HR Gets Help Hiring Military Veterans

By Steve Bates Jun 27, 2011
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LAS VEGAS—Finding and hiring military veterans takes planning, but the additional effort is worth it, HR professionals were told June 26, 2011, at a workshop held here before the opening of the Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM) 63rd Annual Conference & Exposition.

About 130 people packed a Convention Center room to get practical tips and guidance from several experts on how to develop strategies that will work in their organizations for tapping the substantial pipeline of veterans, including National Guard and Reserve personnel.

SHRM Immediate Past Board Chair Robb E. Van Cleave, SPHR, IPMA-CP, opened the program by noting that many organizations “are going beyond what’s required by law” to help employees returning from military deployment become reintegrated into the workforce. “I’m very, very proud of our profession.”

However, Van Cleave said veterans and HR professionals “face many hurdles” in this task and in finding and hiring longtime military personnel. He said SHRM is working with several organizations to help smooth the way for new careers for its military heroes.

Sherrill Curtis of the Tip of the Arrow Foundation and principal of Curtis Consulting Group told attendees that veterans constitute “a very special talent pool.”

Curtis said that gaining a greater understanding of how the employment landscape looks to veterans is important for HR professionals. HR needs to help executives and line managers overcome preconceptions about what vets can do and what problems—such as post-traumatic stress disorder—they might bring with them to the workplace.

At the end of the five-hour session, “You’re going to have an action plan and you’re going to be able to go back to the workplace and say ‘we’re going to do X, Y and Z’,” Curtis told attendees.

“It’s not top secret,” she said. “Military talent comes with coveted behavioral traits.” Veterans display qualities such as leadership and collaboration. Most are egoless, focused and goal-oriented, Curtis added.

Presenter Lisa Rosser, a veteran and military hiring expert with The value of a Veteran, told attendees that they need to “start at the bottom and work their way up” in developing a veterans hiring program. “You have got to develop the business case.”

She described four key planning steps:

  1. Align existing job functions with military skill sets.
  2. Determine how military grades correlate with the organization.
  3. Identify sources for the most qualified and “best overall fit” candidates.
  4. Design a marketing strategy that lets the military community know of your interest.

“Understand what you’re looking for and where you’re going to find them in the military,” said Rosser.

Emily King of Military Transitions, which provides training on military hiring, urged attendees to examine HR’s role broadly when looking for and hiring veterans. “Look at it through an employee-focused lens,” she stated.

For many returning veterans, “the expectation coming in is that the culture is going to look like what they are used to” in the military, noted King. “We have to blaze the trail of being cultural translators” to make veteran hires work.

The program concluded June 26, 2011, with a keynote address by F. Dawn Halfaker, CEO of Halfaker Associates, who received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star after being wounded during a combat patrol near Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004.

Halfaker noted that veterans are a “high-touch” segment of the job pool, but she said their upside is enormous. When she met other injured warriors at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and saw how brave and determined they are, she thought, “That’s who I want to hire.”

Steve Bates is manager, online editorial content, for SHRM.

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