How Career Services Can Support Student Veterans

Eric Stetson, Director of Engagement and Enrollment at FourBlock and a retired Army officer, shares best practices for how career services teams can support student veterans.

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Eric Stetson, Director of Engagement and Enrollment at FourBlock and a retired Army officer, shares best practices for how career services teams can support student veterans.

In the episode, Eric highlights:

  • The unique challenges student veterans commonly face as part of the career exploration process 
  • What career leaders should know about best supporting veterans in career development
  • How career teams can help veterans translate the wealth of skills they have from military service into the language of the civilian workforce
  • Best practices for providing nuanced support and resources for veterans 
  • Immediate strategies that can be implemented to increase support for veterans as part of career services
  • And more

Eric served in the US Army for 24 years before retiring in 2015. Now he works for FourBlock, a nonprofit organization that prepares transitioning veterans and military spouses for careers in corporate America.

Resources from the episode:


Ashley Safranski:

Welcome everyone. I hope everyone’s having a great Wednesday, great afternoon. Appreciate you all joining us for this conversation. I know I’ve hosted several of these webinars, so some of you might be familiar, but if it’s your first one, just introduce myself. I’m Ashley Safranski. I lead marketing here at uConnect for the creators of the first all-in-one virtual career center.

And I’m super excited for our conversation featuring Eric Stetson of FourBlock. And he and I are going to dig into some of the best practices for supporting student veterans and really get into the weeds of how career teams specifically can provide that level of nuance support for the student population on their campus.

So, before I turn it over to Eric here in just a second, I wanted to make sure to reiterate we are recording today’s session. I will share it out via email tomorrow along with any of the resources that Eric and I talk about during this discussion. And then we’ll spend the last 15 to 20 minutes or so doing audience Q&A. So, throughout our discussion as you have questions, go ahead and use that Q&A box down at the bottom of the screen to send in your questions. And I’ll facilitate Q&A with Eric at the end.

And then please do use the chat. And if someone could make sure, I believe the chat should be working, but someone give me a shout here on the chat just to make sure we’re all clear. And with that, Eric, I’m going to turn it over to you to introduce yourself. Tell us a bit about FourBlock and the work that you all are doing there. So, yeah, take it away.

Eric Stetson:

All right. Ashley, thank you. First of all, straight up, I just want to say thanks to Ashley and the uConnect team for the privilege and the opportunity to do this. I’m very excited about what you all are doing at uConnect, developing this platform and tools for different student groups to enhance the toolkit that folks in career counseling in schools have, and especially obviously near and dear to my heart for veterans and student veterans. So, Ashley, I appreciate it.

I also want to say thanks to well over a thousand veterans, who I’ve worked with in the past few years in career transition as part of FourBlock and what I’ve learned from them, many, many, many student veterans and what they’ve experienced in the process they’ve gone through.

And then finally, to all of you who are on this call today, this webinar, thank you for being on and tuning in and asking questions and getting this information because you’re a key part of that process for a student veteran coming onto a college or university campus and learning how to be in school again and then learning how to figure out, okay, what’s next? What am I going to do with this and where am I going forward in a career? So, I really appreciate you all for being on.

My name’s Eric Stetson. I’m a retired Army officer. I served in the US Army for 24 years. I retired from the service in 2015 after just a pretty … I had an amazing time, an amazing career. I learned so much and I got to travel the world, see a lot of places and do a lot of different things and work with some amazing people around the world. And so, it was a pretty amazing opportunity.

As soon as I got out, I went into talent development and individual leader and team training and development in corporate America, but I was also volunteering in the veteran space and I definitely am a people person and I’m about helping people be the best they can be and figure out what they want to be as well as after they “grow up”. And so, I take a lot of pleasure in doing that.

And so, volunteering in the veteran space in the Philadelphia area, I discovered FourBlock. And when I saw the FourBlock model, I knew right away that this was a fantastic opportunity for veterans to take advantage of in their transition process. And so, that’s how I got involved with the FourBlock team originally as a volunteer, ended up becoming a northeast director responsible for Boston, New York City, Philly and DC, partnering with a lot of schools and universities, colleges and universities in those cities to have student veterans take advantage of our program.

Now, I do engagement and enrollment for FourBlock on a national basis, supporting four different regional directors with our programs around the nation. So, very quickly, FourBlock is a not-for-profit veteran support organization, 501(c)(3) tax organization run by a small group of veterans, spouses of veterans. And we specialize in and are completely focused on career development for veterans and their spouses.

And so, this is what we do. About 30% of our population, folks who come through our programming are student veterans from across the nation. And we’ve been doing this for about 14 years. We’re going into our 15th year. And so, we’re not everywhere, but we try to be everywhere through virtual programming as in addition to our in-person programs.

And what we do, we do in conjunction with a number of great companies and sponsoring organizations out there that give us the ability to do what we do and bring it at no charge to student veterans and their spouses. And so, that’s what we specialize in.

And so, in doing that, we work with a lot of different career services groups at universities and colleges in addition to working with employers and giving them some techniques on how to find veterans.

So, that knowledge that we’ve developed over the last almost 15 years has helped us along with the feedback of the veterans in our program and our corporate partners to build and adjust the program as we go to make it better and better and better to serve the better population. So, that’s what we do and I’m excited to be here. Thanks, Ashley.

