What It Looks Like to Be Committed to Hiring Vets
Brace yourself. It’s Veteran’s Day. And we’re all about to see just how much corporate America appreciates us vets.
From car sales to discount pricing to parking spaces, corporations all over America have agreed. It’s good to honor vets. It may even be profitable. And while I’m genuinely appreciative of the attention and gratitude today brings, I thought it might be a valuable exercise to say out loud what it is that vets really want. And what we in corporate America might do in order to make it happen.
Vets want jobs. Parking spots are nice. Discounts maybe better. But it’s jobs we’re after.
Vets want jobs that make us feel as good about the work we’re doing as serving did; jobs that will build on the experience we have from service, but insist that we develop beyond it. And despite all the open appreciation and appropriate social goodwill we send our vets, in a post industrialized economy where jobs are transitioning into the service or information domains, for many vets, it’s becoming harder for the transition to become a reality.
The armed services are great at making soldiers and sailors. But they’re not great at unmaking them. So it’s up to us, the corporate leaders of America, to take the next steps and give them the opportunities that will make a difference.
Here’s some that I think will help.
1-Set a goal. Anyone around here ever hit a revenue goal they never set? Or one they never measured? Of course not. So why would anyone expect that hiring veterans would be different. Companies that say they are committed to hiring veterans only mean it if they set a goal and hold themselves accountable for doing it. I understand that having a goal means you’ll have to be honest about missing it. And that can be at odds with the outward expression of support for vets. But if you don’t have a hard and fast goal for hiring veterans, you won’t. And the words of support are just words.
2-Make it someone’s job. A wise CEO I worked for once told me that if you want something to work, make it someone’s job to make it work. If a corporation can’t point to the person or organization that is singularly responsible for the growth of veteran hiring, then they don’t mean it. And if headcount is so scarce that they can’t invest in that, then how in the world are they ever going to commit to the investment of hiring veterans?
3-Listen to the vets at your company. A dozen vets in transition a month reach out to me asking about roles at Intuit. There are so many, I have my own screening process.
I try to talk to the persistent ones or the ones whose background I think are a match for my company. And I have lunch with a few every few months that I would like to see if I can’t introduce them to the right folks. The reality is, most aren’t right for the roles we have open. So I don’t ever end up approaching hiring managers on their behalf. But when I do, I do it because I know their background, I’ve met them and I know the role they’re looking at. And that should matter.
The veteran leaders in any corporation know what they’re talking about. And they’re not likely to pass a vet through just because they’re a vet. So when they do, it’s a strong signal that they’re at least due some consideration for the role. They’ve already done more vetting than the silly 30-minute recruiter screening could ever do. So listen to them.
4-Incentivize managers to hire. I once recommended a retiring Command Master Chief with a technical background and a master’s degree in organizational development who I had first person experience working with for a job as an HR business partner. He didn’t get past the recruiter screening. The feedback was that he didn’t have the background.
Like hell you say.
Here’s the honest truth. As a manager, I make a name for myself two ways. By delivering business outcomes. And by attracting top talent. When I lure an elephant away from a Google or a Proctor and Gamble or a big five consulting firm, I get street cred as the sort of leader that can bring in top talent. And when any of those hires don’t work out, it’s viewed as an outlier, not as a mark against my hiring ability.
The hard truth is that vets don’t get hired because hiring managers are afraid to stick their necks out. And they don’t value service the way they value like experience with top firms. And as much as we’d like to culture our way into creating that, the reality is, outside of other veterans, that approach doesn’t scale.
A hiring manager with 100 people in their orgs and no vets should feel the deficiency. And they’ll need some help from the rest of the business to feel it. Hold hiring managers accountable for hiring vets. If you’re not willing to do that, then you don’t mean you have a commitment to hiring vets.
4-Create a community of vets within the organization. They’re out there already. Give them a place to connect. Put someone in charge of it. Make it a valued role. I got a job where I did because one vet that I knew introduced me to another vet at his company that had a job open. Many inputs need to have a place to consolidate into one shared consciousness. Like many things we’ve learned in adjacent domains, community can grow capability. But it won’t grow on it’s own. It takes…here’s that word again…commitment.
5-Educate your talent acquisition team on the skills and experience veterans have. I’m not sure who got the bright idea to try to change military resumes into job titles from corporate America, but it’s a bad one.
I don’t want to see an NCO calling themselves an HR professional because they dealt with people problems or an operations director calling themselves a product manager because they met the demands of the market with a troop deployment package. I know someone’s trying to help. But they’re not. The people that need that translation won’t believe it. And the people who don’t, know it’s nonsense.
So what actually works?
A few months ago, one of the smartest managers I worked with messaged me and did something that, if we’re going to actually get serious about hiring vets, we’ve got to find a way to scale. He sent me a resume. And he asked me what it was that the last job the candidate actually did.
Company Commander was the title.
My translation: He led a team of 150 or so mechanics responsible for the maintenance lifecycle of a few hundred vehicles. And he was responsible for all the training, staffing and equipment required to support it. And he did it in remote areas where he was likely the senior leader accountable for his outcome.
He was hired. Not because I said so. But because the manager now knew that work-back plans, maintenance cycles, management and leadership/judgement were things he walked in the door with. And his interview jumped.
That process, education of those hiring, is critical. It’s not that inherently scalable though. But I bet, if it were someone’s job to figure out how, they could.
Which takes me back to the grand point.
Corporate America knows how to meet the goals we set for ourselves. Hiring vets is no different. Saying that you’re committed to a goal, means exactly what we know it does; investing resources and the accountability that comes with that investment.
Anything less is just talk. And vets deserve better.