Why are many Vets still unemployed?  The Center for a New American Security conducted interviews with 87 individuals from 69 companies to find out why, from an employer perspective.  Keep these factors in your hip pocket while you search for jobs!

1.  Skills Translation: Unless you are applying for a defense contracting job, you have to translate your military skills into civilian terms.  Civilians don’t understand your acronyms, positions, and military terminology, and they aren’t going to take the time to learn. Seek out someone from the desired industry and have them review your resume.  Or, use one job skills translator listed on our Resource page. Many companies use software to screen the applicant pool. If the software finds words that don’t align with the industry (eg. Military terms), your resume will get kicked out. Bottom line is that if your resume does not contain the appropriate jargon key words, you most likely won’t make it through the screening process!

2.  Negative Stereotypes: Some employers believe that Veterans can be too “rigid” or formal.  Overcome these stereotypes by preparing for your interview.  Have a civilian play the role of the employer, asking you questions about your background, experience, and qualifications. Consider recording the interaction on your smart phone or video camera, and the interviewer can debrief you on how you came across.  Other stereotypes include problems with anger management or post-traumatic stress. If you are faced with these challenges, help is available at VA facilities and Vet Centers. You can also reach out to Give an Hour or other related organizations. It may take some help to get back on your feet, but don’t let that stop you from furthering your career.

3.  Skill Mismatch: The military helped transform you into a great leader with excellent work ethic. But some employers are looking for specific skills. If you don’t have these skills, you may be out of luck.  Look for creative ways to build new skills relevant to your target industry.  First, check out job listings in that industry to identify the skills employers are looking for, or ask someone you know in that industry.  Hone in on the skills that you can build in the near term.  For example, take a community college class and approach the professor about doing a side project or independent study in which you can demonstrate the application of the skills you are learning.  Look for volunteer opportunities in which you can demonstrate those skills.  You may be able to help out in the business office of your church or local community. Or, you may be able to run the fundraising or marketing efforts for a local charity event.  Temp agencies are another consideration; sometimes starting in a temp position may help build relevant skills and lead to permanent employment.

4.  Concern about Future Deployments: Guardsmen and Reservists face this challenge, especially if they are seeking employment with small businesses.  Be familiar with the laws protecting reservists and be honest about your continuing military commitment.  Recently, I became aware of a situation in which a reservist potentially misled a company to secure a job a couple weeks before deploying with his unit.  The employer did not know this at the time.  Actions such as this not only tarnish the reputation of the reservist, but also make it difficult for other vets trying to secure a job. Be candid and up front!

5.  Acclimation: Employers are concerned that Veterans don’t completely fit into corporate culture.  Following the interview prep suggestions in #2 can help you practice coming across in a less military, more corporate way.  Finding out about the corporate environment is also helpful.  What terms are used? How do people dress (business or business casual)? How formal is the culture? Connect with someone in that industry, or better yet the company you are applying to, to find out about the cultural environment and norms.

Please send any questions and comments to switchstarter@gmail.com.

Lisa Nagorny and Dan Pick are student Veterans at Wharton’s MBA for Executives program. As part of a school project, they created a blog, Switch, to help Vets transition more smoothly and find jobs. The blog has posts about transition considerations and critical resources.

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Published on Jun. 20, 2012

Estimated reading time is 3.6 min.

Views to date: 367


  1. Vic Cambotti July 3, 2012 at 5:08 pm

    Agree. Ohio is sending their finest OIF/OEF veterans to other states due to the hiring of campaign workers’ relatives in state government offices. Especially infantrymen…no translation but plenty of skills in any job area. Just train me is their cry! Our finest are heading also to Canada who is recruiting our vets.

  2. John Clarkson July 3, 2012 at 10:58 am

    In Ohio, there seems to be no end to the number of organizations that make plenty of noise about hiring veterans. Loyalty, hardworking, smart, dedicated, professional – these are just a few of the terms that they all spout, and companies doing business in Ohio seem to all agree when speaking to their local news outlets.

    Unfortunately, a disturbingly high amount of veterans in Ohio seem to have the same story; “I have applied/interviewed for many jobs, including companies that are actively seeking veterans, for which I am well qualified, but I have yet to be hired”. This has included all jobs from minimum wage to high-paying salaried positions, from “worker bee” to senior management, and from single-owner to governmental postings.

