Military, Veterans and Career Transitions with Amanda Veinott
Episode 19: Military, Veterans and Career Transitions, with Amanda Veinott
Amanda Veinott is passionate about creating career opportunities for veterans when they return to civilian life. In this episode she shares why hiring veterans is good for business, why career transitions are so tough, why internships are important and what is her best piece of advise for people in the military.
00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast. Conversations with women, changing the face of business. And now your host, Kristy Wallace.
00:13 Kristy Wallace, Host/President: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast. This is Kristy Wallace, the President of Ellevate Network and I am here with Maricella Herrera. Hello.
00:22 Maricella Hererra: Hi.
00:22 KH: On today's podcast, we spoke with Amanda Veinott. And Amanda just blew my mind. She's a military talent expert and is one of the most eloquent and knowledgeable women I've ever met.
00:35 MH: Yeah, she sounds amazing both on the podcast, on paper, when you meet her. She's great.
00:42 KH: Yeah, she really is. And she cares very passionately about the military in the workplace, and making sure that we create pathways and opportunities for veterans to gain employment.
00:55 MH: Which is an important thing. We've talked about it, and how can we help female veterans who wanna be part of the network. Network with civilians and people in other industries, and really find that way into going back into civilian life and starting out in a career that's different from what they're used to. We've been working with ACP on their mentoring program.
01:17 KH: Absolutely. So Ellevate is proud to partner with American Corporate Partners, ACP, on their mentoring program for female veterans that are returning to the workforce. We've had many of the women in our community sign up to be mentors, and it's been a great partnership, and we're more excited to have an impact and to help these women who have done so much for our country.
01:40 KH: I know we always talk about some Ellevate stats and information, and given how eloquent Amanda is, I thought it would be very interesting to hear from the Ellevate community around how important strong communication can be.
01:57 MH: So we pulled our Ellevate members as we do every week, and we asked them which skill is most critical to being a successful leader at work. And 46% said that strong communication skills was the number one aspect of being a successful leader. So there you go, Amanda. The second with 18% was strategic thinking. And then followed by knowing how to play the game with 16%.
02:25 KH: No. Politics.
02:27 MH: Well, you kinda have to, I guess.
02:29 KH: I know.
02:30 MH: Especially if you're in big business.
02:33 KH: Yep.
02:34 MH: And the last one was consensus building. Which I would've thought that would be higher up. It only has 8% of the votes, but... Yeah.
02:42 KH: Yeah. But I think that that can also be covered by the strong communication.
02:45 MH: I guess so.
02:45 KH: If you can eloquently and effectively communicate your strategy, if you can really use communication as a way to converge and convene teams and ideas, it plays a big role in driving that success of your thought leadership.
03:02 MH: Yeah. That's true.
03:04 KH: One quick shout out about the Ellevate Podcast, if you haven't already, please subscribe to us on iTunes, on Stitcher, on the Ellevate website. We'd love to hear your feedback. Rate us, review us, share us with your friends. We're all about the network, and the referrals, and the word of mouth. And we really appreciate your support. So thanks to everyone who has celebrated the podcast and given us that fantastic feedback, it means the world.
03:29 MH: Thank you.
03:30 KH: Now let's hear from Amanda and all the wonderful things she has to share.
03:48 KH: So let's start off. Tell me a little bit about yourself.
03:51 Amanda Veinott: Sure. So the short story is, I'm a military talent expert, and what that means is I help companies create programs internally with their HR and diversity and inclusion teams to promote the recruiting, hiring, engagement, and retention of veterans, military spouses, and current guard and reservists. So they do it all internally because what we believe is the more cheaply and easily people can hire veterans, the more that they'll do it.
04:21 KH: So about what you're doing, have you seen more interest from companies in recent years around hiring veterans?
04:27 AV: Yes. So back in 2011, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden decided as the first lady's initiative, they were going to create something called Joining Forces. Joining Forces is a White House initiative that basically has called to action, companies all across the United States to hire military veterans, not just veterans but their families. So spouses, members of the guard and reserve and also in most cases, dependents as well. And this is something that's become more of a greater effort of companies, not just hiring diversity because that's a keyword right now and it's been for the last 10 years, I would say. But veterans hiring, most advocates like to say it's good for business, but it's also just the right thing to do and that is true. And companies are finding that veterans and military spouses are truly increasing the bottom-line success of business. So it's been happening more robustly since 2011, but now there's actually data to backup the fact that hiring veterans into your company does make business sense.
05:34 KH: And what it is about hiring veterans that drives business success? Is there specific training or characteristics?
05:41 AV: So if we think about the military in general, the military is the largest training organization in the world. I believe the latest statistics said when you look at it from a personnel perspective, the United States military is the largest employer. Not just on the active duty military side, but also on the civilian side as well. So the Department of Defense, period. What that means is there's hundreds and millions and billions of dollars that go into training. So when you are considering hiring a veteran, you're considering hiring one of the most highly trained individuals in the world. And there's robust development programs in the military, there are technical tracks, there are leadership tracks. Officers tend to work on the people and operations strategy side of the military, non-commissioned officers and enlisted personnel tend to work on the technical side. So if you hire an officer, those individuals tend to have more of the classroom training, versus the enlisted folks who have the real world boots-on-the-ground experience with the technical side. So if you hire one of those individuals, those are some of the qualities that you're getting.
