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Sincere about hiring vets? Understand their challenges

November 6, 2017 | By Mike Powers

young female in the military

However much companies say they want to support and hire veterans, they don’t always succeed. And it’s too bad, because veterans bring many unusual and valuable qualities that can round out an innovative, high-performing workforce:

1. Diversity and inclusion

Care about fostering an inclusive workplace? Vets offer a very special gift: comfort and training in dealing with diversity. 

Unlike your typical corporate office, a military unit is a microcosm of every part of America. You have people from different races, ethnicities, genders, political viewpoints, religions, and regions from big cities to tiny towns. In the corporate world, if people with opposing viewpoints don’t get along, they go back to their cubicles. But in combat, people have to come together to plan and execute missions in life or death situations, so they learn to work out differences, no matter how strongly opposed the viewpoints. 

2. Grace under pressure

Pressure can bring out the worst in many workers, but veterans are used to it and handle it calmly without losing a sense of urgency. In fact, pressure often helps vets crystalize what needs to happen to accomplish the desired result.

3. Critical thinking

Combat veterans operate in places where they don’t understand the language or culture, yet they have to foster relationships with people in those places. They develop resources like nonverbal communication and the ability to anticipate reactions. They work out challenging new problems on a daily basis. In short: veterans come home with well-developed critical thinking abilities.

4. Work ethic

The demands of military life are intense, with 60-hour work weeks being the norm, and extra responsibilities that extend well past the working day.

Challenges in recruiting veterans

Many stereotypes and misunderstandings stand between employers and vets.

First, there’s the perception that all combat veterans have PTSD or other mental health issues. That fear often makes managers—especially less experienced ones—feel uncomfortable and ill-prepared to supervise vets, and therefore hesitant to hire them.

Second, military employment leaves veterans with certain expectations about how employers act in the hiring process. They’re used to military and government hiring norms, and unused to the culture of following up and networking. They absolutely expect employers to respond to applications if they’re qualified, and they get discouraged when that doesn’t happen.  

Finally, companies – especially tech one – often present a public image that veterans feel may not be welcoming to them. Veterans look for cues beyond language that a company actually welcomes them, such as a dedicated military recruiting contact.

[Search TEKsystems jobs for veterans and active military members]

A game plan for successful recruitment

How can employers meet these challenges?

The best way to understand and recruit veterans is to tap existing resources. If you have a veterans employee resource group, by all means ask them for assistance. If not, call local veterans support or social groups—don’t feel like you’re not welcome to ask for their support. Most veterans really want to help their peers succeed in work.

At TEKsystems, we’ve developed a comprehensive program to recruiting vets that has earned us distinction as a top military-friendly employer from several organizations. We’ve tried a lot of tactics and have found these to help the most.

  1. Understand what veterans are thinking. Veterans are as diverse as America is—and their reasons for joining the military vary, too. While many join to serve, others are motivated by the chance to see the world, go to college or support their families. Overblown language about heroism and service misses the mark for many veterans, and can unintentionally signal that you don’t understand their culture and needs.
  2. Use video. Instead of using hyped-up language, video your existing veterans talking about the culture, camaraderie and opportunities your organization offers. Vets care about culture, and they know it’s real when their peers speak up.
  3. Have someone from your ERG or local veterans group talk to new managers. They can prepare managers what it’s like to supervise vets and alleviate their fears.
  4. Use your current veterans or spouses to engage candidates during the recruiting process.
  5. Tap an internal vet to prep new recruits for interviews. Have a veteran who works for your company prepare possible recruits before their interview. They can explain the culture and day-to-day work, which may help new recruits decide not to pursue an opportunity that wouldn’t be a good fit for employer or candidate. And these meetings can help candidates prepare and gain confidence and comfort before their interviews.
  6. Hire Reservists and National Guard members. Take good care of your service members, and they’ll spread the word with their tight-knit communities.
  7. If you can’t recruit on your own, use partners. These national organizations have local contacts in every state.

Read more about fostering innovation, diversity and inclusion in tech:

What tech gets wrong about diversity

A diversity and inclusion program that doesn’t feel exclusive

A practical approach to hiring diverse talent in tech

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