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Foreword to Business Networking for Veterans: A Guidebook for a Successful Military Transition into the Civilian Workforce, 2nd Edition

Kevin Schmiegel, executive director of Hiring Our Heroes, introduces the book, Business Networking for Veterans: A Guidebook for a Successful Military Transition into the Civilian Workforce, 2nd Edition.
This chapter is from the book


In 2009, I retired from the United States Marine Corps after 20 years of active duty service. My own transition from the military was full of good fortune. I was lucky to have a mentor like former National Security Advisor General Jim Jones, who took a very special interest in my search for a second career. I was lucky to have a network of close friends who had successfully made their own transitions from the military to the private sector. And I was lucky to be hired by an organization like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with President and CEO Tom Donohue, who understands and appreciates the value of hiring a veteran.

Many younger veterans are not that fortunate. Last year, the jobless rate for post-9/11 veterans was 50% higher than the national average at 12.1%, and veterans under the age of 25 faced a staggering 29.1% unemployment rate. This data is even more concerning given the additional one million service members who will be leaving active duty over the next five years.

In light of these challenges, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Chamber Foundation launched Hiring Our Heroes, a nationwide campaign to help veterans and military spouses find meaningful employment after serving our nation. With an aggressive goal of hosting 500 hiring fairs in its first two years, Hiring Our Heroes is the largest scale effort of its kind and was founded on the premise that transitioning military families often pursue career opportunities based on where they want to establish roots, versus what their best job prospects might be.

In close collaboration with a host of government, nonprofit, and veteran service organizations, the strength of Hiring Our Heroes has been our ability to forge strong public–private partnerships and positively influence the employment of veterans and military spouses in hundreds of communities across America. Working with the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the American Legion, the Department of Labor Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, our grass-roots efforts have helped 10,000 veterans and military spouses find jobs at more than 200 hiring fairs over a 15-month period starting in March 2011.

Beyond our efforts to create a movement to address veteran unemployment at the local level, we must tackle the systemic issues facing our nation’s veterans before they leave the military and search for a second career. We must do a better job of helping transitioning service members prepare for the civilian workforce and make informed decisions about employment in the private sector.

For starters, we need to show veterans where the jobs are, what industries and sectors are hiring, and how to use their educational benefits to gain specific qualifications so they can land one of the two million well-paying jobs that President Obama mentioned in his 2012 State of the Union address. It is unconscionable that our newest generation of veterans is struggling to find work when millions of jobs go unfilled because we lack a trained workforce.

With that in mind, Hiring Our Heroes and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families at Syracuse University launched a program called Fast Track. Designed to show the critical paths to meaningful careers in growth sectors such as energy, health care, information technology (IT; including cyber security), transportation, and infrastructure, Fast Track helps veterans and transitioning service members make informed decisions about the use of the GI Bill to gain targeted employment opportunities. The program maps the 100 metropolitan areas with the fastest-growing job markets, and is populated with the educational and credentialing pathways to well-paying, highly skilled careers.

To be clear, Hiring Our Heroes is not about charity. Companies that hire veterans gain a competitive advantage, and our nation should view the imminent drawdown of our armed forces as an opportunity. After World War II, millions of veterans reentered the workforce, and the massive infusion of talent helped the manufacturing sector to grow and America’s economy, as a whole, to thrive. As we come out of this recession, transitioning post-9/11 veterans can help growing industries expand further and our economy prosper.

Veterans must also do their part to better market and brand their unique skill sets so they stand out in a tough job market. There are no handouts, and veterans must compete just like they did in uniform—on the rifle range, in the classroom, and in the field. Even with advanced technical skills, leadership experience, unparalleled discipline, and the ability to work well in teams, veterans cannot expect employers—and human resources managers, in particular—to understand their military background without a clear and concise explanation.

Personal branding is one of the biggest obstacles facing newer veterans. Few transitioning service members have developed a strong “elevator pitch,” and I have witnessed many fail when they stepped in front of employers for the first time at dozens of Hiring Our Heroes fairs. Building a personal brand is not just about translating military occupational skills (MOS). Many pundits throw this idea around as the “big fix,” but it’s more than that. When veterans have less than 90 seconds to convince a company to hire them over someone who went straight into college after high school, a strong brand is critical. By focusing on intangible traits and using plain language to describe personal awards, deployments, schools, and leadership billets, veterans can demonstrate why they stand head and shoulders above their peers.

After seeing hundreds of younger veterans struggle through interviews at its hiring fairs, Hiring Our Heroes joined forces with Toyota and Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer to create a personal branding guide that is being distributed to tens of thousands of veterans nationwide. In addition to being shared at Hiring Our Heroes events, the guide is available online as part of a personal branding toolkit that contains unique advice for members of the Marines, Army, Navy, and Air Force. Working alongside a company like Toyota that understands brand development and one of our nation’s most recognizable younger veterans, Hiring Our Heroes’ aim is to help transitioning service members tell a compelling story about their military service to potential employers and turn their next interview into a job.

Even with the necessary tools to build a personal brand and make an informed decision about employment, veterans must develop a strong network once they leave the military if they want to land their dream job. Networking is the connective tissue for any successful career search. Without mentors and a network of friends and associates in the private sector, veterans will enter the civilian workforce blindly and often times will run into a series of dead ends.

Given today’s widespread use of social media, there is no shortage of opportunities to build an effective network. Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn can be launchpads to connect with business professionals from specific industries who have prior military experience and have made difficult transitions themselves. In addition to providing networking opportunities at hundreds of hiring fairs across America, Hiring Our Heroes looks to these technologies and others as the glue for Fast Track and the Personal Branding initiative.

Business Networking for Veterans serves as an effective guide to help veterans make strong first impressions, build those initial connections into professional relationships, and finally turn interviews into job offers. This book is a great tool to prepare for and take advantage of programs like Hiring Our Heroes and hundreds of others around the country that are making a concerted effort to connect veterans with meaningful employment.

—Kevin Schmiegel, executive director, Hiring Our Heroes

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