06:54 KH: We're doing a program right now with American Corporate Partners, they have a specific mentoring program for veterans who are looking to join the workforce. Talk a little bit about that. What are the challenges you see with veterans who are looking to transition into corporate life?
07:12 AV: Sure. Transition is not veteran specific. So think about when you left college, how hard was that transition? For the last 18 years, because let's assume you got out at 22, for the last 18 years you've been indoctrinated into the education culture. All you've been doing full-time is learning. So getting out of that past 18 years and into something new was probably scary, a little overwhelming. You had no direction other than what mentors you had or maybe your counselor in high school, and then your counselors in college. And think back to how you felt, that's exactly how veterans are feeling but the stakes are higher because a lot times these people have families, they have one kid, they have five kids, they have wives or husbands to support. If they're retiring, they might be 40 plus years old, so they have much greater financial burdens. So multiply what you felt by whatever number, that's what they're feeling. So from an emotional perspective, if you put yourself in their shoes, that's what they're feeling.
08:22 AV: Now from a logistical perspective, they need to figure out what their next career is. So who are the people they speak with? What are their networks that they develop? ACP is really great because it brings mentorship to a broader audience. And one thing I didn't mention is I'm actually a certified coach, I went to school for coaching. People say I ask really good questions, that's a sign of a good coach, you know? And the best piece of advice that I can give to veterans or military spouses is, think about your personal self, not just your professional self, because you need to figure out who you are outside of the military in order to be successful. And the last point I'll say is, why that's so important is because in six months from now when you find yourself in your post military career, you wanna make sure that you're in a role that aligns with your values, what you find engaging, what you find you do your best work in, the environment you do your best work in. Because in six months, you don't want to find out that that was the wrong position.
09:28 KH: And I think that's great advice for everybody, is to really think about the decisions you're making and make sure it's a right fit. And sometimes there's economic factors, or other factors that will cause us to have to rush decisions, but it is really important to be deliberate.
09:46 AV: So that's actually a really good point. One of the challenges that corporations are facing right now is they're hiring veterans like crazy, but the dark side of veterans recruiting is the lack of veteran retention. And the more that we can educate veterans or service members as they're transitioning out of the military, and becoming veterans on that soul searching aspect, and thinking who they will be outside the uniform, is only going to help corporations retain those individuals. Because if companies are hiring the right person into the right role at that first point of contact, they will only increase retention. If they're hiring the wrong person into the wrong role, but that person assures the company and the company assures that person that that's the right fit, but it's really not, retention is not going to be high. And it's a big concern of both companies and also the military, is these people have spent... Some of them four years, some of them 30 years, they've spent their lives in the military and now they're getting out and they're finding six months out of the military that the job they took, and they rushed into because they were afraid how they were gonna pay their bills... It's not the right one. So then they have to go through the whole process over again. But a lot of times is a little bit easier because they've already developed some more relationships, and mentorships, or networks that will help them.
11:14 KH: So, how did you get in to this line of work? You said you're a civilian, so you were not in the military?
11:20 AV: Right. Family members on both sides of the aisle are veterans. One of my baby cousins who's not such a baby anymore is actually leaving the Marine Corps soon, and I was supposed to play volleyball in the Coast Guard. [chuckle] I was supposed to go into the military, but life took me in a different path and I got a degree in organizational psychology and leadership development, which put me on a path to leadership consulting. So out of college, and this is something I'm going to stress hugely for veterans and military spouses that are listening right now, is internships. Do as many hours of an internship as possible, even if it's unpaid. Because that will help you connect with the right people within your organization and will give you relevant, real world experience. It's why I am sitting here today talking to you, because I did an internship with the consulting firm for three months that led to my first full-time offer. And it's really the path of least resistance to get in to your role, your first role.
12:27 KH: I'll say I did not do internships but I regret it, I wish that I had. For me, I grew up in a shore town so it's much better waitressing and making money and I was a poor college student who cared a lot about that. But I graduated with an English degree and when I... At graduation I just... I didn't know what I wanted to do. I didn't know what function, I didn't know what type of company, I didn't know what I liked, what I was good at. I lacked confidence. Certainly it can help broaden your network and open up doors for opportunities. That's a big part, it's how you start networking, right? Is you get your foot in the door, you start meeting people, you start learning.
13:04 AV: Exactly. So that actually leads me to the second stage of how I got to where I am. I actually moved from leadership development more into working on employee engagement surveys, understanding why employees were either highly engaged or highly disengaged. And I did that for two and a half years, and then I decided to branch off on my own. I'm an entrepreneur at heart, it's just within me, I can't help it, and took a personal journey for a little while, went back full-time into a company that I was working on a project specifically with Amazon to understand why veteran leaders within their operations department were staying or leaving. Because they had a really high turnover rate and they had one of the best veterans recruiting programs in the country in 2000 and, I think it was '13 that I did that project. Even though they were hiring all these veterans, they were losing them very quickly. I'm happy to say today they have one of the best recruiting programs and retention programs, thank God. But that kind of put me on the path to military talent programs.
