Decoding the Military for Veteran Hiring Success

What makes military veterans special? Aside from their courage, they voluntarily take an oath to serve our country. The military oath bonds the organization and its people in a common mission — to support and defend the U.S. Constitution.

Military veterans have done this in occupations that should be familiar to civilians. Almost every career field that exists in corporate America also exists in the military. We in the military include chefs, police, firefighters, lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, technicians, air traffic controllers, musicians, pilots, astronauts, truck drivers, clergy, communications and intelligence professionals, HR professionals, program analysts, veterinarians, accountants — you name it. But we call ourselves collectively Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, depending on the service.

The military is an up-or-out competitive career progression system, divided into two main components: officer (15 percent) and enlisted ranks (85 percent). Once you leave the military, you are called a veteran. Most veterans who transition out are less than 30 years old and have completed five to seven years of service. Approximately 300,000 service members transition back to civilian life each year, and about 15 percent stay until they are eligible for retirement, responding to individual desires, rigors, demands and competitive promotion criteria.

Most military veterans are highly trained technical leaders who have developed strong discipline, commitment, integrity, teamwork and passion for mission success. Before hiring a veteran, an employer should get a copy of the veteran’s official discharge paperwork, known as Form DD214, to verify “honorable” service along with certified training. No two military careers are alike, and every veteran is unique, with special skills, certifications and educational accomplishments. The pay grade listed at the bottom of each decoder box gives a general idea of the level of expertise, and the corresponding salary in the upper-right corner is a representation of the equivalent national average compensation, which includes former allowances and benefits. Of course, each specialty needs to be evaluated based on the demands for that skill in that area’s respective job market.

The table on the previous page is an approximate breakout of the active-duty population by service, with 15 percent of the workforce comprising females. Each service has its own mission and culture, but most veterans are experienced global travelers who have worked in many diverse environments with many diverse people. All of these experiences and the related leadership skills apply to civilian-sector jobs.

The U.S. military is one of the largest organizations in the world, employing almost 1.5 million active-duty service members. It is their collective job to defend the country and protect its national interests, but their individual careers can be incredibly similar to the jobs and careers in the civilian sector.

Today, U.S. businesses have nearly tripled the goal set by President Obama and have already hired or trained 300,000 veterans and military spouses. First Lady Michelle Obama recently announced that more American companies have committed to hire or train another 435,000 veterans and military spouses over the next five years. Walmart is leading the charge and has committed to hiring, during the year after separation from service, any veteran who served honorably, and McDonald’s is committed to hire 100,000 veterans in the next three years.

With the Iraq war over and the war in Afghanistan drawing to a close, more than 1 million service members are projected to leave the military in the next several years and transition to civilian life. Good civilian jobs not only help our veterans and military spouses manage this transition smoothly but also demonstrate that our nation truly honors their service.

This article is sponsored by HRCI

About Karin Vernazza
Karin Vernazza
holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR®) certification and is an active-duty Navy captain (O6) with more than 20 years of executive leadership and corporate development experience in the HR profession. She is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, the Harvard Business School Advanced Management Program, the Joint Forces Staff College and the U.S. Naval War College.