Dear President Obama –

I posted a link to Executive Order #13518 “Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government” as a discussion item in about two dozen different veteran groups on LinkedIn.  I was curious to see what kind of response news of this order and its “Veterans Employment Initiative” would generate.  Reaction fell into one of three categories:

  1. Roughly 10% of the respondents were very excited to hear this news.  I’ll call this group “The Inexperienced Innocents.”  This group was comprised primarily of service members who will be transitioning from the military in the next few months and looking for employment.  They have not yet tried to navigate the federal job world, but they trust that, somehow, this order will make the federal job hunt experience one that is simple, expedient, full of feedback, and generally not frustrating.
  2. Almost 80% of respondents fell into the category of “The Scorned Skeptics”.  These veterans have “been there – done that – couldn’t even get a d*mn t-shirt because I never heard back from anyone regarding any job I ever applied for on USAjobs.”  Phrases like “lip service”, “smoke and mirrors” and “just trying to look like they support veterans” were common.  The tales these veterans told of frustrated job searches were soul crushing.  Somewhat surprising was the number of former service members with easily transferrable experience (i.e., healthcare, transportation, and logistics) who were unable to find a job within the government.
  3. The final 10% I’ll call “The Reservedly Optimistic”.  That is the category into which I fall.  The folks in this category tended to be those who currently work or have experience with corporate recruiting practices.  We know the current system does not work well for veterans (or, arguably, anyone who doesn’t already have a federal job).  However, we also know that systems can be improved.

I know personally of the frustrations veterans experience with breaking into the federal job scene.  Back in 2005 my husband spent almost 9 months applying for government positions before he gave up.  If someone with solid technical/IT/telecommunications skills (both military and civilian), a current top secret clearance, and Washington DC area residence couldn’t find work anywhere in the federal government, what hope should anyone else have?

So, President Obama, the burning question all respondents want to ask is “What will be done differently this time?”

As evidenced by my depressing statistic of 80% Scorned Skeptics, simply coming up with a slick marketing campaign that tells the veteran community “the government wants to hire you!” is not going to persuade us that this is more than lip service.  Change does not come easily to those who are entrenched in a comfort zone. You will have to convince, nay, motivate, the Department of Labor, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Office of Personnel Management, and all 24+ members of the Council on Veterans Employment to think “outside the box”.  They must be willing to look for and try best practices from corporate recruiting and retention initiatives, in particular those veteran hiring initiatives that civilian companies have undertaken that have had much success.  If the companies listed on G.I. Jobs “Top 100 Military Friendly Employers” and CivilianJobs.com’s Most Valuable Employers (MVE) for Military can figure out how be successful at hiring military veterans, I think the federal government can be open to learning something from them.

As I have spent the last two years educating civilian employers, federal hiring managers, and college/university human resource professionals on how to develop and implement a military hiring initiative, I feel uniquely qualified to offer you some of my personal suggestions:

