I won’t lie to you. Looking for a job in the current economic climate is hard. Finding an employer who understands your military background can be tough. And, thanks to misinformation and misperceptions about mental health concerns, many employers are hesitant, if not scared, to hire veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI). So, if you’re a veteran looking for work right now, it may seem like the deck is stacked against you. Here are five suggestions to help you improve your odds and transition into a civilian job.
1. Figure Out What You Are Able To Do
Having PTSD or TBI may prevent you from carrying out certain duties on the job — but that doesn’t diminish what you are capable of doing. Take inventory of your skills, what you can and can no longer do. But, don’t be too quick to limit yourself — many accommodations exist that will allow you to perform tasks you might not have thought possible. For ideas and information on accommodations, visit the Job Accommodation Network. Finding out what you can do will help you figure out what you want to do.
2. Sell Yourself
Be honest about your limitations but highlight skills you gained while serving, including your sense of loyalty, selflessness, determination, ability to follow orders and persevere in difficult situations, respect for authority and procedures, and any training or leadership experience you gained while in uniform. These are skills any employer would value in their workforce. Showing that you are dedicated and hard-working could overcome unfounded fears of military-related disabilities.
3. Network to Find a Job
Once you figure out what you want to do, identify where to find those jobs. The best way to find a job is through networking. Let everyone know you’re looking for a job including your friends, family, members of your house of worship, and recreational or service-related organizations you belong to. Ask them if they know someone who does the work you’re looking for and let them know the types of organizations that interest you. If they can’t help, ask if they could suggest someone who could. If each person in your network refers you to a few people, and each subsequent person refers you to a few people, your network will grow quickly. Eventually, one of the people in this network will know of someone looking to hire someone like you.
Visit your library, search online and network. If you read about someone who sounds like they might be helpful, feel free to email them. I’ve done this and have gotten positive reactions (and good information). Once you establish contacts with people, ask for informational interviews. They’re an opportunity to learn more about where you should look for jobs. If you make a good impression during an informational interview, the person you met may call you back when the company is hiring.
4. Find Military Friendly Companies
Some civilian employers don’t understand or appreciate the military. Use networking to help you identify companies that will appreciate your background and bypass ones that may not be as interested in hiring former service members.
5. Find Companies OK with Your Injuries
Unfortunately, many individuals, including bosses and interviewers, have fears and concerns about hiring veterans because of potential service-related disabilities. While this is illegal, it still happens and is almost impossible to document. The networking process described here will help you find companies that aren’t afraid of hiring you. In the process of networking and doing informational interviews, employers will get to meet you, understand any disabilities and injuries you wish to disclose, and hopefully see past them to the experience and valuable skills that you can bring to their organization.
As I said at the beginning, you do have some cards stacked against you for finding a good job. By following these steps, you should be able to stack the deck in your favor. Good luck with your job search and happy hunting!
Nathan D. Ainspan, PhD, is an industrial psychologist with the Army and was previously with the Office of Disability Employment Policy at the U.S. Department of Labor. He has written and spoken extensively and worked with veterans on employment for people with disabilities and employment for wounded warriors and transitioning service members. His books include When the Warrior Returns: Making the Transition at Home and Returning Wars Wounded, Injured, and Ill: A Handbook.