Employing Military Veterans

November 12, 2018
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Scope—This toolkit guides HR professionals and business leaders in how to effectively source and support veteran hiring in the workplace. It describes steps in becoming a military-ready employer by developing initiatives that will best fulfill the organization's needs.

Overview

Finding pools of untapped talent to fill in-demand roles is HR's top priority. Hiring military veterans has proven to be a successful strategy; in addition to gaining high-performing employees with low turnover, companies generally earn enormous goodwill from customers and a public-image boost when they commit to hiring more military veterans.

Business Case

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017, 20.4 million men and women were veterans, accounting for about 8 percent of the civilian, noninstitutionalized population ages 18 and older. The unemployment rate for veterans who served on active duty in the U.S. armed forces at any time since September 2001―a group referred to as Gulf War-era II veterans―edged down to 4.5 percent in 2017. A 2017 CareerBuilder survey found that employers are increasing their commitment to hire military veterans, with 40 percent of nearly 2,500 hiring managers and human resource professionals planning to actively recruit U.S. veterans over the next 12 months. In today's competitive market, employers are opening their doors to veterans who bring a wealth of knowledge and skill to the civilian workplace. See BLS: Employment Situation of Veterans Summary.

Organizations gain employees with wide-ranging experience and competencies when they hire veterans, as shown by the results of a 2017 SHRM Foundation and National Association of Veteran-Serving Organizations (NAVSO) meeting and studies by the RAND Corporation, Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families, and other research institutions. Vets deliver subject matter expertise, years of on-the-job training and advanced skills in such fields as information technology, transportation logistics, supply-chain management and public relations. Vets can help raise a company's workforce to the next level in many areas, including:

  • Leadership and teamwork. Military service creates individuals who work to earn the respect of their peers and understand how to bring people together to pursue strategic, common goals.
  • Problem-solving and decision-making. Servicemen and servicewomen are required to react quickly and precisely, adapting to new information in dynamic, high-pressure situations.
  • Honesty and attention to detail. Many veterans have high-level security clearances, and all are trained to meet the highest standards when it comes to ethics, safety and other organizational imperatives.
  • Global perspectives. Members of the military usually have years of on-the-ground experience working with international teams of diverse individuals—a distinct advantage in our globalizing economy.

See Why Hire a Vet? The Business Case for Hiring Military Veterans and Top Ten Reasons to Hire Veterans and Wounded Warriors.

HR's Role

The civilian perception of veterans' skills and abilities is one of the biggest barriers to veteran hiring. It is critical that recruiters and HR professionals understand military skill sets and how these skills translate to the industry they are working in. HR professionals need to be aware of the difficulties members of this talent pool may encounter as they maneuver through their job searches. For example, when creating a resume, veterans may not know how to express their military experiences in a way that applies to a civilian workplace. Recruiters should consider military-talent applicants—who have been trained not to boast about "just doing their jobs"—suddenly finding themselves face to face with an interviewer who expects them to speak up and elaborate on their skills and successes.

Executives at Stanley Black and Decker1 are experienced in veteran hiring initiatives and provide the following suggestions on how HR can help their organizations with hiring veterans:

  • Educate managers on the value of veteran employees so they see the business case clearly.
  • Improve the cultural competency of those who hire and interact with veterans, focusing on awareness of issues specific to the military community.
  • Allocate recruitment resources strategically by tracking which job fairs and other recruitment tools show the most benefits.
  • Take advantage of federal resources that allow companies to connect with and train veterans early in the transition process.
  • Invest resources in onboarding, career development and retention—not just recruitment.
  • Track veteran recruitment, performance and retention metrics to gain a deeper understanding of which strategies are most effective and which offer the greatest return on investment.

See:

The Recruitment, Hiring, Retention and Engagement of Military Veterans

Building and Sustaining a Veteran-Informed Culture: A Guide for HR Professionals

A Guide to Veteran Hiring

Implementing a Veteran Hiring Initiative

Develop a vision and program concept

As a catalyst for organizational change, HR professionals can design and implement initiatives to create a work environment that is not simply military friendly but truly military ready. That marks the distinction between the role of an advocate, who promotes and supports, and an architect, who actively employs well-thought-out strategies directly tied to measurable business goals. No other business role besides HR has the vantage point from which to review and assess all potential organizational touch points for military-connected talent.

Creating the overall concept for a potential program, initiative, policy or benefit to present to the CEO or leadership team requires careful thought combined with a clear, outlined vision. Regardless of whether the vision is conveyed during brief, casual conversations or a formal presentation complete with slides, the message must clearly demonstrate critical thinking and address the following key elements:

  • Specific needs.
  • Possible solutions.
  • Connection with organizational goals.
  • Potential return on investment to be derived from a cost/benefit analysis.