Ashley Safranski:

Fantastic. Thanks, Eric. Super helpful. And I just for a bit of context too, for everyone on the webinar, uConnect over the last several years, we’ve really continued to hear from a lot of our partners, this strong desire to increase the level of support that they’re providing to specific student populations, veterans being one of them. But oftentimes, there’s just a lack of time or resources or internal knowledge to be able to go out and source and find the relevant resources or information or content or what have you.

So, as many of you know over the last year, we’ve expanded a lot of our partnerships at uConnect to go out and partner with organizations like FourBlock and to curate a lot of the content resources and information that are specific to these various student groups. So, FourBlock is one of our headline partners for our Veterans Curation Kits. So, we’re taking a lot of the content from various partners and packaging them into these curation kits. So, we’re very, very excited. You just heard all about FourBlock and just to have them as a headline partner, super, super grateful for them and all of the work that you guys are doing. So, thanks Eric.

So, I think it’s time we can get into some questions. I certainly have a lot and I know we’re going to get a lot from our audience. So, I think just to set the stage, this is a big topic supporting student veterans in career services. But as a stage setter, maybe you can dig into some of the challenges that student veterans face broadly in higher education. So, not even specific yet to career services, but just broadly what are they facing?

Eric Stetson:

Right. So, student veterans face what we call a double whammy. So, they’re coming out of the service and they’re trying to figure out how to get into college or university and move forward and what that looks like and learn how to operate on the college or university campus. And then once they’re done that, then they have the next transition into a full-time career.

But coming in initially into the university or college ecosystem out of the military presents its own challenges. So, while there is counseling while they’re in the service on how to do this, people are coming from all different angles into this process. And there are some pretty interesting statistics that addressed some of the challenges that veterans have coming into the college campus.

First of all, they’ve probably been in the service anywhere from if they’re a student veteran, probably anywhere from about four to six to eight years. And so, they have had tremendous experience on the ground in the service, being trained, training, being led, leading, doing different things in the military, and they’re adult learners with real world experience. They’re coming back to a college campus dominated by typically younger people and it’s a very different environment from where they came from. So, that’s a bit of a challenge in that adapting back to more of a “normal world”.

So, 54% of them are married student veterans across the United States. And this is some data that I’ve been able to glean from our partners at Student Veterans of America, which is a great organization we’ll talk about again, but 54% of these student veterans are coming back into school married. So, it’s not just them by themselves getting on with their academic career, 52% have children and very, very high number of them, especially women are working part-time. So, these could be women with one or more children working part-time and in school. That’s a complex combination in and of itself.

And so, the initial transition is not easy. Sometimes they doubt themselves. Maybe they don’t believe they’re capable of what they’re getting ready to do. They’re trying to figure out how to achieve credits for what they’ve already done in the military and what transfers into the school system. Hopefully, if they’re having problems, they’re working with an organization like Warrior Scholar Project, which is very good at doing this. So, the family could be a dynamic issue, kids and then part-time work on top of being a student.

Then of course, you’ve got folks who are still dealing with medical issues and working through the VA with disability claims and they have to go to appointments periodically and it could be halfway across the city or an hour away where they have to get to appointments periodically for their healthcare and followup as part of their claims process.

And then some folks, not a high percentage, but I’ve seen numbers as high as 20 to 25% of veterans returning from deployments have PTSD. So, some veterans are working through that at the same time. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of good resources out there and support systems if they’re taking advantage of them to get that counseling to work through those issues.

So, there could be any number of issues impacting the student coming back to school as a student veteran. And the saying goes, “If you’ve met a veteran, you’ve met a veteran.” And that’s so true because the veteran constituency is such a diverse group of people from across the nation in every conceivable background, every part of the country, SES, you name it. And so, you don’t want to make assumptions, but those are some of the typical challenges and issues that veterans are working through as they get back into school.

Ashley Safranski:

Great. Super helpful. Really interesting statistics. I think a lot of this will inform the rest of the discussion. Let’s get more specific to career development. From your vantage point, what are some of the specific challenges or maybe areas of friction veterans may commonly struggle with when it comes to career development and exploration?

Eric Stetson:

Right. Yeah. It’s a hot topic I’m working with some folks actually today and tomorrow on. So, we still have quite a few veterans that are coming out of the service into college or university before they have really figured out who they are, what they’re passionate about, what they want to do in the future. And so, this is an ongoing challenge and there are different mechanisms to help people with this, as you all know. But many are coming in and they’re starting curriculum and a course program and they haven’t quite answered that yet.

And so, we have a very high number of student veterans that end up changing their majors, which then results in spending more money and not wasting money, but taking a longer time to earn the degree in the path that they want to go forward. So, I always try and start at the beginning, so to speak. And when someone says, “I want to do something,” I say, “Why? Why do you want to do that?” Because I want to see if they’ve thought about, I want to see what’s behind that, where’s that passion, drive, curiosity focus coming from to chart their way forward? So, that’s the first thing is who am I? What do I want to do?

The military strips away a lot of individualism, especially early in the service as a person is learning how to adapt to and become regimented and disciplined to a very new way of life that requires a lot of rigor, discipline, and focus. And so, part of the challenge is bringing that person back out of that service person back into the light to say, “What are you about? What drives you? What do you enjoy? What are you curious about?” And have them figure that out.

