When Vets Seek Jobs

Veterans can be typecast as unemotional unless their résumés reflect softer skills.
When Vets Seek Jobs

MILITARY VETERANS LOOKING for jobs may find themselves typecast as agentic and unemotional, leading them to be overlooked for work that requires emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills. In fact, managers tend to relegate veteran job candidates to roles where they would work with things rather than people, according to new research from Steven Shepherd, an assistant professor at the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater; Aaron Kay, a professor of management at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business in Durham, North Carolina; and Kurt Gray, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The research was funded by Microsoft Military Affairs.

For example, in a restaurant setting, veterans were perceived to be better suited for roles such as dishwashers or prep cooks, while similarly qualified applicants with no military experience were seen as better suited for customer-facing roles as hosts or servers. The research comprises ten studies and randomized experiments with almost 3,000 participants, from people with no hiring experience to seasoned managers and recruiters.

“People may perceive a veteran job candidate as brave, calm under pressure, and having a get-it-done kind of attitude,” says Kay. “But the way the economy is moving, many new types of jobs also require creativity, interpersonal skills, and emotional capacity. When choosing between two equally qualified job candidates, the average person and even prospective employers show a tendency to prefer the applicant without military experience for jobs requiring social-emotional abilities.”

Veterans may be able to counteract some typecasting simply by editing their résumés. In one study, when a candidate’s résumé included military service and volunteer experience demonstrating his emotional side—in this case, nurturing rescue animals—prospective employers considered his social-emotional skills equal to those of other similarly qualified nonveteran candidates.

“It has been assumed the main impediment to getting veterans the jobs they deserve has been articulating their work experience in ways civilians can understand,” Kay says. But this new research indicates that veterans are perceived in a certain way and might need to take steps to combat that perception.

“Military veterans are morally typecast as agentic but unfeeling: implications for veteran employment” was published in the July 2019 issue of Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.