As I talked about in the first post in this two part series, the fact is, “veterans” are a pretty huge and diverse population. Employers often approach veteran recruiting as a one-size-fits-all approach, but the fact is, there’s no such thing as a “typical” veteran.
That we’ve all served in the military at some point in time is maybe the only similarity many veterans share.
One of the most notable distinctions recruiters need to know to further filter “veterans,” however, is the drastic difference between those just now moving out of the military, and those who have already successfully made that transition, many of whom have extensive private sector experience and established careers.
Close Edge: Why Not All Veteran Talent Is Created Equal.
First off, there are the veterans who are currently transitioning, or whose service recently ended. This veteran cohort are the guys and gals who are currently hunting for their first “job,” after dedicating somewhere between 4 and 20 years to doing something that’s more than a job – and almost impossible to put down into a resume.
One of the most common objections many employers have is that they don’t recruit active military members due to uncertainties about availability, start dates and the timing involved in “just in time” hiring. Many employers encourage these transitioning soldiers to reapply or reconnect after they’re officially discharged, but the truth is, top veteran talent doesn’t always wait until after they’re officially discharged to lock down an offer.
The reason is that contrary to what most employers think, currently transitioning veterans can tell you the exact date, from 6-12 months in advance, when they’ll be available to start. It’s incumbent on the recruiter, of course, to ask – but make sure you do so before telling them to come back later.
The best never do, and you’ll have lost out on a great chance to connect with great veteran talent simply by not asking the right questions. This group is actively looking for jobs, are hungry for any opportunity to get their foot in the door and will often do whatever it takes to get a shot to join your team.
In recruiter speak, you don’t have to convince them to leave their current employer to take your job, and almost all of them actually want the job, rather than simply “settling” for something. There’s no such thing as a sure thing in recruiting, but if you’re looking for someone who’s dedicated, eager and willing to work, these guys and gals are a no brainer.
The other group of veterans employers need to know are those of us old dogs who have already been out of the service for over a decade, spent years working for the man, and if any of us still tell boot camp stories and reference our MOS in our job interviews instead of concentrating on our professional and industry experience, well, let’s just say, “Back in ’82, I used to be able to throw a football a country mile,” Uncle Rico. Get over it.
Let’s just say there’s a pretty big divide between these two distinct veteran groups, and each requires a distinct recruiting strategy and differentiated initiatives in order to effectively position yourself as a veteran employer of choice both of these groups continually choose.
Do It Now: How To Recruit Veterans Without A Veteran Recruiting Program.
If you’re a sourcer, or a recruiter, you know active candidates are preferable to passive ones; after all, talent pipelines are where the real money’s at. Filling that pipeline is what we do; it’s what we hunger for. Well, I’m here to tell you, if you’re trying to recruit veterans, you don’t need some flash career page or employer branding initiative splashed across your website to do it.
Me, you, us, we…can (and should) hire veterans not because it’s some bigger diversity initiative, or part of some formal program. We should be doing it because that’s what recruiters do. We source, we engage, we attract, we convert, we hire.
Our ability to do that effectively is tied directly to the strength of that all important pipeline. And when you look at building a pipeline for actively transitioning military talent, it really doesn’t get any easier than this.
“I came across your profile on LinkedIn and saw that you recruit for supply chain analysts at ABC Company. I’m Dan, and I’m a supply chain specialist in the Army. I’m getting out in 10 months, and I’ve always dreamed of working at ABC Company. Can we connect?”
Admit it; a few of you just salivated at that message, right? Trouble is, even more of you just got done replying back to this guy with some message that you don’t hire people 10 months in advance, and in the interim, he really needs to work on translating his resume.
An even bigger percentage of you just sent back some flippant reply telling him to join your talent network, or maybe some information on veteran careers at your company and your commitment to veteran hiring. In 10 months.
For now, though, you’ve got reqs that need to be filled now. That’s your duty, no matter when their tour of duty is up.
But here’s the truth: transitioning veterans – like the one who sent me the above message a few weeks back – clearly do their homework. They probably know what your company does, what kinds of jobs you hire for, and are likely to find you through a lot of solid networking, due diligence and good old fashioned online stalking. In other words, they’re doing exactly what we tell candidates they need to do in order to get their foot at the door in our companies.
The problem is, with veterans, we too often slam that door, and more often than not, it’s completely unintentional. But the reaction recruiters have to veteran talent is practically Pavlovian, remember?
