Veterans discuss difficulties of coming home, share tips for employment after service

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Inclusion Workshop

Pictured, from left, are Elizabeth McCreary, Michael Jackson, Kelly Cubberly and Colin Yankee. 

In honor of Veterans Day, this month’s Williamson Inc. Inclusion Workshop focused on employing veterans transitioning into the private sector. 

Elizabeth McCreary, chief economic development officer with Williamson Inc., led a discussion with a panel of three veterans who successfully moved from the military to corporate jobs — but not without a struggle. 

As McCreary introduced Michael Jackson, Kelly Cubberly and Colin Yankee, she asked each veteran about their experience transitioning into the American workforce. 

Jackson, career adviser with Campbell Strong Workforce Partnership, said, regardless of one’s specific experience, any veteran’s transition is difficult. 

“It doesn’t depend on how many years you served in the military because you’re away from the civilian sector, period. It doesn’t make a difference,” he said. “Once you transition back into the civilian sector, it’s a tough challenge, and you’re not prepared for it, because the military doesn’t give you enough time for the transition.” 

Arlie Haddix, a career services manager at Operation Stand Down Tennessee who was in the audience, said not only is finding work difficult, but it’s made harder by the jarring emotional experience of re-entering civilian life. 

“The military has got to take your head off, so to speak, take your brain out, reorganize it, stuff stuff into it, and put that head back on you, so to speak. And it’s got to do that for you to function in the military environment, and it keeps everything in it under pressure,” he said. “When you leave the military, all of the sudden, that pressure is off, and all that stuff that’s in you — all those experiences — are going to start to decompress, and they are not going to unwind conveniently. So, it’s a shock.” 

On top of personal adjustments, Yankee, who is senior vice president of Tractor Supply Co., said veterans often have to compete with peers who have far more experience in the corporate workforce. Jackson said that this can exacerbate any nervousness that accompanies job interviews. 

“They already know that the cards are stacked up against them because they don’t have that experience,” he said. 

 McCreary said that the high veteran population in Williamson County tied to its proximity to Fort Campbell and Fort Knox is actually a selling point for Williamson Inc. as it attempts to bring businesses to the area. Many times, however, employers hoping to access the county’s large pool of veterans struggle to find them because the veteran community is so fragmented. 

Because of this, panelists encouraged transitioning veterans to get plugged in with several veteran groups to increase their visibility and receive community support. Jackson also suggested veterans take matters into their own hands and continue seeking job opportunities rather than waiting for one to come along. 

Cubberly, who is a sales manager for Dell Technologies, mentioned that Dell was one of the first companies she came across that specifically looked to hire veterans.  

“It was the first job that told me, ‘Welcome to Dell. We love hiring veterans,” she said, noting how nice it was to hear that employers appreciate the hard work veterans put in. 

Along the same lines, Yankee said one piece of advice he received that he now passes along is to look for those very companies. 

“Don’t take a job. Find a culture, because that is where you’ll be successful,” he said. 

He said this advice also applies to employers wanting to hire veterans, stressing the importance of creating a culture in which people transitioning out of the military would fit and placing them in the right positions. He also advocated for veterans as hard workers, despite them sometimes lacking workplace experience. 

“Take a risk,” Yankee said. “It’s easy to hire somebody (whose) resume looks exactly like the job description. … You have to take a risk. Hire confidence. Hire character. These are people who have volunteered, who have persevered.” 

McCreary affirmed this, echoing the goal of the Inclusion Workshop series: Hire a diverse group. 

“Try to hire outside your own boxes,” she said. “So, when you’re doing your interview process, when you’re looking at resumes, try not to hire the person who looks most like you and makes you the most comfortable. Hire the person who’s going to have a different opinion, who might bring something a little different to the table.”

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