By Lisa Taylor

A look at employer and veteran perception of workplace style, culture and skill expectation

Within the field of military-to-civilian career development, there is a body of knowledge that details the perspectives of transitioning veterans and their counsellors. Clear and consistent themes and challenges related to identity change, translation of skills and meaningful engagement post-service emerge. Veterans Affairs Canada’s Life After Service Survey complements these qualitative findings and provides quantitative data on overall quality of life and the role of work/career. In 2018, new and evolving maps are starting to guide post-secondary institutions as they recognize military training, and the Canadian Armed Forces and Employment and Social Development Canada recently launch MNET – a tool that provides translations between military occupational structure identification description (MOSID) and civilian NOC codes.

Our work with veterans over the last three years led us to ask questions not addressed by these important advancements. We sought data to identify exactly how military culture and soft skills mapped to the culture and expectations of Canadian civilian workplaces. We wondered if there was a significant “Question of Style,” to be asked, which became the title of our CERIC-supported research study.

Our study was purely quantitative and leveraged the use of psychometric tools to assess the working style, workplace behaviours, work-related motivators, competencies and leadership acumen profiles of two populations: (1) Members currently serving within the Canadian Armed Forces and (2) Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces. Our first round of data collection garnered more than 150 responses of these combined populations and analysis showed that there were no significant statistical differences between respondents who are currently serving and those who have left the military, sometimes more than 10 years ago.

The finding that the populations are similar enough to justify combining their results suggests that working style, behaviours and drivers take root in the culture of the organizations we are exposed to early in our career and take a long time to change.

Our research used a quantitative tool to gather data so we could address three specific questions related to workplace style, culture and skill expectation:

  1. Are veterans different than typical Canadian civilian employees? (Veterans compared with the Canadian norm).
  2. Are veterans different than what employers believe about veterans? (Veterans compared with employer perception).
  3. Do employers believe that Veterans are different than typical Canadian civilian employees? And if, so, how? (Employer perception of veterans compared with the Canadian norm).

The detailed findings of this preliminary study were shared at the Cannexus18 National Career Development Conference in January as well as on a webinar held April 27, 2018. Both presentations challenged , attendees to reflect on the nature of employer unconscious bias, the power of data and quantitative approaches in career development as well as the specific implications of the findings for veterans that need our support to find meaningful civilian employment.

In addition to the particular findings of the study, the process of conducting the study led to Challenge Factory learning three important lessons.

Lesson 1: The Power of Particulars

Taking a quantitative approach set this initiative apart from others that were more qualitative. Using formal, recognized psychometric tools from Target Training International (TTI), we compared our veteran responses to a Canadian norm population of more than 17,000 respondents. The quantitative approach of the study allowed us to be specific and particular in our preliminary findings and recommendations. We know where the data suggests unconscious bias might lead employers to prematurely and inappropriately determine lack of fit early in the recruitment cycle. The ability to be specific and to compare individual employer results to the overall study findings has captured the interest of employers. Seventy-nine percent of the employers who participated in our study do not have veteran hiring programs in place, but they are engaged in our work and remain interested in what the data has to say about the culture and HR practices used in their individual organizations.

Key finding: Data moves us past awareness of the topic and into engaged dialogue.

Lesson 2: The Potential of Personas

Exposing unconscious bias is not easy. In this study, we wanted to identify perceptions and beliefs about veterans using a method that resulted in data we could map to the actual responses of veterans. We also needed to minimize the amount of time the study required from employer participants as veteran hiring is not a priority topic for most of our employers. As a result, we tapped into the potential of personas.

Employers were asked to fix an image in their mind of a veteran applying for civilian employment. No additional description was provided so that each participant could imagine the veteran however they wished. Employers then took the same psychometric assessment as the veterans, only they were asked to respond as if they were a veteran candidate. Prior to beginning the questionnaire, we reconfirmed that employers understood that they were not to answer the questions for themselves – but as if they were a transitioning veteran.

One employer participant shared with us that the persona approach to the study was an “incredible experience in empathy.” Invoking the use of personas created immediate experiential engagement. Personas have been used in career management in the past, more typically to design candidate profiles or to identify key employee segments to target communication. This study tested how personas are also used in the fields of marketing and design-thinking and opened up new ways to engage with employers when addressing issues related to assumption, bias and hidden talent pools.

Key finding: Using a persona-based approach can create a learning opportunity for the participants with value beyond the data that was gathered and the results that were shared.

Lesson 3: The Possibilities of Partnership

This study was simple in design. The complexity arises from the relationships and partnerships that were required for it to succeed. We were fortunate to have the unwavering and unconditional support of the tool provider, Target Training International (TTI), who went to extreme lengths to ensure compliance with new technical demands this study raised.

We also found enthusiasm and support from our colleagues at Veterans Affairs Canada and the Canadian Armed Forces. The partnership between Challenge Factory and these two organizations presented new challenges for everyone. As an outside, private company, we relied on our partners to help us navigate and balance our own interests as well as the interests of the various stakeholder groups represented by both VAC and CAF.

Finally, CERIC’s encouragement for practitioners to take a research approach and to enhance the sector through the sharing of findings, experiences and data inspired us to conceive of the study.

Key finding: Partner relationship management is critical to a study’s success and results are enhanced when partners provide both challenge and support.

Next Steps:

New program guides are being designed for employers interested in initiating veteran hiring programs and Challenge Factory is consulting with numerous veteran-focused service organizations across the country to share the research findings and inform program design. Training for career practitioners who are serving veterans is also available. We continue to solicit participation in the study from veterans and employers and are looking to forge new partnerships so that in 2018 we can expand the scale of the study. If you are interested in becoming more involved, please contact me:



Lisa Taylor is the President of Challenge Factory and the Centre for Career Innovation. Challenge Factory is a talent equity firm that conducts research, consults and trains on topics related to five key drivers shaping the future of work. She is based in Toronto and works with client organizations across North America. For more information about this study, please visit