Key takeaways

  • In a basic training exercise for the job of getting the job, student veterans from around Southern California come to UCLA to suit up for a working weekend.
  • UCLA Veteran Resource Center, Wounded Warrior and Deloitte team up with top-tier employers for an intensive experience that demystifies the job-landing process.
  • Face-to-face feedback turns anxiety into enthusiasm and teaches the vital skill of translation.

Navy veteran Daniel Hoffman is an electrician who’s passionate about forensic accounting, which he likens to a puzzle. The energetic economics major, youngest in a familial line of Bruins, can break down the refueling process for nuclear-powered vessels. In fact, he sometimes gets a little carried away by his enthusiasm for that subject.

“You talked a little bit fast when you get into your military experience,” a recruiter told him after a 30-minute run-though interview at the UCLA Veterans Employment Bootcamp, which took place Jan. 20–21 at the James West Alumni Center. “Slow it down a little bit, paint that picture for me.”

That face-to-face feedback is key to the employment bootcamps held for veterans at UCLA.

Led by the Veteran Resource Center, with support from Wounded Warrior Project and consulting and accounting firm Deloitte, the intensive workshops take student veterans through every mile of the job-hunting journey.

“You can ask any of the veterans here, and they’ll tell you that what may seem obvious isn’t always obvious,” said Hoffman, a senior going through the bootcamp for the second time. “This takes us right down to the nitty gritty — the suit, looking good on Zoom, conversational skills.”

The technical expertise, discipline and organizational skills that come with a military career like Hoffman’s are invaluable to employers. But acronyms, jargon and slang that work well in the military require translation for corporations and nonprofits.

Most of the student veterans taking part are Bruins, but veterans from other public and private universities are welcome.

The fundamentals are laid out: build a clear resume and LinkedIn profile; network in person and online; create an elevator pitch; and be authentic. The relay-style interviews — three rounds at 30 minutes each — are realistic. Representatives from marquee employers including NBCUniversal, Cedars-Sinai and Bechtel Corp. sit on the other side of the table. They either served in the military or work for organizations with long-standing commitments to veterans.

Air Force veteran and UCLA alumnus Rolondo Talbott, now Disney’s senior manager of diversity, equity and inclusion, was one of the company representatives. He remembers what it was like being on the other side of the table.

“When I got out of active duty it took a while to understand how my military career was going to translate into a corporate career,” said Talbott, a Bruin so blue he got married at Kerckhoff Hall. “I needed to figure out how to show that leadership capability outside the military world.”

He conducts his practice interviews with earnestness and a light touch, and likes watching veteran candidates shed anxiety and gain confidence.

“The biggest thing I’m seeing now is making that communication leap from what you did in the military into corporate speak,” Talbott said. “There are ancillary issues around confidence — how do I translate letting veterans know they do bring something to the table?”

The Veterans Resource Center stages the bootcamps early in the year to give candidates a head start well in advance of graduation, though some veterans attend during their sophomore or junior year. They’re welcome to attend more than once.

Emily Dahlem, director of Veteran Services and the Veteran Resource Center at UCLA, calls the experience transformational.

“Unlike other career development programs, this bootcamp is specifically catered to the veteran student experience,” Dahlem said. “Over the course of the two-day event, it is amazing to see how the participants become more comfortable, relaxed and confident as they enter the internship and job-search process.”

The progress can be measured in feet. Candidates will sometimes start their first run-through interview with one foot tapping rapidly, ankles in a stressful contortion. But after a half-hour of back and forth, those feet are relaxed.

Marine Corps veteran Jimmy Phan is well on his way. At 26, he’s halfway through his engineering degree at the University of Southern California. The weekend bootcamp gave him face time with a Northrop Grumman representative just days before a critical interview for a summer internship with the firm.

“When I was talking to the recruiter, he was asking me some specific questions about coding and for a minute it threw me,” Phan said. “But then I realized what he really wanted to understand was my thought process. At that point, I got it.”

Hoffman, who is set to graduate in June, sees his career path unfolding over both the private and public sectors. He believes the interview expertise he earned at the employment bootcamp will take him where he wants to go in the accounting field.

“It’s all about the experience,” Hoffman said. “That’s what I really need.  As tough as it can be, I want to lean into this. There’s a lot of knowledge here, and I’m just trying to absorb it.”