It’s easy to applaud U.S. military personnel as they return home from duty wearing their uniforms. But, once the uniform comes off, employing the same people in corporate jobs becomes more challenging. There is a cultural divide between the U.S. military and corporate America. Talent strategists and hiring managers who learn to bridge the divide – through all phases of identifying, recruiting, hiring, onboarding, mentoring and promoting former U.S. military personnel – stand to gain competitive advantage in the global ‘war’ for talent. We have many tips to share. Here are 10 to get you started:
1. Select specific roles for veteran recruiting. While U.S. military veterans can fill many corporate roles successfully, there are places we fit better than others.
Example: If you really need someone with three years of Java programming experience, don’t earmark the role for veteran recruiting. If you have a role that requires problem solving under pressure, add it to your veteran-recruiting list.
2. Adjust job descriptions. To attract veteran candidates, include ‘military veteran’ in job titles and descriptions so veterans perusing job boards will spot your opportunities and feel comfortable applying. Adjust descriptions to present business problems you are trying to solve and list capabilities (versus specific skills) so veterans will have an easier time seeing themselves as legitimate candidates and make connections to what they excel at doing.
Case study: An energy company was looking for GPS Analysts. We helped them to rewrite their job description to emphasize candidates who could understand maps, were detail oriented and capable of accurate and precise data entry. They got two great veterans and are now looking to hire more.
3. Network proactively. Few people enjoy corporate networking. But, for military personnel, the concept of networking is akin to going outside the chain of command.
To do for recruiters: Reach out proactively. Make first contact to establish connections that can be nurtured over time into corporate roles.
4. Change your game at job fairs. Understand that military personnel are accustomed to wearing their resumes - rank, years of service, deployments, experiences, and accomplishments - on their uniforms via insignia, badges and ribbons. They have no history of needing to verbalize their experiences and accomplishments, so job fairs can be especially challenging.
Case study: I recently accompanied a college friend and former Air Force veteran to a job fair. His reaction was that it felt superficial to try and convey his knowledge and accomplishments within a 2-minute elevator pitch. Savvy recruiters will give veterans more time, make initial engagements feel more substantive and find ways to help veterans talk about their experiences and accomplishments.
5. Accept ‘We’ over ‘I’. Hiring managers are trained to hear ‘we’ terminology as a red flag for disengagement or deflection of personal responsibility.
Cultural difference: Military trainees quite literally have the pronoun ‘I’ trained out of their vocabularies. In basic training, using the word ‘I’ can lead to verbal lashings, massive numbers of pushups, situps and other punishments. The military is a team game in every sense, so when veterans go on interviews, they tend to talk about teamwork. Hiring managers need to adjust their reactions to this and be prepared with questions that can help veterans to sell themselves more personally.
6. Prepare to draw candidates out. In the military, one is taught to speak very formally and tersely.
Cultural difference: There is even a name for it called Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF). An interviewer might ask a question and receive a response such as: ‘The team accomplished its mission.’ It’s important for hiring managers to anticipate brevity and be prepared to draw veteran candidates out with more follow-up questions. If a veteran uses an acronym, for example, ask him or her to explain it. Ask them to describe specific activities associated with their roles and how they qualified to assume certain roles.
7. Remember to ask about PME (professional military education). Military personnel (and reservists) are required to undertake high-quality, continuing education courses that can be of huge value to corporations.
Example: Once a year, the DoD requires all military personnel to take an online cyber security course in which it has clearly invested a massive amount of money and know-how to develop. It’s an exceptionally rigorous course that includes role-playing scenarios and interactive testing on an exhaustive number of cyber-security threats. By asking about PME in interviews, you may discover interesting stores of knowledge and potential for positive behavioral modeling that can be leveraged within your corporate culture.
8. Integrate slowly and honor (versus trying to extinguish) veterans’ military histories. Even after recruiting and hiring successfully, there are things corporations must do to smooth entry of former military personnel into corporate jobs.
Case study: For example, in the first company that hired me after serving in Iraq, I was advised not to put up anything military in my cubicle. Really? We’ve gone to war and risked our lives for this country. Now we can’t talk about or acknowledge it? Serving in the military is a life-defining experience and we’re very proud of it. Once you are no longer in uniform – when people stop acknowledging your service – a profound sense of isolation and lack of purpose can set in, leading, in some cases, to job dissatisfaction. One-to-one mentoring – matching older to younger veterans and emulating the military’s ‘battle buddy’ system – can go a long way to preventing this and ensuring long-term retention.
9. Embrace change.
Cultural difference: In the military, people change roles every three to six months and promotions occur relatively rapidly. A young enlisted service member may see 3-4 promotions within a two-year period; so military veterans will be constantly looking for their next challenge, embracing change as it arises and desiring consistent promotion. Smart talent strategists will learn to leverage these traits to promote greater agility and flexibility in their corporate cultures, which tend to move slowly and often resist change.
10. Build substantive veterans’ networks, emphasizing emotional understanding. It’s not the job of society or Corporate America to change or adopt military veterans’ viewpoints, but both can be more empathetic to veterans’ unique perspectives and emotions. Mentors and veterans’ business networks can be a huge help, but they need substance.
Example: I have a friend who, after leaving the military, went to work for one of America’s most iconic large corporations. He promptly joined their veterans’ business network only to learn that it meant little more than handing out stickers on Veteran’s Day rather than providing him with substantive understanding and emotional support as he transitioned incrementally back to a civilian lifestyle.
With the right mentoring infrastructures and sensitivity training, U.S. corporations can succeed at finding, acquiring and retaining talented former U.S. military personnel who will perform well in their jobs, bring strategic knowledge and desirable traits into their corporate cultures, and be loyal for a very long time to come.