Effectively Supporting the Career Readiness of Military-Connected Students


Author
Christine M. Black

Published
September 29, 2016


For those of you who missed it last week, experts from across the country joined together with the Veterans Knowledge Community to present a webinar on creating a career development program in a Veteran’s Offices. Despite varying levels of staffing and campus resources, all of the panelists shared experience with developing the programming, analytics, and relationships needed to support student veterans as they begin their professional lives. We at the VKC compiled their stories, experiences, and a successes, and failures for the Veteran’s Services staff out there looking for ideas on how to start, improve, or build their existing career services.

EXPANDING YOUR FOOT PRINT

Many of the professional staff on the panel talked about how limited their offices were when they started working on building career services; in Veteran’s Services, we are more likely to have a resources office manned by one person. So how do you maximize what is already available to you?

  • Build Campus Partnerships – Haydee Nunez of North Central College suggested reaching out to departments that might be willing to work with the Veteran’s Offices and asking them to commit to one workshop/presenter/class per term/school year/event depending on their resources, and their ability to help your office.
    • Diversity offices, Career Development Centers, Academic Departments may all have something to contribute. Enlist the support of campus partners for marketing, content delivery, and on-going student support.
    • An engineering student will probably sell their experience and education differently than a history student – and their academic department can probably help the student with those subtleties better than you can!
    • The Veteran’s center can act as a program coordinator, and provide a variety of experiences, resources, and knowledge bases for the student-veteran.
  • Find local businesses/organizations that are willing to work on networking. We all know that networking can be a new skill set for some student veterans.
    • Find local chamber of commerce or veteran’s groups that are willing to host a small mixer, or allow your students to attend a happy hour with them.
    • Use these same groups to find out what business in your area are looking for. What skills do they need? What do local employers recommend a candidate know, or do?
  • Preparation – a student-veteran is a reflection of your program, and can impact how employers or interviewers see the next student veteran from your program they meet with.
    • Make sure they are aware of business etiquette.
    • Help them develop stories they can tell to illustrate what their military experience brings to an employer. Ron Callahan from Inside Track, a student coaching organization, described this as the student’s “Seven Stories”. He emphasized that a student should always walk into an interview able to describe how they used their particular skill set to solve a particular problem, AND what the impact of that solution was. What the problem was doesn't matter as much as their ability to communicate it.

MENTORSHIP AND ROLE MODELS

With that last bullet, don’t forget about formalized mentorships or role models for your student veterans.

  • See if academic departments can bring in a former student veteran to speak about their career transition. It can help the veterans learn how their time in the service translates in the specific field they want to work in.
  • Do you have a veteran alumni who is in the field your student veteran wants to crack? Set them up for coffee.
  • Especially for business, law, or engineering groups, look for local associations with a military or veterans focus. For instance, many state bar associations have a military and veterans committee, and many chambers of commerce have a list of veteran business owners.
  • Don’t be afraid to reach out. Many professional groups are more than willing to mentor student veterans, and the student veteran needs to know who they can ask for help.
  •  Use military alumni to conduct mock interviews and make sure they give feedback.
  • Military-Connected Alumni: Many former student veterans are willing to come back and talk about their experiences, and help other student veterans navigate the job or internship hunt. Their expertise in selling their major or military experience to potential employers can be tailored to the student-veteran following in their footsteps.

Remember that even if you turn over the student veteran to another mentor, part of your job is to help them with their end. A happy mentor is more likely to mentor another student – and a student who has a positive experience is more likely to help another student veteran after graduation

HOW TO MEASURE SUCCESS

Every presenter agreed that the most important thing is to look beyond attendance – the Veteran’s Service office should still capture it, to help determine what topics are drawing students, and to help track which students are attending what. But if you base your definition of success when it comes to career development on the sheer number of people helped, you can miss the bigger picture.

  • What is different for the student veteran as a result of the program? The most obvious example is programming aimed at helping the student articulate their applicable civilian skills. If the student walks away from your program or workshop better able to communicate to their future employers how their military service benefits that employer – you’ve done your job. The real question is, how can you track that?
  • Data Sources – Before and after resumes and cover letters can tell you a lot about how effective a program was, and tell you if there is a common knowledge gap among student veterans accessing your program. Surveys can help you with student takeaways, or what students would attend again, and what they want more training on. Track internships, placements, and jobs, post-graduation. If a student does an internship or a program, talk to them about what worked and what they needed more training or experience with.
  • You should still capture attendance! Office visit logs, swipes, and sign in sheets are all still helpful. They are hard number counts that you can use in reports, and to justify further programming budgets to your administration. It also helps your campus partners if you can show them what worked, and how many students they reached out to.

Finally.

Sometimes employers, faculty, and even students can be surprised to find that after a 10-year career, entrusted with leadership of dozens of people and millions of dollars, student veterans may have never had to write a resume or sit for an interview. Just like the emphasis placed on supporting veterans as they transition to student veterans, the Veteran’s Services Office needs to focus on the transition from student veterans to young professional.  That transition can be just as fundamental to a student’s long-term success. As a population, student veterans may be better prepared for the workplace, and better equipped to function under stress, or in the face of adversity. Student veterans represent your school in the workplace and present a highly-marketable skill set that can help them to demand higher salaries and better than entry level jobs. However, we all need a little help telling others our story, and selling employers on what military service brings to their team.

Every institution dedicates different levels of resources and staffing to their student veteran population, so there is no perfect approach for all institutions. Hopefully, something here will spark an idea that helps your office serve your student veterans better. If you come up with something you didn’t see here, if you have an idea you want to bounce off someone, or if you would like to find an institution with a similar mission and resources to see how they serve their student-veteran population, consider joining the NASPA Veteran’s Knowledge Community!

Friendly Reminder that there is still plenty of time to submit a program proposal for the 2017 NASPA Symposium on Military-Connected Students. We encourage you to submit a program proposal to enrich the event with your perspectiveby the October 21st deadline. Sessions will highlight best practices and effective programs presented by practitioners from the range of institutional types, all representing the level of excellence this often underserved population deserves.  You can also get involved by signing-up to be a program reviewer here.


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