3 Signs Your Veteran Hiring Program Is a Joke

When I was a military job seeker, I ran into companies that touted “veteran hiring programs”. In my current role with Bradley-Morris, Inc., I talk to employers with these programs even more frequently. Some companies have well-tuned military hiring machines.

Most, however, do not. So why should you care? Well the veterans that these companies are targeting know when they see a joke program, too.

Here are my top three signs your veteran hiring program is a joke:

1. You can’t effectively find veterans.

2. You aren’t properly leveraging their skills.

3. You initiated the program for diversity/employer branding reasons rather than business reasons.

It feels good for companies to say we have a “Veteran Hiring Program” or we are “Military Friendly.” But the overwhelming positive sentiment to hire our returning service members (good!) is being hindered by a lack of effective action (not good!).

It is well known that Jack Welch and his General Electric empire are the proverbial parents of Junior Military Officer (JMO) recruiting. Every officer today separating from the military visits the GE web site and checks out their JMO rotational training program. Heck, I did it and I was just a knuckle dragging Cavalry Officer with a Political Science Degree! The truth is Jack created the program with a mandate. He directed his managers to go out and hire these guys and gals. What I am saying is he did it for his business not because it “felt good” or because he had any particular charitable affinity towards the service. He saw the value, understood the benefit, and made it a deliberate priority.

A solid military recruiting program starts with hiring the right people for the right positions! If you want to build something that is tangible and will make a difference within the organization, start with roles that will provide a direct and visible positive impact based on the standard skill sets in the possession of military veterans.

More often than not I run into companies that say “we want to hire military,” but the roles into which they want to place those veterans are simply not the right fit. Just because the company needs a design engineer with food processing experience doesn’t mean that should be the position on which the military recruiting initiative is focused.

A middle management role to build the bench of the company could be a perfect start. The JMO hired into this type of role brings leadership experiences and life education forged under the most demanding conditions imaginable that separate them from the traditional college or industry-experienced candidates. These young officers will use those unique leadership qualities and their distinct perspective to get the most out of their team. By the way, in most situations these candidates are only separated from college by about five years and are still young enough to become the foundation of a real succession plan.

If you are in need of technical experience, start in a place where those technical skills are most translatable for the technically adept veterans: Electronics, Electrical, Mechanical, Pumps, Valves, Hydraulics and Pneumatics.  Military-experienced technicians are drug free, on time, dynamic employees – “I can’t get it done” is not in their vocabulary. When something breaks on a Submarine under the polar ice cap they aren’t able to run down the local hardware store and get a new bolt. These candidates’ ingenuity will surprise and impress your management.

After your team has real openings and you recognize that with the right amount of “cooperative training” the service member will be successful, build a network of great people that know great people. The military is a very small community. Due to deployments and lengthy training schools there are only about three degrees of separation vs. the traditional six! You can quickly develop a referral network that is second to none.

Now it is time to brand your team! Veterans look to their “battle buddies” more than they do family. If a guy with my “rate” and my “rank” is successful, then I can be too. If my old XO has just been promoted and loves her job then I will go out of my way to work there. Get out there, talk about those successes, and brand your veterans, not your “friendly rate” on a web site.

A real veteran hiring program involves actually hiring the best veterans for the right positions that, in addition to providing real value to the organization, will begin to take on a life of its own. It is disingenuous to say you have a military program simply based on a tally of how many job seekers ticked the “veteran” block on the application. I am sure those that you hired are doing great in their positions, but frankly you don’t have a program.

My advice is to take a real hard look at your company’s needs, target some key ones, fill those needs with the right veteran and build around those hires. Your organization will see the impact immediately. Veterans are trained to train others. Your veteran leaders will be teaching, coaching, and mentoring others and it will become contagious. When you look up one day and your civilians are coaching others then you have a real program and you can brag about it on social media.

Jake Hutchings


Image courtesy Richard Kelland