Maybe if you’d gone through the veteran recruiting certification, understood how to properly apply camouflage face paint or had built a veteran specific EVP, you’d feel qualified to talk to transitioning candidates.
Recruiters often steer clear of veterans not because of an aversion to hiring them, but because they feel that veteran recruiting is some specialized function for which they’re not properly qualified, or often, is someone else’s job entirely.
This is, of course, total crap.
Veteran recruiting is all of our jobs. And at the end of the day, “veteran candidates” are just candidates, like everyone else. And like everyone else, they deserve to be considered because of, not in spite of, their status as a protected class. Veterans are often the focus of diversity initiatives, but the fact is, we’d all be better off focusing on inclusion, instead.
Fear Not of Man: Why We Should Treat Veteran Candidates Like Candidates.
You want to cut through the BS? The guy in the message I outlined above (one that was really sent to me, by the way) wasn’t connecting to talk about the Army, complain about his K Rations or discuss the benefits of indirect artillery fire. He wants to talk about a supply chain analyst job at an employer. And as a recruiter, what do you know about jobs and careers at your company?
Oh, yeah. That’s kinda your subject matter expertise. So, talk.
Sure, he might be 10 months from being available, so approach it like this. Schedule an introductory conversation, let him know a little bit more about what the job entails, what the company looks for in candidates, what to expect from the hiring process and anything that he might do in the meantime to improve his chances at getting hired. Make sure to ask him to reconnect when he’s about 60 days out from the end of his service. This takes like, 10-15 minutes, tops.
And then…wait for it…actually schedule a note to follow up in your calendar. I know, crazy, right? Put it in your CRM, jot it down on a sticky note and put it on the wall, whatever it is you do that works for you to keep organized. Once you do that, well, guess what?
You’ve just started a pipeline there, champ. You’ve given the candidate valuable information to allow him to actually translate his experiences to YOUR organization, rather than simply “translate” his resume from military to civilian standards.
You had meaningful, helpful engagement, given him insights into working at YOUR company in YOUR words, not some boilerplate statement on veteran hiring, and defined next steps and when to expect them for both you and the candidate.When we hide behind our own internal lingo, we don’t expect our candidates to pick up on our internal acronyms, job titles and company-specific terminology and translate those into their resume.
Similarly, we shouldn’t expect veteran candidates to do the same. There’s no need to translate anything when you’re speaking the same language. And veterans, like all job seekers, really just want jobs. Which is something you, as a recruiter, should be able to talk about ad nauseam.
No translation needed.
I Against I: How To Make Sure Veteran Recruiting Isn’t Lost In Translation.
Think about it: we take these steps for all of our other candidates. Let’s say, as in the above example, we’re actively searching for a supply chain analyst.
We’ve got a plethora of candidate profiles, resumes and leads sitting there in our systems; we’ve got files full of niche directories and professional associations, Excel spreadsheets filled with the names of sundry supply chain analysts in our network, their titles, the companies they work for and notes on their status.
Often, we even have reminders so that we remember to check in on them every few months – or at least, shoot them an automated email that they never open. Yet when it comes to veterans, for some reason, these best practices, for some reason, are rarely practiced, consigning this talent to a separate, but rarely equal, hiring process.
I know, I know. But Dan, you’re saying. I don’t speak ‘Marine!’ That’s cool. I was in the Navy myself, so I feel you. But here’s the thing. No matter if you served or not, everyone needs to stop thinking of the military as some completely foreign concept that exists independently of the rest of the employment ecosystem and start thinking about the military as just another employer, albeit one with around 1.8 million full time employees and another 800,000 or so reserves.
Of course, the military is just as adept at managing that headcount as any enterprise out there – if not more so, considering the complexity and scale associated with their particular line of business, as it were. Still, most of the time, there’s little to distinguish military service, on an organizational level, from any other career.
There are clear paths for advancement, opportunities for training and development, and tightly defined roles with specific job titles, responsibilities, reporting structures and a defined hierarchy, just like every other employer out there.
Sure, they sometimes use funny words, ambiguous acronyms and different conventions for job levels and titles than some private sector companies, but those differences are superficial and largely negligible, as anyone with even a perfunctory knowledge of the military can probably tell you.
This isn’t so different from the phenomenon by which someone who’s a “Associate” at our company might be an “Analyst” at a direct competitor. It’s the same job, the same responsibilities, the same professional profile, but with slightly differentiated naming conventions.
