How to Find, Support Veteran Talent

It turns out that supporting military veterans is pretty simple; start by listening.
veteran hiring

After serving with the Marine Corps in three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan from 2001 to 2011, Josh Glover medically retired because of an injury and was left needing to support his family. While living close to Camp Lejeune, he was also near Wilmington, North Carolina, which his family identified as a great place to live and raise his three children. It turns out this was an easy decision; what was most daunting for him was to figure out what industry and role he would seek.

The same is true for many veterans, said Glover, who is now executive vice president of Americas for nCino Inc., a cloud banking firm that connects customers and operations. With the high deployment cycle the military has now, if service members aren’t deployed, they are training to do so. And in the high-stakes situations they face, they don’t have time to explore or even ponder what their career will be after they leave the military, he said. “I think it’s fair for most veterans to know that they’re probably not going to have any idea when it starts because they haven’t had that exposure,” Glover said.

Although veterans face unemployment rates similar to the rest of the civilian population, their labor force participation lags and underemployment runs rampant. As of late 2017, only about 49 percent of veterans participated in the labor force, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; 62.7 percent of the overall population 16 years and older participated in the civilian labor force in May 2018. And with nearly one-third of veterans facing underemployment, their economic success has limits, writes Marketplace, citing a study from ZipRecruiter and Call of Duty Endowment.

“It’s really important that they land with leaders who understand the tangible and intangible skills that they have, who understand how their unique backgrounds can be very valuable to their new companies in the private sector,” Glover said, adding that he wants to see more veterans employed at companies that view them as an asset rather than end up underemployed. “Socially responsible people don’t want that,” he said.

In interviews with Talent Economy, employers and veterans alike said a major challenge to this population’s employment prospects is employers simply not understanding the skills veterans bring to the civilian workforce.

JDog Junk Removal & Hauling is an American-owned and veteran-operated franchise in Berwyn, Pennsylvania, that employs and franchises with a largely (estimated 85 percent or more) veteran population. Tracy Flanagan, co-founder and senior vice president of JDog, said many of her franchisees left the corporate world feeling misunderstood and as though they were not part of the team or mission.

To best find and retain veterans, it’s a matter of employers really understanding the veteran and their strengths gained when in the military, she said. The skills many of them hold include the ability to make split-second decisions in extremely stressful situations, having a team mentality, being highly adaptive and great at problem solving. They also tend to have great work ethic and take pride in their conduct and appearance, she said.

For hiring managers to better understand veterans, “It’s just effort and communication,” Flanagan said. Managers should try to connect with veterans by asking them about what they did while in the military and the acronyms they grew accustomed to. “They want to be asked those questions. They want to be understood,” she said. Veterans seeing their managers making an effort goes a long way.

This focus on veterans should start at the top of organizations, said Tony Lee, vice president of editorial for the Society for Human Resource Management, a membership organization that provides HR professionals with certification, education and thought leadership in Alexandria, Virginia. “From the top down, talk about your interest in having a diverse and inclusive workforce that includes veterans,” he said. If the top leaders say this is a priority and encourage others to think about how to make opportunities attractive to vets, then it’s a priority.

“If it’s only the HR department doing it, then it’s often seen as just another initiative along with many others, but if it’s the CEO talking about it, it gets taken a lot more seriously.”

Organizational leaders should also educate hiring managers. Many of them think that veterans’ skills are limited due to their specialized training, “when in fact, many of the skills that veterans have learned are very easily transferable to the civilian world,” Lee said. Echoing Flanagan’s list of skills veterans hold, Lee added that they tend to be organized, project oriented, discipline oriented and task-based, and many of them hold leadership experience. “Those are the types of qualities that tend to fare very well in pretty much any workplace.”

A challenge in hiring is then translating military experience to civilian opportunities, said JoAnn Strickon, global sustainability manager at ManpowerGroup, an international research and advisory firm. When leaders write job descriptions, they should research the skills needed internally, consider if roles in the military trained for similar skills, then make it clear that the company seeks this talent, she said.

It’s important to also consider what will motivate veterans to join certain companies, including understanding their aforementioned strengths, as well as challenges, Strickon said. Because many veterans faced combat and lived in emotionally and mentally challenging environments, “they will need to continue to have support for dealing with those challenges when they’re back in the civilian population,” she said. A company aiming to support a veteran-friendly workforce needs benefits that allow for taking time off to get necessary support without facing stigmas.

Finally, an employee resource group for veterans can be a great way to support this population, said Lee. To start one, send out a call to employees to gauge interest and set a meeting. After the group gets together and is energized, the next step is a request for help with recruiting and interviews. Lee suggested having a veteran employee talk to prospective veteran candidates about why the company is a great place to work. Members of the resource group can also act as mentors or work buddies, helping to understand the company and workplace issues, he said. While this is likely to help retain veterans, this should not be the end of a veteran hiring initiative.

Identifying the veterans and bringing them on to the company is half the battle; making them feel included is much harder, Lee said. “Everybody is committed to diversity, but diversity only succeeds with inclusion. It’s got to be both.”

Lauren Dixon is a senior editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email editor@talenteconomy.io.