Recruiting Veterans: The Rules of Engagement for Military Hiring

veteran hire meIf there’s one issue about which I’m particularly passionate, both personally and professionally, it’s recruiting veterans. Of course, military hiring holds a special place in my heart – I spent 12 years serving in the U.S. Army, and saw first hand how difficult and daunting making the transition back into the workforce can be.

Fortunately, I was able to find a great career in staffing and resourcing, where I’ve spent the last two decades dedicating a significant portion of my time to training my colleagues and coworkers on recruiting veterans.

With experience on both sides of the military hiring equation, I’ve personally seen the complex challenges facing many companies and veteran candidates; recruiting veterans requires effectively communicating with veterans transitioning into the workforce and understanding the unique worldview and military mindset shaped in the service.

Understanding how, exactly, a veteran’s mind works and what they want when transitioning into the private sector requires recruiters to go back to the basics to understand the fundamentals of veteran recruiting. Things recruiters too often miss (or misunderstand) include:

  • Ranks and Pay Grades: Each branch of the Armed Forces has a unique and highly structured organizational hierarchy, and employers must have an understanding into the responsibilities and requirements associated with each of these ranks, and how these align with the traditional private sector organizational structure.
  • Pay Grades: Similar to ranks, the military uses a highly structured pay structure consisting of predefined pay grades, not unlike compensation banding within the private sector. There are, however, some significant differences between rank and pay grade that employers need to know to understand both career and compensation levels when recruiting veterans.
  • Military Occupation Codes: Military Occupation Codes, better known by the acronym “MOC,” are the preassigned classification codes used to identify each job specialty in the military. These job codes (normally 9 characters) identify the specific skill sets, career paths and required training associated with every soldier’s assigned military job function. These codes are crucial to understanding how to translate military into civilian career experience. (Click here for a complete list of MOCs from the US Army Human Resources Command).
  • Benefits and Compliance: From federally mandated documentation specific to military hiring to understanding the compliance and legal requirements around this newly protected class of job applicants, veteran hiring requires developing specific policies, procedures and specialized strategies. Beyond compliance and reporting, it’s also important to understand the many associated business benefits, from tax incentives to diversity implications, involved in recruiting and hiring veterans (and how these fit into the bigger talent picture).

Recruiting Veterans: A To-Do List For the Talent Trenches

half_and_halfWhile actually making a concerted effort to develop and execute specific veteran military initiatives is admirable, many companies struggle with maximizing the return on their veteran recruiting investment. These challenges include things like duty-related leave concerns, family relocation and timing offers and onboarding around transitioning veterans. The benefits of overcoming these challenges, however, not only far outweighs these concerns, but also, simply, serving those who serve should be a core competency for every employer. It’s the right thing to do – and there’s not a whole enough of that in recruiting, really.

To help you better understand recruiting veterans and some of the insights and experience I’ve gained both in my own transition and training countless other recruiters over the years, I’ve created this easy to follow checklist for military hiring success.

Please note that this framework was designed to be flexible enough to have applicability for every employer, but it’s not a substitute for a final strategy – these need to be unique to your organizational needs and aligned with your overarching recruiting strategies and associated outcomes.

But this list should help give you a better sense of where to get started.

1. Start With Research: There are a number of laws and policies in place to govern the military hiring process, including government programs, initiatives and incentives aimed at assisting corporations with recruiting veterans. This means that hiring veterans, like pretty much everything else in recruiting, means doing your research. The Warrior Transition Command has a helpful list of resources on its Employment Index page, including advice on writing job descriptions, interviewing best practices and sourcing best practices for finding veteran talent.

2. Complete Basic Training: Like any candidates, effectively recruiting military talent means taking the time to learn about their background, experiences, training and skills acquired while on active duty, and their expectations (and aspirations) for making the move to a civilian career. The only universal among veterans is that they’ve served in the military – and like all other candidates, there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits all approach to hiring success.

3. Target Practice: Just like civilian candidates, aligning veteran talent with the right opportunity means understanding the specific skill sets you are targeting with your veteran hiring initiatives, and how to translate military jobs, skills and training to the civilian workforce. About 80% of all military experience is directly transferrable or congruent with those found in the civilian workforce, which means it’s imperative employers know how to determine transferable skillsets.

Good news: the government has created some helpful resources, like O*Net and the TAOonline MOC Code Translator, to make sure nothing gets lost in translation.

4. Cyber Warfare: It’s important for employers to make sure that their careers site and online, candidate-focused content has been reviewed for compliance with Section 508. Section 508 refers to the Federal government’s rules and requirements for making electronic and information technology accessible and usable to people with disabilities; veterans, unfortunately, are over represented within this protected class, and therefore, compliance with Section 508 ensures online visibility for your veteran recruiting initiatives.

