Josh Shaffer understands how overwhelming it can be to transition from the military to a private-sector career.
Having enlisted in the US Marine Corps at age 18, just after 9/11, Shaffer served for almost 12 years, including three combat tours in Iraq. During part of that time he was a communications specialist calling in air strikes in support of special operations. But when he transitioned from the Corps in 2013 with a bachelor’s degree in business, earned toward the end of his service, he still wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. “Here I was, 30 years old, and I’d spent my entire adult life in the military, so that’s all I knew,” he recalls.
Shaffer landed on his feet, eventually ending up doing military-veteran recruiting at JP Morgan Chase before moving to Oracle in November 2015, now serving as one of two veteran-recruiting program managers at the global technology company.
But Shaffer doesn’t forget the uncertainty and angst of his transition from military man to corporate citizen. As part of his duties at Oracle, he’s responsible for showing the thousands of ex-military job candidates he sees each year how their extensive training and rich experiences translate to the corporate world, calling on his own journey from grunt to gunnery sergeant and Marine Corp recruiter (the Marines named Shaffer its national recruiter of the year in 2009).
“I have candidates reaching out to me every day,” he says of his work at Oracle. “The one thing I really want to convey to them is that this is something I’m passionate about, something that I personally have dealt with. I understand the pain and how difficult it is. And I will do anything I can to help these guys out.”
Improved Job Market
Fortunately, the job market is much better than it was just two or three years ago, when Shaffer left the military. The US veteran unemployment rate is now at about 4.5%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, down from more than 7% in 2013 and below the current 5.5% rate for the total US population. Helping matters has been a US Department of Labor rule, enacted in 2013, which requires companies that do business with the federal government to make veteran hires at least 7% of their total new hires, a percentage consistent with the percentage of vets in the US workforce.
Among Oracle’s partners as the company seeks to bring in talented military veterans is Hiring Our Heroes, a US Chamber of Commerce initiative that conducts summits on military bases across the US; Warriors to Work, a veteran-employment program under the Wounded Warrior Project; and RecruitMilitary, an organization owned and run by vets that operates career fairs nationwide. Shaffer estimates that he and fellow Oracle program manager Cory Middleton will see a couple of hundred candidates at each RecruitMilitary fair, inviting the most promising ones to visit the company’s Veterans Programs website, where they can find more information and schedule a phone interview. Shaffer and Middleton provide candidates who progress with basic resume and career coaching, before connecting them with hiring managers across the company.
“When they come in, a lot of their resumes look like what most of the American public think of when they think of the military—this guy spent 10 years kicking down doors or sleeping in the desert somewhere,” Shaffer says. “We help them to translate those skills, so if they worked in, say, operations in the military, then they can work in operations, supply chain management, and those types of roles in the civilian world here at Oracle.”
Oracle also hosts its own career events. At one in Colorado Springs in February, the company’s Oracle Fusion Applications support group brought in 20 candidates, all veterans, sourced from LinkedIn, Indeed.com, and various job fairs, and then screened via phone interviews. The group ended up making offers to seven of those candidates, most of whom were due to start work the second week of April.
Oracle also plans to host a series of quarterly receptions nationwide, dubbed Oracle Veteran Talent Connections, for which it will invite up to 100 military-veteran candidates to network with 50 or so Oracle recruiters and hiring managers. The first reception will take place in Austin, Texas, on May 20, followed by a reception in Reston, Va., in the third quarter and one in Denver in the fourth quarter.
“This is really cool because some of these groups we work with never really considered military before, and they didn’t know what to look for in terms of the skill set,” Shaffer says. “So what we do is help them look for a match. Maybe candidates don’t have exactly the civilian experience the job description calls for, but they have something comparable.”
So, for example, if an Oracle group is looking for somebody with B2B procurement or contract management experience, Shaffer’s team will evaluate candidates with supply and logistics experience, or ones who managed procurement or other kinds of contracts while an officer or NCO.
Current and former service people can also take advantage of military-funded technical certification programs in information security, network administration, C++ programming, and the like. Oracle itself runs the Oracle Workforce Development Program, which offers US veterans affordable, industry-recognized training programs that support Oracle certifications. “But the thing that makes the biggest difference when these candidates get in front of our hiring managers are the intangibles,” Shaffer says. They’re prompt, professional, articulate, confident, mature.