    One story is of the Cleveland Clinic. Despite devoting funds, and marketing resources, to increase the number of veterans amongst their ranks, virtually none appear to be hired. While this can appear to be a cause for speculation, please remember that this, at least, inline with hiring practices at the Department of Veteran Affairs.

    In closing, there seems to be more funding in a “Hire Veterans!” campaign than actually hiring veterans.

    • Lisa July 5, 2012 at 9:55 am

      John – thanks for your comment and story!

  3. Uncle Vinnie June 29, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    It is rather difficult to relate to a potential employer how your skills as an 11 bang bang,19 tread head or 13 hell from above could benefit his or her company. My advice is to focus on the leadership & team work skills that you honed to a fine point during your combat tour(s).
    Not many employers can relate to the experience you shared with your brothers and sisters in arms. How many of them have actually been in the position where they literally held someone else’s life in their hands?
    Don’t be Scary Larry, be respectful, and above all, talk with pride about your experiences in a combat environment, you have earned that right. Focus on your ability to work with others in stressful situations, function as part of a team, and take charge on a moment’s notice when you are called upon to do it, or just realize the necessity for action on your part.
    If someone doesn’t want to hire you because you don’t have a PhD in fork lift operation, removing articles from a conveyor belt, driving a cement truck or other easily mastered skills, you don’t want to work for them anyway. They don’t appreciate your courage, leadership abilities or desire to be an indispensable member of the team. They don’t deserve you. Keep looking, you will find an employer that recognizes you for the hero that you are.
    With all due respect,
    Uncle Vinnie

  4. Artemis Eneldo June 24, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    Many employers today are multi-national corporations with hiring managers and / or executive teams who are foreign nationals or naturalized US citizens who bring a foreign perspective to US military actions and US military service that, at best, is ambivalent. More often, foreign nationals view US military action and by extension US military service as barbaric. Certainly not a plus. Know your audience.

  5. Alison Lighthall June 22, 2012 at 9:44 am

    I had the same reaction. We can certainly meet civilians half-way, but civilians also have to expand their understandings about those in the military past their ignorance and prejudices. Three of us veterans (a Vietnam-era Marine, an OIF and OEF Army Colonel, and I) came together to create and provide training for civilians for exactly this purpose. I guess the current term would be “Cultural Sensitivity training” but we think of it as being translators.

    Nonetheless, this was a very helpful, enlightening article. Thanks for posting it!

  6. Donnie June 21, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    One American institution has always made hiring veterans a priority. In fact, we are hiring right now! Interested candidates should visit the US Postal Service {usps.com} web site to find a Careers> link at the bottom of the home page. The jobs are for Automotive Mechanics and Automotive Technicians. To search for positions, use a Keyword: of “Automotive” and your state filter to find job announcements. For veterans with technical training, the screening tests will seem familiar. Use the start your eCareer profile> link to begin the process. With one eCareer profile, a user can apply for several job openings.
    Good Luck!

  7. Veteran72 June 21, 2012 at 12:46 pm

    In my opinion, the first and biggest obstacle to employment by the VA, is to figure out where and how to apply for a job or postion. Yes, I am sure someone will chime in and inform about going on an internet job board to view the available VA jobs. Many of those postings are so vague it is difficult to determine what exactly one is viewing. If you are specifically professionally titled, such as the title Doctor, Registered Nurse, or old a licensed trade of Electrician, Plumber, or some level of IT Manager, it is relatively easy to decipher the viewing.
    I find that the everday Joe or Jane veteran complain that looking for a job within the VA is too complicated. I am not saying it is for sure that way, just that the process deters many work willing nonprofessional potential veteran applicants from applying.

