A special report by Veteran Talent Advisors

“I’d hire more Vets but I just don’t understand the work they did in the military and how that translates to the skillsets our company needs.” At Veteran Talent Advisors, we hear this concern from many of our clients. Having spent many years as a civilian-side recruiter—about half of those with Sara Lee, a Fortune 500 food manufacturer—I understand this concern, but I also understand that it’s not as important as many employers think.

Before you hire a Veteran, you certainly want to understand their background. You want to ask probing questions and even assess their technical skills, so that you’re sure you’re getting the right person for the job. But here’s the truth: you already go through that process with non-Veteran candidates.

The idea that a civilian-side employer can’t truly understand military experience and how it translates to the corporate world is a roadblock. In the end, it hurts everyone: Veterans and their potential employers. It’s no different from lamenting that you don’t understand the inner workings of a company in a completely different business sector from the one you work in, and thus you can’t hire someone who worked at that company. As if a high-tech company couldn’t ever hire someone who worked in manufacturing, or transportation, or education, because they “don’t understand that person’s experience.” It simply isn’t true.

Your company may have open positions that require industry-specific experience. For those roles, a transitioning Vet isn’t the right fit, but neither is anyone else who’s never worked in your industry. The deal-breaker there isn’t that the candidate is a Veteran whose skills “don’t translate,” but that he or she doesn’t have experience in your industry.

Some of our clients have used automated skills translators—software that aims to find a civilian equivalent for a Veteran’s military MOS. I even built one of these tools. And the truth is, it was horrible, just like all the other automated skills translators out there. For example, each time I’ve completed an automated skills assessment, it determines that I would be an outstanding security guard. Which I probably would…except that I have zero interest in that kind of work. Automated skills translators can’t assess a candidate’s career interests, and if you use one, you run the risk of alienating fantastic candidates who are eager to work outside their military MOS.

At Veteran Talent Advisors, we’ve found that many Veterans have the ability and even the desire to branch out from what they did in the military. Taking myself as an example, I worked in Cryptography during my enlisted years, and branched into Intelligence when I became a commissioned officer. I’m not sure how that translates into Security Guard, but once I transitioned into civilian-side employment, I pursued a (seemingly unrelated) career in Talent Management and Acquisition, and I’ve never looked back. No software solution could have predicted that!

We encourage our clients to keep in mind that most Veterans didn’t select their MOS: they were assigned when they entered their military branch of choice. A Veteran whose MOS was diesel mechanic may have never loved the job; that person may have worked hard as a diesel mechanic while in the military, but may be looking for a completely different career in the civilian world. At Veteran Talent Advisors, it’s our job to spot the crossover between that candidate’s work in the military and his or her civilian-side goals.

The reality is, Veterans are just as diverse as non-Veterans.  There’s no shortcut to understanding them as candidates for your company.  Interview them.  Talk to them.  They will tell you all about their military experience and what they enjoyed, what they didn’t, the things they excel at and the things they don’t.  Their journey in the military was the learning experience of a lifetime, and the knowledge they gained could be your team’s new secret weapon!

Veteran Talent Advisors specializes in placing high-performing Veterans in demanding roles. Contact us today to get the process started!