Why is it that we have no trouble translating these titles, but when it comes to veteran recruiting, we’re so often stumped? It’s the exact same exercise as job leveling from any other private sector employer, and we do this dozens of times a day as a matter of course.
It’s our job as recruiters, after all, to seek out the information we need to accurately target candidates, understand their job level, previous experience and specific expertise and determine whether or not their role and responsibilities match with a req’s requisite requirements.
If they do, it’s our responsibility to make a compelling pitch and meaningful connection to help them understand more about our opportunity, our company and our culture so that we can convert them into candidates, and, ultimately, new hires.
These essential recruiting conversations require speaking the same language as the candidates, the onus of which falls largely on talent acquisition, who must ensure that their calls to action are actually being heard. Except for veterans, of course. Because for this one single segment of the candidate population, well, translation is their job, not the recruiter’s.
Talk about a double standard, and a potentially discriminatory one at that. I’m sure I don’t need to translate “compliance violation” for you, right?
(Re)Definition: Creating A Common Language for Veteran Recruiting.
Now, no one is insinuating that you’ve got to quit your day job to become some sort of career counselor or veteran hiring expert to successfully recruit transitioning talent.
But if you’re a good recruiter, you know that learning agility and natural curiosity are imperative, and broadening your base of knowledge to add as much value as possible to your business needs to include at least a perfunctory understanding of how veteran hiring works and what it takes to be successful.
This doesn’t mean you have to know everything about veteran recruiting or the military, but you should try to understand which veteran profiles and job functions are pertinent to your recruiting efforts. For example, if you’re a tech recruiter, you should familiarize yourself with the various job families and functional responsibilities of the Army’s Signal Corps, the Marine Corps’ Communications, the Air Force Cyber Command, and the Navy’s Information Dominance division.
Each of these groups is a potential gold mine for tech talent that could represent a whole new pipeline of untapped, but highly qualified, tech talent for you to source from. These are smart people with specialized skills, extensive tech training and the ability to add value to an employer beyond their simple status as “veterans.”
Most of their professional experience and expertise is universal, and goes beyond those veteran hiring tropes like “they have leadership skills” or “they respect authority.”
For those candidates currently transitioning out of the military, these highly skilled veterans aren’t only out there, many of them may actually actively be seeking out you, the recruiter, 8-12 months before they’re ready to go. If this sounds like a dream candidate, you’re right. This is why it’s completely inconceivable why so many recruiters make hiring veterans a nightmare for these qualified, interested and available candidates.
It’s time to stop making excuses and start connecting with these veteran candidates. Answer their questions, address their concerns, understand their aspirations and motivations and set expectations for the hiring process, just like you would with any other passive candidate. Don’t avoid them because they’re veterans; embrace them because of it.
Do this, and you’ll already be ahead in the hiring process next time you open a position that requires leveraging that pipeline. Your candidates will be ready to go when you are, and you never have to make a cold call when you’ve got warm leads.
Instead of waiting until you have a position to post, and forcing whatever veterans happen to be looking to guess whether they’d be a better fit for a “Senior Team Supervisor” or a “Junior Manager,” recruiters should be transparent and share what these really mean to candidates, along with any other company specific lexicon or internal definitions they might need to best translate their experiences to the role and your company.
There are over 500 different MOS codes across the military and its branches. The idea that any given recruiter will understand the nuances of every one of those military specialties, what they entail and the skills involved is completely unrealistic and crazy.
But every recruiter should know every job we recruit for inside and out, and if we have that insight and information, it’s easy to share what the role entails, what it takes for a candidate to be competitive and which specific skills and experiences you’re looking for.
That way, veteran talent has a tangible framework to translate their past skills and military experience specifically for the job and your company. You should never again force people to translate their history into a language or lexicon that’s unique to your company; that’s your job as a recruiter, honestly.
Nothing gets lost in translation when everyone’s speaking the same language.
Part 2 in a two part series. Click here for part one, “Military Intelligence: Can You Handle the Truth About Veteran Recruiting?”
About the Author:
Dan Piontkowski is a fun loving guy that has spent too long in the recruiting and sourcing world waiting to figure out what to be when he grows up.
He’s done time enlisted in the Marine Corps, a graduate of the Naval Academy, a commissioned naval officer, developed robust veteran hiring initiatives at big companies and still doesn’t know what a Space & Missile officer in the Air Force does.
He likes Sugar Free Monster because it’s healthier than the regular stuff.
Dan isn’t on Twitter, but you can connect with him on LinkedIn.