So, we’re trying to get better at that both while they’re in the service and in that transition process. But you will find, and you probably already have talked veteran and said, “Haven’t really spent enough time on the eternal question, who am I?” And so, that’s start at the start.

Once you get that right, you can focus all your energies going forward into career transition. But again, a lot of those same issues I just talked about with student veterans are going to interfere with the student veteran’s ability to have the time to focus on career development versus just getting through the day, getting through the academics to earn the degree.

So, that leads us to how do we facilitate supporting them to do that? And there are a number of different options and organizations that we can get into. But I think that’s one of the biggest challenges is helping a veteran to reclaim them self as an individual to figure out that way ahead in a future career, and then understand the things they need to do in addition to that degree to get there.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. I know that a lot of the folks, even on this call, a big area of priority for many career teams is that early engagement. So, if they’re enrolling at a university or a college, engaging with them right off the bat to help really inform that career development process, which is going to inform their academic pathways and the majors that they’re pursuing and whatnot. So, I think that’s really helpful.

I know that you and I, and we had chatted too and we’ll dig into this some more, but a big area in the career exploration development phases, the challenge of translating the skills. So, a lot of these students are coming, bring a lot to the table, but may struggle with translating military skills into the civilian workforce. Can you expand on that a little bit?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. Absolutely. So, skills translation is always a big topic. And so, the example I’ll always revert back to is you take a young guy, let’s say he’s 23, 24, and he served four or five years in the Army and he was an infantryman. So, an infantryman does what? It’s your frontline basic combat soldier. To win the war, you have to seize ground, defeat the enemy. That’s what the infantry does.

And so, that infantryman knows how to deploy weapons and he knows how first aid and he knows how to set up an ambush and he knows how to fire weapons and build fighting positions. And that’s what he knows and that’s how he thinks of himself inside his, what I call the brain housing group, a little bit of military slang. And the individual will be pursuing whatever degree it is that they’re pursuing and they want to go forward, but they’ll think of themselves only from an infantry military occupational specialty perspective.

I challenge that individual and I say, “Okay, let me ask you a question. Did you ever evaluate training? Did you ever counsel somebody? Did you ever do a risk assessment and implement risk mitigation control measures to make sure nobody got hurt doing something? Did you ever run a range, organize all the resources, do the rehearsals, get the external people involved, control it, operate it, evaluate it, project management?”

And so, we have to help people understand the skillset they have behind the military skill that they had and they were trained in the job they did in the military. And so, that is a challenge in skills translation is getting the veteran to first understand what they did in the military and break that into regular English so people who they’re talking to can understand the experience that they had.

And so, I tell people who are working with, especially with student veterans when they’re coaching them and having conversations with them when they describe something they did and they use military acronyms or terminology or said what their position was, tell them, “Okay, stop. Tell me what does that mean? Okay. What does that person do? What were you actually doing day in and day out?” And have the person start to elaborate.

And every time the person uses a military acronym and say, “Stop. What’s that mean?” And so, we have to challenge veterans to learn how to speak in eighth grade English again and drop the military jargons and acronyms and language. And we also have to challenge to think about what exactly did they do in the military and translate that into tasks that we can understand in regular English because that’s part of their experience and their skillset that they bring to the table when they start to pursue a future career.

And there are different organizations that support doing that, certainly what we do at FourBlock, and there are different digital resources online, applications, software packages that will also support veterans in doing that as well. Did I answer the question, Ashley?

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah, I think so. I think just, it sounds like there’s some outside resources, but really just continuing to dig in to those conversations. I think if you have any other suggestions for how career practitioners or leaders can have those conversations. I don’t know if there’s anything to expand on there.

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. Well, I think don’t be afraid. So, veterans are used to getting constructive criticism. They’re used to being counseled regularly. It’s part of what we do in the military. And so, do not be afraid to say, “Hey, wait a minute, you’re not speaking to me in English. We’re talking two different languages here. What does that mean?”

Don’t be afraid to challenge that veteran to write down all the major things they did in their last two jobs in the military and see how that unfolds to take the resume that they have or their LinkedIn account and absolutely tear it up and show them all the things that are wrong.

They need that feedback. They want that feedback. Obviously don’t be mean about it, but you’re not going to hurt their feelings. These are people that have experienced, most of them have experienced pretty stressful situations both in training, some of them in deployments, and they’ve learned how to handle that. And so, they’re not going to be too riled up or upset if you’re very blunt with them about what they’re bringing to the table. And they need that and they want that because they feel like a fish out of water, so they need that help.

Ashley Safranski:

Sure. What are some of the reasons why veterans maybe aren’t or wouldn’t seek out career services? And I think you get to some of that with they’re busy. If 54% are married and 52% have children and maybe working part-time and going to class full time. Obviously, that’s a barrier, but anything beyond that, [inaudible 00:21:29] to add.

Eric Stetson:

Thanks for reminding me. So, also the veteran mindset. In the military, we teach people how to overcome problems and be self-sufficient and get things done. And it’s also about being resilient, being strong, and it’s also about serving others and being part of the team. It’s not about yourself.

And so, that is very valuable, very important for an effective military and teams operating in a military environment. However, it is counterproductive when the veteran comes back into the civilian world university or college environment and is reluctant then to ask for help. It’s one of the biggest problems that we have right now in the military family community. And so, you do have to remember that veterans are going to be reluctant to ask for help and realize that they don’t have to go in alone and that there are resources out there to help them both in the digital space and on campus and in the community.

