Switching industries can be hard for anyone, but for post 9/11 veterans returning to the workforce after deployment, it can be particularly tough.
Reintegration has many challenges, from reconnecting with family to relating to people who do not understand military life or deployment, says A.J. Marsden, a former U.S. Army surgical nurse and current assistant professor of human services and psychology at Beacon College.
“A veteran may have never had to apply or interview for a civilian job before," she says. "For others, constant worry or concern may interfere with their daily tasks, the pace of the work may be too intense, or the lack of a chain of command may cause a difficult reintegration.”
But there are very specific things that employers can do to smooth the way for veterans looking to enter the civilian workforce and to help them thrive once there.
“If you really want to attract top veteran talent, then you need to analyze your company's job posting for veteran suitability,” says Chris Crace, veterans advocacy leader at PwC. “Remove any requirements that could be exclusionary to them, such as years of industry experience, certifications, etc.”
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Promising candidates should be matched with internal advocates who can help prepare them for interviews and re-think their military resumes to fit specific roles, Crace says. These advocates play multiple roles: They can share the benefits of hiring veterans with the company's managers, who may need some convincing—especially if the veteran candidate doesn’t hit every box on a checklist. “And they can provide personal touches and welcomes during pre-hire and on-boarding,” Crace adds.
Next, successful retention is an exercise in empathy. Hand new hires an org-chart and review business units on week one, says Crace, and make sure they know how they can advance. “Veterans are used to having a set career path and can anticipate salary increases, so we expect as much clarity and transparency as possible pertaining to our career advancement,” he says. “This is especially critical around the 18-month mark.” So be sure to check in.
And meaning matters. “We will always search for the feeling of pride and motivation that we had while serving our country, so feeling connected to your company’s culture and values is important,” Crace says. And once hired, a veteran will need small wins as soon as possible. “We want to add value and not feel like a burden to the company or team because we need additional time to assimilate, as anyone would,” he says.
LaTesha Ford, a former Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy, says the path described by Crace made a big difference for her. “I served as a Compound Officer in Charge executing the Detainee Operations mission responsible for ensuring the care, custody, and control of over 600 high-risk detainees,” she says of her most challenging military leadership experience. “I provided leadership and guidance to over 110 Joint Service Guard Force and Iraqi Correctional Officers.”
A series of initial meetings with PwC employees who were former veterans helped her translate those experiences into strengths that civilian executives and clients could understand, and helped her believe that she would be valued. That was six years ago. She's recently transitioned into a new role, focusing on cybersecurity, and is working on her MBA. Her advice to new hires: make growing your network a priority.
“I can directly attribute the success and opportunities I have experienced with the relationships I have cultivated over the years, especially those from the Veterans Affinity Network and diversity and inclusion groups like the Black Inclusion Network,” she says.
Corresponding with Latesha made me think about my father, a man who served in World War II in the segregated army, and came home to an America that wouldn’t let him vote. By the grace of a more compassionate version of the nation, he got his law and social work degree with the help of the G.I. Bill. But it was always a struggle.
What a difference a generation makes.
To all veterans past and present, thank you.
Ellen McGirt is a senior editor at Fortune.