  8. Peter June 21, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Candidate for NH State Senate
    Explain it to me?
    Separation in the fact that the laws do not have equal responsibility to every citizen of the USA this cannot be right. Even to separate one individual and use the law differently than all the others are described as Discrimination and are against our highest law the Constitution. Judges and police have a Blue Code that allows them to be controlled differently if they are caught violating the law. Stopping my medical care for combat related disabilities while stopping no other person’s is Discrimination and illegal. Newspapers refusing to print opinion of government wrongs as Opinion letters is Discrimination when it is only one 100% disabled US Military Veteran singled out for such an illegal act. NH Governor Lynch making a individual pay money to speak with him on government wrongs and after paying not talking to the US Citizen is discrimination and a whole lot of other crimes against our Constitution. To eleven times submit the NH Redress of Grievance crimes against our Constitution by high-ranking government officials and to be denied just speaks volumes of the wrongs in the NH government. I am running for NH State Senate and the Newspapers believe it is their duty as a private business to keep the voters ignorant of my reasons to run and what I will do if elected. The newspapers print and speak volumes about the other candidates making this act discrimination.
    I volunteered my time to help a Madbury NH family that the selectmen separated out for retribution by a selectmen. The NH Supreme Court refused to hear the case because Judge Peter Favuer used the law to enable the Mabury selectmen to take from local resident for the selectmen’s own self gain or profit. My VA medical care is stopped, law enforcement harass my family and friends, I am put in jail, as the list continues to grow until I stop writing opinion letters of government wrongs.
    These letters are so well published on the Internet it becomes unrealistic why the editors would censor them keeping many older voters ignorant. I cannot see why citizens reading my letters every day do not speak up, other than the fact they are scare it will happen to them if they do so. Separate and concur is the tactic that I used to kill my first “VC” is separation what the NH government is doing to this 100% disabled US Marine running for NH State Senate.
    I seriously tried to kill my self yesterday not because of the separation but because my military disability. I have VA medical just not for my Combat service-connected disabilities…

  9. Bill June 20, 2012 at 11:18 pm

    All the laws in the world cannot protect a reservist if the employer wants to get rid of them because they might be deployed.

  10. Ron White June 20, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    This was a nice fluff piece bottom line civilians will never understand what military life is like. That is why you need to target cities with one or more active bases so that the employers already have prior military on staff who hopefully have broken negative stereotypes of military life. Lets not also forget the other reason why vets can’t get hired discrimination thanks to the media and the 70’s hippie crowd who are ceo’s and vp’s of HR and hate ex military types.

    • Lisa June 27, 2012 at 10:53 pm


      Great suggestion! Another good transition job is joining a company in the defense industry, regardless of whether it is in a military town or not. Find a job in which you can build new functional skills, and then eventually transition to another industry of your choice in which you can apply those skills. This approach helps you find a job that not only is in an industry with a familiar language and culture, but in many instances it will be more of a lateral transition. You won’t necessarily have to take a step or two down in your career, which may happen if you choose a new industry and a job with different skill requirements.


  11. dale marki June 20, 2012 at 6:38 pm

    that is not the way they should treat us for defending this country this is going to hell to handbasket like i feel ready after reading the article above

  12. Shawna June 20, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    Even the VA doesn’t hire VETS! I have applied for over 50 jobs with the VA. I have a masters in health care and served 12 years in military health care.

    • Veteran72 June 21, 2012 at 12:33 pm

      I agree! The VA employs the second-largest percentage of veteran among all federal departments. Currently, 30 percent of the VA’s employees are veterans; the organization’s goal is to raise that to 40 percent. It’s part of the effort to combat the high rate of unemployment among veterans and increase the percentage of the workforce that’s composed of veterans, according to a VA spokesperson.

       Although “Secretary [Eric Shinseki] is very committed to employment starting with the VA but also in general,” said Jo Schuda, VA public affairs specialist.

      However, I believe the goal for employment of veterans by the VA should be 50%, not 40%. Botton line: the majority of VA employees are NOT veterans.

