Recruiting Veterans Makes a Huge Human Capital Difference

When you’re hiring someone new, the biggest concerns are typically how the person will fit into the organization, and whether his or her experience directly matches the position. The same questions can take on added weight when the applicant is a veteran, and job titles and duties don’t seem to correlate at first glance.

These aren’t unreasonable concerns. But non-military employees switch industries all the time, and they’re forced to translate their knowledge in these career transitions, so we believe that veterans can do the same.  

We’re also encouraged by the good work that’s being done by the Veterans’ Administration right now in order to align private-sector job descriptions with military experience. We hope this will assist company recruiters as they assess a vet’s background and skills - not just his or her military rank.

In addition, we believe that companies can unlock the potential of their veteran hires, and almost completely reduce the integration challenges, if they effectively educate and nurture these new employees after the start date.

This approach brings veterans into a company and helps them understand their job duties as well as a new corporate culture; challenges them to use their new job training; asks them to translate and apply their military skills to business; and then offers them support, so that they feel like they’re part of the new team. The support element may be particularly important to disabled veterans.   

Employers can learn a lot about a veteran – and his or her potential – during the interview process.

We recommend the STARS interviewing format – Situation; Task assigned; Actions taken; Results achieved; and a Summary or specific Skill used for success. This format allows veterans to tell potential employers stories that relate their skills and experience.

The key thing for employers to assess is a veteran’s maturity level. Many vets have had leadership experience early on; they’ve had to think on their feet at a young age while commanding people and managing millions of dollars’ worth of equipment; and they’ve often had to do this in inhospitable places like Iraq and Afghanistan – far away from their families. These challenges differ from those in the private sector, and they ultimately generate real value for companies.

Employers need to look closely at veterans’ hidden talents, too.

One Special Forces Officer, a Green Beret returning from Iraq, talked about the minefields of Baghdad in an interview, for example. The potential employer was intrigued, but responded by saying, "We don't blow our competitors up."  

This was a short-sighted response. Indeed, as a veteran tells his or her story in an interview, the prospective employer should look for instances of creativity, leadership, independence, initiative, and technical expertise. These hidden skills will lead employers to a variety of potential positions and capabilities that are needed in their organization.

Here’s a good case in point. Most people would say that an artillery specialist and software quality engineer have very little in common. But both focus on initiative; identify small changes; and work alone, as well as in a team. And both have technical expertise, in addition to a complete understanding of the environment in which they operate.

As we move forward, we believe that there needs to be more work done on standardizing the recruiting approach for veterans.

Some of the best recruiting takes place in areas with a military presence. Military people who are retiring often try to make sure that their last assignment lands them in a place they’d like to live and work in after being discharged. So recruiting at local and regional military bases is usually beneficial for employers.

In addition to career fairs and social media, there are also a number of external organizations that are dedicated to helping veterans and employers find each other.

Good examples are: The U.S. Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative (http://www.uschamber.com/hiringourheroes); ESGR’s Employment Initiative Program (http://www.esgr.org/site/eip.aspx); and Hire America’s Heroes (http://hireamericasheroes.org/).

Internal outreach can be launched through an organization's veterans Employee Resource Group (ERG).  

Whatever recruiting vehicle is deployed, however, the key message here is that hiring veterans represents a tremendous opportunity for organizations to bring in highly trained and motivated people who have had unique and invaluable life experiences.
In the end, that’s the human capital package that employers in just about every industry sector want and need.
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This article was written by Tay Yoshitani and Chad Storlie. Tay Yoshitani is CEO of the Port of Seattle. And Chad Storlie is Senior Business Director, Marketing and Sales, for Union Pacific Railroad.


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