Like many of those who lost jobs in the recession, some military veterans have been forced to take jobs that fall below their capabilities.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that some 409,000 veterans of all wars who want full-time employment are working part time. A survey of more than 900 veterans conducted in April by Monster.com, the jobs site, showed that just 29% felt they could find suitable work, down from 44% in November 2011.
To avoid that trap, experts say veterans and active service members need to start preparing themselves for life in the private sector as soon as possible.
Active service members "absolutely have to build up their skill sets during their time in the military to give them a head start before they leave," said Jeff Cathey, a senior vice president at Bank of America in charge of military affairs and the company's military bank overseas division. They should start making connections in the private world before leaving active duty, said Eric Weingartner, a managing director of the New York-based nonprofit group the Robin Hood Foundation, which raised $13 million for veterans last year.
"A 24-year-old sniper who hasn't done much in the way of leadership is going to have a tougher time transitioning into a corporate job after leaving active duty," said Cathey, a retired Navy captain. "That's why you also find some of these guys stocking shelves when they should be doing far more."
Veterans Should Tout Team-Building Skills”
Many of the veterans currently seeking better career opportunities don't have a "track record of professional or educational experience outside of the military," said John Tien, a managing director of global consumer operations and technology at Citigroup and a retired Army colonel. They need to tout military skills that translate to the private sector, he said.
"Veteran job seekers should highlight the soft skills that only the military can provide," said Tien. "They should tout their communication skills, their relationship and team-building skills and especially their leadership skills," he said.
"The single greatest factor affecting veteran unemployment and underemployment is skills translation," said Tom Aiello, a former Army captain who now works as a divisional vice president of marketing at Sears Holdings. "Veterans need to find ways to translate their military work experience into corporate terms to bridge that gap. Those in active duty should start preparing a solid resume written not in military terms, but in the terms of their desired career field."
Those unsure how to translate their military experience into non-military terms should consult with someone close outside of the armed forces, said Tien. "Every veteran needs a civilian friend in the professional world who they can trust to review their resume and listen to their story," he said. "Before you speak to a potential employer who never spent time in the military, have someone close to you help you translate that experience."
Cathey of Bank of America said veterans looking for better career opportunities should also target employers that are military friendly. He cited Bethesda, Md.-based aerospace, defense and information security firm Lockheed Martin and Memphis-based logistics services firm FedEx. "FedEx's CEO Fred Smith served in the Marine Corps," he said. "What's more indicative than that?"
Weingartner of Robin Hood said veterans looking for better career opportunities should apply for jobs at companies that rank below the Fortune 500 in addition to large corporations. "Don't forget about the small and mid-size companies you may have never heard of," he said. "Those are the employers that are going to be hiring the bulk of veterans getting jobs."
Correction: Monster.com surveyed more than 900 veterans in April. An earlier version misstated the numbers.
Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com