June 29, 2021

Hiring Nontraditional Candidates: How to Recruit Military Veterans

Post-pandemic hiring challenges are going to force hiring managers to look beyond conventional hires to more nontraditional candidates, including military veterans. While some companies may be hesitant to reach out to these candidates, the benefits of doing so far outweigh the potential problems.

“People have this idea that [service members] are only skilled in combat and make poor employees because they all have PTSD — none of that is true,” says Justin Constantine, a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps and chief business development officer at diversity and inclusion employment platform JobPath Partners. “Veterans make highly skilled and disciplined employees; you just need to know how to communicate with them. If you understand how to hire vets, that’s a steady talent pipeline for you.” 

Follow these best practices as you develop hiring strategies that specifically target veterans as job candidates. 

Meet Veterans Where They Are

The first step in attracting veterans as candidates for your organization is to find them. When you are ready to open up positions to veterans, post jobs on military-friendly job boards such as the National Labor Exchange, MilitaryHire.com, and Military.com. Host veteran-only recruiting events, such as career fairs and interview events. Events can be conducted virtually, on a military base, or in a traditional setting to ensure the greatest possible access to these candidates. 

Connect with organizations that support veterans, including the U.S. Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service and American Corporate Partners. Ask those organizational leaders for referrals of veterans who may be looking for work. Partner with educational institutions that have veterans programs to reach candidates who are preparing to enter the workforce, advises Jennifer Renee Pluta, assistant director of veteran career services at Syracuse University. 

Each of these outreach efforts lets you focus specifically on connecting with veterans to fill job openings. 

Use Veteran-Friendly Language in Job Postings

To attract military candidates, you may need to rewrite your job postings using military-friendly language. What does that mean? Ultimately, it’s about making it simple for veterans to visualize how their skills and experience are applicable to the position by writing descriptions that speak to those skills.  

Be sure the job description clearly explains job responsibilities in great detail using language that helps veterans understand specific job functions. If possible, list military positions that translate well into the open position. Also consider using military classification codes in the postings.

Military Occupational Codes (MOC) describe job qualifications in the military. By tying open positions to MOCs, you help veterans understand exactly what skills are needed for the job and whether or not the skills they gained in the military fit with the role. You can research MOCs (MOS, AFSC, Rates) at O*Net Online by entering a military branch and keywords. Through TAOnline you can search job titles, functions, and military occupation codes to research civilian jobs that match military training.

graphical image of saluting soldier superimposed on an american flag; recruit military veterans

Learn How to Read Military Resumes

A veteran’s resume isn’t going to read the same as a civilian’s resume. Typically, they’re much longer with a long list of ranks, titles, and skills that are foreign to hiring managers. “It’s often difficult for a transitioning veteran to parse their resume down to the ‘typical’ one or two pages,” explains HR consultant Lauren Buerger, and recruiters often struggle to translate military skills to civilian job skills.

In fact, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, more than half of HR professionals have little knowledge of military rank and structure. That’s why organizations that are serious about recruiting former members of the military need to train their human resources teams to read military resumes and translate those skills. Hiring managers need a basic understanding of military skills, experience, and terminology in order to connect them to those in the civilian workforce.

Engage Currently Employed Veterans to Help Recruiting Efforts

Veterans who are currently working in your organization can be a great resource for attracting and recruiting others. They can advise HR as to writing job descriptions for veterans and help hiring managers translate skills on veterans resumes (our own Don Moore, who’s an Air Force veteran and former corporate recruiter, can advise you as well.). They can also be used to assist veterans through the application, recruitment process, and onboarding steps since they have already been through it. 

Currently employed veterans are also a great source for referrals of veterans who may be a good fit for a position in the organization. You may wish to consider starting a formal referral program for recruiting veterans that offers current employees an incentive to refer veterans for open jobs. 

Personalize the Veteran Hiring Experience

To show military veterans that you are a veteran-friendly organization, personalize the hiring experience to them. Start by creating a career page specifically for veterans on your website that has content that speaks directly to them and showcases your commitment to veteran hiring programs. 

“Veteran- and military-specific website portals on an organization’s web page can enable job seekers to apply for open positions and establish ‘high-touch’ connections with human resource professionals with specialized knowledge about military candidates,” write psychologist Deborah Bradbard and James Schmeling, senior research associate at the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and president and CEO at the National Defense University Foundation, respectively.

When candidates visit the specialized page they should be able to easily find job opportunities that fit their skill sets and connect with trained hiring managers. The career page should also highlight veterans currently working at the company. Consider having those employees create video testimonials to speak directly about their career paths in your organization.

four jets streak across a blue sky; recruit military veterans concept

Market Your Brand in the Military Community

Establishing a solid brand among military veterans is key to recruiting success in that community. In order to earn the reputation as an employer of choice for veterans, share your company’s mission and values with members of the military community and demonstrate how they parallel the values instilled in veterans during their time in the military. 

For example, veterans are known for being mission-driven, so outline the organization’s purpose and how each employee will help the company achieve its goals. They are also trained to work in teams, so explaining how company teamwork, such as mentoring programs, supports employees in their jobs and overall career paths is crucial. Safety is important to veterans too, so share with them your company’s safety policies and records. If your company has a veteran-focused employee resource group (ERG), be sure to highlight that camaraderie and esprit de corps can be found there as well.

Taking these steps to strengthen your organization’s brand among veterans will help you earn a reputation as a veteran-friendly employer. 

Companies Leading the Way in Hiring Veterans

There are a number of companies that have created successful veterans-hiring programs. A couple that stand out are Southwest Airlines and General Electric. 

Southwest Airlines employs more than 8,000 military veterans and over 1,400 military spouses. Central to the company’s efforts to hire veterans is its military-specific careers page. The page includes testimonials from veteran employees, a military skills translator, and a description of different veteran-specific programs. In recognition of its efforts, the company was awarded a 2016 Most Valuable Employers (MVE) for Military award by CivilianJobs.com and named a 2020 Best for Vets: Employers by Military Times, among other awards over the years.

General Electric employs approximately 10,000 veterans and has also earned awards for its veterans hiring programs. The company has a careers page dedicated to military personnel. Veterans and enlisted personnel can search jobs that fit their skill sets. They can also view testimonials and first-hand accounts of the experiences currently-employed veterans have had with the company. 

Both companies set a good example for specifically targeting military veterans who need jobs in the civilian workforce that allow them to use the skills and experience they received while active in the military. By following their lead and heeding these best practices, your organization can hire more of these valuable employees. 

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