  13. Alan Russell June 20, 2012 at 4:05 pm

    As a cold war vet,seeking not just employment,but a new job,within,or out or my resume experience,is most difficult,with these companies out sourcing online firms to screen applicants.If one gets to the screening fase. I find alot lock into a loop,to misrepresent one self into answering questions incorrect,to get a continuation,and end up with junk mail to email,and phone calls from college recruiters.
    I want the job i know i can do,and that which is applied for,but not more schooling. I want to simply fill out an application,and attach a resume,and hope for an interview. I do not want phone calls from across the country,at all hours of the day,disrupting my day,or perhaps an interview,to enroll in college,even online.
    I am working with state level job services,and local temp services,as well as job fairs,and other avenues for employment searches.
    As i try to understand the above research,i see it from both sides. What i see in employing a vet,is the info that isn’t there. People that recently served,have no other job source,or have lost their return to a job,because of revolving deployments. This is due to an oversite of being in a rediness reserve status with the military,and not the active contracted term,followed by a short term of reserve duty,with exceptions to officers,who can resign their commission again and again.
    If i was in a position to hire,i would go with vets,because they are there to work,and not party,they tend to be dependable,and honest,and i would not care about ptsd,unless it becomes a problem with attendance. I would reward them with special days off,such as veterans day,and pearl harbor day,and others pertaining to military history,and pay them for it,or give to a charity of their choice. students do not deserve veterans’ day as a holiday,the vets that served freely,for defending our freedom deserve it.
    I recently chose to take the day of Veterans day off work,as the only vet on the crew,and then went to dinner that night at Applebees. And i do the day in usaf hat and attire,and any vet i see,i thank.
    Our vet councelors at the state level,job service,are the greatest source of information,when seeking jobs,and worth taking the time to occasionally visit. I know,as i have had some great temp jobs,through them,and some only got by being a vet. And they are veterans themselves,so they are there for us.

  14. Chris June 20, 2012 at 3:44 pm

    For item #4 – Why would anyone share anything regarding upcoming deployments if they are not certain if they are going to be offered the job? If there is an offering for a job, then it would be appropriate to share that there is an upcoming deployment. The employer should understand that hiring a reservist is going to require absence but in the big picture it shouldn’t matter considering the law is covering that absence. If in your example the reservist withheld they were in the reserves that’s another matter and I would agree with your statement.

    • Lisa June 27, 2012 at 10:42 pm

      In the example I mentioned the reservist withheld the information about his deployment. He was hired, relocated to his new job and upon reporting to his assignment mentioned that he would be deploying in a week or two. I agree that he should have mentioned it as soon as he was hired if not sooner. Each situation is different of course, but you want to balance your short term interests with long term goals. In the example I mentioned, the reservist is not starting out on the right foot with the new employer and can actually end up hurting him in the end.

  15. Dain Anderson June 20, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    I have learned that some employers also are leery of Veterans because of the amount of Doctor appointments we have to have which translates into time off work. Also if we might happen to miss our meds because we haven’t gotten them to take we can become ill and not be able to work.

    In addition, at least 75% or more Veterans are Disabled and as such might have to have certain things in place so we can work/function at the job place. This also translates into money needing to be spent by employer for the accommodations!!!

    We Veterans also face the fact that most of us have been away from the job market and that means we are older than the high school/college grads that are entering and employers will hire these grads first over hiring a Veteran!!!

    • M. Smith June 21, 2012 at 8:45 pm

      Where does the statistic “75% or more of veterans are disabled” come from?

    • L. McMillen June 22, 2012 at 10:13 am

      I don’t know where you came up with that 75% figure, but it’s way out of line. Even counting PTSD, the figure is much closer to 25%, and most of that 25% is stuff that is treatable. PTSD is quite treatable if diagnosed and responded to early. Like any disease, the sooner you start treating it, the less trouble it is to treat. Do some research. Check with the VA, for instance. Please don’t go around just tossing out made-up figures. Numbers like this only exacerbate the problem.

  16. Gary Lloyd June 20, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    What a great article; since The Tampa Tribune used 3 of the mentioned points as I applied for a Call Center position. RIGHT on Target.

  17. SGT Justin SIngleton June 20, 2012 at 2:29 pm

    The sad truth is that a lot of this is simply true! Veterans are quite rigid and have trouble acclimating. That said, if we can translate the job skills into civilian language, we are one step above the civilian populace. One of the problems I face, though, is learning to translate infantry sergeant into the civilian workforce. Police, security, fire rescue, etc, etc, works fine, but not necessarily in the business world (at least, I am having trouble translating it). [Note: I was hired for a one-year, temporary position in the business world in order to push out a problem project that had been looming over them for four years. Apparently, they wanted my “sergeantness” in this case as no one had been able to actually get the job done. … We’ll see how well this next year will go!]