Recruiting Veterans: The Rules of Engagement

Hire_A_VetOnce you’ve identified the skills you’re looking for when recruiting veterans, how to translate their military skills to civilian experience and made sure the proper policies and procedures are in place, you can begin focusing on developing a tactical strategy for finding and attracting the right military talent.

When you’re coming up with your battle plan, here are a few rules of engagement employers should consider:

1. Activate Your Reserves: There’s a good chance that your company already has at least a few employees who happen to be veterans or have military experience, and these are your greatest assets for understanding how best to find and attract veteran talent, and are the most effective ambassadors in identifying, referring and providing a resource to potential veteran hires.

One great way to leverage existing ex-military employees is by creating focus or affinity groups to develop recommendations and provide insight and feedback on proposed plans or potential opportunities for recruiting veterans more effectively and efficiently.

2. “I Want You!” Yeah, while normally, I’d say you should probably hold the proverbial phone when it comes to posting and praying when recruiting veterans, but the truth is, in this case it just makes sense. There are a bevy of no or low cost job boards specifically dedicated to military recruiting, and during the transition process, veterans are specifically trained on job board usage and encouraged to rely on these as their primary resource for finding jobs in the civilian sector.

In addition to the training provided by the military on job board usage and searching, the government provides a number of incentives for corporations to post on these highly niche, but highly targeted boards. Click here for a complete list of these sites from the White House Business Council’s Veteran Hiring Guide (and some other great information, too).

3. Roll Call: Veteran recruiting also means putting boots on the ground and making a concerted effort to attend or sponsor veteran recruiting events like job fairs, open houses or networking events. Partner with local trade associations, career service groups and local VA or military-focused groups to identify or create opportunities that make sure you’re present and accounted for when doing employment-related outreach to veterans.

These not only create goodwill, but also position your company as an employer of choice for veterans while underscoring the fact that you actually care about giving military talent the opportunities they need for meaningful civilian careers and a shared stake in their success and self-worth.

4. Winning Hearts & Minds: Contrary to popular opinion, recruiting veterans and social media don’t have to be mutually exclusive concepts. Don’t avoid social media in your military hiring initiatives – it’s a powerful tool for connecting and engaging with veterans (and getting to understand their mindsets and motivations, too). Of course, this means going beyond Facebook and Twitter to create savvy digital marketing efforts designed to convert potential veteran hires. The military has an incredibly sophisticated and technologically advanced approach to recruiting, so many veterans are already open to innovative marketing approaches – and consulting with your marketing team can make all the difference in creating competitive differentiation and converting military candidates when recruiting veterans today – and building reserves for tomorrow.

PS: If you need help, we’re happy to recommend a great vet who’s always happy to help.

Finding Your Cadence: Communicating With Veterans

army-marchingNow that you’ve overcome some of the initial challenges and created the right foundation for attracting and converting military leads into your company’s pipeline, you’ll have to move from attraction to engagement. This can often be a difficult (if not daunting) step for many civilian employers, and one that requires comprehensive training and ongoing support for your recruiting team on how to approach and communicate with military veterans.

There are a number of informal or formal training programs, both on the cloud and in the classroom, available to help employers step up on their military recruiting initiatives.But no matter which training program you choose, here are a few key questions your team can focus on asking when interviewing veteran candidates during the screening and selection process.

1. What military training have you received? From on-the-job experience to formal credentialing processes and ongoing evaluations, military training is almost always directly related to the kinds of coursework required for getting degrees in similar disciplines within more traditional university settings. Often, specialized occupational training received in the military is as advanced as terminal-level graduate work, if not more so.

2. What leadership experience did the military provide you? This is imperative for employers to know, and it’s essential recruiters spend the time to learn about and understand the leadership experience (formal and informal) that a veteran acquired during their time in the military. Sure, they might not have managed a team of direct reports in the sense of a corporate org chart, but they might have had experience leading dozens of colleagues on the field of battle or, more commonly, as part of a specialized support function tasked with making decisions that are, quite literally, life or death.

And yeah, maybe they don’t have specific P/L or budget experience, but chances are they’ve been entrusted with millions and millions of dollars in high tech military equipment that’s likely more complex – and advanced – than any of the more mundane stuff they’ll have to encounter as civilians (like software selection or reconciling a GL at month end). These transferrable qualities shouldn’t be overlooked – and place veterans at an advantage over many traditional workers.

4. How Has the Military Impacted You? Understand that not everyone who qualifies as a veteran has battlefield experience (most, in fact, don’t) or have even served as soldiers. Military spouses, for instance, represent an amazing source of untapped or underutilized talent. While they might have an inconsistent work history or temporal tenures, chances are this was due to the demands for relocation endemic to the military, or the responsibilities that come with having a spouse on deployment.

