Lendmark – Becoming Veteran Hiring Friendly With Shalon Travis

On today’s show, we have Shalon Travis on from Lendmark. We’re talking about becoming veteran hiring friendly. A topic that is timely, today being the day after Memorial Day, but also with thinking about veterans in general as a part of our diversity and inclusion overall hiring strategy.

We’ll talk about Lendmark’s veterans’ integration program, or their VIP program, where they partner with veteran groups to help ease the transition into civilian life, as well as entering the workforce.

Listening time: 25 minutes


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William 0:35
Ladies and gentlemen this is William Tincup, and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we actually have Shalon Travis on. And we’re gonna be talking about becoming veteran hiring friendly, which is a great topic right here as we almost celebrate Memorial Day, but also as we think about veterans in general as a part of our, you know, diverse, excuse me, our diversity, inclusion, strategy or overall strategy and think about hiring veterans as a part of that. So why don’t we always start with introductions. Shalon. I know you work for Lendmark if you want to introduce both yourself, and also introduce Lendmark.

Shalon 1:19
Most definitely. Well, thanks for having me today, William. My name is Shalon Travis and I am the VP of talent acquisition at Lendmark Financial Services. I have been with Lendmark since 2013. I was initially hired as a contract employee to build the applicant tracking system. And to my benefit, I was offered a full time role on the HR team that transitioned into my new role. I have held probably four positions prior to my VP title. Lendmark is a lending company, a household lender, and we provide loans to those that may not be able to get loans from traditional bank platforms, and even those that are. We’re an event lender, and we were here for our customers, we have a lot of repeat customers. And we focus on building relationships with our customers to meet their life needs.

William 2:23
Love that. I love that I love that I love that. And I love from people that well they convert from contract to full time, just because you’re they’re starting out with one kind of designation and then kind of moving into the organization. And you’ve you’ve done several things at the organization. I love hearing stories like that. Let’s start with some basic things as it relates to veterans. Tell me about your own personal experience with veterans and what motivates you to, you know, to support hiring them?

Shalon 2:55
Sure, so my dad was actually in the army from 1976 to 1980. And my son was actually active duty in the army from 2016 to 2020. And he is currently an active National Guard member, and he is in Bosnia on a relief assignment right now. And he is hopefully going to be coming back to the States on June 18.

William 3:29
It’ll be fantastic to have him back. So this, I mean, this is personal, on some level, that you’ve got ties to veterans, so you understand, you know, kind of what they go through and then the acclamation back, you know, into or integration into corporate the corporate world from the military. You’ve seen it with your own eyes in a couple of different ways. Let’s talk a little bit about Lendmark. What have you What have you done at Lendmark and to support veteran hiring and I know y’all have a veterans integration program. So you can tell us a little bit about that as well.

Shalon 4:06
Sure enough, so our veterans integration program, which I will be referring to as our VIP program, was actually revamped in 2015. We were asked by our head of HR, Paulette Jones and AI who is currently the a VP of HR program management to help to refresh the program so that we are more veteran and veteran spouse friendly. To help support those that serve our country.

Since then, we have been committed to our veteran hiring initiatives by doing a ton of entering into many different partnerships and creating a ton of internal resources for our vets as well as our spouses. We actually have creative relationships with ESGR, as well as VetLanta. John Phillips, actually is the Vice President and co founder. We have probably over 115 active veterans within our workforce today. In addition, year over year, we have hired seven to 8% veterans, for our external hiring initiatives.

William 5:29
So, a two fold question. One is, because you’ve seen both sides. So you can speak to this is the hardest part for veterans, kind of converting or integrating and entering into the corporate world? But if you, What have you just even if it’s just anecdotally, what have you seen is their kind of their biggest challenges or hurdles.

Shalon 5:52
So it’s definitely a transition from military life to civilian life. And one of the things that we did early on is that we researched the MLS codes. And we worked with different veteran-friendly organizations to help connect those MLS codes to our jobs here at Lendmark. Um, I think that one of the most difficult challenges that we find with those transitioning to civilian life, especially the ones that’s pretty tenured, and the military, is that, you know, they’ve been dedicated to fighting our country for so long, that they don’t know where to begin, you know, let’s just face it.