  • Allow federal HR professionals to more aggressively search for the right candidates.  This is opposed to passively posting a job opening on USAjobs, waiting for 400 applications to come in, and then sifting through them to find the one diamond in a pile of coal.  Civilian recruiters actively seek out (though the use of social networking sites, Internet Boolean searches and data mining multiple resume databases) potential ideal candidates for their openings and “push” jobs to them rather than using the “pull” method described above.
  • Allow those companies with extensive experience in placing military veterans with civilian employers to assist you in this effort while you train your current HR practitioners/recruiters how to do that kind of work.  Corporations know that when they don’t have a particular knowledge area or ability it often makes good business sense to bring in outside experts (short or long term) in order to ramp up quickly and get the hiring machine moving.
  • Motivate federal recruiters and hiring managers to utilize the hiring tools they already have. The government has veteran hiring preferences, several special approval authorities just for veterans and special schedules that allow a tremendous amount of flexibility when traditional competitive hiring procedures are not feasible or practical.  Hiring managers can choose to use any or all of these to simplify and bypass the standard route to employment.  The number of veterans hired under these approving authorities is quite low.   Is that condition because hiring managers don’t know they have these tools, don’t know when to apply them, don’t know how to apply them, or is it because they choose, for whatever reason, not to use them?   Human beings are motivated by two things: fear and reward.  Civilian companies figured out a long time ago that incentivizing their employees to do things increases compliance and productivity.
  • Add creative training experiences, such as internships and on-the-job training programs, designed just for veterans as vehicles to bring them into the federal government.  Civilian employers have been using these kinds of programs for decades, with the shift in emphasis now going to “experienced” applicants vs. the more traditional college students.
  • Invest in creating better career websites for the agencies.  Include things like “chat with a recruiter”, informational web seminars on “working at Agency X”, videos on a “day in the life at Department Y”.  How about a skills cross walk – “if you did this in the military, you may want to consider these careers in Agency Z”.
  • Come up with a comprehensive campaign to market federal jobs to the military. Outreach takes on many forms.  Take a look at your own military service recruiting sites (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps) for great examples on how to go “above and beyond” the norm to recruit.  And, really work with the Veteran Service Organizations to get the word out and to develop a pipeline of referrals.  The VSO’s will either be your strongest allies or your worst detractors, depending on how you approach and integrate them into the initiative.  And, don’t forget to include the professional military associations such as the Military Officers Association of America and the National Guard Association of the United States.
  • Change the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) policy that places a time limit on how long a veteran can use the services of transition centers.  Currently, active duty service members (or reserve component members who are on active duty) have 180 days after separation to use the services of a transition center.  Given that it takes 6-12 months on average for veterans to find jobs, why is the service window so short?  Take a lesson learned from colleges and universities – generally their alumni can use their career service centers indefinitely after graduation.  And, why don’t we have career services support for reserve component members who have not recently served on active duty?  Lack of close access to a transition center can easily be mitigated.  Many civilian career counselors/coaches offer their services virtually (i.e., via web seminar, over the phone, via computer/chat/IM, etc.) so, inability to council Guard and Reserve members face-to-face should not be an excuse. 
  • Provide more robust services in the area of military resume writing, especially federal resume writing.  Feedback I’ve received directly from transitioning military members is that they are not getting the guidance they need and the follow up they want so desperately from the transition centers.  And the “military friendly” recruiters I’ve spoken with say that the quality of the resumes is still very poor.  That those recruiters are still able to successfully find and hire great military candidates is due in large part to the effort they have made to educate themselves on the military and how to translate an un-translated resume.
  • Implement sponsorship and integration programs to help the service member adapt to and thrive in a civilian workplace.  Creating a federal “veteran networking group” (affinity group, affiliation group) would be a great start.  The precedent has already been set with Young Government Leaders.
  • Start tracking the retention statistics on the number of veterans hired.   Include that data on the annual “Employment of Veterans in the Federal Executive Branch” report.  Is anyone else besides me curious about the retention percentage of veterans hired under those above mentioned special authorities after the initial authorization period expires (generally 1-2 years)?

To those leaders from DOL, VA, and OPM charged with implementing the Executive Order – I have more ideas if you are interested in hearing them.  I’ll be attending The Advisory Committee on Veterans’ Employment, Training and Employer Outreach (ACVETEO) Open Meeting on December 2nd.  Let’s chat.


16 Responses to “An Open Letter to President Obama regarding “Employment of Veterans in the Federal Government””

  1. Roger L. Ward

    Dear Lisa:

    I can add another suggestion that is related to a couple of the ones you already listed.
    In many of the USAJobs listing I found many that I felt I was well qualified; however MOST of these jobs were listed for “STATUS CANDIDATES” which meant that to get these jobs you had to already be “IN THE [Civil Service] SYSTEM.” If veterans like me (35 years in the US Army Reserves and retiring as a Brigadier General), could get treated as “Status Candidates” as a result of our service, thousands of veterans could find employment.
    I would also like to see the employment process for veterans streamlined.
    I would like to hear your thoughts on these suggestions.

