Veterans on the staff of BAE Systems. (Tom Brown / Staff)
When you go to work every day for the U.S. military, it's not just about a paycheck — it's about serving a cause greater than yourself. That should still be true when you go to work every day in your post-service civilian career, said veterans employed by some of the top companies in the 2013 edition of our Best for Vets: Employers survey.
“The transition for me, to be quite honest, was scary,” said Geoffrey Grant, a former Army captain. “I didn't know how I would fit” in the private sector.
Having such a higher purpose was particularly important to Grant. Eventually, he was hired by USAA, a company focused on providing insurance and financial services to current and former service members and their families.
“At USAA, they make it pretty easy, because the mission is basically what I was already doing: taking care of soldiers, doing the right thing,” Grant said.
Grant's company took the top spot in this year's rankings, with JPMorgan Chase & Co., ManTech International Corp., Concurrent Technologies Corp. and Union Pacific Railroad rounding out the top five.
On average, veterans make up more than 14 percent of the workforces of companies that responded to our survey — a large figure, considering service members make up less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Similarly, employers told us that veterans make up about 14 percent of their executive ranks, on average.
Those gaudy figures are the result of a clear effort by the companies to seek out veterans.
Some 97 percent of responding companies reported going to military-specific job fairs, and about two-thirds of those went to more than 10 last year.
Nine out of 10 have posted their openings on military-specific job boards, and four out of five have developed relationships with the military's transition assistance program.
New media also are a big part of the effort, with about three-quarters of companies having set up a website dedicated to veteran employment. In addition, several companies said they use social media to get in touch with veterans.
Most responding companies said they train their recruiters to understand military career paths, culture and other issues. But fewer companies extend that training to other parts of the organization.
A majority indicated that they have orientation or mentorship programs sometimes tailored to service members.
Nearly two-thirds have developed an employee group for people with military backgrounds. And about one in 10 will actually credit your military service in their retirement programs.
Perhaps most importantly: Every single employer ranked on this list told us they are hiring right now.
For a company such as USAA, recruiting service members as employees has obvious advantages, said John DiPiero, senior recruiting manager.
“When the core of your business is the military community, it only makes sense to have the military run the business. They speak the language. They've been there. They've done it,” he said.
Interest in employees with military backgrounds is far from limited to companies focused on military customers.
Maureen Casey, managing director of military and veterans affairs for JPMorgan Chase, said regardless of whether Uncle Sam taught a veteran the particular tasks a company will need performed day-to-day, serving in the military likely gave that person the right outlook and approach.
“We can teach someone the technical skills, but it is much harder to teach leadership, mission focus, flexibility, independent decision-making,” Casey said, adding that with veterans, such skills “come second-nature.”
For some veterans, the challenge of transitioning from military to civilian life is compounded by having to simultaneously undergo a midlife career change.
Dave Palmer spent more than two decades serving in the Army before retiring and eventually finding his way to technological services company ManTech.
“You've been in the same career path … for 22 years, and all of a sudden you're making a change,” Palmer said. “You're starting over again.”
He started at ManTech in a position that wasn't exactly what he was looking for long-term. But he was able to work his way up and is now director of strategic business initiatives, helping the company pursue government contracts.
Such flexibility is key. Palmer also recommended that vets “cast a wide net” when looking for jobs, be bold about reaching out personally to company leaders and use old military contacts who have moved to the private sector.
“Have no fear when you're pursuing your next occupation,” Palmer said.
Jana Stanley, a longtime and current reservist injured during her service, said she needed a company that could understand and accommodate both the demands of reservist life, as well as issues stemming from her injury, which she declined to discuss in detail. She found that at JPMorgan Chase.
Stanley said that it's important for companies to be patient and understand “that we don't fit into the cookie cutter of the corporate environment.”
JPMorgan Chase has one of the most generous reservist policies of any company we surveyed, offering those who are activated their full civilian pay, in addition to their military pay, for an unlimited period.
Stanley hasn't been activated since starting at the company a little over a year ago. But in light of that policy, “I know that beyond a shadow of a doubt, I would not be worried about leaving” for active duty, she said.
Like others who spoke with Military Times, Stanley said service members should be careful not to sell military experience short and think about ways to apply the work they did in uniform to the private-sector position they're looking for.
Even if your military skills have nothing to do with your desired position, you still can be a valuable asset.
USAA's Grant was an armor officer for the Army. He now helps USAA find vet-owned businesses to use as suppliers.
“Nobody at USAA is driving a tank or anything,” Grant said.
But “the leadership skills transfer over.”
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