I’m not sure why I’m still writing about the importance of hiring veterans. It’s one of those topics that’s more conventional common sense than cutting best practice, but even after all of these years, for whatever reason, it’s still a message that employers need to hear, and one that I champion whenever and wherever possible.
Over my talent tour of duty, I’ve watched from the front lines as an entire cottage industry of consultants and career coaches have sprung up to offer some product or service designed to monetize veteran hiring.
This is sad, considering companies largely seem to be more interested in investing in simple software solutions instead of addressing systemic issues and creating integrated, long term veteran recruiting and retention initiatives designed not to just check another OFCCP box, but instead, to build competitive business advantage.
The latter option, of course, is far more difficult, but nothing worthwhile ever came easy – as any veteran out there will likely tell you.
So, I want to ask a simple question. To quote the tired Nike cliche (which were, in turn, serial killer Gary Gilmore’s last words before facing the firing squad), when it comes to veteran hiring, why can’t we shut up and “Just Do It!?” Feel free to flavor that sentence with any expletives you see fit – and all of them are, when you think about the fact that some people still seem to need convincing that hiring veterans isn’t just the right thing to do morally, but it’s the right thing for your business’ bottom line, too.
Recruiting: Time for An About Face.
Most recruiting is highly transactional, more or less functioning to put butts in seats just in time, every time. Veteran hiring, conversely, requires a much deeper commitment than, say, sticking a posting on a job board or even engaging a third party agency.
If you’re going to hire military personnel the right way, know that if there’s one thing they value, its integrity, honor and sense of duty – and these same values instilled in them during their service to their country are the very same ones that make military hires such valuable assets for any employer or organization.
Think about it: on the one hand, every recruiting or HR practitioner out there seems resigned to having to shut up and put up with the ridiculous demands and asinine expectations of Gen Y workers, who, apparently, feel entitled to things like 40 hour weeks, a rocket-fueled career trajectory and continuous coddling by colleagues and managers alike. Sure, they’re tech savvy and connected – but they’re also major pains in the butt, as a rule.
Contrast this with veterans, who organizations seem somewhat less gung ho about hiring. These guys not only survived boot camp, weapons training and an extended deployment where there was no such thing as work-life balance other than coming back from work alive, but learned the soft skills that are so hard to teach: dedication to mission, putting others before yourself, and, of course, the discipline to do what’s required – even when it’s not desired – without questioning orders, talking back or asking ‘why.’
Sounds like a way more saleable skill set than most Millennials are bringing to the workforce, doesn’t it? Of course, that’s not saying that hiring veterans isn’t without its challenges – it requires adjustments on both sides to make the transition from military to civilian life successful.
Things like having the ability to push back, to work with others without direct orders or a rigidly defined organizational hierarchy, and the same instincts that make veterans such desireable workers also require a commitment to coaching and an increased ability to build an inclusive, cohesive company culture where they’ll feel welcomed and appreciated.
These are not easy challenges to solve, but optimizing how you recruit, hire, onboard and retain veterans is as low risk and high reward as any talent acquisition strategy out there – and invariably, the ROI these veterans provide prove again and again that they’ll inevitably produce results, not excuses, when it comes to making work work. Veteran workers, in fact, have among the highest individual worker productivity rates of any sector of the workforce – and are often far cheaper than similarly experienced hires with exclusively private sector experience, as an added bonus.
Veteran Recruiting Boot Camp.
There’s enough out there about veteran hiring outlining its various obstacles, lessons learned, myths and misconceptions.
You know the ones: the overreliance on military jargon, the dramatic difference in military vs. civilian culture, the difficulty in ascertaining fit, and all those other excuses employers come up with to hide from the fact that the thing preventing them from successfully hiring veterans, in fact, lies largely in their own ignorance.
If you haven’t served, it’s almost impossible to properly serve those who have.
But we all owe it to our veterans to at least learn what they want, what we as recruiting and HR professionals can offer, and how we can start working together instead of seeing each respective side as some kind of mysterious “other.” We’re really not all that different, when you get right down to it – no matter what it might look like on the outside looking in.
Hey, put yourself in a veterans’ boots – they appreciate you stereotyping them as “typical military” about as much as you like it when someone thinks you’re just a “typical HR” person. We both know that these convenient cliches are anything but accurate – so keep an open mind, and an open door, for veteran recruiting and hiring.
So how do you get to know veterans if you’ve never so much as seen the inside of a barracks or don’t know an SOS signal from the SoS they give you in your MREs? Here’s a novel idea: try, you know, talking to them.
Make a goal of talking to one veteran candidate or current employee every month. Don’t recruit, don’t look into employee relations or do anything with any HR specific agenda – just sit down and talk to them, face to face. Chances are, they’ll be more than happy to speak freely about their point of view and perspective – and will be open to understanding the recruiters’ side of the equation, too. A little face time goes a long way into winning hearts, minds and new hires – and this small first step can reap huge dividends down the line.
