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Perceptions of Veterans in the Workplace And How We Can Change Them

Be honest: Do some of your coworkers’ previous work (and sometimes personal) experiences impact the way you perceive them? How about if one of your coworkers is a veteran?

A recent survey from Monster.com reported that employers and veterans often have very different perceptions of veterans’ skills and ability to work in the civilian world. In my experience—previously as a soldier, and now as a veteran and a business professional who works with both veterans and civilians on a daily basis—I agree with the results of this survey to some extent.

Perceptions and reality

I agree that veterans, sometimes, have a hard time representing their skills in the best way possible. I don’t think this is because veterans are incapable, though. I believe it stems from the fact that there are so many diverse jobs in the military that veterans might not know how to translate their particular field job to a civilian position. Think about it: the skills demanded in daily military and civilian lives are completely different.

To combat this, veterans should take advantage of the countless free résumé and career-building resources that exist within, and outside of, the military. Additionally, veterans should use their G.I. Bill benefits to educate themselves and continue to grow as people, both personally and professionally.

Overcoming the culture shock

Although it’s undeniable that veterans possess a set of skills and experiences that civilians will never have, vets sometimes fall victim to bad preconceived notions. This is especially prevalent in potential employers who think that former military personnel have a hard time adjusting from military to civilian and professional life. It’s true that there is a huge transition from military to civilian life; structures, cultures, expectations, and philosophies are all very different. This doesn’t, however, mean that veterans can’t apply their military experiences to a business setting. It just means that it will take a little time for them to figure it out, which is something that can be said for anyone—veteran or not!—who starts a new job or tries his hand at a new and different industry.

On the same note, employers should know who they are hiring and respect the needs and strengths of that employee. Generally, military men and women are self-motivated, so by easing them into their job roles and laying out specific expectations, it will likely be a smooth transition for veterans, employers, and other employees alike.

Sometimes, negative perceptions of veterans in the workplace stem not from the veterans’ job performance, but from the generalized notion that all veterans suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In my opinion, this can be the most damaging perception of veterans because, in reality, very few vets suffer from PTSD. But thanks to the media’s attention surrounding PTSD, all veterans have to deal with this preconceived notion that, in most cases, doesn’t apply to them at all.

Changing the perception

In May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that 263,000 veterans were currently unemployed, and it’s safe to assume that this figure is partially due to the negative perception of veterans in the workplace. With so many servicemen and women returning from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s imperative that veterans fully integrate into the workforce.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much that veterans can do to change the existing perceptions except to be the best employees they can be – and represent their skills as clearly, and confidently, as possible. In my opinion, the real attitude change must start with the media. Once the media picks up on veterans doing positive things in the workplace and community, chances are high that the rest of the country will catch on, too.

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