And so, just please keep reiterating that message to them. And there’s a couple ideas here. If they’re coming into the career services office and you identify them as a veteran and they identify as a veteran, please say, “Hey, great. We’re here to help you. Please don’t be afraid to ask for help. We want to help you. We’re on your team and thanks for serving. Are you still in the service? What do you think so far? What can I help you with here at the university?” It’s not just career services. So, definitely got to let them know.

The other way to get in this is a lot of universities do a new student veteran orientation session and they’ll bring in organizations like mine and a bunch of others to talk very quickly with the veterans, give them materials and swag so they know there’s resources to assist them. And that’s a great opportunity for career services as well.

And then for career services people to ally and partner with veteran organizations on the campus, a lot of campuses will have a student veteran center run by an individual or I’ve never known of a campus or university that did not have a senior leader, a dean, assistant dean whose charter was, they were responsible for student veterans on the campus.

And so, reaching out to that individual and trying to have an alliance there and say, “Hey, how can we support you with your student bets?” And here’s how you could help us be better at our job supporting student veterans and career development. So, building those partnerships on campus in the local community is important as well.

So, local community, what are the VSOs in your neck of the woods who you can reach out to and find out what they do and invite them to interview them on campus to see what they’re about? And how can you research them online to understand what they’re about and partner with them also?

I’ll tell you that for an organization like FourBlock, I want every one of you to reach out to us and say, “FourBlock, we’d love for you to come to our campus. We’d love for you to come brief our students, come brief our staff, come do a class on interviewing or telling your story.” Another thing veterans are really bad at.

We don’t talk about ourselves. We don’t use the word “I”. We’re not trained to do that. It’s about the team. So, I have to tell veterans, we tell veterans, “There is a me in team, isn’t there, right? Okay. So, you don’t want to say I, but there’s a me in team and you do have to learn how to talk about yourself, especially in career transition as you all know.”

So, bringing organizations to campus like FourBlock and others to share with your veterans, and so they can learn, of course, doing your due diligence. There are some organizations out there that, yeah, just roughly there are 47,500, I think different registered VSOs across the nation, and they’re not all what they should be. So, doing some homework there and due diligence is important. I went on for a while, Ashley. Sorry.

Ashley Safranski:

No. That’s great. There’s some questions that are coming in that I think are related and I think from, I certainly feel like I can add. What suggestions do we have to increase student veteran engagement with career services? And even as a followup, again with students who can’t walk in somewhere if it’s either by way of their schedule or it’s an online school. I know at uConnect, we’re very focused on making sure that the front door to your office, your virtual digital front door is accessible and loaded up with great resources that are curated for specific student populations, but anything to add to that?

Eric Stetson:

Well, I mean, that’s why I was so excited when I learned what you guys are doing. And so, I think that is so important is to have that 24/7 working digital resources for student veterans. And for the veterans who are remote or not in person, how are you connecting with them? That is a challenge.

And so, of course they’ve got to have the digital resources to connect to. They’ve got to have the telephone numbers they can call to talk to real life human beings. So, when they do come on campus, they can have a session with somebody. And then developing student veteran specific sessions on campus and doing that and bringing something added to the mix.

So, I often tell career services and student veteran organizations on campus, “Ask us to come. Okay, promote us, ask us to come, use us as the honey or the attractant to get veterans to show up.” Get creative like that so that they say, “Okay, this is an event I want to go to. I’m going to get to talk to these folks that do free interview training.” For instance, an organization called candorful.org. Speak with candor, be candid. Candorfull.org does free interview training for veterans and their family members.

And so, developing some partnerships and using those people to augment and support your existing events will help veterans decide to make that, okay, I’m going to make the trek into the university 45 minutes away and I’m going to spend a couple hours there and go to this event because they’ve lined up some good speakers. Or this company and their employee resource group, their veteran employee resource group is coming to represent and talk about career transition or careers in finance or whatever it is. Or FourBlock is going to be there, ACP is going to be there, a combination.

So, that’s a good technique to bring veterans a little bit closer in at eyeball distance to support them. In addition to having the resources on your website, and you can refer veterans, too. It could be a veteran going into entrepreneurship and they want to start their own business.

Do they know about the Institute for Veterans Military Families at Syracuse University? Do they know about Bunker Labs? It could be a veteran who needs counseling services. Do they know about the Steven A. Cohen Clinic for military families and military members? Do they know about Headstrong? Or it could be career development like FourBlock does or to get a mentor?

And so, by knowing about these resources and having them in your digital footprint is really going to make a difference as well for helping those folks in the career transition process.

I just want to back up real fast. Working with the Allies on Campus, Veterans on Campus that are in the administration anywhere, professors, admin folks, leaders responsible for student vets, developing that allyship and a strategy to go forward and building this connectivity is going to help you reach student veterans earlier in their college career to help them understand the importance of internships and deliberate preparation parallel to their academic career.

And that’s critical so they don’t get too far down the path and they’re not prepared for what’s coming next. And so, we certainly want to be a part of that solution for you as much as possible. And it’s why I recommend if you don’t already have a Student Veterans of America chapter on your campus, please check out SVA, Student Veterans of America and talk with those folks as well. Okay.

