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Tips on Hiring Veterans

Resources to find, interview and retain former members of the military

Following years of high unemployment, the hiring outlook for recent U.S. veterans might finally be turning the corner, according to a survey report from CareerBuilder.

One-third of surveyed employers reported they are actively recruiting veterans over the next year, up from 27 percent in last year’s survey and 20 percent in 2011. Just over 30 percent have hired a veteran who recently returned from duty in the last 12 months; this is up from 28 percent in 2013.

The nationwide survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder from Aug. 11 to Sept. 5, 2014, polled 2,440 hiring and human resources managers and nearly 300 veterans who are working full time.

However, 2014 marks a dual increase in the number of veterans satisfied with their jobs and the number of veterans planning to test job market for a new gig, according to the survey findings. Sixty-seven percent of the veterans surveyed said they are satisfied with their jobs—an improvement over last year’s 59 percent. But 24 percent said they plan to change jobs next year; that’s up from 20 percent in 2013.

“Several years ago more U.S. companies started making pledges to recruit and train returning U.S. veterans, and we are beginning to see those efforts pay off,” said Rosemary Haefner, vice president of human resources at CareerBuilder, in a statement about the results. “In the past, employers said they sometimes overlooked veterans’ resumes because they weren’t sure how skills learned in the military translate to the civilian world. We’ve learned, though, that when employers make the effort to train and when returning soldiers receive the job search assistance they need, there is almost always a good match.”

“Don’t think about what skill sets a veteran brings to the company,” suggests Curtis Coy, deputy undersecretary for economic opportunity at the U.DS. Department of Veteran Affairs, in a video on SHRM’s web site. “Think about what skill sets your company needs and what it can use the [veteran’s] skills for.” (For more guidance, see the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs’ 2014 Guide to Hiring Veterans.)

Kicking Off Veteran Recruiting

So what better time to kick off a recruitment initiative targeting military service members and veterans transitioning to the civilian workforce than now, with tens of thousands of these professionals returning home from recent overseas deployments?

Companies can start by contacting college and university career centers to meet potential candidates on campus, according to Sherrill A. Curtis, SPHR, principal and creative director for the New Jersey-based human resource consulting practice Curtis Consulting Group, LLC.

Curtis is the author of the publication Support from Behind the Lines: 10 Steps to Becoming a Military-Ready Employer, posted on the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) website’s Military Employment Resource page.

Participating in virtual job fairs, such as, that provide access to military job seekers, allows employers to meet applicants without leaving the office.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) America’s Heroes at Work division has published a step-by-step toolkit for employers on hiring veterans, as has the DOL’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service web site. Among those sites’ recommended actions for employers:

  • Determine employment opportunities and create detailed job descriptions.
  • Consider using military language in your outreach and job descriptions.
  • Consider alternatives to full-time employment, such as work experiences, internships and apprenticeships.
  • Access credible resources to help you look for qualified veterans and wounded warriors who are seeking employment.
  • Know what you can and should not ask during an interview.

Interviewing Tips

First and foremost, interviewing a veteran or wounded warrior is no different than interviewing any other candidate. It is important to ask all questions of all candidates, without exception.

A good interviewing practice is to ask all candidates the following question: "Have you read the job description? Yes or no. Can you, with or without a reasonable accommodation, perform the essential functions of the job?" This is not asking the candidate to disclose whether they have a disability; rather it’s ensuring they can perform the essential functions of the job.

Make it clear that as an employer, you will not discriminate due to disability.

