From deployed to employed: Nick Swaggert guides vets to civilian jobs

Genesis10, a consulting firm, acts as a 'translator' between veterans and corporations, showing how military experience is great training for a wide variety of positions.

By , Correspondent

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    'We help a vet translate his or her skills into a resume that a corporate hiring manager would understand and value,” says Nick Swaggert, director of Genesis10's veterans program.
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Each branch of the military offers basic training for recruits seeking to join the ranks.

But what about a corporate basic training, a “reverse boot camp” engineered to acclimate returning veterans to corporate America?

After 11 years as an infantry officer serving in the US Marine Corps, Nick Swaggert returned to civilian life only to ask himself that very question.

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Quite often, he explained, military skills do not translate to marketable job skills, and hiring managers don't always connect military experiences with professional qualifications.

“They don’t see that experience in the military is valid when compared to civilian experience,” Mr. Swaggert says. “They say that it’s great that you’re good at airstrikes and that you can hike 20 miles, but we really don’t need that.”

That is precisely what spurred Swaggert to join Genesis10, a staffing and management consulting firm with a special focus on helping to get veterans work in corporate America.

“Too often, hiring managers don’t value the experience from military service,” Swaggert says. “A computer whiz in the military who might not have the right college degree and even though he or she has demonstrated on the battlefield the ability to perform IT [information technology] in the worst of conditions … HR managers sometimes don’t value that experience. They’d rather have a college degree that some military vets don’t have.”

Swaggert is director of Genesis10's veterans program and is based in the firm's St. Paul, Minn., office. He formerly served as a Marine for Life program director with the Marine Corps Reserves, responsible for assisting with and facilitating transition of former Marines into civilian life. He continues to serve as a company commander in the Marine Corps Reserve.

After his two tours of duty, Swaggert encountered many of the same challenges he now helps fellow veterans overcome.

“During my second tour in Iraq, I worked as police transition team leader, overseeing a 250-member Iraqi police force in Anah,” he says. “I worked closely with the local city council members, the mayor and sheikh leaders ... and yet, when I would interview with hiring managers in the US for a city management job, they would toss out that experience and only be interested in any experience in the US.”

Swaggert concluded that many of the marketable skills developed by servicemen and women are essentially lost in translation in job interviews and the hiring processes.

“I’m concerned that some ... [people who] want to help vets find jobs often just tell a vet who has served in the military ... that he is employable only as a security guard or [in] law enforcement,” he says. “They tell of very few jobs for which a soldier is qualified.”

That's where Genesis10 comes in: The firm provides mentoring to individual veterans and hosts groups that meet regularly.

“We help a vet translate his or her skills into a resume that a corporate hiring manager would understand and value,” Swaggert says. “We work both sides — with military vets and with corporations — and are a translator for both parties.

"For example, in the military, we’re taught not to use the word ‘I’ and to keep our words short. It’s a reason that vets might struggle in interviews — and we teach them differently.”

The approach has produced tangible results, with more than 100 veterans being hired or placed in positions within the past several months alone. Three veterans were recently hired by an energy firm; all three had bachelor’s degrees, but one had been managing a pizza shop after returning to civilian life.

Common positions include project coordinators, business analysts, quality-assurance professionals, software developers, networking engineers, and help desk technicians, he says.

Swaggert also manages the “reverse boot camp,” which has the goal of helping qualified candidates “make the transition from deployment to employment.” During the training program, veterans learn about corporate culture and language, what to wear in the workplace, and how to perform in an interview and  showcase their skills and expertise in appropriate ways.

“I’m in the business of selling vets to companies,” he says. “I believe companies are starting to recognize the value of vets but still need people like us to bridge the gap of communications. I tell them there are people who can wear both a business suit and a uniform.”

Many of the advances in technology in the military prepare veterans for successful careers in cutting-edge information technology positions. That makes hiring veterans a wise business decision, he says.

But businesses need to realize that.

“Vets and corporations need a human translator to bridge the gap — and the best translators are people who have had experience in both the military and the corporate world,” he says.

• For more information on the Genesis10 program visit http://www.genesis10.com/veterans-program/about/.

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