Oftentimes people that go into the military, they go in young, and they think that they’re going to make a career of being in the military, but then life happens, right? Something happens that they say, okay, they may get injured, you know, they job may go away, they may not have any other military resources. So in those instances, they look to transition to civilian life. And I think one of the biggest ways that we can say thank you for their service, is to help them transition as easy as possible.

And Lendmark is definitely dedicated to doing that. And, you know, in partnering with different veteran groups that lanta recruit military, military spouses, we have worked to help try to ease the transition as they’re going into civilian life, as well as entering the workforce here in Lendmark.

William 7:33
So before the next question, I need to go back and give you kudos and Lendmark kudos, because you see, you talked about, and you did it deliberately, I hope. You talked about veterans and spouses, you know, veterans and their families. And I, first of all, I just love that sentiment, because, you know, like your son serving right now. And he’s, he served actively for four years. Well, you, you technically you were serving too.

Unbeknownst to you, you were also going through it, you know, as a mother, you were going through it as well. You know, it’s we don’t talk about that enough. That we talk about the veteran, you know, something, somebody that’s coming out of the Marines, Navy, or whatever. And we talk about that person almost singularly. But I really liked the fact that you’ve, you’ve broadened that by thinking about the spouses and families. So a thank you, for getting us making us aware of just thinking a little bit more inclusively about not just the veteran, which is important, obviously, but also thinking about their ecosystem.

Shalon 8:37
You know William, I think that that is most times overlooked. The restless nights, that the military spouses and they families have, as their loved ones are serving our country. And just the fact of not being able to get up every day and hug your loved one’s neck or give them a kiss on the cheek or even to hear their voice to say, I love you. I’m thinking of you. And thank you. We oftentimes, you know, veterans go overlooked.

And one of the things that we wanted to do Paulette and I, when we started our new VIP program, is that we want it to recognize veterans, veteran spouses as well as their caretakers because they also are serving actively and they’re making a lot of sacrifices by caring for the family that’s left behind.

William 9:34
I love that. I also love that you’ve made the acronym VIP. Again, intentional, I’m assuming but but it also, you know, these are people that went and chose to serve our country, and they are VIP. VIPs. We might not think of them that way in our daily life, but they are. So I appreciate that. The other side of that question that I asked before, was, you know, the hardest part for veterans and their integration, you know, in the corporate world, what are some of the barriers for, you know, for TA and HR, when they’re trying or thinking about hiring veterans? Is it? Is it language? Is it transferable skills? Is it, you know, intentionality and just reaching out to that community? Like, what do you? What do you think are some of the barriers that we as a community, you know, HR and TA need to kind of overcome to do a better job of being more veteran friendly and hiring.

Shalon 10:32
Great question. William, I’m, I’m gonna tell you, I think that we have to be more open minded. I think that veterans have proved over and over again, their versatility. Their ability to be disciplined enough to learn and dedicate their time to learning any skill. So I think that when looking at a transition, transitioning veterans resume, that you have to look for the transferable skill set, right? If they were in charge of personnel or a sergeant in the military, they have management skills, right, they’re able to manage not only individuals, but they’re also able to manage projects. So I think that as talent acquisition professionals, one of the things that we could truly do is to learn more about the MLS codes and the jobs that people are doing when they’re active duty, and then looking at your own job descriptions and trying to find out ways that you could help them transition into your workforce.

William 11:42
Do you think we as an industry, again, not Lendmark, in particular, but as an industry, do you think we think of veterans, as a spoke of diversity, inclusion, belonging, equity, equality? Do we do that either enough, or at the level that you’d like for us to?

Shalon 11:59
Um, I think we’re getting better. William, we have come a long way, and supporting our transitioning veterans. But I think we still have a long way to go. On the fact that someone could serve our country and then come back and transition into civilian life and not have a job is mind boggling to me, right? The fact that they showed enough discipline to fight for whatever cause at that time, but then they come back, and they transition into civilian life, and they’re over, oftentimes, overlooked, or underpaid or even undervalued.

