from a combat arms MOS feel greater difficulty in selling their skill sets and finding a meaningful and fulfilling job.
The good news is that most veterans, regardless of MOS, possess critical and widely fungible skills that can serve well in any number of industries and job roles and are, therefore, highly marketable. The bad news is that veterans often “translate” their skills in a way that falls flat in corporate recruitment processes.
I hear it all the time from veterans, “I don’t know how my skill sets translate…” – and this is where the core of the problem lies. People often think of translation only in its literal definition and attempt to do a one-dimensional “column-A-to-column-B” direct match. But translation is actually a higher form of two-way communication requiring a degree of fluency in two languages, including cultural and contextual implications.
For example: if the job requisition to which you are applying is a business development role at company “X”, do you fully understand what this means within the context and culture of company “X”? While the job description may be seemingly written in plain-English, chances are that, unless you’ve worked for that company in the past, you might understand the description differently than what company “X” is actually seeking. The fact is that every company has its own language, culture, and historical contexts.
If you feel overwhelmed or even unqualified for a job when reading through a job description, veteran networks and social media (i.e. LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) make it easier for transitioning veterans to reach out to people who work for the company and/or department in which you may be interested. Silent Professionals acts as a translation authority between veterans looking for jobs and recruiters looking to hire unique veteran skill sets. But don’t be afraid to reach out directly to people who work for the company in order to better understand the context and culture of the job role in question. Be professional and ask for clarity in areas where you are unclear. Is a degree or certain certifications required? Try to understand why these are requirements for the role and how these are valued relative to other requirements. Try to get a sense for any difficulties they may be having in the company or department as well as the successes that they achieve and highlight (ALL companies have both). Gaining a broader perspective in these areas will do wonders in helping you see the job description in a different light; additionally, you’ll also find it becomes easier to help you focus your resume and CV on highlighting specific examples in your military career where you played a direct role in solving similar problems or achieving similar successes.
For veterans who feel lost in the job search process itself, my advice is to first ask yourself, “What type of job and lifestyle do I think would be fulfilling for me?” If you are unsure of how to answer that question, don’t be afraid to reach out to fellow veterans who you feel are fulfilled in both their jobs and home lives. With the nation being at war for over 16 years, the community of veterans in the civilian sector is larger than ever and represented in every segment of corporate America. SilentProfessionals.org can help you find your footing if you’re running into a wall.
Glassdoor: Can you share one or two of the stand out examples or vets who have been hired through SilentProfessionals.org?
Adam Gonzalez: Absolutely, although it’s difficult to pick just one or two individual examples of veterans who are shining examples of recent hires through SilentProfessionals.org. Recently, we had a client request resources that could help secure their staff and guests at hotels in Puerto Rico, post-Hurricane Maria. We ended up hiring and sending 32 combat veterans to assist in a growing humanitarian crisis. Temperatures were well into the upper 90s and 100s, with high humidity, and little to no essential resources like water, fuel, electricity, or food. Every single last member of our hired team of combat vets took it upon themselves to bring extra essentials and medical resources to the disaster-stricken island, and even saved a life of an individual who suffered a massive heart attack. These duties were well outside of their job descriptions, but combat veterans do not see their duties restricted to their own silos when dealing with real-world crises. In addition to performing their stated duties, our teams were able to professionally assist the client and local authorities under harsh operating conditions and long 18-20 hour days.
Glassdoor: What should companies know about hiring vets? What would you tell companies if you have 15 minutes to make your case for hiring combat vets?
Adam Gonzalez: Proportional to the population of the entire work force, very few non-veterans ever serve in direct leadership roles. When most civilians think of the concept of leadership, they think of the person in charge. We know as veterans that leadership is not a role; rather, it is a blend of character traits, behaviors and actions that every servicemember is expected to develop and demonstrate every day throughout their careers. This is also why it is a critical part in every Soldiers’ performance evaluation. As they say in the military, to be a leader, you have to first learn how to follow. There is not a recruiting team out there that isn’t having a discussion about the challenges of leading and managing millennials in the workforce.
My wife, a West Point graduate, was quickly hired by ExxonMobil Corporation when she discharged from active duty service back in 2008. The company disclosed to her that they faced a huge challenge in filling a mid-level leadership gap. They were looking for with people with demonstrated leadership skills who could effectively bridge the gap between senior leadership and the newest generation of hires. They looked towards US Service Academy graduates as the test pool for solving this problem. And it worked.
When it comes to enlisted veterans, many people secretly (or not so secretly) view it as a path reserved for those without a promising future otherwise. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. People join the military for a myriad of reasons. Levels of intelligence and abilities span the entire spectrum; however, seldom did I meet a service member who didn’t have good reason, or ambition or purpose in serving.
I’m not claiming that all veterans are rock stars, but the ones that are will knock your socks off in just about any way you can imagine. A veteran isn’t entitled to a job after serving; however, it’s worth it to give them a chance to present their case. Unfortunately, without checking off the boxes on certain credentials, a veteran’s name won’t even make it to the list of possible candidates on a job requisition.
Glassdoor: Can you share 5 to 10 companies who embrace combat vets and set the standard you hope other companies follow?
Adam Gonzalez: I initially envisioned my job board as an efficient way to reach quality candidates to resource the jobs I needed to fill, being the Director of Operations for a small private security firm. But this rapidly grew beyond my initial vision. Other colleagues began asking for help in finding people to resource their job requisitions. Shortly after that, other companies were referred to me to help find the right skilled resources that were too difficult to find through other methods.
While most of our job requisitions are coming from the defense and private security sectors, we are slowly garnering the attention of other industries such as the oil and gas, hospitality, and tech sectors. Some outstanding examples of companies that have been embracing combat veterans are: Halliburton, Amazon, General Electric, US Customs and Border Protection, Hilton Worldwide, and others.
With less than four months running, Silent Professionals has put over 450 combat veterans to work in meaningful jobs. This may not be an impressive number to some, but a number isn’t always what matters. When it comes to finding good people, having the right stuff is everything. We hope to expand our reach to companies who haven’t typically looked at hiring combat veterans in this fashion.
Glassdoor: Lastly, what are 2 or 3 pieces of advice you’d give combat vets who are currently job hunting and interviewing at companies?
Adam Gonzalez: Interviews are not multiple-choice tests. While an interviewer may have a mental checklist of specific points he or she is looking for a candidate to fulfill, the point of an interview is to get a better sense for how you think, solve problems, and how you will play a positive (or negative) role in the organization. Veterans bring many strengths to the table, and while you should directly answer the interviewer’s questions, it’s important that you give the interviewer deeper insight into your own rationale and values.
The mid and senior-level leadership in our armed forces are of distinctly different generations than the newest (and also largest) segment of our military. But principles of leadership are timeless and generational challenges have little influence in the creation of strong, cohesive and driven teams.
Directly answering your interviewer’s questions while providing contextual experience-based examples will demonstrate your leadership (and followership) abilities and values, which will certainly set you apart from other candidates who may largely lack these types of experiences.
One word of caution: don’t frame your views in a way that portrays veterans as “better” than non-veterans. Everyone has a unique set of skills and veterans bring their own unique set which can be valuable, just as civilians bring theirs. Many companies are actively seeking to incorporate the skill sets that veterans potentially bring to a civilian workforce. As such, veterans should take an active role in helping companies better interpret that potential.