Veteran Hiring: The Importance of Reading Recommendations

Capt. Kristy McCallum greets Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald
Capt. Kristy McCallum, commanding officer of USS Green Bay (LPD 20), greets Rear Adm. Hugh Wetherald, commander of Amphibious Forces 7th Fleet, during his visit after the ship's arrival in Sasebo. Feb. 19, 2015. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

As a recruiter or hiring manager, you likely spend a lot of time sifting through of resumes for each open position you need to fill. While a resume reflects on the candidate’s experiences, skills and background, it can miss the mark on telling you who the person is, where they come from and what’s important to them.

I find this particularly true with military veterans: As veterans prepare their resumes for review and uploading into a variety of online tools, they often leave out the “why,” the personal brand. They forget to tell you why they are passionate about their work, why they chose to serve their country, and why you should consider them for an open position. They often forget to sell you on their value.

Veterans Don’t Sell Themselves

Military service members and veterans are trained to think and act as a team, in the collective. The “service before self” value system of the military teaches that the individual isn’t the important component, the team is. During their time in uniform, veterans learned that they should accept responsibility, but push credit and praise to others. This makes it very hard for a veteran to promote and self-market their value to others, including employers.

While the resume might not tell the veteran job candidate’s story, the candidate’s recommendations will.

Recommendations Tell a Story

I remember the day I was meeting a high-ranking military officer from the Pentagon. His resume and online profiles were impressive and very intimidating! I nervously waited for him to arrive for our meeting and took the opportunity (again) to review his online profile. This time, I paid attention to his recommendations.

The people who’d written his recommendations spoke to his passion for serving his country, his loyalty to those he worked with, the challenges he overcame, and his great sense of humor. They talked about his easy-going personality, despite his impressive career. In the few moments before he arrived, I got a glimpse into the man behind the uniform. Imagine how differently our conversation would have gone if I’d remained intimidated for most of the meeting?

Recommendations give us insight into the goals, personality and character of the candidate. They provide narrative to explain career choices and life changes, and highlight aspects of the candidate’s career that we might overlook.

Context Matters

Recently, an Army officer shared this with me:

When I left the service, I obtained letters of recommendations from dignitaries in countries I’d served in, many of whom were influential and high-ranking. I showed these to the hiring manager at a civilian company and they didn’t know what to make of them.

In some cases, you might not recognize the names of the people offering the recommendation. They might be U.S. military or international dignitaries you don’t know. Consider, however, what the person offering the recommendation is writing: Are they speaking to the veteran’s character, tenacity, or resilience? Pay attention to the context and circumstances in which the recommendation was provided and you will get a full view of the candidate you are considering.

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