Lisa Rosser, a veteran and founder of the advisory firm value of a Veteran, advises employers to prepare well for the interview, to be clear about the responsibilities and to use techniques that will draw out the candidate. To ensure the most effective interviews, she suggests that hiring managers should be trained on effective interviewing techniques and the following key points:

  • Be familiar with the military occupational skills (MOS) that correlate with the job. (Employers can refer to O*Net at
  • At the start of the interview, thank military talent applicants for their service or the spouse for their support at home.
  • Clearly describe the job and its responsibilities, defining expectations up front, avoiding generalizations.
  • Draw out applicants to discover their “thread of excellence” by asking them to share their stories.
  • Avoid close-ended questions (those that elicit a “yes” or “no” response) and instead pose probing questions about an individual’s service experience.
  • Utilize active listening for the candidate’s skill sets and correlate the skills with job functions within your organization.
  • Ask questions relevant to experience or training received while in the military, or to determine eligibility for any veteran's preference required by law.

Most of the standard behavioral interview questions should be no different than those typically asked of any other candidate (e.g., management style, problem solving, strengths/weaknesses related to teamwork, etc.). Consider phrasing questions to ensure the interviewee clearly understands references to both civilian and military work experience. For example:

  • "Tell me about the type of training and education you received while in the military."
  • ”Were you involved in day-to-day management of personnel and/or supplies?”
  • ”How many people did you supervise?”
  • ”If you managed resources such as supplies, inventory and/or equipment, what was the net worth of these resources?"

Finally, it’s important to keep the candidate engaged in the process by following up and delivering on what you promise (e.g., post-interview phone calls about the application status, next steps, etc.).

Onboarding and Retention

Once hired, the next challenge for corporate leaders is to ensure that these veterans want to stay and thrive at your company, says Jerold Ramos, director of strategic recruiting/military liaison and Navy veteran for Kansas City, Mo.-based AlliedBarton Security Services. His division oversees the hiring of more than 5,000 military veterans each year for the $1.9 billion company. Nearly one-third of AlliedBarton’s 65,000 employees have a military background.

Ramos says retention efforts for this group of workers should begin during the onboarding process.

“Let veterans know how special they are to your company on their very first day,” he said in an email to SHRM Online. “Be sure to recognize and thank them for their contribution to our country during orientation,” and “consider having your CEO send a heartfelt thank-you to your company’s veterans every Veteran’s Day.”

Employers also should consider maintaining a corporate military assistance group on LinkedIn or other social network where military veteran employees can interact, he says. On this invitation-only board, veterans can talk to other veterans and receive mentoring and job support.

Dr. Joseph Hullett, national medical director for Optum, a board-certified psychiatrist and a former U.S. Marine,offers employers this advice about how to help veterans successfully make this transition from the military to the civilian workplace:

  • Educate veterans about the vast array of medical, emotional and financial support programs offered by local community groups, state and federal government agencies, and veterans’ service organizations.
  • Provide mentoring by a co-worker, preferably a fellow veteran if possible, to help the veteran understand corporate culture, the “unspoken rules” of the workplace and career advancement options.
  • Promote employee assistance programs (EAPs) as a good resource to seek counsel and assistance for workers struggling to reintegrate into the workforce, and to assist with education about the types of workplace accommodations veterans may need.
  • Train managers to identify signs of combat-related conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and implement practices, such as allowing flexible work schedules and job sharing, to help veterans with such conditions to do their jobs more effectively.

Communicating clearly about all expectations for the job in those first critical weeks when everyone is getting to know one another is crucial, experts agree. Establish a routine of communication and agreed-upon deliverables. In addition to regularly scheduled meetings with the manager, have someone from HR meet with the new hire within the first week and periodically thereafter during the first three months. This provides an opportunity for the new civilian worker to ask questions and express any concerns that he or she may not feel comfortable doing with their new manager.

Finally, provide a fun, welcoming environment. Get the whole department together for lunch on the new employee’s first day, or have at least two other team members take the new employee to lunch. Schedule activities that provide opportunities for new hires to engage with team members outside of their department. Consider social events that include family members as well to fully engage with the organization.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Quick Links:

SHRM OnlineStaffing Management

SHRM OnlineMilitary Employment Resource page

SHRM OnlineWorkforce Readiness Resource page

SHRM OnlineWorkplace Flexibility Resource page

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