William 12:41
So what’s interesting is, you know, it’s actually hard to get into the military. I think people, you know, they might, they might think you just kind of walk by an office, sign some paperwork, and you’re in the military. And that’s not the truth. It’s very difficult to get into the military. And then it’s also the training and everything that you go through to to serve your country, the integration back into whatever, whatever’s Next, you know, whatever’s next for the individuals and their families coming out of that experience. I think making that easier, that transition and that integration easier. I think it’s a burden that we all should carry, and probably should do a better job of that. Let me ask a question around.

Maybe the importance of ERG’s or SIGs inside of a company, you know, and again, we can we can think about Lendmark. But we can also just think of broad broadly in terms of, I’ve seen, you know, with my own eyes, I’ve seen large companies that have great LGBTQ plus communities, and great women in tech communities inside of a company. Have you seen or do you do Do you know of like great inside companies, either ERG’s or SIGs that, you know that that help? You know that it also helped make it make people aware that Yeah, we’re here and we care about more people that are veterans coming into the organization. What have you seen on that side?

Shalon 14:12
Well, I will tell you, I think a lot of companies have different buddy systems for incoming veterans and veteran spouses and family members. What we do personally here at Lendmark, is that we have established a buddy system as well as the veterans forum. What we try to do what our forum is that we meet quarterly, to discuss ways that we could support our transitioning, veterans and all of our veteran and resident veteran spouse hires. We also have a buddy system where we partner new hires, while new veteran hires with our current veterans in the workforce. We actually have VIPs representatives from our C suite, all the way down to more entry level positions. So I think that many companies could focus more on what they could do. Just even acknowledging Military Appreciation mom, saying thank you on Veterans Day. But to your point you made early on not only giving thanks to the veterans but inclusive, including the veterans spouses, as well as the family members that also made the sacrifice.

William 15:32
I love this point about the you call the buddy system. But I’m of course thinking about is mentoring and coaching and, and training and development thinking about it in those ways, like, what we can do from from onboarding forward. So once we’ve made the decision to hire, you know, someone, a veteran, or veteran family member, you know, what can we do now to really set them up for success? So what is, you know, what is it going to, like thinking that thinking differently, like, Okay, this is an employee, yes, there’s a bunch of things that need to be checked off the list, of course, however, there’s also this is this, this is also another person, we need to put them with a buddy, put them in with a mentor, and help establish some of that success, because I’m thinking about that first 90 days, or first, you know, six months or first year for some folks, and how hard of acclimation that could possibly be for someone that that, you know, that’s different lingo, like, you know, I remember when Google released, you know, one of their one of their things around the kind of a resume, you know, word translator for veterans monster had done it years before. But but it also just, it made me think, like, you know, we have different lingos, like, we just have, do we talk different? That’s not necessarily a good thing, by the way. But you know, I have friends and all all different branches of the military. And when we talk than they do when they get going, they just talk in a language I have, I can’t keep up with, and I’m sure it’s the same way, you know, for corporate people as well. Right? We talk in acronyms and things like that. So I love the fact that you’ve got a buddy system, have you? You know, longitudinally, if you can, have you seen that, be it even if it’s anecdotal, that’s fine. Have you seen that help with the acclamation and success of those employees?

Shalon 17:28
I think it has, we have been really fortunate to not experience a ton of turnover, when it comes to our VIP hires. And I think that’s because they have a day one friend, and having that mentor, or coach or buddy. And you know, I like buddy, right? Because oftentimes, with VIPs, that’s transitioning, they’re able to teach the people that they work with something right, they’re able to teach them the discipline and a dedication needed to accomplish goals. So I think with creating the buddy system, it was really intentional. And the intent was, for our transition better transitioning veterans to have someone that they could call on day one, if they felt overwhelmed. Or if there was something that wasn’t translating, or if they had questions, it gave them a resource really early on, and their introduction to the company.

William 18:35
I love that you mentioned, you know, what, what, what HR and ta can do in terms of just being more friendly and an open, is being open minded, looking at transferable skill sets and skills as they related to what they did in the military and what they’re what they’re going to do in corporate America or whatever. I’ve recently programmed for next week its a D&I event, and one of the things as I was kind of researching and programming the event, I talked to a gal at Ulta, a beauty products company.