    Sincerely,
    Roger L. Ward
    BG (Ret), USAR

    PS As a result of a chance phone call from a former member of my last Reserve unit, I have found employment with the Human Terrain Systems program as a TERM Government employee.

  2. John Michel

    I recently read a forum in AKO about continuum of service within the Federal government. Personally I would like to see the Federal government remove military personnel as second class citizens in the Federal government system and allow those with the qualifications to move from military to civilian employment berths without an interruption in employment.

    In the case of service members exiting military service, ACAP starts 6mos prior to exit of service. The initial resume process should start 1 year out, with the enrollment of the service member in to a system that only shows priority job listings and an ability to set a valid start date upon receipt of a job offer.

    Even with all of this though, there has to be a fundamental shift in the hiring practice itself. I am in the same boat as your husband. I have gotten past the “not among best qualified” to “resume submitted to hiring official”, but that means nothing also. Unless you get an email specifying an interview appointment, you can kiss the job posting good bye.

    I have a friend who is a 10-point veteran trying to get in to Intern positions. They are required to interview him, so they bring him in and simply tell him he isn’t qualified for the job and dismiss him. He has vast knowledge of military and commercial telecommunications and commercial electricity, but can’t get an Intern job in the Federal government.

  3. Antonio Rivera

    Great article and to the point! I agree with no.2! What a total waste of time it is to apply for jobs in any government web-site. I have applied for hundreds of positions (really!) and have received 2 responses. On both occasions I was told (indirectly) that I was just too qualified! Does that make any sense? They are looking for QUALIFED individuals at any level. Experience, maturity, good work ethics, responsible, dependable, what more could an employer want? Who has the advantage? Those already in the system, in their comfort zone, who get promoted to continue business as usual. What a disappointment.

  4. Mo O'Neil

    Well, this article is rather depressing as I am a Vietnam-era female veteran. That means I am older and trying to get an IT position is tough in the private sector so my goal was applying for a federal job. My thinking was that the government would not discriminate based on age especially or gender.

    Oh and by the way, USA Jobs I think is mainly a marketing tool as I doubt most of those jobs exist.

  5. Jon Vance

    Superb article, I feel you are spot on in your recommendations. I definetly fall into the “scorned skeptic” category as I have been retired from the Air Force and applying for a federal job for over 2 years. I am a disabled, combat vet who can’t even get a call back or interview. I still have applications where the computer status shows I have been referred since March of this year!

    I am also an HR professional in the civilian world and know full well if I were to conduct my recruiting processes in that manner I would be fired!

    Thanks again, I only hope someone is listening.

    Jon Vance, MSgt, USAF (Ret)

  6. Ronald Olszewski

    I am a 27 year veteran of the armed forces with a 30% disability. I have 18 years experience in electronics and eight years experience as a senior enlisted adviser (First Sergeant. I hold two associate degrees, a Bachelor of Science in HR Mgmt and a Masters of Science in Aviation Mgmt. I have tried continually to break the code to find a position in the federal government throughout the continental US and abroad. I was under the impression that if I, as a disabled veteran am supposed to receive consideration by government agencies for positions or should be notified by those agencies if I wasn’t selected? Of the numerous positions I have applied for via USAJobs only one agency (DCMA) ever contacted me with said information. While the government job board is open to the public, the sad reality is that it is still who you know in many cases that will get you the position. I believe that liaisons need to be in place at the local, state and federal levels to oversee and represent veterans who are applying for these positions. It’s a travesty that those who have secured our countries freedom have such difficulties continuing to do so after hanging up the uniform.