If you haven’t yet hired any veterans, then make it a point to find one in your community – and trust me, they’re everywhere, online and off – and reach out to ask a simple, poignant and powerful question: “How can I help you?” Just like any specialty set of candidates, it might take a few tries before you’ll find a veteran who believes you honestly want to help them out of altruism and not some sort of ulterior motive.
Fact is, everyone who joins the military has worked with a recruiter at some point in their career, and made a huge life decision based on that individual’s input and insights. They’ve done this before – they just might be reticent to do it again, particularly if you come across as, well, another recruiter out there looking for a quick buck and a quicker hire.
But even if it takes some time, you’ll inevitably find one who’s open and willing to helping you help them. If you can’t, you haven’t tried hard enough – so shut up, stop making excuses and keep trying. If you think this constitutes hard, then I promise there are a bunch of people in Parris Island or Pendleton willing to prove you wrong.
That’s Some ‘Thank You’ For Your Service.
According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, there were an estimated 21.5 million veterans in 2014, 10% of whom were women and 38% of whom were diversity candidates. They live in every town in every state, are every age, color and creed, and have found their way from the military into virtually every organization, at every level, in the American workforce.
But increasingly, military hiring has gotten harder – and unfortunately, an estimated 722,000 veterans are unemployed, but actively looking for a job. 35% of those unemployed were between the ages of 22-44, a disproportionately dismal unemployment rate when compared to the national average.
Veterans from wars prior to Iraq and Afghanistan, conversely, enjoyed an overall unemployment level that was actually lower than the national average by a full percentage point – and obviously, those 60% of veterans over the age of 65 somewhat skew any workforce utilization statistics or demographic studies. This isn’t a recruiting problem. It’s not an HR problem. It’s a societal problem.
And we’ve all got to do our part.
One of the cool things about social media is that veterans are out there – they’re everywhere, and they’re waiting to be heard. You don’t have to be a sourcing whiz to find “one” (or a battalion full, for that matter) on really any network. Although if you’re actually a sourcing whiz, chances are you actually are a veteran. Thank you.
Beginner’s tip: set up a Saved Search in your basic LinkedIn account – mine looks for any new profile that uses some variation of the phrase “transitioning military.” When I get a new alert, I send them out a note, and have built a network whom I try to touch base with at least once a month simply to check in and see how I can help. It’s easy, it can be more or less automated, and they’ll appreciate that small act more than you can ever imagine.
Can’t do that? Try checking out the Veteran Mentor Network. This LinkedIn group proves that there’s really some power in social media after all, effectively matching volunteer employment and career professionals with eligible transitioning military for mentorships (and moral support). It’s easy, it’s free and it doesn’t require more than you’re already doing during the course of your average recruiting day. In other words, it’s really, literally the least you can do.
When you do it, however, you’ll quickly figure out how rewarding working with veterans really is, and might feel compelled enough to go the extra mile in helping to solve this endemic issue. You might even take those essential next steps and move towards implementing a full veteran recruiting program within your talent organization. Once you realize what veterans have to offer, trust me, you’ll be ready to make an offer to most anyone with military experience. It’s something you’ve got to experience, but once you do, you’ll implicitly know where I’m coming from.
On a veteran hiring panel I led at a recent #RecruitDC event, I was lucky enough to share the stage with three of the most passionate, dedicated and knowledgeable veteran hiring advocates in the recruiting industry– Mike Bruni, Brendan Wright and Chrissa Dockendorf.
Click here for a full rundown of the tips we shared during our presentation: Recruiters Be All You Can Be.
Thing is, you can all be a lot. And as we’re increasingly tasked with building talent pipelines for tomorrow, let’s take the time today to add a few veterans into the mix. It’s not only that we owe it to them after everything they’ve already done for us – it’s that they also have so much yet to do for our organizations and every employer lucky enough to welcome them home by hiring them.
There’s no better way to say thank you if you’re a recruiter, when you think about it. And for once, I really hope you do. Trust me, I’m not the only one. Now, at ease – we’ve all got a whole lot of work ahead of us.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to the support of Recruiting Daily, Kathleen Smith’s writing fee will be donated to the Easter Seals Dixon Center for Military and Veteran’s Services. We’d like to encourage our readers to join us in making a gift in gratitude of our veterans and in recognition of our commitment as recruiters to getting veterans back to work. MC.
About the Author: As Chief Marketing Officer for ClearedJobs.Net, a veteran owned company, Kathleen Smith spearheads the community-building, and communications outreach initiatives catering to the organization’s many audiences including security cleared job seekers, military personnel, and cleared facilities employers in the defense and intelligence community.
Kathleen has built key relationships with government contracting and recruiting industry leaders as well as agency insiders over the last 10 years in the community.
Building upon her 20+ years of extensive marketing experience and insight, Kathleen brings a passion to creating unique and interesting ways to communicate with niche communities to build brand visibility, heighten awareness and establish viable, authentic relationships with ClearedJobs.Net’s friends, supporters and followers.
Kathleen is a frequent presenter and blogger on the many uses of social media for marketing and recruiting building upon her years of experience navigating different kinds of social media to obtain program success. She was recently elected President of RecruitDC.