Hiring talent from diverse populations can be a powerful corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiative. In fact, the way a company hires can be one of the most effective ways to address diversity and inclusion (D&I) and inequality. It can also aid in solving other deeply rooted issues like poverty and food insecurity if working in partnership with the right community partner. But It’s harder than it appears. Being successful requires more than showing up at the next hiring fair. It requires a concerted effort and deliberate strategy between many stakeholders. This couldn’t be more true, especially when hiring veterans. I don’t usually opine about veteran hiring; however, July 25th was National Hire A Veteran Day here in the United States. I’m struck by how few companies get this right. Over the past two years I’ve become even more sensitive to this.
Yes, there are many factors that act as barriers to hiring veterans. There’s fair criticism to be had about the government’s competency in providing resources to transitioning service members. There’s the service member or veteran who’s thrusted into the unknown as a result. Then there’s the company that’s ill-equipped to attract, hire and retain that same veteran.
This isn’t news, but companies have a tremendous opportunity to hire some of the most talented and skilled professionals. To bring this opportunity to reality though, it requires companies to be more purposeful in their strategy to seek veterans. It requires the company (in partnership with non-profit and government entities) to be visible in that community, at the table in the relevant discussions and to be equally knowledgeable about military culture and challenges.
I’d be naive in thinking every veteran’s transition is the same. In fact, they’re all quite unique. But there are some common themes. Thinking back to my own transition in early 2012, I was provided too few resources. I didn’t know which companies were seeking veteran talent. I also had my own demons to deal with. All of which created a shitstorm to navigate. But here’s what most people fail to realize, I’ve been out for almost eight years, and I’m still transitioning. My transition didn’t end when handed my DD Form 214. While this was my experience, I can’t imagine I’m the only one who endured some version of this.
I share that to say if a company claims to seek veteran talent it’s also their responsibility to know the challenges veterans face, and then equip their hiring managers, talent acquisition, human resources and leadership teams to hire effectively. Many say they’re doing this. But too few do it well.
Military culture competency:
It’s not enough that you’re seeking to hire veterans, you must understand the warrior mentality. Work to understand the military culture. You’ll need to understand veterans’ sense of purpose, values, the unity they seek and the issues near to their heart. The military culture permeates everything from language used when speaking, email etiquette, body language, how they make day-to-day decisions and where they choose to work. Just like understanding the culture of another nation’s people, work to understand the culture of the military. Where do you start you ask? I’ll tell you.
There are organizations bridging the military-civilian divide. One great organization doing this is PsychArmor Institute, an organization that provides resources to all those seeking to better support veterans, the military and their families. They even have an online library of over 120 free web-based trainings for employers, educators, healthcare providers and the general public.
Don’t stop there, also do this. In collaboration with a veteran service organization (VSO) or military service organization (MSO), acquire, develop or attend military cultural competency training for those who hire at your place of work. This will help your recruiters and hiring managers understand a veteran’s values and the challenges they’re working to overcome. Over time this will help remove bias from your hiring process. It’ll create a deeper richer understanding of the talent you’re seeking.
Be present in the veteran community:
Veterans need to know a company has their back. But having their back extends beyond the individual veteran. It includes their family, fellow service members, how the company gives back to that community and works to create policy that impacts their wellbeing. So, invest time and resources into supporting their community and be vocal about it. Not to be braggadocios, but to communicate your active support.
There are thousands of VSOs and MSOs you can support. So, I suggest starting with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs Directory of Veterans Service Organizations. This directory has Congressionally chartered VSOs. It also contains those that are not chartered but are officially recognized by the Department of Veterans Affairs and others that represent the interest of American veterans. Some of these organizations focus on veteran homelessness, others focus on military spouses, families of fallen service members, workforce development and so much more.
In concert with an organization you’re supporting, be sure to communicate the work you do to the public. If your company is volunteering in the community to support a VSO or MSO, make sure to take photos and share the story. Share them loudly and proudly through social media and other traditional means of communication. If you’re giving a substantial grant or monetary contribution that supports empowering veterans, write about it. Or better yet, have your partner VSO or MSO write about it and share with their community. Word will get around. By openly and proactively supporting the military community you’ll broadcast your support for them. It’s also important that your efforts are genuine and come off as authentic. These initiatives need to be more than just a check in the box.
