Each year, more than 200,000 U.S. military veterans transition to civilian life. One of them was Hovig Margossian. After serving for a decade in the U.S. Marine Corps and completing two tours in Iraq, he needed a job.
It’s wasn’t easy.
“It was intimidating because I had no experience in the corporate world,” said Margossian, 35. “Plus, I was leaving a 10-year career and starting over in 2009, during a recession.”
But after getting an economics degree using benefits provided by the GI Bill, Margossian was hired by City National Bank, where he now works as a performance analyst, measuring and reporting on the commercial banking division.
“You need a lot more finesse in the corporate world. I was coming from a culture of giving and taking orders,” he said.
In 2011, the jobless rate for veterans stood at more than 8 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That number had declined to 4.6 percent – below the national average – by last year.
Part of this improvement can be credited to an awareness campaign, the White House “Joining Forces” Program, which has been championed by First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden. Earlier this month, companies participating in the program announced commitments to hire more than 110,000 veterans and train nearly 60,000 vets and military spouses over the next five years.
With Memorial Day coming up, you may be considering how you can play a part in putting America’s veterans to work.
Here are some tips:
• Be direct about company culture. “It’s OK to tell a new hire, ‘Stop saying ‘Yes, sir/no, sir’ or ‘Don’t call her ma’am,’” said Nathan Smith, a former Marine and chief operating officer of Hire Heroes USA, a Georgia nonprofit dedicated to getting veterans and their spouses into the workforce.
• Look beyond the resume. Sometimes veterans don’t have prestigious degrees or internships. But they bring valuable experience and personal qualities to the workforce that others may lack.
• Think long-term. Bringing veteran hires up to speed and helping them fit in may take time but it can pay off in the long run with lower turnover rates.
• Consider Millennials. Young veterans coming off a four-year military hitch have all the technology savvy and individuality of their generation, along with an appreciation for structure and order that others may lack. “They have a great respect for authority. They understand that good things don’t come right now,” Smith said.
For business owners, hiring military veterans can be a win-win: You’re giving a job to an individual who has served our country, and each of us, well. And you’re gaining an employee who understands order, duty and commitment.
But hiring, nurturing and retaining some veterans overly steeped in the “yes-sir, no-sir” world of the military often takes a deeper commitment than employers anticipate.
One way to ease the transition is to give veterans a chance to serve the community. Margossian, for example, has gotten involved volunteering with the bank’s community outreach efforts as part of Dollars+Sense, City National’s financial literacy program aimed at students in underserved public schools.
Giving veterans a role in your company where they feel challenged is important, said Joe Bustos, 46, vice president of digital solutions at City National Bank.
“Put them in a role where they have a defined mission and they will always complete that mission,” said Bustos, who served in the Army from 1987 to 1999, deploying to Europe and the Middle East as well as Central and South America.
No company should miss out on that successfully completed mission, either. Moral: Hire a veteran.