After reaching the lowest veteran unemployment rate in nearly 20 years last year, the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically worsened those statistics and resulted in rates peaking nearly four times that low, according to the Department of Labor.
Although the numbers have begun to shift in the right direction over the past several months, a historically challenged job-seeking population finds itself back to the drawing board. According to the latest Wounded Warrior Project® (WWP) survey of the veterans it serves, over 40 percent have experienced employment challenges due to the pandemic.
Consequently, veterans are contemplating the necessary steps to find employment. Our team at WWP has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University to provide guidance.
Survey the landscape
Hiring Our Heroes president Eric Eversole recommends approaching this situation like a military exercise.
“When you’re facing a tough issue in the military, the first thing you have to do is take a step back and survey the landscape,” he said.
This reflection helps inform a necessary career change, relocation, or other adjustment.
For Michael Bianchi, IVMF senior director of education and career training, this step includes gaining awareness of the programs, credentialing, and education that offer opportunities to succeed.
Additionally, the importance of networking cannot be overstated. Contact former colleagues, relatives, and friends and leverage LinkedIn, other social media, and online job boards.
Consider more than one path
A silver lining of the pandemic is that geography is less of a barrier for companies offering remote work, especially in service- and tech-focused industries. This shift is providing opportunities that were not previously accessible.
Entrepreneurship is another option. According to IVMF’s National Survey of Military Affiliated Entrepreneurship, 25 percent of veterans want to start a business after service, and 6-7 percent do. Misty Stutsman Fox, IVMF director of entrepreneurship and small business, predicts more veterans will take this path.
“It’s this time when there’s not as much out there that veterans tend to succeed and pull together those resources to start companies,” she said.
Amid today’s climate, veterans may also need to consider a lower-level position than desired. In doing so, however, there is a guarantee that career advancement opportunities will be available.
Master the virtual interview
Upon landing a virtual interview, understanding how to use the requisite technology is critical. For example, ensure the computer audio functions properly and the video framing and background look professional.
Also, do not forget to dress for success. The employer has the same expectations as an in-person interview.
Warriors and family members are gaining employment, on average, more than 120 days after starting with WWP’s career counseling program. Pre-pandemic, this process took about 100 days. Due to financial uncertainty and business rhythm changes, it may take longer for companies to make decisions and propose near-term start dates.
If offered a position, consider scheduling status updates with the employer, at least weekly, before starting. If the start date is pushed back, understand you do not owe the employer anything. Keep your options open and continue your search.
This is a challenging time but opportunities still exist. Follow this guidance and the employment journey will be a smoother process.