This article is part of a series entitled "Lies They Tell Transitioning Veterans," which first appeared on the RecruitMilitary website and was contributed by Peter A. Gudmundsson, a former U.S. Marine artillery officer and the CEO of RecruitMilitary, a leading provider of veteran hiring solutions.
One of the surprising generalizations about military veterans is their uncanny ability to be both idealists and cynics simultaneously. With attitudes that perplex most civilians, military personnel and veterans will mock the sentiments of their colleagues one moment and then get goosebumps during daily colors or the sounding of their service's hymn. There is no other American institution in which this coexistence is so common, curious and comfortable as the military.
So it is no wonder that veterans carry this cynical yet idealistic world view into their civilian employment transitions. It is too familiar to hear self-defeating talk from veterans who assume that every company initiative designed to hire veterans must be condemned as cynical and insincere propaganda. Some assume that companies conspire darkly with nefarious intent to dupe or deceive veterans into thinking their organizations actually value their service. To be fair, some companies are clueless and clumsy with the way they communicate their veteran hiring objectives but there is much misunderstanding regarding the reason why companies hire veterans in the first place.
The serious veteran job seeker will seek to understand before he or she seeks to be understood when it comes to decoding the intentions of hiring companies. By comprehending the motivations and needs of most organizations, the individual can better position himself for success.
Organizations hire veterans for one or more of four different reasons:
Talent Needs As I write repeatedly, all organizations need great people, most veterans are great people, therefore all organizations need veterans. With published national unemployment at 4.9% for all people and 4.7% for veterans, our economy is approaching full employment. Most organizations are hungry for talent that is efficient and effective. There are few institutions left in our society today that teach and reinforce simple but critical attributes like integrity, reliability and teamwork. As a result, enlightened companies actively seek veteran employees. But as in all employment situations, companies hire individuals only because they believe that the candidate can create value by selling, making or counting stuff for more than what they are paid.
Service Some companies or company officers seek veteran employees out of a sense of service, give-back or altruism. This may be the result of an institutional or personal commitment at the organization. However well intentioned, these motivations are usually not as enduring or impactful as actual talent needs.
Compliance and Tax Credits Federal regulations require companies that have government contracts to comply with the rules of the Orwellian-sounding Office of Federal Contract Compliance ("OFCCP"). Although officially not quotas, they amount to the same for companies who will seek veteran talent in order to avoid government sanction. Likewise, companies can benefit from tax credits approaching as much as $9,000 for hiring certain classes of veterans.
Appearances Finally, some companies will want to make a show that they "support" veterans by talking up veteran hiring. This is the category that veterans tend to cite when an individual fails to win a job. In fact, the companies that cynically care only about appearances are less common that believed. Critically, there are many easier ways to "check the box" of veteran hiring that does not involved the direct and indirect costs of attending veterans career fairs or posting jobs on a veteran job board. Those who are just flag waving can do so with a bumper sticker or small charitable donation.
So how does a veteran know if a company is serious about hiring veterans?
- Don't rely on announced targets – most are bogus metrics: It has become fashionable for companies to make a big announcement that they are supporting veterans by agreeing to a benchmark target. Invariably, a press release will say that XYZ Company has dedicated itself to hiring 5,000 veterans over the next five years. What is left unsaid is that the company tends to hire about a thousand veterans per year anyway. They might was well declare that they are planning to hire 10% of their workforce as left-handed people. Well of course they are! But one should not shun companies that make these announcements; just take their declarations with a grain of salt. Usually, the target announcement is the bright idea of someone in public relations and not the talent acquisition, veteran hiring or hiring manager staff.
- Their reasoning makes sense: Companies that are serious about hiring veterans usually have a clear understanding about what they seek beyond patriotic platitudes. For example, a retailer that gets it might understand that "combat arms small unit NCOs like squad leaders make excellent store managers because they are great under pressure and know how to motivate front line sales people." Or, a manufacturing company might cite Navy or Air Force experience with technical machinery and adherence to safety protocols as attractive.
- Talk to real veterans inside: In this age of ubiquitous information, it is inexcusable for a veteran job seeker not to identify and engage real veterans inside a company before taking a job there. Make sure to keep the source's identity confidential but most inside veterans will help as they can.
- They have dedicated real resources: Companies that are serious about veteran hiring commit resources. They attend high quality veteran job fairs, post their jobs on leading veteran job boards and hire dedicated veteran hiring leaders. Smaller companies cannot always afford all of these investments but medium and larger companies who claim an interest in hiring veterans are usually easy to spot.
As a function of their simultaneous ability to be guided by both cynicism and idealism, many veterans are susceptible to a Manichean world view. That is to say that everything is either good or bad and that there are few shades of gray. In this simplified view, companies are either veteran friendly or hostile. In practice, the world is far more nuanced. Just because a company says they are "veteran friendly" does not mean that it is a fit for you. It is up to the individual veteran job seeker to do his homework and make his own decisions. Variables like location, department and reporting senior can matter a lot more than the company's brand.
My RecruitMilitary recently commissioned a research study with ConsumerAffairs, a well-respected polling organization. We surveyed over 3,000 veterans employed at a wide variety of companies. It turns out that veterans who work at companies that have a real veterans hiring initiative report over 40% higher satisfaction than those whose companies have no formal program. It is not surprising when you think about it. Companies that "get it" with regard to the veterans' opportunity are willing to dedicate resources to being effective. Don't you want to work at a company like that?