Top 5 tips for returning veterans looking to work in tech


This post is sponsored by Chase — a strong supporter of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a program that helps find jobs for veterans of the US armed forces. Learn more here.

Returning veterans are entering local job markets in droves. But getting hired can be a grueling process for former military personnel once they’re home — especially given the sluggish state of the economy. In many parts of the country, high unemployment rates make it nearly impossible to land a job with military experience, and the government provides little support.

Silicon Valley, however, is a rare oasis when it comes to employment. With thousands of young people employed by Google, Oracle, Apple, Facebook and more, stories of chronic unemployment in tech circles are hard to come by — or certainly not as visible in the media and local zeitgeist. That said, this doesn’t necessarily hold true for vets.

Across the board, the unemployment rate among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is staggering — nearly quadrupling over the last five years to nearly 15 percent, compared to the national average of 8 percent.

The organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) attributes this stat to several factors. For one, prospective employers tend to be wary of hiring veterans, concerned that their skill sets may not be a good fit, that they may come with emotional complications, or that they they may be re-deployed and need to leave. On top of that, veterans have a particularly hard time finding well-paid employment, with an average wage gap of $10,000 that follows them throughout most of their careers.

But Silicon Valley and the tech industry offer unique opportunities to break from these trends. And many organizations have either sprung up or added programs to help veterans with complementary skill sets find solid, well-paying jobs in tech to jumpstart their non-military careers.

Below are five tips for returning to vets to take advantage of resources and find a good job.

1. Know your orgs
So often we hear about how the government is failing to take care of vets once they return home. And there’s a lot of truth to these stories. But a lot less is written and generally known about the many support organizations that have started up and grown to help soldiers transition back to civilian life. You may have heard of Swords to Plowshares, for instance, but there’s also American Legion, and IAVA. These nexus organizations co-host events and promote programs through a host of smaller veteran support groups offering employment resources.

These groups go the extra mile for many vets, working to connect them with potential employers, job fairs and resources like resume workshops and career development trainings. These orgs tend to be well connected in local communities and have a good track record of encouraging local businesses to hire vets, and making sure vets find jobs that fit their skillsets and allow them to thrive. For vets returning to communities where they have few connections, these organizations provide a critical source of networking. There is even a new organization called VetsinTech, appealing to this particular interest group, which is hosting its official launch and networking event on July 31 in San Francisco.

2. Find companies looking for vets
To do their part, many companies — including hundreds of big brand names — have made an explicit point of hiring veterans. Electric car maker Tesla Motors, for example, was very vocal last year about hiring dozens of veterans to staff up its new automotive plant in Fremont, CA. It focused on recruiting veterans with mechanical engineering and automotive skills that they had applied while in the military. There was a lot of overlap in expertise, and the hiring initiative was a success — from a brand image perspective too.

There’s no brighter example of this than the 100,000 Jobs Mission, a joint effort between AT&T, Cisco, Verizon, EMC and seven other major corporations to hire 100,000 veterans and military personnel that end active duty by 2021. Led by JPMorgan Chase, the pledge is focused on hiring veterans with technical skills that they honed in the service.

First Lady Michelle Obama also challenged tech companies to hire 100,000 veterans and spouses by 2014. Companies heeding her call include Google, Microsoft, Bechtel and more. It helps that the government is providing employer tax credits of up to $5,600 for each returning veteran hired.

Veterans have a lot to offer tech companies, including refined practical skills, advanced teamwork experience, organization, and clear thinking in high-pressured situations. By singling out and applying to companies that have an appreciation for these attributes, veterans can enhance their chances of getting hired.

3. Re-brand your experience
Veterans looking for work may have more relevant tech experience than they might think. Given this, finding a well-paying job with mobility can be a matter of properly branding oneself. According to PayScale, many vets are well versed in computer security, security risk management, electronic troubleshooting, networking and program management. But because these skills may not be relevant to their core responsibilities, veterans may not leverage them on their resumes and in interviews to the extent they should.

Program managers at tech companies commonly make $91,000 a year, according to PayScale. IT managers can make up to $74,000 a year, while system analysts can take home $70,000. These are some of the top jobs filled by veterans, along with technical writing, network administration and field service engineering. Veterans can diversify the roles they apply for and strengthen their applications by examining their experiences in the service and making strong arguments for how they are relevant to in-demand positions. It’s all about personal branding — something Silicon Valley veterans know all too well.

4. Tap into old networks
Vets returning home to Silicon Valley can tap into old networks, including family and high school friends. Because tech is the overwhelming industry in this part of the world, chances are that you know someone who knows someone who works at a major tech company who may be able to put a word in our alert you to job openings.

The best way to do this is on networking sites like LinkedIn. While it may not have the prestige of Facebook or the connectivity of Twitter, LinkedIn is a great way to non-intrusively connect with old contacts after several years — and to determine who they know and where they work. It’s important not to underestimate others’ willingness to help. LinkedIn provides a forum for people to reach out to those they’ve met only a few times or in passing to ask for help. More often than not, people are happy to give others a hand, particularly a returning veteran.

LinkedIn even has a special landing page for veterans to learn more tips for finding satisfying employment and get started on a strategic job search.

5. Be entrepreneurial
For veterans who don’t want to return to school or immediately jump into a civilian job at another company, there’s another route: starting your own business. And there are resources out there to help give them a boost.

Earlier this year, for example, an organization called TechCentralSF held a Startup Veterans Weekend, a hackathon brainstorm event just for returning veterans. Sponsors included Adobe, Salesforce, AARP and Charles Schwab, with featured speakers like Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Esurance founder Chuck Wallace. More than 40 Bay Area veterans attended and swapped dozens of startup ideas.

According to the founders of Startup Veterans Weekend, many veterans have skills that natural translate into entrepreneurialism, including organization, discipline, the ability to work in stressful environments, and difficult decision making. With this context, it’s not surprising that veterans represent 14.5 percent of small business owners in the U.S.

Veterans looking to go into business for themselves can find resources and support through both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Small Business Administration, which provides financial or technical assistance to nearly 200,000 servicemembers a year. The SBA and VA have also teamed up with the International Franchise Association to launch the Veterans Transition Franchise Initiative, offering 30 percent off on franchising fees for veterans.

[image via The Military Wallet]