Ashley Safranski:

You mentioned Candorful, and I would just be remiss if I didn’t highlight it. Candorful is another organization that we’re partnering with as part of the Veterans Curation Kit, which is great. You have listed, and it’s mind-blowing to me that you can rattle off so many resources. They’re just right on the tip of your tongue. I think there’s a lot of people who would love to have links or names. So, as a followup, Eric, maybe you and I can sync up and we’ll create that list of resources that you’ve mentioned so that we can share it back out in the followup tomorrow.

Eric Stetson:

Absolutely. Yeah.

Ashley Safranski:

Okay. Great.

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. I think being able to tell a veteran face-to-face or digitally, “Hey, we’ve got services and support specifically designed for student veterans, please check it out.” That pulls student veterans closer to you because you just became part of the solution and aid to them, a support to them, and now they’re more likely to come back to you again in the future.

So, we’ll get the names and lists together. Ashley, I’ll provide to Ashley, and these are from my knowledge working in the space for eight years now and the organizations that I know and trust based upon the feedback of student veterans out there in the community, not just my own observation. Thank you.

Ashley Safranski:

I appreciate that, Eric. And I think you really dug into this, and I just want to reiterate it. Partnerships are so key. And I know uConnect definitely and Career Everywhere, we just talk a lot about not feeling as if you have to be the sole provider of career resources or conversations or whatever, but really enabling, being the facilitator, enabling others across campus, engaging your colleagues in the veterans’ office and making sure that they too know that you have resources specific for student veterans that are related to career development and whatnot. So, I just want to call that out. I think that was a great point.

Eric Stetson:

There’s a good question on there. Also, Ashley, about identifying the veteran resources and organizations in your locale wherever your university or college is. And what I would say is, I mean obviously, you can do the Google searches and whatnot, and there are different websites.

But I might reach out to another university that has a thriving veterans program somewhere close to you and just pick their brain about who they’re using, who they’re partnering with, who has supported them on their campus. I’m at the NASPA conference right now in Louisville, and there’s a lot of cross-fertilization information sharing in this forum.

And so, NASPA certainly is a resource. Student Veterans of America is a resource. I would trust them to tell you about resources in their area. I don’t know of one, there’s not one particular website that I know of that grades all those resources out there and gives the description and everything.

There is a, I want to say don’t quote me on it, might be VSO Pathfinder app that a veteran developed to help veterans navigate the complexity of the VSO world. I think it’s called Pathfinder. So, it’s really through personal relationships with people you trust and in the local community to discover those resources close by.

And again, the major companies and corporations in your location go on their webpages, find out if they have an employment resource group, find out who the point of contact is, connect with that guy or girl and say, “Hey, love to talk to you about coming and visiting our campus and supporting our student vets.” 95% of the time, that person’s going to say yes. And so, now you have a conversation going to figure out, “Well, what do they do? What can they teach? How can they support? How can they come to campus and be some outreach there.”

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Awesome. Thanks for adding that. I want to spend a little bit of time talking about the content that you all are providing and generating at FourBlock. I’d love to know more about the podcast. I know that there’s a very familiar name as a cohost, familiar to the career services space. So, can you tell us more about the podcast and who it’s for and who it features and the goals around that? Because I know it’s a great resource for veterans.

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. There are some great tips in the chat there also, Ashley, some folks who are chiming in.

Ashley Safranski:

We will compile. We’re going to aggregate everything and we’re going to create a big master dock.

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. So, the podcast is called the FourBlock Podcast. It’s a very sexy name. And so, it’s on Spotify and Apple and whatnot. And on the podcast are veterans, enlisted NCOs officers, career transition experts, industry experts, and telling their stories of transition or giving perspective on their career path or on their industry or flat out talking about tactics, techniques, procedures. See, I used a military term there, I shouldn’t have. Methods for supporting your career transition from the military to the civilian world.

And there’s some funny stories in there. My favorite episode is done by the guest. It’s hosted by our founder, Mike Abrams, who’s a Marine, still in the Marine Reserve Corps, who founded FourBlock almost 15 years ago. And Lindsey Pollak, a well-known career advice and expert author in New York City.

And my favorite episode, there’s a former marine, infantry platoon sergeant who led marines in some of the worst urban combat United States has seen since the Vietnam War, in Fallujah, Iraq. And the name of the podcast is From Camo to Cosmetics because now he’s a corporate executive at L’Oreal Cosmetics.

And so, not a lot of people say, “Oh, Marine platoon sergeant now is an executive at L’Oreal Cosmetics. How did that happen?” And so, it illustrates the points of the potential and the opportunities for veterans career transition. So, there’re fun stories, good learning. Anybody can listen to it any time. I learn something every single episode, and we have some amazing people on there. So, the podcast is great.

We also have a course that has been designed specifically to help people figure out back to that whole first question of who am I, what do I want to do next? And the course is called Find Your Calling. Columbia University helped us produce this course called Find Your Calling. It’s on the EDX platform. It’s linked off of our website. It’s a self-paced, no cost, free course.

Lindsey Pollak is in there, Sebastian Junger, Simon Sinek, Mike Abrams, and it’s a self-paced course that takes people through a series of exercises to really have them look inwardly at themselves to understand better who they are, their purpose and their potential pathway forward. And so, we get a lot of good feedback on that program.

