vet.jpgToday, Congress will begin debate on how the war in Afghanistan will be won given the toppling of the commander there Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, following fallout from a scathing Rolling Stone article last week.

But little thought will be given to the war military men and women will have to fight when they return home.

Finding a job in this economy is a challenge, and it’s even harder for veterans, and insanely hard for veterans who were disabled in Iraq or Afghanistan. Estimates put the jobless rate among vets at 1 to 2 percentage points higher than the rest of the population, and the rate among disabled, vets or otherwise, is nearly 17 percent. And if you’re under 25 and a returning vet, the rate was 21.6 percent last year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

No matter which side you’re on in the political debate over the war, there’s no denying that a regular paycheck and a fulfilling job will help our soldiers make a smoother reentry into civilian life. That said, there are high hurdles they face when it comes to finding a job, everything from discrimination from prospective employers to not being able to drop the “Yes-Sir” mentalities once they take off their uniforms.

While many reservists will have their jobs kept open for them by employers, there are thousands of individuals who have only known military life and will have a tougher time transitioning. Some entered the military in recent years, right out of high school or college, did their tours of duty and are ready for the unknown civilian work world. Others spent decades in the military and now find themselves over 40 and wondering how to live among the suit set.

So what’s the biggest factor keeping ex military folks from landing jobs? Seems we civilians just don’t get what these brave men and women did over there.

A recent by the Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, found that:

“the greatest challenge military veterans face in the civilian job market is how they translate and describe their military experience.”

So you dodged bullets. So you had to strategize and make sure your buddies weren’t killed. So you had to operate a jeep in the middle of a gun battle.

Hiring managers want to know if you can read a spread sheet and figure out if the office needs to order more pens.

I know this sounds silly. But people are afraid of what they don’t know, what they don’t understand. Vets are probably infinitely more capable than the rest of us when it comes to working hard and getting things done, but what you did has to translate into Corporate America speak.

Yes we all in office land speak another language and alas you’ll have to learn it to make it.

Some specific findings from the SHRM poll:

- 60% of HR professionals polled said translating military skills to the civilian job experience is a challenge when it comes to writing resumes, interviewing, and other related job-hunt communications.
- 48% of HR pros said difficulty transitioning from the structure and hierarchy in the military culture to the civilian workplace presented a hiring challenge.
- 50% of organizations that hired veterans made a specific effort to recruit these candidates.

So, time to get rid of the military jargon.

I know Chief Petty Officer, for example, sounds impressive, but a hiring manager is probably going to scratch their heads over any rank short of general. Since the Chief Petty Officer handles more administrative functions than the ranks below, you need to spell out what your duties were and the leadership responsibilities you had. Use the job title “Manager” on your resume, and maybe include your rank in parenthesis if you must.

For those who had people under them, talk about military assignments more as projects that you were able to complete as a team. Include information about how you directed underlings; and if it applies don’t forget to include details about expensive machinery, or computer systems you used or helped maintain.

Janet Farley, author “Military-to-Civilian Career Transition Guide,” also offered some tips on dealing with the hurdles you’ll face:

· Expect to be stressed. Accept the brutal fact of life that you and yours will encounter slings and arrows that accompany change in general regardless of how well you prepare yourself for it. Keep things in perspective and remember that this too shall pass. Nietzsche had it right: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

· Create your own flexible transition plan and use it. Your transition assistance office can help you prepare a DD 2648, Individual Transition Plan (ITP). This planning tool can help you remember to punch all the right tickets on your way out the proverbial door.

· Identify the potential military benefits available to you and your family and use them. You will learn about most of your benefits via the transition assistance office or the Department of Veterans Affairs. There may be a host of other potential benefits due you through other channels. It’s up to you to proactively seek out the knowledge yourself.

· Learn the business of finding a job. To land your next job, you’ll need to have more than just a firm handshake. The military offers world-class outplacement services that you should use to the fullest. Doing so opens up valuable networking opportunities, provides you access to career counselors, and helps you hone your basic job search skills.

· Develop the skills necessary to help you manage and advance your new career. You are your own career manager. Your success, or lack thereof, in the civilian world of work will depend on how you conduct yourself professionally in your new job.

And don’t forget to check out the myriad sources online. There are government run sites to help ex military personnel find jobs and there are also independent sites for networking and job postings.

Here are a few to check out: www.military.com; www.weservetoether.com; www.togetherweserved.com; www.m4l.com; vetfriends.com; gijobs.net. Also use any help the government provides. Most bases offer transition services for ex G.I.s, so go back to Uncle Sam and find out what you’re eligible for.

You have to make sure the hiring manager understands the skills you can bring to the job. Talk about a specific assignment that shows how you were able to map out a plan and then execute it. Keep code names for military operations, or model numbers of helicopters or tanks to yourself.

Ex-military folks may have to pay some dues before they find just the right job. That means possibly taking a short-term internship to learn the ropes. Also consider making a deal with an employer who is interested in you but just isn’t quite sure you’ll be able to make the transition into the regular workforce, advises Brian Drum, a consultant who also writes a monthly career column for military.com. Offer to do the job for a few months with no strings attached, and put it in writing if the hiring manager is more comfortable with that, he adds.

He also suggests going through a temporary staffing agency. Many companies often hire temps as full time employee, he adds, when they see an individual can get the job done.

Above all, don’t get disheartened when you hit some roadblocks initially. And what ever you do, don’t take just take any job out of desperation. Many veterans are entitled to unemployment benefits when they leave the military, so take some time and look for the right gig.

“That first job is always the hardest to find,” explains Drum. “Don’t settle on any job because it can derail you for a while if it’s not the right one,” he says, both emotionally and financially.

Maybe a Rolling Stone reporter should spend a month with a vet who can’t find work this time.

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