Engage senior leadership

Once HR professionals have a well-defined vision and concept, they can determine who among senior leadership can provide the visible support needed for the initiative, program or policy. A thumbs-up from proactive and prominent leaders helps secure buy-in throughout the organization. Programs that have the ongoing support of executive "champions" are more likely to gain traction. Support means more than lip service; it means dedicating key resources—time, talent, budget, equipment or space—to the program. Without such visible and tangible support, initiatives either fail to launch or fall flat and dissolve over time. To identify appropriate individuals to champion the vision and the emergent action plan, HR professionals should:

  • Identify the best internal champions—trusted leaders who instill confidence in others.
  • Determine if there is an external supporter (for example, a key vendor) that should be brought into the champion circle.
  • Define the needs and concerns of those in the champion circle (what they perceive as valuable and why).
  • Consider how achieving the goal(s) integrates with meeting the champions' needs (as an individual, a department, a division) as well as the goals of the business.
  • Present the vision for the initiative in a manner that best fits the way each member of the audience absorbs information.

Address misperceptions

When seeking executive or senior leadership champions, HR professionals should be aware of the perceptions of military-connected talent in their organizations. HR should pursue those who demonstrate an understanding of the value of this talent pool. For the most part, perceptions of military-connected talent are positive due to their highly coveted key attributes, but unfavorable reactions are not unheard of.

Examples of resistance from supervisors, managers and executives include:

  • "I can't figure out from their resumes what they know how to do."
  • "I need someone with technical experience."
  • "My positions require certain certifications and credentials."
  • "Why bother? They're going to get called up or relocate anyway."
  • "I need someone who can lead, not just follow orders."
  • "I don't have the budget for niche job sites or placement firms."
  • "I'm concerned about bringing PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] into my workplace."

Addressing these misconceptions is about educating others on the realities of veteran employment, including research on the return on investment and employer success stories. See Why Hiring Veterans Makes Good Business Sense and 5 Myths (and Facts) About Hiring Veterans.

Correlating military jobs to civilian jobs

The military has more than 7,000 jobs across more than 100 functional areas. Many of these jobs have a direct civilian-job equivalent. Understanding the job design and the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) required for each function within the organization is the starting point for the process of identifying the closest military equivalent. The online tool O*NET provides an easy and quick resource for demystifying the resumes of military talent. It allows searching by military occupational code (MOC) or job title and cross-referencing MOCs to civilian equivalents, or vice versa. This exercise translates military skills to roles within nonmilitary employers. Many organizations regularly correlate the KSAs for each job to MOCs and brief anyone who could be a part of the interview team before meeting with a military applicant. This process also facilitates job redesign if job sharing, transfers, relocations or flexibility needs arise. See Google Powers Newest Military Skills Translation Tool and Matching Military Experience with Civilian Jobs.

Sourcing military-connected candidates

When planning to reach out to military-connected candidates, employers should consider which resources make sense for their organization. HR professionals can think in terms of accessibility, budget, response rate, time-to-hire, candidate skills and so on. Suggestions to tap into this talent pool include:

  • Reaching out to local representatives of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), an organization that acts as employers' advocates within the Department of Defense (DOD) and facilitates initiatives to foster employer support for National Guard and Reserve members.
  • Networking with military base community centers, which often help connect military job seekers and employers.
  • Connecting with representatives designated to work with veteran job seekers in state and federal labor department employment offices.
  • Utilizing SHRM HireVets database of veteran candidates and military jobs translator. 
  • Becoming familiar with the services of the Department of Labor Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), which includes information for employers.
  • Connecting with the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, a DOD-led initiative that connects military spouses with employers who have committed to recruit, hire, promote and retain military spouses.
  • Contacting college and university career centers—many of which offer special programs for returning service members—and arranging to meet potential candidates on campus.
  • Participating in virtual job fairs that provide access to military job seekers, allowing the employer to meet and chat with applicants without leaving the office.
  • Advertising in Military Times newspapers and on its websites, or in other military-focused publications.
  • Harnessing the power of social media platforms, including Facebook and Twitter. Specialized LinkedIn groups offer an array of online connections with military talent.

See Want to Hire Veterans? Support Your Military Community and How to Take a Tactical Approach to Veteran Hiring.

Interviewing effectively

Behavioral and situational interview styles are the most effective with candidates who have a military background. These styles provide the best opportunities for the interviewer to engage applicants in conversations that invite them to shift out of the military's polite and respectful mode, which may involve applicants' giving short responses.

