11/11/2012 03:34 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Veterans for Hire: How Companies Can Help Them Build Careers

As our military winds down operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, large numbers of veterans will likely enter a difficult U.S. job market. And those veterans who served in the military after 9/11 seem to have it tougher than other job seekers, with an unemployment rate almost two percentage points above the average.

We recognize it's difficult for America's veterans to successfully transition into the civilian workforce, and we're working to be part of the solution. This starts with hiring veterans, so we've joined external initiatives to help increase job opportunities for them, while also setting and exceeding our own veterans recruiting goals this year. However, hiring is only half of this battle. Making veterans feel included and supported once they join the civilian workforce is ultimately essential to their success, so we're now growing our veterans inclusion efforts.

This Veterans Day, to honor the brave women and men who have served, business leaders should consider the following ways they can support veterans in building meaningful civilian careers:

  1. Recognize the value in veterans' experience. Veterans bring extraordinary qualities to the workplace. Many had to react quickly to unpredictable situations on the battlefield and are very innovative. Veterans are also incredibly mission focused. They are great leaders but embrace following when appropriate, which is essential in team environments like ours. Finally, they are comfortable being uncomfortable -- and in today's volatile marketplace, if you can keep calm and adapt when confronted by the unexpected, you are the kind of person we need serving our clients.
  1. Recruit those veterans who will fit particularly well with your organization. We invest time and effort up-front to make sure the people we hire will do well. To meet the right candidates for our culture, we participate in service academy conferences, target officers at the point in their careers that makes the most sense for us, and ask our own professionals to recommend highly qualified veterans.
  1. Make veterans feel included to help them succeed. According to a recent Center for a New American Security report, "Employing America's Veterans" -- roughly half of companies that seek to hire veterans also provide programs to meet their specific needs, such as mentoring programs or affinity groups, and almost half of these support programs are less than two years old. This demonstrates that companies are now going beyond hiring veterans to helping them thrive in the workplace. Our firm's two-year-old Veterans Network, for example, supports veterans with career development tools and other initiatives including networking, onboarding and community service. This year we also formalized a veterans peer mentor program, with nearly 40 veterans mentoring new hires joining some of the more junior ranks of the firm. The Network offers veteran new hires an instant community who understands the cultural challenges of moving from the battlefield to the boardroom and can provide the right guidance and support.
  1. Join forces with other companies to have a bigger impact. In March, we became a member of the 100,000 Jobs Mission. It's a coalition of more than 50 leading corporations committed to hiring 100,000 veterans by 2020, and has already resulted in more than 28,000 hires as of this September. We've found sharing best practices with other members to be very valuable. It has pushed us to set goals and report on our progress -- and even spurred some healthy competition in the business community that can only benefit veterans.
  1. Reach out beyond your organization -- you'll make a difference and be inspired. To truly help veterans, companies must work outside of their own walls too. Whether assisting wounded veterans in completing a race, supporting the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, or giving back to veterans and their families in other ways, you'll make a difference.

    You also may be inspired in the process. Veteran Dawn Halfaker is an entrepreneur who was selected for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneurial Winning Women™ program, a national competition and executive leadership program for women who have founded high-potential companies. Halfaker was just 24-years-old and the commander of a military police platoon in Iraq when a rocket-propelled grenade destroyed her right arm.

    She has said that losing her ability to serve fellow soldiers and her country was more difficult than losing the arm. She now serves by growing a company that provides professional services and technology solutions to the federal government. Her story has touched many in our organization and beyond, highlighting what we hear from our veterans is their uniquely strong need to "continue to serve" as a civilian.

One of the paradoxes of the recent economic downturn is that many organizations struggle to find qualified candidates for their job openings, despite a high unemployment rate. We hire 10,000 people a year in the US alone, so we are keenly aware that we cannot afford to overlook exceptional talent. Veterans bring both important technical skills and profound life experience that can help us deepen our relationships with our people, our clients and our communities. Let's all work together to help our veterans build rewarding civilian careers -- and enrich our communities in the process.