Removing Barriers to Hiring Veterans

By Vinay Nair, P.E., CCM, PMP, Guest Contributor (EY)

Many veterans of this generation, particularly younger ones, have struggled to find jobs when they leave service. Some of these struggles can be attributed to the fact that many of these young men and women are leaving service with disabilities. As a conservative estimate, over 4 million veterans live out the rest of their lives with visible or invisible disabilities connected to their service.

What makes veteran unemployment extremely troubling is that over 13 percent of this nation’s suicides are committed by military veterans, even though they represent less than 10 percent of our population. According to the latest Veterans Affairs report, 17 military veterans commit suicide each day. In recent years, more veterans have died at their own hands than servicemembers lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. By increasing opportunities for veterans to find meaningful employment after their service, we can help those struggling.


John Lowry, Assistant Secretary of Labor, Veterans Employment and Training Services at the Department of Labor, recognizes Cpl. Zachary Stafford, USA, for his contributions while serving as an intern with the DOL’s VETS office from February through June of 2020. PHOTO CREDIT LAUREL DEVINE

Veterans have served and protected our nation. Their devotion to cause and their military family is unparalleled. They are exceptionally trained, focused, and agile individuals whose employment can help your organization reach new heights. This is even more applicable in leadership positions that carry a multitude of responsibilities and often serve as the face of the company.

To the corporate board and shareholders, veterans, especially officers with years of training and experience, inspire confidence and trust and usually lead by example. Often, veterans have already successfully run complex and critical missions and are decisive in the face of uncertainty.

There are many examples of Fortune 500 CEOs who have served and have successfully transferred their leadership skills from the military to the private sector and taken their firms to new heights. Alex Gorsky, the CEO of Johnson & Johnson, was a member of the elite Army Rangers and served in Europe, the U.S., and Panama. Daniel Akerson, the former CEO of General Motors, served as a naval officer.

How great would it be if more of these extraordinary veterans were hired by the private sector when they have finished actively serving our nation?


Sgt. Maj. Carlos A. Orjuela, USMC, speaks with Dr. James Stockton, an instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, during a luncheon to celebrate the second graduating class of the SkillBridge program of Embry-Riddle at The Landing at MCAS New River. U.S. MARINE CORPS PHOTO BY LANCE CPL. TAYLOR SMITH

Discipline, hierarchy, and command and control are qualities often associated with military service. Although this reputation is well-founded, it does not paint a complete picture of a veteran’s qualities. Military service also instills poise, cooperation, and integrity. People are the most valuable asset of any business, and companies can positively impact their culture by making “inclusive recruiting.” A diverse and inclusive environment that embraces veterans creates a high-performing workforce by empowering all employees to perform to their highest potential.

Military service equips veterans with skills that translate well into private, public, and non-profit sector careers. Military personnel have experience in a range of roles and duties that can translate directly into their workforce engagement in the private sector, making them a substantial asset.

Veterans can bring many coveted qualities to the workplace, such as having a sense of duty. They take great pride in completing the task at hand even under difficult or stressful circumstances. Some may even argue that veterans are often far more effective than civilians under duress. The modern business world also places great emphasis on teamwork, a quality that is drilled into every servicemember.

Many veterans have enjoyed the opportunity to oversee large teams and multi-million-dollar budgets on a regular basis, while the same opportunities are difficult to come by for their civilian peers. This is especially true when it comes to critical and time-sensitive assignments.

Hardly anything businesses do in the for-profit world is without risk. Based on their training, many veterans have an uncanny ability to make the right decisions even when information is only partially available. The military makes veterans comfortable in agile and flexible circumstances and take on risks needed for innovative progress.


Service members, veterans, and spouses make their way through the booths set up by more than 50 companies as part of the annual Hiring Our Heroes Career Summit, Sept. 24, on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. This annual event helps those transitioning service members prepare for careers following the military. U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY SPC. ANDREW WASH

Even though there is an ever-widening gulf between the military and civilian society, there are many companies today proud to hire veterans. They have outstanding programs that seek and hire veterans for all facets of their operation. There are also organizations that help veterans move seamlessly into a career in the private sector.

But are organizations doing enough to hire veterans? Have we successfully removed all the barriers that inhibit the hiring of veterans? According to a 2015 survey by Futurestep, a Korn Ferry company specializing in talent solutions, 80 percent of organizations lack veteran recruiting programs.

Since only a small percent of the population ever serves in the armed forces, research shows that hiring managers may be unfamiliar with military culture. This lack of knowledge or misconceptions may lead to incorrect ideas when making hiring decisions. Simple measures, such as educating and training the talent acquisition team on how to read a military resume, might prevent losing out on an amazing future employee.

Hiring managers can also miss out while interviewing veterans since they often speak about their team’s accomplishments, using “we” and not “I”. Hiring managers should know the military prides itself on working together, and for many veterans, the self-promotion needed while interviewing for a job is an affront to their ethos.

Most importantly, once a veteran is hired, organizations should provide them with resources to assimilate into their new company culture. For example, introduce them to a peer or “buddy” whose role it is to help them navigate the choppy waters of the new workplace.

Hiring a veteran not only makes business sense but also makes the veteran believe that they fit in. They no longer feel anonymous. Isn’t hiring a veteran the very least a company can do to be socially responsible to itself, its employees, and its customers?

Vinay Nair, P.E., CCM, PMP, is Senior Manager, Ernst & Young.