Military members are trained to be a part of a team. They generally do not elaborate on or boast about their accomplishments, scope of authority or responsibility. For example, a soldier at a Vermont ESGR career workshop was asked, "What was your job while in service?" His response was, "I drove a truck." On further questioning, he revealed that he was responsible for supervising more than 90 soldiers assigned to transport several million dollars' worth of inventory from one location to another, each time loading and unloading, and reconciling the inventory count. In addition, if the transport came under fire and experienced any injuries, he was responsible for ensuring those wounded received medical attention. There were several other duties he performed—all in a most grueling environment. These responses indicate the true scope and depth of that soldier's role and responsibilities—far greater than simply driving a truck.

To ensure the most-effective interviews with individuals who have served in the military or their spouses, hiring managers should be trained on interviewing techniques that include the following key points:

  • Be familiar with the MOCs that correlate with the job. (O*NET is a source for hiring managers and HR.)
  • At the start of the interview, thank military-talent applicants for their service or spouses for their support at home.
  • Clearly describe the job role and its responsibilities, defining expectations upfront and avoiding generalizations.
  • Draw out applicants and uncover their strengths by asking them to share their stories.
  • Avoid closed-ended questions (those that elicit a "yes" or "no" response) by asking probing, job-related questions about an individual's service experience.
  • Focus on actively listening for skill sets, and correlate them with job functions within the organization.
  • When interviewing military spouses, ask questions using a similar behavioral and situational approach. Members of this talent pool are often found to be great problem-solvers with an ability to manage change adeptly.
  • Avoid judgment around job changes for spouses and family members supporting those who served. Some may have been required to relocate, and others may not. Their moving is no different from nonmilitary spouses who relocate because of their spouse's job. Interviews should probe for accomplishments, correlative skills and details revealing their adaptability and ability to manage more-stressful roles with efficiency and diligence.

See HR Must Better Understand Military Competencies to Advance Veteran Hiring and Think Before Asking About a Veteran's Discharge Status.

Tax Credits and Other Incentives

The Department of Veterans Affairs Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (VR&E) works to match veterans with employers and offers incentives such as salary subsidies, salary reimbursement and assistive technology.

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a federal tax credit available to employers for hiring individuals from certain target groups who have consistently faced significant barriers to employment. A qualified veteran for this program is any of the following:

  • A member of a family receiving assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) for at least three months during the first year of employment.
  • Unemployed for a period totaling at least four weeks (whether consecutive or not) but less than six months in the one-year period ending on the hiring date.
  • Unemployed for a period totaling at least six months (whether consecutive or not) in the one-year period ending on the hiring date.
  • A disabled veteran entitled to compensation for a service-connected disability hired not more than one year after being discharged or released from active duty in the U.S. armed forces.
  • A disabled veteran entitled to compensation for a service-connected disability who is unemployed for a period totaling at least six months (whether consecutive or not) in the one-year period ending on the hiring date.

See Tax Credit for Hiring Veterans and WOTC 101: Get Tax Credit for Hiring Veterans, the Long-Term Unemployed.

Many states offer tax credits for hiring veterans that can be claimed in addition to the federal tax credit.

In 2018, the SHRM Foundation awarded innovation grants to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) state councils and chapters, recognizing existing or new programs and services that have practical and measurable effects on the employment of veterans. See Six SHRM Chapters and State Councils Awarded Innovation Grants for Programs Aiding Employment of Military Veterans.

Branding as a Military-Ready Employer

An organization's branding is as important to attracting military talent as it is to attracting customers. A consistent messaging strategy should underlie all communications. An organization's logo, mission statement, website, social media platforms and collateral materials―even one-on-one communications with company representatives―all offer opportunities to say, "We welcome you."

An employer should consider the organization's policies, programs and initiatives, as well as its reputation for positive employee engagement. Which of these is the organization able to highlight in marketing job openings or during an interview to indicate that the organization is not simply military friendly but truly military ready? The branding elements outlined below may help an HR professional to determine what to include for its organization.

An organization's website is often the first point of contact with a potential applicant. What it says and does not say speaks volumes about whether someone with a military background would anticipate a positive experience. HR professionals should tour of their organization's website using the following questions as prompts; their responses can be used to strengthen their organization's online outreach to military talent:

  • What content and visuals connote to a visitor that military talent is welcomed and valued in the workplace?
  • Is there information about how to view and apply for job openings?
  • Does the site describe what it is like to work at the organization?
  • Are there descriptions of benefits and special programs?
  • Does the site showcase community involvement or support for nonprofit organizations or causes?
  • If you were a service member or a military spouse, would you get a sense that you were welcome at the organization?

