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Q&A: Chris Hale of Victory Media talks about what's next for veterans returning home

Victory Media's brands.

Every year, 400,000 Americans leave the military. For the majority of them, the question: “What’s next?” is overwhelming. Victory Media aims to make that transition a little less daunting. 
Chairman and Co-Founder Chris Hale knows what it’s like to return from service and struggle with starting a career. Hale was frustrated by the lack of resources available to him when he left the Navy in 1999, thus, armed with a business degree, he, along with Scotty Shaw and Rich McCormack, founded Victory Media in Chris’ basement in Cranberry.

Still headquartered in the Pittsburgh region, albeit no longer subterranean, Victory Media has expanded its staff to 70 employees and grown into five different brands.
Recently, we spoke with Chris Hale about his company and the advice he has for other returning veterans who find themselves unsure of how to navigate the road ahead.
Can you speak about the goals of your organization and the brands you’ve created to achieve those goals?

We connect people in nascent stages of their careers with employment and higher education opportunities. We serve not only veterans but also those who have difficulty advancing beyond a certain point. For example, STEM Jobs—those in Science, Tech, Engineering and Math—are geared more toward the civilian population. We realized that employers don’t know what skills military personnel and recent grads have. Conversely, military personnel and recent grads often don’t know how to translate their skills into jobs. We hope to be the bridge between the two, which is why we’ve worked tirelessly to help employers make connections by growing their military and college recruitment departments.
Tell us about your own experience entering the job market as a returning vet.
When I left the Navy in 1999, what I found was a tremendous void of resources. The military has a three-day course called TAP (Transition Assistance Program) where they teach you basic skills like résumé writing and interviewing. It’s an attempt, but if it takes you a year to acclimate from civilian life to military life, you need more than three days to do the reverse. I also feel that the military has a specific purpose: to win wars. Helping people build their careers after they become civilians again is not their mission.

Our organization hopes to provide examples of successful profiles so that they may have a motivational effect. We want a young soldier to see them and say: Hey, they have the same background as me. I can do that job. Back in 2001, only 30 to 40 Fortune 1000 companies had military recruiting departments. Now roughly 75 percent do. It’s changing.

Do you have a favorite success story?

I don’t have a single favorite success story, no. I’d say the greatest thing Victory Media has done would be the advocacy we’ve created for this community as a whole. Through our G.I. Jobs Military Friendly Employer list, we’ve rated Fortune 1000 companies on their military-friendly policies. Our first list was published about 12 years ago and served to say there were many companies with great programs. The list also motivated companies to build and invest in military recruiting.There are many wonderful organizations that help veterans, but they focus on the struggles they have. We want our message to be, “The training you received in the military is invaluable. You’re better off for having served.”
How does Pittsburgh compare to other cities in terms of supplying jobs for former military personnel?
Honestly, Pittsburgh has lagged a bit. It’s getting better, but it’s underrepresented to a large degree. Allegheny County has the second-highest percentage of vets per capita in the country. However, since there is a lack of active military presence, the perception tends to be that veterans are old, unlike places with large bases like California or Texas, which see a young, vibrant population of active military personnel. I think we have to work on changing that way of thinking in Pittsburgh.
What is the biggest piece of advice you would give to men and women trying to pursue new careers after serving our country?
I would say to invest time in learning about the opportunities available to you long term. Many vets leave the military and take what is called a “soft landing job.”  For example, if you built submarines in the Navy, then you might take a job with a defense contractor who builds submarines. Often you have little to no choice as to what you’re assigned to do in the military, so the soft landing job seems like a good move until you realize it’s not something you’re actually interested in or passionate about. If you invest time beforehand, you won’t waste valuable years not pursuing the career you want.
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