    • Wendell Duncan June 30, 2012 at 11:57 am

      I think some of the insiders are afraid that your leadership training, hard-time experience, and loyalty to authority might jeopardize their advancement. Start by being a team player, and let your leadership speak for itself.

  18. Sharon June 20, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    Not hired where I live because of nepotism and cronyism.

  19. Jon June 20, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I do agree with this but! There is a industry that recruits very hard and looks for the veterans and military men and women that are close to there eas. The oil and gas industry, i was one of theses vets that got out and couldn’t find work until i was contacted by a company in the industry now 10 years later im one of the top guys in charge of a major oil and gas services company so to all vets please look into this industry you will be surprised how well you will fit in and find yourself a great career.

    • Lisa June 27, 2012 at 10:38 pm

      Great suggestion Jon! We would love to feature your story in our blog. Please reach out to switchstarter@gmail.com if you are interested!


  20. Jeremy June 20, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    It’s great that you’re reaching out to us with these tips… but they lean toward blaming us for the public being misinformed about things like PTSD. If the perception is that many vets have it, and I don’t, I can’t exactly prove that I don’t. If I do, that doesn’t make me a risk as an employee, but the perception or false believes will prevent an honest look at my candidacy.

    It takes a while (at least a year for me), to “de-acclimate” from a military culture. Telling us to be friendlier and more relaxed seems a bit condescending and dishonest to the interviewer. If I’m not myself, and “putting on” to get a job, how am I really going to come across.

    Again, these tips aren’t bad from a “reality check” point-of-view, but it is disappointing that the onus should be on the veteran, who has already worked hard to serve this country, to play a game just to overcome the laziness of civilians who won’t take the time to understand veterans and fact check what they think they know.

    • Michigan Veteran's Law Corp June 21, 2012 at 9:57 am

      Excellent response Jeremy. I couldnt agree more. We need to educate corporate America on just what a Veteran is. Vets have so many talents to bring to the table, leadership, experience, loyalty, to name just a few. Corporations are missing the boat… hiring Vets will improve their organizations! Tom Hetchler

    • darrell June 21, 2012 at 3:01 pm

      I agree with you and you shouldn’t have to try and hide who you are. It was good enough when you were protecting democracy and its good enough now. Thank you for your service….

    • Lisa June 27, 2012 at 10:36 pm


      Thanks for your comment! I agree with your comment and the other responses. There are several organizations and companies reaching out to the private sector to train HR personnel on how to connect with Veterans. Our blog focused on findings from a survey of employers – these factors were all cited by employers as their greatest challenges to hiring vets. While we still have a long way to go to make sure companies are informed about veterans’ matters, our post suggests that vets should be aware of the biases they are up against. The hiring process should not be a game for civilians or veterans ,but unfortunately in many instances it is. Game on!


  21. Roy June 20, 2012 at 2:00 pm

    I retired in 98. After a short vacation with which I drove myself crazy I applied for work with the local US Postal Service. I was asked to come down and test. So I did. I tested for “everything”. Well I was too educated to do grounds maintenence, janitor, sorter, etc, but I was also too dumb( no schooling) to work on HVAC systems.I didn’t have a truck drivers lic. nor any formal training for office duties. The post master general there told me they would keep me on file. So I worked at Home Depot for two years and then got a job with King County in Washington. I make pretty good money. The PMG sent me a letter the year I got here and asked me to come in that they had a position for me now. I told them to pack sand as it was my understanding that had I taken that job my retirement pay would have been shut off and if I did my time there I would lose the lesser of the two retiremnets as it was considered double dipping. How so I don’t know but …..I’m working, happy and I think better off.

    • KJ June 24, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      Sorry to hear you were mis-informed. Had you taken that civil service job. You would have kept your active duty retirement and still drawn a civil service check. I just retired and did not have to give up anything and now have access to plenty of benefits and now at age 41 will retire in about 10 more years for a second time and officially draw a second retirement at age 59 1/2. I’m glad I researched my options, had I not I would have wasted time w/other jobs that would not have applied towards my second federal retirement! However, some counties and cites have AWESOME retirement programs!

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