But military spouses tend to be as mission focused, loyal and courageous as any soldier out there – all qualities employers should value. Be cautious about how you approach these issues, however, as these topics can be very emotional for both military veterans and their spouses in any setting, interview or otherwise.

There are thousands of resources out there to help guide you when building veteran hiring initiatives – and recruiting veterans with the skills and experience that make sure no matter how hard the mission, no matter how challenging the competition, or how daunting the business odds are, that they’ll be ready to fight – and win – whenever duty calls.

After all, that’s what we’re trained for – and if you think surviving in the world of business is hard, you’ve obviously never been to basic training.

Resources To Keep Handy: Military Hiring Program Resource Guide


You can receive between $2,400 and $4,800 in Tax Credits for hiring a Military/Veteran

This is an incredible benefit with a direct line to savings for your company. You can research this more at the US Department of Labor’s WOTC (Work Opportunity Tax Credit) page where they explain further about the credit for hiring a veteran as well as other guidelines.

Over 200,000 service members leave the military every year

With more than 80% of military jobs having a direct correlation to a civilian counterpart, you can be certain that more than 160,000 skilled veterans are entering the workforce each year.

Corporate America can benefit from what is called the GI Bill. This is government sponsored education benefits, available to military and veteran personnel for additional education/training. You can read more about this benefit in detail direct on the GI Bill sponsorship page.

Corporate entities that have employed veterans can use the GI Bill to sponsor and pay for the training / education required for the veteran employee while employed at the company, removing the cost burden from the employer.

Military people are not YES men and women

You can be certain you will not get a yes or a cold shoulder when something is wrong. If something is not right you will hear about. These people are leaders on the battle field and in your office. They’ve earned the respect and it’s immediately evident when your team knows their colleague is a veteran.

Military Veterans are productive.  The military trains its people to be efficient. They are taught to seek guidance and display discipline in every setting. If your company is one that respects authority, but expects its people to push the boundaries it is with a firm head shake that you should look to hire top veteran talent. In their world, if they are not efficient and accurate 100% of the time, they don’t make it home.

This is not to say they will always be perfect in your organization, but you can wager with confidence they will see your expectations through to completion and often to success.


3 Key Laws You Need To Know When Hiring A Veteran

There is plenty of reading material to keep you busy if you are interested in employment laws. From state laws to federal laws you will find a monstrosity of guidelines to govern what you can and cannot do during all phases of the hiring process, including interviewing, investigating, testing, and of course the employee selection process.

Here are 4 general hiring points to know:

  • Avoid illegal discrimination and selection
  • Understand and follow the immigration hiring process
  • Maintain compliance when hiring younger workers, including teenage workers
  • Stay 100% compliant to privacy rights and never make promises that you cannot keep


USERRA – Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act

USERRA clarifies and strengthens the Veterans’ Reemployment Rights (VRR) Statute by protecting civilian job rights and benefits for veterans, members of reserve components, and even individuals activated by the President of the United States to provide Federal Response for National Emergencies. USERRA also makes major improvements in protecting service member rights and benefits by clarifying the law, improving enforcement mechanisms, and adding Federal Government employees to those employees already eligible to receive U.S. Department of Labor assistance in processing claims of noncompliance.  ** USERRA Wiki

  • Protects Veterans, Applies to ALL employers
  • Part of U.S. Department of Labor
  • Different from EEOC, ADA and OFCCP but all connected
  • Protects civilian job rights and benefits for veterans and members of Reserve components
  • Provides protection for disabled veterans, requiring employers to make reasonable efforts to accommodate the disability

EEOC – Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

Under the laws enforced by EEOC, it is illegal to discriminate against someone (applicant or employee) because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against a person because he or she complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit. ** EEOC compliance

The law forbids discrimination in every aspect of employment.

  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee.
  • Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 for age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered.

OFCCP – Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs

The purpose of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) is to enforce, for the benefit of job seekers and wage earners, the contractual promise of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity required of those who do business with the Federal government. **

The purpose of the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs is to enforce, for the benefit of job seekers and wage earners, the contractual promise of affirmative action and equal employment opportunity required of those who do business with the Federal government. (VETS)

Although we recommend that you consult an employment lawyer before making any business decisions, here are a few key research points to be aware of:


Military Hiring Tools: Long Tail Resources For Military Hiring

Click the heading below to see the list of resources







dean_dacostaAbout the Author: Dean Da Costa is a highly experienced and decorated recruiter, sourcer and manager with deep skills and experience in HR, project management, training & process improvement.

Dean is best known for his work in the highly specialized secured clearance and mobile arenas, where he has been a top performing recruiter and sourcer.  Dean’s keen insight and creation of innovative tools and processes for enhancing and changing staffing has established Dean as one of the top authorities in sourcing and recruiting.

Connect with Dean at LinkedIn or follow @DeanDaCosta on Twitter.


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