14:13 AV: So I got that very specific niche experience within the consulting world, and then was picked up by a private equity firm to launch their military and veterans recruiting program not only internally at their firm, but across their 30 portfolio companies. So I've actually done work in eight different industry verticals with over 30 companies now.
14:35 KH: Congrats, [laughter] I mean that's amazing.
14:37 AV: Thanks.
14:38 KH: That's exciting, be proud. Was that scary going out on your own? It sounds like it was more of a natural progression, but I know a lot of our listeners and our members will think about starting their own path or their own company and it can seem overwhelming, so what's your...
14:58 AV: It's definitely overwhelming. It's a little bit scary but that drives me. I'm driven by challenge and opportunity. And any successful entrepreneur would likely say that the challenge is exciting. If it's not, most people wouldn't go down that path. So yes, it was scary. Yes, it was challenging. The first time, I was an entrepreneurial dropout, and then I went back into full-time but I always had that urge. And whether you're a veteran, or a military spouse, or a civilian, I definitely recommend trying it because at the end of the day, from a coaching perspective, what's the worst thing that can happen? I had a coach when I was struggling, I had a coach and I asked her, "What can I do?" And she said, "Well, ask yourself, what is the worst thing that can happen to you?" And I said, "I can fall back on another full-time job." And she said, "That's not that bad." So you can be an entrepreneurial failure, go back into full-time and then try it again. That's what I did and now I'm running a successful business.
16:06 KH: Any lessons learned, big piece of advice for those looking to start their own gig?
16:12 S1: Surround yourself with really great people. It's probably something many of your podcasters say, but surrounding yourself with people who are smarter in areas in certain areas than you are will make all the difference. Don't be afraid to collaborate. Don't have an ego when it comes to collaboration, because we're only capable of doing so much as one person. But if you can find like-minded individuals who have the same passions and values as you, and ultimately want to change the world in the same way, and you can collaborate and there's trust there, do it.
16:50 KH: What about advice for companies that are looking to start a veteran's recruitment program, how do you get started?
16:58 AV: The first step, and I call it ground zero, is to identify the veterans and military spouses within your organization. And that sounds easy, but sometimes it's not. If you're a 60,000 person organization, you likely have an applicant tracking system in place or an HRIS, Human Resources Information Systems, that will tell you that specific data that you're looking for, but if you're a 60 person company you might not have that robust platform. So literally having to send out an email to your employees and saying, "We're trying to tap into the military talent market and we need your help. If you are in some way, shape, or form, related to the military, or you're a veteran yourself, or you serve in the guard and reserve and we don't know that, or you're a military spouse, please identify yourself."
17:49 AV: And the number one way that you can ensure the greatest amount of self identification, because you can't make it mandatory, is to communicate authentically and say why you're asking for that information. And the why is because it's proven that the personal recommendations of potential hires will make the most impact. And what I mean by that is, any one of us who are listening knows really great talent. They know people who are looking for jobs. If I am identifying myself as a veteran, and I happen to have this entire network of veterans and military spouses at my fingertips, that oh by the way the recruiters don't have, I can start sourcing talent for that recruiting team directly. So that's where it becomes really important. You have to show why you're asking for those people to self-identify, and then you need to identify them and help those individuals bring in really great talent.
18:49 KH: We've talked a little bit today on the impact in the power of networking. And I've talked to some veterans who said you've got a great network within the military. You tend to move a lot, but it's definitely a strong community, and that it's hard when you're transitioning out because you don't always have that civilian network. How do we bridge that gap?
19:11 AV: That's a really good question and I think it's well beyond the scope of this conversation. But one thing I can say is hiring happens locally. If you're looking to move from your last base, say you're stationed in San Antonio and you want to move to New York and get a job in finance. It's unlikely that you'll be as successful during a long distance search, than you would be if you actually went to New York and met with people who are in your network. Even if you have to pay for it yourself, I would highly recommend trying to get your feet on the ground in the city where you're trying to get a job.
19:55 AV: If that's not possible, use LinkedIn. You should be using LinkedIn regardless. But I'm not sure if everyone who's listening is aware, but if you're a veteran or you're transitioning out of the military, you can get a free year of LinkedIn Job Seeker. All you do is go to veterans.linkedin.com, you can even just type in Google veterans and LinkedIn and it will come up. And try to make as many connections with diversity and inclusion specialists, HR recruiters, and also veterans and military spouses on LinkedIn within those companies that you're targeting. And then if you can get there in person, even if it's just a three-day window of time and you do as many in person interviews as possible that you can line up, definitely do it.
20:39 KH: Great. Thank you. Thanks so much for your time today.
20:42 AV: Of course. Thank you.