When Solomon Rhima left the Marines, he expected an easy transition into the civilian workforce. He had spent a dozen years in the military, including a tour in Afghanistan, gaining experience through roles as a bulk fuel specialist and ground supply officer and by taking on responsibilities that ranged from supervising equipment maintenance to personnel management. “Based on research I did, I knew I had experience that was directly transferable to the civilian job market,” Rhima says.
Rhima sent out resumes — and received no responses. It took him months to figure out what he was doing wrong: “I just wasn’t translating my skills the right way.” Despite his military experience with supply chain management, Rhima didn’t know the exact systems that civilian companies were using, and he didn’t know how to frame his skills in a way that would seem relevant to them.
Eventually, Rhima found his niche as a senior sales strategist for Indeed, where he works to connect military talent and employers — leveraging his own experience to help others. He says he’s far from the only veteran to have had trouble navigating the job search. Civilian employers don’t always have a lot of experience hiring veterans because there are simply not very many of them: Fewer than 1% of American adults are in active military service.1 That’s the disconnect Rhima and his colleagues are working to bridge. The challenge for veterans is to frame their skills in ways that civilian employers can comprehend — and the challenge for companies is to understand veterans better and learn how to attract more of them.
Helping companies hire veterans
Many companies, including Cushman & Wakefield, one of the world’s largest commercial real estate services organizations, recognize the benefits of hiring veterans. About 61% of US employers say they will prioritize hiring more military talent within the next five years,2 according to a poll by Indeed, which offers resources to the military community including job search boot camps, personalized career advice and resume reviews from Indeed’s military transition specialists.
And the skills that veterans have are definitely skills that companies are looking for. As an enlisted Marine and as an officer, Rhima developed “soft skills” like teamwork and communication, and he handled training, budgets and staff allocations. In Afghanistan, he learned how to organize logistics in one of the world’s most challenging environments, and he saw fellow Marines do the same. Service members, who have to be adaptable and learn new skills quickly in crisis situations, often have good critical thinking and problem-solving abilities that are widely applicable in the civilian world.
Many companies want to hire veterans, but some fall short in their approach. In one Indeed poll, 65% of job seekers with military experience said that they’ve dealt with employers who position themselves as veteran-friendly and then fail to meet expectations.3 Are companies creating veteran and military affinity groups to provide a comfort zone and build camaraderie? Are they participating in apprenticeship programs for veterans? Are they contributing to projects to help veterans and their families?
“Some companies put a lot of branding out there on their web page to say they’re ‘military-friendly,’” says Daniel Donlon, a senior talent strategy advisor at Indeed. But veterans talk among themselves and read employer reviews, and they can see through mere platitudes, Donlon says. “You need to show how you actually give back to the military community,” he says, “instead of just saying, ‘Yeah, we’re military-friendly.’”
Companies that want to hire veterans also need to make an effort to understand military experiences, Donlon says, because the burden of “translating” military skills to the civilian world shouldn’t fall entirely on veterans. Indeed works with companies to help them attract military talent, so recruiters understand Armed Forces terminology on resumes, put military-friendly terms in their job descriptions and proactively identify strong military candidates in databases instead of just waiting for them to apply.
Helping veterans find jobs
Nearly half of veterans surveyed by Indeed said they were eager to find work in the civilian world, to “find their next mission,” as Donlon puts it. The vast majority — 88% — said their most important goal when applying for a job is to find a position they enjoy.4
Rhima counsels veterans to pause before charging head-on into the job search. He tells them, “Before you do anything, before you start spinning your wheels, figure out what kind of life you want to live. Once you start down a career path, it can be difficult to readjust. And you’re already making a total change from a military to a civilian role.”
Job-hunting veterans should consider what their ideal job will look like — for example, whether it’s hands-on or administrative, on-site or virtual, Rhima says. Job seekers should pinpoint a few industries and roles they’re most interested in, he says. Then they should rewrite their resumes to fit that role and start networking. The Department of Defense and the Hiring Our Heroes program through the US Chamber of Commerce Foundation also offer workshops, apprenticeships and internships for veterans looking to move into the civilian world.
The Indeed for Military web page has resources to help military talent translate their experiences into corporate language; that means using words like “supervised” instead of “commanded” and “organization” instead of “battalion.” It also helps prompt the community to think of ways to reframe their skills. An infantryman in the Army may have learned how to quickly assess situations and make split-second decisions — ideal for a job in security or law enforcement. An information officer can talk about their experience operating specialized electronic devices and computers.
Veterans should remember, Rhima says, that many companies are eager to hire veterans because they are great workers. And veterans’ experiences often give them extra resiliency and flexibility, which is something they can play up in the job hunt.
“The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fidelis — always faithful,” Rhima says. “But Marines also often use Semper Gumby — always flexible. Because again, no matter the plan, no matter what you prepared for, there’s going to be some hurdle that you did not expect. And you have to be able to overcome that.”
2 Indeed survey with Qualtrics, n=255
3 Indeed survey with Qualtrics, n=264
4 Indeed survey with Qualtrics, n=264