By Margaret Moellenberndt
BM2 (U.S. Navy 1993-2001)
Brand & Digital Consultant

A few years ago, I was at a military job fair speaking with a recently retired U.S. Navy SEAL whose resume reflected his 20+ years of service, leadership, and awards. Try as I might, I couldn’t convince the hiring manager I was working with to even consider hiring him for a Corporate Security Director role that entailed reviewing places employees needed to travel for safety/security. Why? Because the candidate didn’t “check all the boxes” – namely, he didn’t have 10+ years in corporate security. This candidate was among the elite in special operations, but because his experience was stated differently on his resume, the hiring manager was unwilling to believe this could be who he was looking for.

To this day, this represents the biggest missed hire I’ve ever witnessed. And it was all because the hiring manager couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see beyond the requisition requirements.

Military underemployment

Thankfully, over the past 15 years we have seen the unemployment rate fall for individuals with a military background. What was once well into the double-digits is now 4.5%.

However, veteran “underemployment” – defined as “employment below objective experience and/or skill level” – remains steady. According to a study conducted by ZipRecruiter and Call of Duty Endowment, nearly one-third of U.S. military veteran job seekers could be classified as underemployed.

Why does this happen? Some reasons include:

  • The employer being unable to properly discern the veteran’s skills based on their resume/interview
  • Limited job openings within the veteran’s skillset in the non-military sector
  • Willingness of the veteran to take first available opportunity

While veterans exiting the military are required to attend classes to prepare them for civilian employment life – covering topics such as interview skills, resume writing, and job search tips – there is unfortunately much that is left out. Military jargon still gets left on the resumes and veterans are not really taught how to speak to recruiters in civilian terms. 

Translating veterans’ resumes

In nearly 20 years of recruiting (with a significant amount of time spent recruiting individuals transitioning out of the military), I have seen hundreds of resumes with military jargon on every line. They contain abbreviations and terms that the average recruiter or hiring manager would not be able to easily understand. For instance, did you catch those funny letters and numbers in my byline? “BM2” means “Boatswain’s Mate, Second Class,” but unless the recruiter happens to be a Navy vet, we can’t really expect them to know that. And resumes that aren’t easy to read will often just get discarded.

A better strategy for recruiters and hiring managers would be to take a few moments to contact the veteran and ask for more information. Just a few minutes spent on the phone asking questions and providing simple coaching and mentoring can give an employer valuable insight into the individual’s skills and lead to a more positive candidate experience.

Skills beyond the resume

Did you know that the average age of a sailor on an aircraft carrier is under 24? And that the average age of a United States Marine is 25? Both could be responsible for millions of dollars of equipment and dozens (and often, hundreds) of lives. An aircraft carrier has more than 5,000 personnel, operates as a small city at sea with an airport and everything else a town of that size would have -- and it’s run by individuals in their 20s. The responsibility that goes with being an active member of the military is immense, obviously. They have to think quickly under pressure and make decisions where lives hang in the balance – something that the average civilian doesn’t encounter on the job, much less a normal twenty-something.

Skills that may be hidden, or even missing, from a resume (especially “soft skills”) can be found by talking to the candidate or by ensuring the recruiter or hiring manager is well-versed on what skills, experience, and potential a veteran could possess. Management skills may not be listed specifically – but if “Non-commissioned officer” is listed – they led (managed) fellow servicemembers. Job titles and assignments can be very confusing. Being a member of the U.S. Navy Seabees wouldn’t mean much to most civilian employers – but if you are looking for someone with a construction or craft-skilled background, a Seabee (the more popular name of the Navy's famed Construction Battalion) may be where you want to look.

Simply by taking a bit of time, recruiters and hiring managers can improve the candidate experience for veterans and find quality candidates they may be overlooking.

Connect with Margaret Moellenberndt on LinkedIn.