While the importance of building diversity and inclusion into your organization’s DNA has long been understood, employers are recognizing its value now more than ever as they struggle to hire and retain workers. Ongoing hiring challenges have actually become an opportunity to reimagine the way we hire, and with that, inclusive hiring practices should remain top of mind.
Following the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan earlier this year, thousands of veterans have now entered the workforce, comprising a diverse and highly skilled candidate pool employers often overlook.
In honor of Veterans Day and to support Indeed’s own mission to help people with military experience get jobs, we spoke with two military talent experts to gain insights on how employers can better tap into this highly skilled talent pipeline.
Matthew Louis, a veteran himself, is one of the nation’s leading experts in career transition for veterans and author of Mission Transition — a practical guide for veterans in career transition, their families and their employers. Lori Norris is a veteran advocate who specializes in educating transitioning service members on how to market themselves in the job search and who hosts the “Lessons Learned for Vets” podcast.
Read on to learn actionable strategies you can use to not only find quality hires but to support service members in their assimilation back into civilian life.
The benefits of including veterans in your hiring strategy
Generally speaking, the business case for diverse and inclusive hiring practices are well known — including increased revenue and major boosts in innovation. Veterans are prime candidates to make these kinds of positive business impacts based on their training and experiences.
“The idea that what they’ve done in the military is nothing like the private sector is a huge misconception,” Norris says, pointing out that veterans are taught Lean Six Sigma Principles (a methodology focusing on statistical analysis over guesswork) and kaizen (a Japanese business philosophy focused on the continual improvement of processes) and so are very efficiency focused.
And contrary to media portrayals and stereotypes, only a small percentage of veterans actually serve in a combat capacity. But regardless of their function in the military, “veterans learn professionalism, work ethic, critical thinking skills, communications skills, and how to work in discontinuous environments with different cultures,” Louis explains, describing the unique mindset of military-trained individuals.
Unconventional candidates may even be more eager to prove themselves in a career transition, increasing your likelihood of making a successful hire. While the diverse experiences of service members may not align exactly to your job description, the value of a veteran’s growth mindset and transferable skills like flexibility shouldn’t be overlooked.
“They literally can get dropped into a new location, culture or country and have to figure out how to get things up and running very quickly,” Norris says. “They’ve been adapting and thinking on the fly and innovating their entire career.”
5 ways to help integrate veterans in the workforce
Beyond the direct benefits of employing highly skilled talent, employers also have a major opportunity to ease the burden for veterans transitioning to civilian life. Here are five actionable strategies you can deploy to support job seekers and employees with military experience.
Actively source job seekers with military experience
In order to effectively attract and source military talent, both experts recommend building a focused veteran hiring program with a dedicated recruiting team.
Starting with your reputation, it’s important that your company’s employer brand reflects your commitment and interest in hiring veterans. And ensure your recruiting team has done their homework to use proper language and imagery, Norris says.
“If you’ve put a stock photo in a flyer where someone’s not following uniform regulation, for example, it could drive them away or make them question how serious you are about your veteran sourcing program.”
Norris also recommends checking in with the employment center at a nearby military installation; they can connect you with local organizations that specialize in closing the gap between employers and veterans. Plus, resources like Indeed for Military and Indeed Hiring Platform make it easy to find job seekers with military experience and manage the entire hiring process end to end.
Learn to read a military resume
Be careful not to use their resumes alone as a “screen-out” tool, Norris notes. And unless you already “speak military,” she says, you may want to familiarize yourself with some of the more common terms and titles.
“NCO, or NCOIC, Chief, Sergeant — those are terms that speak of leadership in the military,” Norris explains. “Don’t put as much emphasis on the job title as much as how they describe what they did in those roles. Use it as a starting point for a conversation.”
The Department of Labor also offers a wide range of employer resources that can help translate military terminology into civilian terms.
Ask questions about behavior, not experience
In order to identify a veteran’s transferable and soft skills, ensure that your interview approach includes more behavioral and competency-based questions, Louis says: “Veterans will tell stories all day long about the way they’ve done things. It’s critical that employers structure their approach to interviews differently than they would traditionally.”
Instead of asking the candidate a more binary question like “Have you ever managed a project?” give them the opportunity to describe an experience that feels more accessible: “Tell me about a time when you were given a task with very little direction and how you accomplished it.”
“It’s simply a matter of changing the way in which questions are asked such that it encourages the candidate to tell a story about where and how they’ve used those skills.”
Build robust training and mentorship programs
Providing support for veterans after the hire is just as critical, if not more so, as the recruitment process itself. It can be a challenge for some veterans who may not have direct experience in your field to acclimate, but a robust onboarding process can go a long way to help your new hires feel at ease.
Training structures will look different for every organization, Louis says, but the importance is that “there is some acclimation training and welcoming messaging going out with senior leadership support,” Louis notes.
Create an Employee Resource Group (ERG) or mentorship program enabling veterans to connect with one another. Where possible, seek out other veteran talent within your organization to lead the charge in building the community, but keep in mind that mentors don’t always need to be veterans themselves.
“With a veteran ‘buddy program,’ a mentor should be someone higher up at a more senior level in the organization,” Louis says. “Sometimes it’s actually better that they not be a veteran so they can focus on helping them make a connection on a cultural basis.”
Provide long-term career and professional development opportunities
Ongoing learning opportunities — from industry-specific professional development courses to broader education stipends — are key to retaining veteran talent. But first, you’ll need to be clear about your organization’s structure and their long-term prospects.
“Coming from the military, there’s a clear understanding of the structure: ‘What boxes do I need to check to make that promotion by X time?’ You may need to be more overt to demonstrate a parallel to those coming in and help them put a career path in place,” Louis recommends.
Transparency from your leadership can also help to foster a sense of belonging and psychological safety for all employees. Be clear in your communications, and drive home your organization’s mission and values whenever possible.
“Trying to reconcile the purpose of their new job and the purpose as they understood it when they wore the uniform can be difficult,” Louis says. “Leaders need to be very overt in helping the individual veteran understand what they’re doing, and how what they’re doing is tied to the core mission and the purpose of the organization itself.”
Hiring veterans adds value in more ways than one
Talent with military experience is a major culture add for your organization, bringing with them a diversity of experiences and ways of thinking that can promote innovation. Meanwhile, employers have a prime opportunity to support service members in their transition to civilian life and help close the civilian-military divide.
When hiring veterans, be sure to think about the entire process end to end and provide these highly skilled candidates with support at every stage of their career journey — from attraction to retention. And if you’re building a veteran hiring program from the ground up, Louis’s best advice is simply to get started.
“Veterans are out there, really hiding in plain sight, and they’re abundant. They’re seeking a future life of success for themselves; it likely awaits in some corner of your organization. We as organizations just need to meet them halfway and help them find that happy landing spot.”