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Dozens of Fortune 500 companies have made a commitment to hire veterans into their ranks in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, often publicly advertising their hiring quotas in a self-congratulatory pat on the back. Recruiters on the front lines are finding the task far more difficult than they’d hoped. 250,000 service members transition out of the uniformed services every year; why is it so difficult to fill their hiring goals? Why is this challenge particularly acute in cyber security?

The veteran community, it should go without saying, are not the same pool of candidates as the broader population. They have unique experiences and skillsets, and more importantly, unique challenges when entering the work force after their tours of duty. According to Maurice Wilson, the President and National Executive Director at National Veteran Transition Services Inc. (NVTSI), The biggest obstacle veterans face when leaving the military is their own inability to define what they want to do as a next career. The results are clear- those who do find a job after leaving the service have a 45% turnover rate in the first year, and 65% in the second year. Veterans who choose to use their GI Bill to go to college after separation have similar attrition rates.

My personal journey from the battlefield to the boardroom was no different, and I had the advantage of a master’s degree, a social and financial safety net, and a clear idea of what I wanted to do. I still struggled to find the right job fit. After a 13-month stint as a mid-level manager in a distribution center, I quit without the security of a new job offer. I was lucky enough to land on my feet and eventually find my way to the cyber security industry by way of consulting, but my path was indirect and unintentional. Remove my advantages and the problem is compounded for the tens of thousands of veterans finding their way in the world once they hang up the uniform.

Additional challenges facing veterans seeking employment:

  1. The language disconnect between military skillsets and accomplishments with equivalent civilian experiences

  2. The lack of a unified large-scale effort to help veterans’ transition despite overwhelming resources from government agencies, non-profits, and private industries

  3. Rigid pre-requisites in job postings that fail to account for non-traditional military experience

It bears mentioning that it is possible to successfully attract veterans into your industry. Organizations that are effectively hiring veterans tend to have an existing interconnected veteran community that naturally attracts veteran talent through organic networking. Accounting for natural tribalistic tendencies, veterans will trust the word of fellow service members over the veteran-friendly slogans and advertisements of large companies.

The existence of a strong veteran community within your ranks pre-supposes that you have a culture that allows for their inclusion and growth. Veterans are attracted to mission-driven organizations that live their values, in much the same way the armed service provided a sense of purpose to their everyday work.

If you’re trying to hit a veteran hiring quota, you’ll fail because you’re missing the point .

– Maurice Wilson, President, NVTSI

So how do you actually get veterans into cyber security?

  1. Leverage your existing veteran community. If your company is seeking the talents and experiences unique to veterans, leverage your existing veteran networks. If one doesn’t already exist, build one. There are veterans in your ranks, you simply may not be aware of them.
  2. Reduce restrictive prerequisites. Veterans may not have 3-5 years of consulting experience, but they have something better: building coalitions across linguistic, national, and religious boundaries all under the threat of mortal danger. They may not know your tech, but rapid, high-intensity training and adoption of new technology is in their DNA.
  3. Invest in transition programs. Given the challenge of transition from the military, investment in organizations dedicated to this process will be money well spent. A few examples include:
  4. Get them in the door. Many veterans don’t apply to work in cybersecurity because they don’t know what cyber security is. If you want them for the value they bring as a veteran, then get them in the door however you can, and invest in their long-term training and development so they can transition into higher impact roles more relevant to the core industry.

Are you struggling to recruit veterans into cyber security? Start with understanding the challenge of transition.