  7. CPT Eric Rogers

    I read your blog and your ideas are good. Lets face it, the Federal gov’t is no different than other large organizations. If you want to walk into middle management or higher, it comes down to who you know and who knows you. Even the military doesn’t normally recruit someone as an E7 or an O5. We have to work our way up over time. My wife and I figured it out quickly and she decided to take a low GS level just to get her foot in the door. It was a significant pay cut and she’s quite over qualified, but she was hired in 3 months. I’m a CPT with a master’s degree, deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, board member experience, township advisory experience and non-profit executive experience. I couldn’t even get a mil-tech job when I applied for 20 federal vacancies in DA. Now I’m a bit more savvy and realize you have to get those good jobs with an inside connection. If for some reason, I’m unable to network myself into a mid-level GS position, I’m mentally prepared to take an entry level GS job and claw my way up. I was an E4 many years ago, and worked my way up to O3E. If I must, I’ll do it again on the Federal civilian side.

  8. Bill

    Very interesting open letter with some very good observations and recommendations.

    As a recently transitioned veteran, I struggled with the resume conversion. I t made me feel as though my military service was substandard and unappreciated. I began to feel like a minority in the “Jim Crow” South trying to “pass” and hoping not to get caught (though never changing or exaggerating my accomplishments just trying to use civilian descriptors). It was the first time as a veteran I really felt like a second class citizen. Why when I am defending my country and its government should I have to convert a title like “Company Commander” to “Team Manager” using a description like “managed and coordinated a group of 250 employees…” when I want to say “Lead a Company of over 250 hard charging Marines through 6 months of combat operations in Al Anbar Province…” The frustration and humiliation is all that much greater when the conversion is done to seek a job in the same government who employed me for over 16 years to defend it. In a new age of cultural sensitivity and awareness, where is the awareness and sensitivity for the “military culture”?

    Instead of all those damn yellow ribbon magnets on civilian cars and all the empty and uncomfortable “thank you for your service” comments, how about taking a few minutes to actually show your appreciation by learning something about military culture and careers. My experience has made me a firm believer in the FUBU (For Us By Us) concept among veterans; in veterans hiring and/or looking out for other veterans as the only guarantee of success in today’s job market for veterans.

  9. Jeff Brehm

    Ms. Rosser,

    I had a long and witty response extolling this blog entry … and everyone’s responses (so far) to it over on LinkedIn.com … but LI errored out when I tried to enter the comment. I am a 20-year IT-professional/veteran that moved away from the South Texas Military Intelligence community to be with my family (many in ill health) near the USSTRATCOM/Offutt AFB community in Nebraska (near Omaha) … I retired in early 2008 and have been down the long trail of dissapointment via USAJobs, Monster, CareerLink, and many other sites as well as local placement agencies … all trying to get me into a position where I could continue doing the type of high-quality work I was doing at the Texas Cryptologic Center. It *does* still seem to be WHO you know, not WHAT you know … at least in this area! Long story short, the Transition Assistance Program I was part of in early 2008 has FAILED me and my family, mostly due to poor advice on my resume; A Navy officer that previously worked at USSTRATCOM told me that the “NSA-approved” resume that I left Texas with had been “dumbed down” so much that I was coming across as nothing more than a mid-level NCO in charge of “office administration,” and not the IT Project Manager/Program Manager my military colleagues knew/know me as!

    Your efforts have given me hope … Keep up the good work! (I hope that Mr. Collins … and ultimately, the President … take heed of the need for ACTUALLY hiring veterans … before it is too late for some of us!
    [… THAT would be an “unprecedented” act for THIS group of government officials!] Until I get solid, steady work my family’s future is definitely “ON HOLD.”) … As more and more of us *do* get our “foot in the door” it *may* get back to ‘the way it was’ immediately after WWII, when so many that had previously served in the military went on to places of power –in BOTH government & business– … Any future business/endeavor *I* am a part of WILL (WILL, WILL, WILL!!!) require that my HR personnel get trained to hire veterans!
    … until then, I remain firmly in the camp of:

    “The Skorned Sceptics”

    -Jeff Brehm … some knew me as “Dolph”
    … FUNemployed & HATING IT (yes, that’s spelled with an “F!”)

  10. Scott

    Nice letter. It’s very hard to get a Government job. I know private companies opt with a temporary contractor possition and then if the money is there and they like the work they bring the them on as a full time employee. I wounder if that’s possible with the federal government as well.