‘Good Cultural Fit’
He gives the example of a candidate hired out of that event in Colorado Springs, a former enlisted man with an associate’s degree who had run network security for the US Air Force Academy.
“He is just a great communicator with tons of leadership experience,” Shaffer says. “This is a guy they probably never would have even considered if they just looked at his resume. But they were so impressed with him at the networking reception that instead of bringing him in at an individual contributor level for one of their support roles, they’re bringing him in as a manager. So even though he’s never worked on Fusion applications before—and in fact the realm of tech that he had been responsible for was really not related at all—it was just a good cultural fit. They realized that this is somebody they need on their team.”
Another thing military veterans have going for them is that they tend to stick around—national statistics show attrition rates for vets in the civilian workforce are lower on average than for their civilian counterparts. “They’re used to committing to something for a long time,” Shaffer says. “At a minimum they have a four-year commitment, and a lot of them do a lot longer than that. In a day and age when people don’t stay at jobs very long, employers are looking for people who want to contribute for a long period of time.”
I asked Shaffer whether he and Middleton still need to sell Oracle hiring managers on why they should consider former military people, even given their obvious attributes.
It’s more about raising awareness, he says, especially among managers used to only bringing in people with a narrow set of technical skills or credentials for certain positions.
“We have to explain to them that, hey, these former military people are good communicators,” he says. “Yes, there is going to be a little bit of a learning curve, but after they get in the door, you’re going to be so impressed with what they can do in such a short time. And usually what it takes is for one group to take a chance, and then once they get someone onboard, they’re coming back for more.”
One Oracle group that’s onboard is the company’s North American Commercial Applications organization, which under a program called Operation Forward March is hiring US military veterans for sales consulting positions. The group recently hired 33 of 45 candidates it had brought in for OFM gatherings across the country, Shaffer says, and more such events are planned for the summer, mainly in Reston and Denver.
Not Just for Officers
Another common employer misconception is that only former officers, not enlisted people, are cut out for corporate managerial and leadership roles. Oracle has hired men and women from every military branch, from infantrymen, combat engineers, operations specialists, chief logistics readiness officers, and platoon sergeants all the way up to rear admirals and brigadier generals. “That guy I referred to earlier: He was hired for the most senior job out of the group, and he was an enlisted guy with an associate’s degree,” Shaffer notes.
On the flip side, a candidate’s high-level military leadership experience shouldn’t preclude him or her from being considered for a nonmanagerial job, he says.
“A lot of these candidates have leadership and management experience, but they’re willing to start at the bottom if they have to, or at least at a midlevel without it being a manager role,” Shaffer says. “But a lot of hiring managers shy away from candidates like that because they think they’re not going to be happy if they’re in an individual contributor role.
“That’s more of a perception thing. And that’s something I try to manage with our hiring managers. Yes, this guy has 20 years of experience. Yes, he was a sergeant major or a captain or a major when he got out, but he understands that he’s moving into the corporate environment where he’s never worked before, and he’s willing to work his way up.”
I asked Shaffer whether the accomplishments and innate grit of some military-veteran candidates can intimidate some hiring managers.
“There’s a little bit of that, but it’s more along the lines of, ‘We don’t want them to come in if they’re not going to be happy being led by somebody else because they have all this experience.’ In fact, one of the candidates we had for this last event is a finance guy. He’s got 20 years of experience and was a lieutenant colonel when he got out of the Army, but he said very straightforwardly, ‘One of the things I learned in the military is how to be a leader, but one of the other things I learned is how to be a good follower,’ because everybody in the military has a boss. Even the commandant of the Marine Corps still reports to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, still reports to the president, so everybody has to learn a little bit of humility in their job.”
Shaffer emphasizes that his and Oracle’s work with veterans isn’t just an altruistic exercise. It makes good business sense.“We’re not just hiring these veterans because it’s the right thing to do or because we feel patriotic or because it makes us feel good,” he says. “The veterans will help drive revenue and improve the bottom line. And that’s what I try to sell, besides the fact that they have these intangible skills. But I do think it’s important that we consider the fact that these guys have sacrificed so much in their lives.”
Josh Shaffer, veterans’ recruiting program manager for Oracle.
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