March 2, 2021
Jennifer Renee Pluta is assistant director of Veteran Career Services, Office of Veteran and Military Affairs, Syracuse University, and a Master Sergeant, U.S. Army Reserve. She co-leads the NACE Individuals Serving/Recruiting Student Veterans Affinity Group.
Did you know student veterans are not using career preparation opportunities available to them? This finding, from the Life Cycle Atlas Survey by the Student Veterans America, is especially significant given the top motivator for veterans enrolling in college is to obtain meaningful employment. Moreover, as of May 2017, the Post 9/11 GI Bill has paid out $75 billion for veterans’ tuition, fees, books, and housing; more than 773,000 veterans and their family members have benefitted since the bill went into effect in 2009.
Given the primary motivation for student veterans to enroll in college is to obtain meaningful employment in conjunction with the financial and enrollment benefits colleges receive from the Post 9/11 GI Bill, colleges must ensure student veterans are aware of and using career preparation opportunities. College career services must support the career pathways of their student veteran populations through strategic and thoughtful veteran-focused initiatives. In doing so, career centers can bridge the gap between student veterans underuse of career services and those student veterans’ desire to secure meaningful employment after graduation.
At Syracuse University, Veteran Career Services (VCS) has successfully developed programs and resources to support the student veteran’s career pathways. VCS has developed and implemented strategies, programs, and processes that effectively engage the student veteran population and employers. Some of these are offered here.
Engaging Student Veterans
To engage effectively with student veterans, career services should engage early and often by supplying and communicating about opportunities and initiatives that are student veteran-centric. Start by implementing some of the following engagement initiatives into your career services.
Student Veteran Drops-Ins: Set aside dedicated times to connect with student veterans for drop-ins. These times can be weekly and exclusively for student veterans to address their career-related questions. Setting aside dedicated times to see student veterans helps to create awareness of opportunities available to them.
Dedicated Appointments: As with drop-ins, providing opportunities for student veterans to make appointments can bridge the gap. Assign a dedicated staff member with military competency to work with the institution’s student veteran population. As student veterans are typically nontraditional and may have family commitments preventing them from being able to make a day-time appointment, having evening appointment times available or providing for appointments by phone will be of significant value.
Career Services Management Systems: Leverage and use your institution’s career services management system to its fullest capabilities to track and engage student veterans. Try tagging your student veterans so that all system users can find their student veteran population. Posting appointments, drop-ins, events, and programs will create awareness of opportunities available to student veterans and will prompt them to use their institution’s career services management system for employment and internship opportunities.
Weekly Student Veteran Newsletter: Create a weekly newsletter to communicate events, opportunities, and resources to student veterans in support of their career pathways. This focused newsletter will engage student veterans and provides a means for career services to communicate its initiatives.
Dedicated Listserv: A straightforward way to communicate with student veterans is to create a listserv to send out information on event events and opportunities. This can also help create brand awareness of career services among student veterans and make them aware of the resources available to them.
Committed Web Presence: Devote a section on the career services webpage to online resources for student veterans and to encourage them to take advantage of career preparation opportunities.
VCS Facebook Page: For the latest information on job/internship postings, career fairs, professional development opportunities, and events, set up a Facebook page to engage student veterans. Using social media, like Facebook, in conjunction with other communication tools will encourage student veteran engagement.
Collateral Print Materials: Use print collateral, such as flyers and handouts, to engage student veterans. Place your collateral at your institution’s student veteran lounge, pass it out at student veteran organization meetings, and provide it to your VA certifying officials or other cross-campus constituents who serve veterans.
Providing Veteran-Focused Events & Programs
Create thoughtful student veteran-focused events and programs to support your students’ career ambitions. Here are some examples:
Career Prep Luncheons: This is a series of engaging career prep workshops focused on delivering the tools to student veterans to become career ready. Held on Fridays, our Career Prep Luncheons included free lunch for participating student veterans. Topics covered include developing resumes, using Handshake, navigating career fair, writing cover letters, applying for positions, and interviewing.