And then the third part in addition to the career readiness program for vets is our Program for Spouses, which has been wildly successful. And veteran spouses are an untapped potential that are just amazing people that have become very adaptive and resilient and do amazing things.

So, the career and this program, what do we teach? So, we teach essential career building skills while at the same time helping veterans figure out what they want to do, exposing them to multiple industries and helping them build their professional network all at the same time.

It’s an 11-week-long program. At this spring, it runs from the third week of February to the end of April. In the fall, it runs from the second week of September through right about Thanksgiving. We’re teaching 10 different modules of skills in conjunction with hosting companies, where veterans are building their network. We’re teaching how do you introduce yourself? How do you tell your story? Resumé, LinkedIn, triangulating a start point in new career, negotiating job offers, interviewing of course, job market analysis, career mapping, key relationships and networking. So, I think I covered all of them there.

But as you all know, people are going to learn these skills the hard way or the easy way. One way or another, they’re going to learn them in their career journey. And so, we’re trying to help veterans learn these skills, many of which are not taught at all in the military. And in fact, some of what we teach and develop in people in the military is counter to these skills. For instance, when someone says, “Hey, tell me your story. Tell me about yourself.” We don’t like to answer that question. We don’t like to talk about ourselves. And so, we have to learn how to do that.

So, those are the skills that we teach each week at a different company. Veterans learning from veterans and non-veterans. Very importantly, non-veterans because if you can talk to someone that’s not a veteran, they understand you and what you want to do and why, then you’ve kind of passed that test and building your network all at the same time. So, that’s the CRP.

Ashley Safranski:

I love that. Thanks for the recap. We’re very excited and appreciative of FourBlock for offering the podcast and the Find Your Calling course. Is that what it’s called?

Eric Stetson:

Find Your Calling. Yup.

Ashley Safranski:

Cool. They’re both in our Veterans Curation Kit. So excited to offer that to students. So, we’re getting to a point where we should wrap up and then dig into lots of questions. To put a bow on things as much as we can, I know that we’ve covered a lot. Can you summarize some of the key takeaways and really maybe what are some of the immediate strategies? Someone gets off of this webinar and they want to start really bolstering support for veterans on their campus. What are the key takeaways and what are strategies people can start implementing right away?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. Connect on campus, find veterans on campus, find the dean of student veterans, find the veterans support office, connect and start collaborating and brainstorming on the way ahead. Don’t go it alone. You want to work with veterans who have been out of the service for a while. They’ve had the chance to look back at themselves and understand everything they went through, and then they could be very good advisors and allies. So, that’s first. Connect right there on your own campus. You probably have more vets on your campus than you realize.

Okay. Second. Find the supporting VSOs in your neighborhood or nationally who can support your student veterans and support you specifically in career development. Obviously, we’re not the only one. I want all of your student veterans to know who candorful.org is. I want them all to know who SVA is. I want them all to know who ACP is, American Corporate Partners, where they can get a mentor. So, those are good ones.

I want them to know who the Commit Foundation is. The Commit Foundation does a lot of that good work about purpose and meaning for veterans after the service. So, I want you and all your veterans to know about those folks. If you don’t have an SVA chapter on your campus, I want you to contact SVA. They will assist you in establishing an SVA chapter on your campus.

Then, so supporting VSOs, supporting local VSOs or employment resource groups, veteran employment resource groups at companies, find their people. And when you’re talking to a campus recruiter, say, “Hey, is there a veterans group you can bring to talk to our student veterans?” And get those folks involved also.

And that’s a great starting point for immediate actions to start to build resources and connectivity. We teach all of our veterans at the end, career development is about relationship. We are a relationships based, focused organization. And so, my same counselor advice to all of you is building those partnerships and allies in the space are going to help you do what you do even better for student veterans.

And just coming roll back to relationships and resumés, I tell veterans, “Yeah, we’re going to teach you how to do a target your resumé, but we don’t want you to get a job with your resumé. We don’t want you to get an interview with a resumé. We don’t want you to get an introduction with a resumé. We want you to meet, talk to people and shake hands and get all the way to the interview before someone asks for your resumé.” That’s our approach to this business. And so, we’re very, very focused on relationships. Yeah.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Okay. As we transition into some of the questions, I’m going to launch a poll question as we often do. I mentioned FourBlock, it’s one of our content providers and several of the other organizations that you just mentioned are a part of our curation kit for veterans. So, if you are interested in activating the Veterans Curation Kit is a way to just immediately start increasing support within your career office for student veterans, let us know and we’ll reach out.

And as I’m going to leave this up for a second, and as I do, I’m going to just dig into questions. Does that sound good?

Eric Stetson:

Oh, yeah. And I just read a comment with one of the folks putting the orientation, and I think it’s a wonderful idea if you haven’t done this, is building a virtual orientation for your student veterans, taping that like as a webinar and then posting on the website for people to see on their own time. We talk about accessibility and timing and time challenges for student vets.

Bring on a couple organizations. I just did one of these for City University in Seattle, and they brought on Red Cross, SVA and FourBlock and we briefed and they include some information and they threw that out on the web to every single student veteran so that on their own when they want to at 1:00 in the morning while they’re feeding a kid or whatever, they can watch that video and learn about all this good stuff.

