This post is part of a series that already includes conversations with:
Fred Wellman: If you don't find a job, create one!
Chris Norton: Veterans are social and connected
Lance Sapera: The service is a long version of University
Caleb Fullhart: An army recruiter changed my life forever
Arron Daniels: I Can Knock It Out of the Park!
Brenda Bell: Veterans will help your company succeed
Max Dubroff: Ten recommendations to veterans.
Chad Sowash retired from the Military after 20 combined years of service. He started in the online recruitment industry in 1998 working in sales at Online Career Center before it was rebranded as Monster.com in January of ‘99. After leaving Monster Chad took a leadership role as a Vice President at DirectEmployers Association for ten years. During his that time he led the collaboration between Corporate America and State Workforce in the creation of the National Labor Exchange.
Chad enjoyed a short stint with RecruitMilitary as their Chief Experience Officer and exited shortly after the company’s acquisition. Chad has since teamed up with a colleague to start a firm, Catch 22 Consulting, whose purpose is to provide expert resource for companies which want to build meaningful hiring programs for veterans and individuals with disabilities and ultimately help companies better understand attraction, engagement and building of communities, as opposed to merely building resume databases.
Tell me about your history, what you did in the military?
I actually started my career in the military only six days after graduating high school. I knew I wasn’t ready to jump right into college, wanted to see the world and felt the military was a great option. I soon found that being stationed in the tropical paradise of Panama was wonderful just as long as I wasn’t receiving mortar and AK47 fire, which is what happened within the first few months of my tour during Operation Just Cause. That’s right I started the first four years my 20-year stint with Uncle Sam in active duty Army and found myself carved into a hillside on the parameter of Fort Clayton ducking, covering and returning fire.
Fast-forward four years to 1993 where I found myself transitioning back into civilian life and in search of the same type of brotherhood, camaraderie and true community that I missed from the Army. That’s where I found and joined the Army Reserves. I finished up my twenty as a reservist where I was deployed back to active duty a couple times as an Infantry Drill Sergeant on Sand Hill at Fort Benning, GA. That’s right, Round Brown, push-ups, cadence, the whole deal as a full-time Infantry Drill for 2 ½ years, HOOAH.
Why did you transition out of active duty?
Back in ‘93 I was only an E-4 and you have to remember back then we were faced with major military budget cuts from the Clinton administration, so the likelihood of promotion was very bleak. Heck we were using the original Nintendo game systems for M16 weapons qualification instead of real weapons and live rounds, talk about scary. At that point it really didn’t make any sense for me to stay in the active military, so I made my move and chose to transition back into the civilian world. Fast forward to today, that’s pretty much what we’re going to be seeing with this huge drawdown: many aren’t going to want to stay in, and others are going to be pushed out for a myriad of reasons not due to bad conduct.
How was the transition to a civilian job from being an E-4 Specialist?
It was fairly easy. On active duty, my first job was as a quartermaster and chemical equipment repair, and luckily my new employer knew to look deeper or I would have easily been overlooked. Luckily I had an “inside scoop” to land a sales gig and once I started working in the job, the skills I learned in the military translated easily. My new boss knew that military teaches you much more — leadership, working within a team – those types of things that were very important in my transition. Over the years, I’ve presented to many groups about military and veteran hiring and I always ask how many people (in the audience) ever went through standardized leadership training to keep the job that they were promoted into? Usually you can hear a pin drop after that question, because in general, there are no leadership courses organic to organizational career pathing, like in the military. Most promotions above E-3, in the Army, come with leadership course “strings attached”. This means you must complete the prescribed leadership course to retain or achieve the next promotion. Not to mention, you must keep up with all of your certifications, new schools etc. That’s right the military has standardized leadership courses that are organic to the entire environment, because the military builds leaders and most organizations promote their achievers, which unfortunately in most cases are not leaders.
Would you have gotten your first job without having the “inside scoop”?
That’s a great question and to be honest, if I actually made it to the interview I would have been confident, but I’m not sure that I would’ve made it through the resume screen. As I said, my first job after transitioning into the civilian sector was in sales, where you obviously have to work with people on a daily basis and you have to be very detail-oriented. I was lucky because my “inside scoop” was my Dad who was the Regional Sales Manager and also an Army veteran. But if I didn’t have that “inside scoop” or connection would I have gotten hired into that position? Did my resume say that I had the necessary skill sets? Would a newfangled Military Occupation Code (MOC) translator say the job was right for me? Not in a million years. But I did have the skills, learned and honed from the military and was fortunate enough to be afforded the chance to prove myself.
Did the military teach you to adjust to new circumstances?
Absolutely! Flexibility is a necessity in the military, because you never know what’s going to come at you, literally. You have a mission, but you have the autonomy within that mission to get it completed, and you have to map out all of the different contingency plans, visualize outcomes, alternate opportunities and anticipate problems. You can’t just go into a mission thinking there’s one way to achieve the goal. So when I transitioned back into civilian life the entire thought-process and mindset was perfect for business.
What else did the military teach you?
The military taught me many things, but I believe leadership and the “driver” instinct was important, which for me was a perfect match for the business development and sales world. I also knew that I wanted to work with people, which is ingrained in us on Day One in Army Basic Training where you are issued a Battle Buddy, even before your toilet paper, a bunk or even wall locker. This sets a precedent that teamwork is paramount and starts the wheel of camaraderie and community in motion. I firmly believe that specific mindset translates very well into the civilian workforce, yes we might be a tad more direct than our civilian counterparts at first, but everything can become copasetic after acclimating to our new environment.
So what are some recommendations you would give to hiring companies?
I could go on for days, but here are a few that I think every company should think about deeply.
1) Get an expert to provide a fresh set of eyes
It takes a very specialized skill-set to build a successful veteran hiring program and you cannot fathom how many gaps you’re missing. So bring in an expert who can provide a fresh set of eyes and the expertise you desperately need. Over the past 10 years I’ve seen many companies fail when trying to build a DIY veteran hiring program because they felt they knew what they were doing. They didn’t…
2) Focus heavily on community
Much like I did when transitioning out of the active duty, other veterans will look for the same military-like community. Can your organization provide it? Are you using community to retain your current veteran population? Do you even know who your current veterans are? If so, how are you engaging them and using them as a business asset?
3) Ask the right questions
Civilianized questions won’t work well with prior service, especially newly transitioning military. It’s incredibly important for organizations to understand who we (Veterans) are so they may ask the right questions allowing them to truly tap into the most relevant responses.
4) Focus on outcomes, not just compliance
The OFCCP is pushing very hard on federal contractors to have a better understanding of military talent and how it relates to their open positions. I have watched the same organizations drop the “veteran hiring ball” many times over the years because they are focused on checking the box and not actual hiring outcomes. Organizations may someday get veteran hiring right IF they focus on building sustainable veteran hiring pipelines that are graded against outcomes, not audits. Compliance should be an advisor at the table and NOT the driver.