Some of the best company websites that appeal to military talent (for example, Cintas, Lockheed Martin, ManTech International, Sodexo and Verizon) include the following elements that make their military branding efforts work:

  • Images and icons denoting military inclusiveness.
  • A page devoted to content addressing the military-connected job seeker.
  • Information about benefits programs, employee resource groups and activities that signal ongoing engagement after hire.
  • Job descriptions and skills laid out in an easy-to-follow grid that correlates MOCs to organizational skills, making it quick and easy for job seekers to identify which opportunities are the best fit for them.

See a sample Statement of Support from the ESGR that employers can use on their website.

Internal communications

Internal awareness of the organization's initiatives to reach out to, hire and engage military talent is crucial to support the branding effort. Organizations can begin by defining the various communication methods they will use to engage employees and accurately deliver the message. A consistent look and feel to messaging is essential for quick recognition. An organization may want to create special branding for an initiative such as a new affinity group. The marketing team can be enlisted to develop consistent visual elements—colors, logo, group name and tag line—and to use them in all materials. To generate interest, excitement and participation in a new program or group, an organization can invite a cross section of employees to help name it.

Available Training

The PsychArmor Institute and the SHRM Foundation are bringing PsychArmor's School for Employers Who Invest in Military Talent to all SHRM members to encourage and expand veteran hiring and retention. The online courses provide information on military culture and will better equip HR professionals and employers in hiring, onboarding and retaining former service members.

The Veterans at Work Certificate Program is a SHRM Foundation education program for HR professionals that focuses on best practices to attract, hire and retain veterans.

Many other free resources are available to help employers train their hiring teams. Hilton has sponsored an interactive training video, "Reinventing Michael Banks," which is available online. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has training videos for HR professionals on its website. In-person training for HR and hiring managers is also available as part of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hiring Our Heroes job fairs.

Legal Issues

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination and requires reasonable accommodation in the workplace for individuals with disabilities. Managing on-the-job accommodation requests under the ADA for veterans with disabilities does not require separate procedures from those of other disabled applicants or employees.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The FMLA was amended in January 2008 and 2010 to permit the following leaves for family members of military members:

  • Qualifying exigency leave. Eligible employees who are the spouse, son, daughter or parent of a military member may take up to 12 weeks of FMLA leave during any 12-month period to address the most common issues that arise when a military member is deployed to a foreign country, such as attending military-sponsored functions, making appropriate financial and legal arrangements, and arranging for alternative child care. This provision applies to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the armed forces.
  • Military caregiver leave. Eligible employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin of a covered service member may take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave during a single 12-month period to care for the service member who is undergoing medical treatment, recuperation or therapy; is otherwise in outpatient status; or is otherwise on the temporary disability retired list for a serious injury or illness incurred or aggravated in the line of duty while on active duty. This provision applies to the families of members of both the active duty and reserve components of the armed forces.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA is intended to ensure that individuals who serve or have served in the U.S. armed forces, Reserves, National Guard or other uniformed services are not disadvantaged in their civilian careers because of their service; are promptly re-employed in their civilian jobs upon return from duty; and are not discriminated against in employment based on past, present or future military service. Uniformed services include the armed forces; the Army National Guard and the Air National Guard when engaged in active duty for training, inactive duty training or full-time National Guard duty; the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service; and any other category of people designated by the president in time of war or national emergency.

The ESGR manages an ombudsman program to provide information, counseling and mediation on issues related to USERRA. The ESGR's customer service center (1-800-336-4590, option 1) has information and resources for employers and offers free assistance to anyone with a USERRA question. The ESGR has also been working with SHRM affiliates and individual members to sign Statements of Support declaring each employer's support of National Guard and Reserve employees and compliance with USERRA.

Resources and Tools

SHRM Store:

From We Will to At Will: A Handbook for Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace (SHRM, 2018)

Forms:

Post-offer Invitation to Self-Identify as Veteran VETS-4212

Applicant Invitation to Self-Identify as Veteran (VEVRAA)

HR Q&A:

Can an employer advertise or state a hiring preference for a specific protected class such as veterans?

 

1 SHRM Foundation. (2018). Why Hire a Vet? The Business Case for Hiring Military Veterans. Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/foundation/ourwork/initiatives/engaging-and-integrating-military-veterans/Documents/13056-G-01_SHRMF_WhyHireVet.pdf


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