Communication: Engaging the Veteran

Posted on
May 27, 2021
@dubfred via Twenty20


  1. Provide staff with trainings on military and veteran culture. Your clients have been steeped in a different culture with customs and a language all its own. For example, you are there to help them get a job. Well, in the military, jobs are not called “jobs”—they are called military occupational specialties. Knowing some basics of military training and culture, terminology, transferable skillsets, and military occupational specialties goes a long way.
  1. Make sure your intake questions gather all the information needed effectively and make sure the veteran does not have to re-answer the same questions at different stages of services.  
  1. Be open and honest if you are not familiar with all military jobs, training, and acronyms. If veterans use jargon, ask them to explain. Repeat and rephrase the clients’ statements back to them to ensure you are on the same page regarding what they need.
  1. Engage in active listening. This is always important in providing services, and especially important when the client may have service-related issues, difficulty transitioning, and life stressors.
  1. Set up clear expectations and tasks for the veteran client and their case manager. Your veteran client may be anxious or concerned about their unemployment status. Explain why you need specific information and what you will do with it.  
  1. Make sure they have the skills needed to excel at the job. Identify any obstacles to success. Discuss and assess whether this position meets or contributes to the veterans’ long-term goals.  
  1. Avoid “social services” and “program” language. For example, consider asking:

    • “What is your living situation?” rather than “Do you have stable housing?” or  
    • “Can you pass a drug test for a job?” rather than “Are you clean and sober?”
  1. Be ready with community referrals. Clients seeking employment may very well need other supports concerning housing, debt, and access to VA benefits and health services. These services are an invisible bonus for potential employers, ensuring the candidate has the supports needed to thrive in the workplace.  
  1. If a veteran is not employment ready, or not ready for a specific job, then change course—get them stabilized or trained up. Often this means securing financial support for the veteran while they are stabilizing or training so they have less worry about debt and bills.  
  1. Take care to prepare veterans—and employers—for interviews. Both you and prospective employers should know that veterans, especially recently separated veterans, have little to no experience preparing resumes or being interviewed. Even though a veteran may have had multiple jobs and promotions throughout their military career, that professional growth did not include interviewing for jobs. Make sure employers are aware that this normally awkward interaction is even more awkward for veterans.


Skills developed within the military, although valued, can be challenging to communicate to employers. The military uses specific words and language to communicate internally that do not easily translate to the civilian world. There are plenty of military-specific words that are not easy to explain in resumes, cover letters, and conversations. There must be a degree of skill translation in order to assist veterans seeking employment more effectively.

One way of translating skillsets is the STAR Method:

  • Situation: Context you were in, operation, challenge, or opportunity  
  • Task: The objective or project they were given
  • Action: Approach used to complete tasks
  • Results: What happened as a result of actions

An example of using the STAR Method:

Skill: Training  

Situation: My unit needed to train newly assigned soldiers to drive  
Task: I was tasked to train new drivers
Action: Conducted training  
Result: 100 percent of newly assigned soldiers were trained up to new driver standards

STAR Statement: My unit had new soldiers recently assigned; I had to make sure they were up-to-date on driver training. I trained newly assigned drivers for one week and had a 100 percent pass rate on their certified instructor proficiency test.

STAR Statement converted to bullet point: 100 percent success rate in educating and certifying new soldiers on driver proficiency test.  

Here are other examples:

  • Motor pool: Scheduled maintenance for thirty vehicles, consistently provided timely service needs, and ensured vehicle operations, preventing any reduction in mission effectiveness due to vehicle-related issues.
  • Medical: Reduced emergency response time by five minutes by on-call staff, improved the chances of live-saving intervention. Maintained inventory consistently, always ensured staff had necessary supplies.  


It is not enough to translate skillsets; translating rank and military occupational specialty is essential as well. In the military, many ranks are leadership positions, and some teach leadership skills even informally. It is essential to highlight roles that are comparable to supervisors, managers, or directors.  

There may be assumptions of what an officer, non-commissioned officer, and lower-enlisted do—but these assumptions are not always accurate. It is better to spell it out on a resume that they supervised several people.  

Equally important, instead of using terms such as “combat,” think of alternative terms, such as “hazardous.” This goes for trainings and awards, too. We may know what a warrior leadership course is, but it is better to explain it as a basic leadership course. If they received an award or medal, avoid listing them all out—just list the most important ones with specific details about achievements.

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