So, a virtual student orientation that is refreshed periodically for all your veterans is a fantastic thing to have out there and have that link in conjunction with your student organization on campus. Sorry.

Ashley Safranski:

Don’t be. I appreciate you scrolling through there and responding. So, first question I want to pull up, and I’m just going to send them your way. Do veterans about to separate from the military students need or benefit from their own new student career service? Oh, that’s the question you just answered. Resource the orientation session. So, pardon me, I’m going to skip ahead.

Is it recommended from your perspective, Eric, that segmented communication is sent to vets either for a warm welcome or I would say really segmented communications to them from a career services perspective?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. Absolutely. I think that at career services, if you have the ability to know who your student veterans are, there is absolutely nothing wrong. And I encourage it to reach out to say, “Hey, we know you’re a student veteran here. Welcome. And we’d love to support you. Here’s some of the resources we have on campus. Check out our digital platform. Please, please let us assist you in this process.” And draft that in conjunction with some veterans on your campus and get their feedback or with your veteran organization on your campus.

I think it’s worth doing. Not everybody will read it, but some will and they’ll appreciate it and it’s just recognizing that they’re a little bit of a different breed coming onto the campus.

Ashley Safranski:

Sure. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with this program, but if you are, it’d be great to get some insight. So, the question is, how can a program like Veterans Upward Bound, how could that program better support student veterans?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. So, I do know a little bit about Veterans Upward Bound. I know that there’s a local branch of that at University of Pennsylvania back of my neck of the woods, and I’m also very more familiar with Warrior Scholar Project, which is facilitating and helping veterans figure out how to get back in school and what school is appropriate for them, degree, et cetera.

I don’t know enough, but I know those programs are having positive success. And so, from my perspective, if I am at a campus and I’m getting a student veteran, I would rather have a student veteran that has been through a program like that, some sort of support or counseling or process program before they get to my campus, because I know they’re probably going to be better equipped, better ready and better focused on what they want to study, and they’re not stabbing in the dark when they get to campus and they may have been prepped a little bit better for the college experience.

Ashley Safranski:

Great. Do you have insight, and again, I want to reiterate to everyone, I know there have been so many resources shared by Eric and also several in the chat here that we are going to compile everything and we’ll try to make sure we share all of that out in our followup email along with today’s recording, which you can expect tomorrow. So, I want to just reiterate that.

And I think related to that, Eric, are you familiar with any resources regarding assessments that you would recommend to help a veteran identify their strengths, interests, et cetera?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. This is a great question. This is the star point for the FourBlock career readiness program. Every veteran coming to our program does the standout assessment provided to us by one of our sponsors, ADP, a large human resources company.

So, I mentioned one, the program we built that online self-paced course called Find Your Calling. That speaks very much to some of that topic matter for the individual. But I also tell student veterans out there, “Hey, pick up StrengthsFinders 2.0, Barnes & Noble, go to the bookstore, buy What Color is My Parachute? Dig into What Color is My Parachute? Do the Commit Foundation Program for a weekend to rediscover who you are going forward.”

There are different assessments that folks use out there. I was trained in one in particular when I got out of the service. I’m partial to it, but there are different assessments out there. The most important thing that I think that veterans need to discover is and know are their natural strengths because we know research shows tying work to your natural strengths leads to success and satisfaction most of the time.

And second, what are you interested in? What are you curious? What are you passionate about? What do you care about? It’s a chance to reset and attack in that direction, whether you were an infantryman slinging a machine gun and an 80-pound rucksack through the mud and rain and now you want to be a writer or an artist, or you are a communications signal expert and now you want to go into financial analytics or data, whatever that is. So, understanding what you want to do.

I’ve heard other people talk about Hollings codes and those sorts of assessments as well. No, go ahead. I remembered something I was … Oh, yeah. One other thing I didn’t mention before also is some of your student veterans are still in the service. They’re reservists and guardsmen. And so, it’s really important that the campus administration professors, et cetera, understand that and support that individual when they have to mobilize for long weekend drills, periodic training, et cetera. So, they can still do that.

They are still serving the country and the state. And so, that’s critical and it’s another challenge for student vets in higher education just to be aware of as they’re on your campus.

Ashley Safranski:

Cool. Thanks. Bringing it back a little bit, big picture, what are just some things, and I know you’ve talked about a few of these things, but just to again, I think, recap or reiterate, what are some things that career teams should definitely avoid as they work with and support veteran students?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. Avoid being afraid of talking to veterans. Avoid lumping them all together. Like we said, you met a veteran, you met one veteran. Avoid assumptions, but at the same time, there are some general trends like I talked about that we’ve seen in veterans over and over and over, a reluctance to ask for help, a reluctance to use the word “I”, and most times they don’t know how to translate their experience in the service into eighth grade English that’s valuable going forward as part of their resumé and part of their story of who they are.

And also, please remind them that they do not have to do what they did in the service if they didn’t enjoy it. If they enjoyed it, hey, if they did cyber and signal stuff in the service and they want to do that and the civilian world and they love it, god bless them. Please encourage them to keep doing it. But it’s their time to explore and branch out. So, avoid that.