  11. Gary James

    The current Federal HR process is flawed. They use the same process as used back in the 60s.

    Key changes required:

    1. VETs need to be at the top of the pile. They are not today.
    2. Professional Resumes that cost $100s of $$s hit all of the key search points so many VETS are never considered.
    3. Hiring Symposiums need to be held in key states and only VETs can attend.
    4. The HR system is a good ole boy network and not based on qualifications.

  12. Joel Urban

    This letter is spot-on!! I have lived this same struggle for the past 19 months… only one call-back and interview out of hundreds of resume submissions (and that was from the agency I was stationed at when I left active duty… because they knew me). At TAP, I was informed that I was worth $90,000 in total compensation to the Federal government while on active duty. I understood that I couldn’t expect to start right away at that kind of salary, but surely I could expect to find a job/career within the government that I had served faithfully for over 13 years (combined active and reserve).

    Alas, that expectation is a pipedream. My only desire thoughout my Navy career was to transition into civilian government service whenever I decided to leave active duty. I wanted to continue to serve my country until the day I retire. Now, I just feel scorned, like some rejected lover, instead of a stalwart citizen of the greatest nation on Earth.

    How can the government justify giving me the equivalent training of a BS in EE as an enlisted sailor and entrusting me with the safety of a nuclear submarine, then pay for a BS in Astronomy & Astrophysics at a top-notch institution, stick me in a scientific field as an officer, place me in a role where my responsibilities are international liaison and lead customer service rep with operational commands and scientific agencies… only to turn around and tell me I’m not qualified to work in an office building in DC as an “information receptionist”?! The only difference between me now and then, is that I am no longer wearing the khaki uniform to work every day. Same skill sets, same personality (albeit more jaded now, I’ll grant you that), same desire, and possibly even more motivation than before. I challenge President Obama and any hiring official to tell all the the vets out there who are disenfranchised, how it is we suddenly become worthless to the government the second we remove our service uniform. And then, tell us how we can expect anything but the same treatment from the private sector… because if the federal government isn’t willing to hire us, what kind of message does that send to the business owner who knows nothing about the military and its people?

    The suggestion about creating a pipeline to transition desiring service members directly into government jobs is an excellent one, and an idea that I’ve had in the back of my own mind for about 10 years. We all realize that we can’t jump directly into civilian-equivalent positions of leadership straight from the service without learning the ropes at a lower level. We’re just asking for the opportunity to work our way up the ladder like we did in the military, and a chance to demonstrate why vets are a cut-above the rest of the applicant pool! Besides, in this day-and-age of trying to do more with less, doesn’t it just make good business sense to continue to earn interest on the investment that the government made [by training us in the military] through retaining us for a second career? Call it, “Professional Recycling”, since green words are the buzzwords these days.

    Best of luck to all my fellow vets looking for a second chance to serve our country.

    – A Very Scorned Patriot

  13. Michael Stiller

    I was lucky enough to get a position with a semiconductor company right out of leaving the Navy at ten years of service. Unfortunately, they suffered what most every other semiconductor company suffered during the 2008/2009 period, and I was laid off. I tried USAJobs for a while, applying to positions I felt I had the qualifications for. Like all the rest of us here who have blindly applied to that site, the most I ever got back was an email lacking any personal qualities that stated I was not qualified enough (this was from the United States Geographical Survey).

    After being referred to LinkedIn, I quickly realized it’s not how qualified you are, it’s who you know. With that said, I think that if we want to change how policy is being implemented in our government, we should do everything in our power to change it. Those of us that can afford to run for government offices SHOULD. Kick out the established idiots running our government. I find that most of them are disconnected with how our society functions.

    For those of us who don’t have the bankroll to run for offices, I say be like Lisa Rosser. If we gripe enough to the government, eventually they will here us. You all remember how griping works, we’re all vets here.

    I did serve in the Navy submarine service with pride, but after leaving in 2006 and seeing the trends our government is on, my support of this country is fading.

    – A scorned submariner

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