Hiring? Here's why veterans can be your greatest asset

“There are support services for vets, but a lot of vets don’t want to be helped,” says Joanne Dennis, Director of Program Development at Team Rubicon, a nonprofit that unites the skills and experiences of military veterans in disaster response, and also helps aid the transition back to civilian life. “Vets don’t want your pity, they don’t want your sorrow. They want to help others.” A recent Civic Enterprises report revealed that 92% of veterans want to continue serving their communities after their military service.


Veterans dedicate their skills to disaster relief efforts. Could they also be a good fit for your organization? (Photo: Team Rubicon Flickr stream)

That desire to serve has drawn more than 500 veterans to apply to volunteer with Team Rubicon in disaster relief missions in places like Burma, Haiti, and Joplin, MO since it was founded in January 2010. But while Team Rubicon’s volunteer base is growing fast, it can’t help with job placement. “We have some firemen who volunteer with us on their days off, and a lot of college students. But a lot of the volunteers are in transition,” explains Joanne. “They’ve come home to an economic climate where they just can’t find jobs. And especially jobs that have meaning or purpose.”

In an uncertain economic climate, many nonprofit leaders and business owners are understandably unwilling to take risks – especially when hiring. When faced with a stack of resumes, why choose the person whose background you are uncertain of and whose experience on paper doesn’t directly translate to your organization’s needs?

That’s the reality most veterans are facing when applying for jobs today. They come home with countless “soft” skills, including management and supervision, team-building, and the ability to successfully lead diverse groups of people while staying calm under pressure. These skills often don’t translate to traditional workplaces where recruiters are looking for resumes with years of conventional experience. But they are often the trademarks of an irreplaceable colleague, especially in a mission-driven organization.

In August, President Obama challenged the private sector to hire 100,000 unemployed post-9/11 veterans or their spouses by 2013. This Veteran’s Day, we’re curious whether nonprofits and other agencies and organizations are heeding that call as well.

Have you hired folks with military experience? Are you a veteran currently looking for work? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

This post was written by Bernadette Matthews, a volunteer with Team Rubicon, and Idealist bloggers Celeste Hamilton and Julia Smith. (Full disclosure: Celeste Hamilton and Joanne Dennis are in-laws.)

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Comments (6)

  1. Allan Henry writes:
    November 14, 2011 at 10:21 am

    Nice article.

  2. Stephanie Wood writes:
    November 14, 2011 at 2:14 pm

    For shame on employers for not hiring for the soft skills of our veterans. The soft skills listed in the article are critical skills in today’s workplace –shall I say Occupy Wall Street?? As a seasoned HR Professional who is also in job search mode, here are some additional ones any right-thinking organization would welcome: courageous–it takes courage to be successful in today’s workplace; persistent, loyal, empathetic and generous to name just a few more. I look forward to the day when our country truly values our military instead of giving lip service. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I am not a veteran or related to a veteran who has served in the last 20 years. As a Boomer though, this sounds very similar to how we treated our returning vets post Vietnam. Will we ever learn?

  3. Michael D writes:
    November 14, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    I once found a job with the US Govt after retiring from the military. When I started suffering from severe depression and it interfered with my my work, was I helped? No, I was kicked out the door with nary a thanks…

    What lessons did I learn?

    1. You can only trust yourself.
    2. Asking for help is an exercise in futility.
    3. If someone asks “Have you had thoughts of suicide?” they’re only helpful until they can’t be blamed if you do the deed.
    4. If you need something done, do it yourself.
    5. Did I mention that you’re on your own???

    Have a wonderful day.

  4. Andrew writes:
    November 15, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Michael, I am sorry that you have not received the gratitude and appreciation you deserve. While there is no excuse for those that have turned their back on you, there is help and other people out there you truly want to help veterans in all facets, from health issues to finding employment. I encourage you (and all veterans) to check out http://dvoplverlocator.nvti.ucdenver.edu/ where you can get connected to people you will help with employment. GIJOBS.com is another great resource, and they also have a list of the Top 100 most friendly veterans companies. Best of luck!

  5. Danielle writes:
    November 16, 2011 at 10:22 pm

    The desire to help rather then be helped is exactly how I feel right now. I am currently in college and feeling under utilized. I want to do something with a purpose again. I have tried multiple times to get jobs or volunteer positions on campus and have yet to be hired. As a 27 year old with 9 years experience in the military a waitressing job pays the bills but does nothing for the spirit. I am active on campus and participate in many volunteer opportunities on and off campus but I need something more.

  6. doug moore writes:
    November 26, 2011 at 11:34 am

    i find this article and its following comments uplifting – looking for satisfying employment can be such a challenge! it’s absurd. i currently work at an arts-based day program for adults with physical and intellectual disabilities. the work can be very rewarding, and i feel like there is opportunity for advancement – a career, not just a job – for the right kind of person. people with disabilities are every where and being able to help them is a great thing. earning a living while doing so is even better.
    the job can be exhausting as well. so, at the place i work at, there is a lot of turn over. other places might be different. either way, i recommend people seeking employment search in this field. and for the record, i did my six in the army national guard. it’s uplifting to see that there are people out there (and veterans) like myself: eager to contribute to the common good and have a sense of purpose in doing so.

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