I spend most of my days speaking with Veterans about career transitions. Through this I have found many surprising and terrifying themes that I feel are hurting Veterans today. One of the worst is the movement of companies to be Vet Friendly.
What does this mean exactly?
When I hear those words the first thing that comes to my mind is when hotels say Pet Friendly. That means they are looking to attract a specific subset of customers that value pets. They do this by reserving a small number of rooms to accommodate these guests. Do these hotels have dog parks in the rear or climbing stations for cats in the rooms? No, it means with an extra fee they are willing to allow pets in the door.
According to Webster, “affirmative action is defined as an active effort to improve the employment or educational opportunities of members of minority groups and women; an effort to promote the rights or progress of other disadvantaged persons”.
In the movie, Hidden Figures, I am reminded that Affirmative Action had pros and cons.
The pro was that this allowed women and minorities the break they deserved. Without this they may have never gotten the opportunity to prove themselves.
The con to Affirmative Action was it often created an “I deserve the job because I am a minority or woman” mentality. This, in the end, hurt many people. This entitlement perspective prevented many from rising to the top. I see both of these similarities with Veterans today.
A major theme to that movie was the challenge for the main character to rise above the break. How she fought so hard to be recognized for her contributions rather than her race or gender. She wanted to be known as a mathematician not a female African American.
Today many Veterans enter the civilian workforce very naïve and vulnerable to falling into this Affirmative Action mentality. Companies see advantages much like the hotel analogy with Pet Friendly. They are in the business of making money and today being Vet Friendly is a positive image. They also enjoy tax benefits much like companies did with Affirmative Action. We have yet to go so far as the government forcing companies to hire a certain percentage of Veterans, but we are narrowly walking a fine tight rope when you examine it.
Veterans enter the market expecting companies to be lined up around the corner waiting to hire them. According to an ongoing survey of Veterans conducted by military-transition.org this is not the reality.
Most Veterans fail to realize that corporations by nature are not motivated to hire employees. Employees equal expenses. An efficient corporation is balanced against a Profit and Loss calculation (P&L) and employee costs are always in the loss table. Corporations will only hire when this is the only way for them to solve a business problem.
The bottom line is they need someone to help them do something – if you can’t do it why should they pay you?
Those Veterans that enter the job market thinking they are a gift to corporations because of their service are like minorities or women that would walk into a company thinking they should be hired simply because of their race or gender.
The goal is to leverage the Vet Friendly opportunity, take advantage of the break and then quickly move away from it. Two years later if the only thing you have to offer is being a Veteran you have likely missed your responsibility to prove yourself as a contributing member of that corporation. What do you bring to the table that will help that business?
We remain focused around a simple premise: Skin in the Game. Many disagree with our choice to charge Veterans for our services, but as a Veteran I could care less. I am not out to target the Veteran as a customer, I am trying to help them. Many times the best help I can give them as a fellow Veteran is to have an honest, no BS, transparent conversation about their specific situation. I will go to battle and push the idea that I think they have earned the right to have the break, but I will hang-up on a Veteran that thinks they are entitled to a job or training simply because they volunteered to serve. I volunteered too!
This Skin in the Game mentality was my way of breaking the Affirmative Action or welfare mentalities I see arising within the Veteran community around their education benefits and career transitions. I do believe most Veterans make the best employees, however, I must admit we are not all alike. Veterans are a people group, made up from outstanding people as well as lazy bums. To break the stereotypes, we must call them to accountability. This is no different than the challenges minorities or women had when entering the workforce, they had to break the stereotypes and stand out to be recognized.
Call to Action
If you are a Veteran reading this: accept the fact that being a Veteran may get you to the top of the list, but it’s not enough to get you in the door. You must rise to the occasion and work hard to be better than anyone else. Learn new skills, identify your gaps and perfect your strengths.
If you are a person involved in hiring Veterans: don’t fall into the quota mindset that often accompanied Affirmative Action. Don’t hire them and then send them to a separate bathroom. Incorporate them into the culture. Spend time and effort to create ways for Veterans to adapt to this new corporate culture. Coach them, mentor them and grow them! They do deserve a break but help them normalize into corporate citizens.
The old saying is very applicable here: give a man a fish when he is hungry, and he will always depend on you to feed him; teach a man to fish and he will never be hungry. However, for you Vets out there know sometimes you can also throw the man off the boat and let the fish eat him!