Avoid talking about anything related to combat deployments. If they bring it up, that’s fine, then you can go with it. Obviously, just be a little bit sensitive in some of those areas. One of my daughter’s friends asked me at the dinner table one night, if I had ever had to shoot somebody, and my wife and my daughter were instantly aghast and it was okay, but we had to coach my daughter’s friend. You don’t want to ask a veteran ever that because you just don’t want to ask. And I’m glad I never had to. I thank god every day I never had to, but just want to be a little careful there.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Absolutely. Appreciate you sharing that. And I also just want to highlight, too, Eric, there’s a comment in here as it relates to the skill translation stuff. There’s a comment saying, “Thanks for stating that it’s okay to ask.” What does that mean when working with student veterans? Because I think you want to be taken seriously, and I think it’s important for you to call out and acknowledge, peel it back, keep peeling it back and ask. So, I wanted to highlight that.

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. And there are a couple of skills translation tools that veterans could use. These things are getting better and better. Five years ago, they weren’t so hot quite frankly. They have been improved tremendously. One of them is called O-net, O dash net, and there are a couple other translators that are out there, and I apologize, escaping my mind, but I will circle back and Ashley, get them into our list of resources for everybody to use.

And so, those digital tools can help people do some of this homework before they come to your office to do the mock interview, to do a review on their resumé, to talk about, okay, which career building opportunity that you’re providing should I go to based upon what I want to do?

And so, we’ll get those resources out to folks. I want to be very careful of what I recommend there because I want to make sure they’ve been brought up to speed. I used one a couple of years ago and it said I could be a heavy equipment operator, and I said, “Are you kidding me?” My NCOs and soldiers would never let me operate a heavy piece of equipment. I wasn’t licensed, I didn’t know how to, that was their job. So, it was funny because the thing had failed utterly in translating what I was in the service to civilian work.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. Absolutely. And I know just like you’ve been scrolling through, there’s lots of O-net fans in the chat, so sounds like it’s-

Eric Stetson:

It’s a good one.

Ashley Safranski:

Question in here, question/comment. “Having worked closely with veterans, I’ve noticed a reluctance to trim down resumes,” so a reluctance to trim down their resumes, how can [inaudible 00:55:05] without overwhelming employers with too much detail?

Eric Stetson:

Yeah. Great question. So, at FourBlock, we teach three resumés. We teach your master resumé, which nobody else in the world sees except for you. And that’s everything you did from the time you were a boy scout or girl scout all the way through today. Everything. That’s your ammo kit bag. It’s your tool bag. You draw everything out of that as needed.

The second resumé is the general resumé. And we tell people that should be no more than two pages. Your best general resumé when someone says, “Oh, no, great to meet you. Send me your resumé.” So, two pages, no more. And what only should be, and you all know this, but the only thing that should be on those resumés is what pertains to what you want to do in the future as best as you can tell.

Again, back to square one, who am I? What do I want to do? What am I about? What do I bring to the table? Don’t put on the fact that you went to the combat lifesaver course three times. Nobody knows what that is and nobody cares. It doesn’t pertain to what you want to do. So, you’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be ruthless with these veterans. They need to understand. They don’t understand the resumé that’s going to survive the applicant tracking system and be useful to someone that’s going to spend nine seconds on it in an actual human being review. And you do.

So, listen to what I’m telling you. Most of the folks that are going back to school for their first degree, that general resumé should be one page. If there’s someone with a full career, done a number of things, maybe that general resumé goes out to two pages. And when they apply for a specific job, we call that a targeted resumé, and it probably is one page, no more than one page. They just have to understand that we teach that, and you have to impress upon them that you know because you do this for a living and you’ve worked with a lot of people and you know what the companies want when you talk to them.

So, hey, look, I know you did a lot of great stuff in the service, Eric. You have all this experience, went to all these schools and deployed all these times and let all these people, and guess what? None of that really matters for what you want to do going forward. So, let’s focus on the stuff that matters for what you want to do going forward and help them see that. You can tell them I said that. Throw the blame at me, whatever. I don’t know.

Ashley Safranski:

Eric, the scapegoat. I like it. We’ll do that. We’re right at time. So, I think it’s a good point to wrap up. Eric, I just can’t thank you enough for joining us and sharing your wealth of knowledge and expertise. It’s been just like going through the comments, so many takeaways, so many resources.

So, truly thank you and really appreciate the work of FourBlock and all that you’re doing for student veterans. Just incredibly important work. And we are so grateful and appreciative to get to partner with you all. So, I hope everyone, you have a great week, and Eric, any last words?

Eric Stetson:

Yes. Any of you can contact Ashley for my direct contact information so we can set up a call so we can figure out how to support you even better. I hope I did this justice. I will endeavor to get more information, the right accurate information to Ashley so she can push out in a transcript for you all.

Thank you for what you’re doing out there and learning and trying to engage in this space. You are part of a very important process in the lifespan of a veteran, and so thank you for everything you’re doing and learning and digging into this. And it’s been an absolute privilege. Ashley, thanks to you and the team for what you’re doing and we’re going to continue to work with you. Thank you.

Ashley Safranski:

Yeah. You bet. And we will make sure, again, we’re going to follow up with the recording resources, how to get in touch with more about FourBlock. Eric, you might be inundated with emails or LinkedIn-

Eric Stetson:

It’s okay.

Ashley Safranski:

… which is I think a good thing. So, thank you, everyone. Enjoy the rest of your day. Take care.

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