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Hire a vet? IT says yes

By Tracy Mayor
November 10, 2011 06:00 AM ET

As for his technical knowledge, he says, "I got it all while I was in the Air Force. I was raised in rural America. I didn't have access to the level of technology that I experienced in the Air Force." Like a lot of veterans he now coaches, Riggins initially wasn't aware of just how many of the tech skills he picked up in the military were applicable in business.

Corporate take: Microsoft

"Microsoft's role is to partner with organizations in the community to give local veterans an opportunity for skills training," says Andrea Taylor, director for North American community affairs at Microsoft. "This is a group of individuals that is highly trained, highly skilled and disciplined. They are eager to give back and be productive. [Microsoft] certification is an extra boost. They have a credential that says their military training is valued in the business world."

"Intermediate SQL-type querying -- something we did all the time -- I had no idea how valuable it was," Riggins recalls. "Access, Excel, high-level database work and presentations -- those are valuable to employers." He now conveys that message to the newly discharged soldiers he counsels. And beyond tech expertise, ex-military personnel have management and leadership skills and "a personal desire to improve the organization that they're working for."

That doesn't apply just to officers, Riggins is quick to point out: "Every military person is trained this way."

As for the future, Riggins says he would like to see programs like the White House's Joining Forces initiative promote the idea of providing veterans with business-approved certifications before they separate from the military. "Program management" on the military side equates directly with "project management" in the private sector, Riggins explains, so why not discharge a soldier with that coveted PMP certification already under his or her belt?

Translating military skills into business terms

Part of the White House's initiative to spur the private sector to hire 100,000 veterans by the end of 2013 is an array of services -- including Careers4Vets from AT&T, Elevate America's Veterans from Microsoft and US Military Pipeline from Futures Inc. -- that help veterans translate their military job codes and skills into terms that can be understood by corporate recruiters.

US Military Pipeline
US Military Pipeline helps veterans translate military roles into terms that can be understood by businesses.

The process works both ways, vets say. Rawlings, the former Army captain, admits that private-sector hiring managers probably wouldn't know without coaching that her FA 53 officer designation means she is an expert in network security.

By the same token, upon his discharge from the Navy, Jimmy Lamz was perplexed by corporate job titles that sound similar but actually vary widely in terms of responsibilities from company to company. "There is sales and inside sales and field sales," he observes. Then there's the kind of sales he's involved with at Siemens, which is more along the lines of technical field service support, he says.

Either way, says AT&T recruiter Rachel Book, the goal is to demystify the military résumé and the veteran's experience for recruiters and hiring managers. A "classic challenge is helping recruiters to get the candidate beyond a yes-sir/no-sir interview," she says. "We encourage behavioral interviewing to help draw them out, saying, 'Give me an example of time when you...'"

Norton, the Army reservist and longtime AT&T employee, recalls that he once attended a career fair where he spoke with a young veteran who described his experience as "served in the Navy, worked on Seahawk, honorably discharged, now in college." Only after Norton pressed him did the sailor share the kind of details that a hiring manager would find attractive: He had supervised a staff of 10 mechanics responsible for five helicopters that cost $20 million each, and he was then working toward a degree in applied mathematics at a well-respected college.

"There's a big difference there," Norton says. "You accrue some amazing attributes through your military service; you just can't always put a name on them."

Mayor is a Computerworld features editor.

Read more about IT Careers in Computerworld's IT Careers Topic Center.

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