And she said, Well, we one of the things we did is we mandated you know, if your slate of candidates, you know, whenever your sourcer and recruiter hands over, you know, slate of candidates to hiring manager, their magic numbers five, that one out of that five had to be diverse, define that as you wish and you know, everybody’s gonna have a different way of looking at that. But one candidate, or the hiring manager couldn’t accept the slate of candidates. So they did that for a period of time. And and then they went to two and they basically said, Yeah, two out of five. Hard stop. You can’t, you can’t pass over, you know, five pear shaped middle aged white guys, just that’s, we can’t do that. So in their case, it’s actually women because it’s heavily their their their Demographics is heavily loaded towards women. So it would be a bit different.

But even in that sense, it’s they mandated for recruiters that sourcers, you say that you hand over a slate of candidates, and it’s five for them. Two of five have to be diverse. And they saw an increase in diversity hiring by 64%. Just by changing the slate, just by changing the slate of what what can be accepted by the hiring manager. And we don’t I don’t want to dig too far into Lendmark’s strategy and things like that, but do you do you think that veterans should be, like is that is that one way that we can think of making, you know, outside of being open minded and thinking about transferable skills? Is that a way that we can kind of get change make some of the changes that are needed to be made by just changing the slate, changing the you know, the, the portion of the slate or the percentages of the slate, do you read? What’s your take on that?

Shalon 21:00
I definitely agree with that. I think that organizations need to make a commitment and whatever their commitment is whether 5% 10% of their external hires should be veterans, veteran spouses. I know, you know, it depends on the size of the company, you know, to be a military friendly employer. But I think going away from the title is just the right thing to do. It’s our way of saying thank you.

And I will tell you, our CEO, Bobby Akin, with Lendmark, getting closer and closer to over 400 branches, and being in 19 states and looking to expand probably into some other states next year. Every year, we’re going to continue to do what we can support our veterans and their families, we’re going to continue to commit to higher hiring 8% or more of our external hires on the military or military, I mean, veterans or veteran spouses, we’re going to continue to say thank you, we’re going to continue our commitment with our partners, to see how we could continue to do our part.

William 22:21
I love that. I love that. It’s interesting, because it does kind of map and track to some of the D&I things that, that I see. It’s, you know, words are great. We’ve been having discussions about diversity for 40 years or more. But now I’m starting to see more intentionality and action and transparency. You know, there’s more accountability, there’s more transparency. And again, a lot of the folks that I interviewed, they, you know, it’s everyone’s responsibility. Like, it’s not just Janet or Jim’s responsibility for diversity, it’s everyone, and that’s coming down from the board, the C suite from customers, society, it’s just, it’s great.

We’re 100 years late, but we’re here now. And I love the fact that you’re doing such a great job with veterans. And again, it is the right thing to do, you know, we could just stop there. Cuz it’s just morally and ethically, it’s just the right thing to do. But you’re also putting real actions behind it. So I mean, you could, you know, you know, you could put lip service to this and just kind of put out a press release and talk about being friendly. But, but you’re actually putting, you know, you’re, you’re putting energy, people time, money and resources behind actually making these things happen. So, thank you for doing that.

I mean, I actually appreciate it. I know that the veterans that that, that either you hire, or at least counted into the process and their families, the veteran families, I love how you expanded, you know, our definition or mindset around you know, that there’s the gal or the guy, that’s great. But there’s also an ecosystem around them. That was very supportive. So, Shalon, I just I absolutely love what you’re doing and just keep, keep it up and keep pushing.

Shalon 24:11
Well, thank you so much, William, we’re definitely going to continue our efforts and supporting our VIPs. They’re not only VIPs in the light in the eyes of Lendmark, but you know, they’re VIPs in the eyes of our country for all that they have done to serve us. And I’m glad that you have me today. Please think of me for future topics. And I hope you have a good rest of the day.

William 24:40
Awesome. Thank you so much. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.


The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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