Know the outcomes you seek:
Like any deliberate CSR initiative, understand what outcomes you’re seeking. Link your support of the military community with your business objectives. Here’s what I mean. If you’re a healthcare or medical research company focused on cancer, you could focus on supporting VSOs or MSOs that advocate for veterans that have fallen ill from burn pit exposure. Or, perhaps your company provides raw material, equipment and other resources (i.e. lumber, tools and cement) to support relief efforts in the wake of natural or manmade disasters. Turns out there are organizations that are largely veteran led or support veterans that focus on disaster relief. Two that come to mind include Team Rubicon whose motto is “Disasters are our business. Veterans are our passion,” and the American Red Cross, who have dedicated programming to support the military and their families.
Or maybe your company doesn’t have a niche subject matter with a direct tie-in to veteran empowerment. That’s okay, you can always choose to support an organization that works to “ready” transitioning veterans for the civilian workforce with more generalized workforce and job readiness skills development.
Whether your company has specialized skills unique to a niche market or not, your company likely has employees that can teach much needed (but underrated) skills. Which skills do I refer to? Basics like résumé writing, interview and social etiquette and even dress for success. As common as these skills may be to civilians or those who’ve been transitioned for year, this know-how isn’t always understood by newly transitioned veterans. Remember; many service members are used to wearing a uniform. Some have been doing so for years, others for decades. There’s also specific protocol when conversing with other service members. This remains true even when through email. The military protocol may be misunderstood to potential employers. So, get your employees engaged in teaching the skills that aid veterans in navigating this. After all, it’s during the interview that these become some of the necessary skills needed get hired.
Set a goal and make it public:
Every time I turn around, I hear about companies with veteran hiring goals. Those that make the goal public often experience higher degrees of success. There’s something to be said about making a goal public. Not only do you communicate to the public that you’re seeking veterans, but you also create accountability. Yes, that “a” word that some folks fear. I believe accountability is important when reaching goals.
Think back to that time where you set a goal but didn’t tell anyone about it. Did you achieve that goal? Or did you stop making progress, eventually choosing to stop pursuing it? You don’t have to answer that aloud. Now think back to the goals you’ve told others about. The moment you tell someone you’re doing something it’s almost like they never let you forget. Suddenly, these same people hold you to your word.
I do this all the time with my running goals. I run ultra-marathons (or ultras), and they’re not easy. They require a strict training and nutrition regimen. Before I even register for an ultra, I tell close friends and coworkers. At the very least that commits me to finding a race. Then after I register, I tell these same people the date and time of the race. Sometimes I even go as far to tell them the time I’m seeking to finish. All these decisions make it so that others are constantly in the loop on what I’m trying to achieve. Over time as I get closer to my race, they ask questions about how my training is coming along and if I feel ready. Some even offer to support my achieving that goal.
Of course, I can always back out of a race I tell others about, but it makes it so much harder to do that after others are informed. It makes me more deeply committed to achieving the goals I set.
Well, the same goes for publicly communicated business goals. You tell others and suddenly, they want to see you achieve these goals. There’s more accountability. It prevents those responsible to the goals from simply quitting because now there’s public trust at jeopardy. Just like my running, it requires more rigor and strategy to achieve these goals. It also creates an environment of transparency (which the public loves and sometimes demands), and it tethers you to something that must be achieved.
Continue building upon the foundation:
All these actions help develop a presence amongst the military and veteran community. But once you start hiring veterans there’s so much you can do. For example, once you develop a cohort of veterans at your company, you can create an affinity or employee resource groups (ERG). These groups are voluntary employee-led groups that foster a diverse and inclusive workplace that aligns with a company’s mission, goals, business practices, values and culture. These groups create opportunities to develop emerging leaders, expand reach in your market and increasing employee engagement. Having a military or veterans ERG can help support your veterans hiring goals. Members of these groups can become great ambassadors between your company and the military community.
As your ERG develops, so will the opportunities for thought leadership. What do I mean by this? Well, what I’m referring to is your company’s ability to share best practices around hiring veterans. In addition to this you’ll have a greater opportunity to take the show on the road. Company leadership involved in supporting veterans hiring could speak at universities, events with VSO and MSO partners, or in collaboration with leadership from the Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs where appropriate. Doing this will elevate your company’s standing as a diverse and inclusive employer.
Here’s the bottom line; this needs to be well thought out. Each aspect of a strategy should exist to have the highest degree of success.
All that I’ve described comes with time. So, as you’re creating this mechanism for engagement, be patient. This isn’t the end-all-be-all, this is just a start. It’s also a never-ending process, it’s a continuous cycle. And like any process it should be respected. But that’s just my two cents. What say you?
Do you have a veteran hiring strategy? If so, I’d love for you to share what’s working for your company. Perhaps there’s something you’re doing great that I missed. Or maybe your strategy isn’t working. If that’s the case let’s connect. Not because I stand to gain from connecting, but because I’m passionate about seeing the impact to your place of work by successfully hiring veterans.