Professional Development Fridays: This professional development series is a fun and creative way to provide student veterans with the opportunity to hear from subject matter experts on an array of topics. You can leverage university staff and faculty who are veterans, and bring employers and veteran service organizations together to host an informal discussion at a local establishment for student veterans. These discussions support student veterans’ personal and professional development and create a network among peers—all of which are great ways to create a supportive veteran community across campus.
Career Development Course for Veterans: This one-credit career course, designed specifically for student veterans, provides them with the opportunity to gain in-depth strategies to improve their career decision-making and to communicate their interests and goals while earning credit. The primary format for this course is discussion style and includes partner work, group activities, and lecture.
The Student Veteran Career Crash Course: This one-day, career-focused event consists of a series of workshops delivered by VCS’s employer partners and aims to prepare student veterans for the upcoming recruiting cycle. Held at the beginning of the fall semester, this career intensive program engages both student veterans and employers interested in hiring vets. Topics covered include resume/cover letter writing, developing your brand, internship/job search strategies, using LinkedIn, and interviewing.
Ready Set Vet Workshop Series: This is a three-part series of workshops framed around preparing student veterans for the fall recruiting cycle. To ensure the greatest participation, the workshops are offered twice a week for three weeks, once in the afternoon and once in the evening. The series supplies relevant content over a short amount of time to prepare for career week, and includes such topics as career fair prep, resume writing, and using LinkedIn.
Student Veteran Resume Book: Three times a year, VCS provides more than 300 employer partners with its veteran resume book, which includes the resumes of student veterans who are seeking a job or internship.
Create and implement a veteran-focused employer engagement program through existing initiatives. To start, you draw on Syracuse University VCS employer engagement initiatives as part of your career center’s overall employer relations strategy:
Student Veterans & Employer Networking Receptions: Held twice a year during career week, the Student Veterans & Employer Networking Receptions are an opportunity for student veterans to network with employers that are looking to hire student veterans for jobs and internship opportunities. The receptions provide an opportunity for student veterans to build their network with industry leaders and explore career paths. These receptions are invite-only to employers committed to hiring veterans.
Career Immersion Trip: The goals of Career Immersion Trips are to provide student veterans with an opportunity to gain a real-life understanding of the careers, culture, and inner workings of the selected city. Student veterans also have the chance to attend a networking reception to connect with employers/alumni, take part in group dinners hosted by supporters of Syracuse University student veterans, and take part in employer tours to learn about employers that hire and support veterans. Past immersion trips have included multiple-day trips to DC, NYC, and LA.
Employer Drop-Ins for Student Veterans: As with traditional drop-ins, Employer Drop-Ins for Student Veterans provide an opportunity for student veterans to meet one-on-one with employers to discuss an array of topics. Employer-hosted drop-ins are also an opportunity for employers to engage student veterans as part of their organization’s veteran recruiting strategy and to connect with their organization’s veteran recruiter. Topics covered include resume/cover letter reviews, interview/networking tips, and information about the employer organization.
Employer Veterans Panel Discussion: This is an opportunity to feature employer partners who actively recruit at your institution. Hosting the panel discussions are veterans and veteran recruiters from a variety of industries and fields. As part of the discussion, panelists have a chance to share their transition story, information on employment opportunities at their organization, and career advice.
Dedicated Hiring Events: Hiring events focused on vets, such as Hiring Our Heroes employment fairs, provide student veterans with face-to-face opportunities to meet with top employers. These hiring events may be in your back yard, or a major city within driving distance. Explore opportunities to take student veterans to these hiring events.
These suggestions and tips from Syracuse University Veteran Career Services are a means to deliver programs and resources to student veterans and are examples of initiatives that career services can implement to better engage their student veteran populations. Given the financial and enrollment benefit the Post 9/11 GI Bill has had on colleges, career centers can, and should, supply customized programs and resources to their student veteran population. In doing so, career services can do its part in helping student veterans realize their goal of meaningful employment after graduation.