Hiring Our Heroes: Teaching Employers To Hire Military Veterans And Spouses

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I write about military financial independence, but I’m getting a lot of e-mail about navigating the drawdown and starting a bridge career. I’m also hearing from Reserve and National Guard servicemembers about balancing their military careers with their civilian employers. Veterans (and military spouses) know that their transition to a civilian career will be like transferring to a duty station in a foreign country. They’ll spend lots of time explaining their military skills and achievements to civilians and translating their military culture into a foreign language.

Then there’s the challenge of competing with hundreds of other potential employees who are also reporting for duty at these companies. The drawdown is adding several hundred thousand more veterans to the usual crowd of people who are already leaving the military, and this exodus will continue until at least 2017.

Over the last three years, the U.S. Department of Labor and the Veterans Administration have rolled out a number of initiatives. By now you’ve seen at least a half-dozen programs for translating your military career into a civilian resume, or creating your elevator pitch, or finding your ideal company.

There’s plenty of advice on Linkedin about researching your company, tapping into the right networks, and handling interviews. There are many government and non-profit programs to guide you through the transition process, even if the military overlooks a few steps during their transition seminars.

Those programs are helping veterans and spouses figure out what employers want and showing them how to navigate the job search. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone taught the employers about you? Wouldn’t it be a huge relief to meet hiring managers who already understands who you are and what you can do? Wouldn’t it be great to work for a company that actually wants to hire military veterans?

Last week I interviewed a group of people who have started doing just that. They’ve spent months building the programs and the infrastructure, and they’ve already educated a number of companies on military veterans & spouses. They held their first hiring conference two weeks ago, and now they’re coming to a base near you.

The interview was arranged by USAA’s staff. (Thanks, Jamia & Pete!) I talked with Geoff Grant, their Program Director of Supplier Diversity. (He’s also an Army veteran.) We were joined in the call by Jennifer Giering, the Director of Business and State Engagement at Hiring Our Heroes. We also talked with Bryan Goettel, the Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Director of Communications.

The Chamber of Commerce Foundation works directly with the federal Chamber of Commerce and the nation’s local chapters. They started Hiring Our Heroes way back in 2011 to help veterans & families navigate their transition to a bridge career. They’ve already held over 750 job fairs across the country that have helped over 1500 businesses hire over 24,000 employees. Ms. Giering and Mr. Goettel said that as the program grew, they eventually realized that they also needed to help corporations navigate the veteran hiring process.

Hiring an employee costs thousands of dollars, but hiring the wrong ones is even more expensive. The federal hiring initiatives would tremendously boost corporate profits if they could figure out how to find the right military veterans, but companies of all sizes across the country told Hiring Our Heroes that they didn’t really know how to hire veterans.

They wanted to understand how other companies made it work and how to adapt those processes for their own size and corporate culture. Just like business school, they wanted to learn the best practices and the case studies for hiring veterans and military spouses.

It turns out that veterans are good for business. A number of industry reports and surveys have already shown that veterans perform at higher levels and have lower turnover. However, these studies also showed that (as readers already know) very few companies were succeeding in their own efforts to hire veterans. Hiring Our Heroes learned that their biggest challenge was creating a tailored hiring program.

When Hiring Our Heroes began looking for companies with successful military programs, they quickly found USAA.

Logo of USAA eagle symbol

“Powered by USAA”

It was started by military officers, and today it’s a Fortune 500 company with over 26,000 employees serving over 10 million members. USAA routinely ranks very highly as a great place to work— and as a military-friendly employer. Geoff Grant pointed out that they’ve hired over 8700 veterans and military spouses over the last eight years, and today those groups make up over 30% of their new hires. Their “cohort program” hires and trains people at the same time to build relationships and teamwork from the first day. They know how to hire on “attitude and aptitude”, and their turnover is low. Other companies wanted to know about apprenticeships, intern programs, and on-the-job-training. Geoff says that USAA volunteered to open their playbook.

Over the last nine months, Hiring Our Heroes has partnered with USAA to build the free Employer Roadmap. USAA helped design the site and supplied some of the content. They feature their employee recruiting & retention on the site, but they also share what’s worked for another dozen smaller companies.

They break it down for corporations right on the landing page: prepare, recruit, empower. Companies can sign up for an account, learn what works for other corporations like theirs, and build their own custom hiring plans tailored for their size and needs. The tool formally rolled out two weeks ago at Fort Bragg’s Veterans Jobs Summit: two days with over 75 companies and 1200 servicemembers.

I have to admit that the Roadmap starts at a very basic level with “Military 101”. You’d have to be a little concerned about working for a company that needs this information. Some of this content might seem a little preachy to our military culture– how would these articles read if the word “veterans” was replaced by “women” or “Hispanics”?

Do these companies really understand how military jargon translates to civilian skills? Will they appreciate why your spouse has had eight different employers in the last 15 years? Will they expect you to relocate (again), and will they help hire your spouse too? Will they understand how employers are expected to support the Reserves and National Guard? Will they really “call your employee’s military commander or supervisor if you have a question or concern” while you’re on active-duty orders or even deployed?

Don’t despair. Today’s military-friendly company had to start somewhere, and the roadmap will quickly move new companies through the process. Now you can ask potential employers whether their company has a veteran’s hiring program. Even if they’re not very good at it, you can meet them halfway and show them how the roadmap can help them. If they’re not using Hiring Our Heroes and other resources, then you don’t want to work there anyway and you’ve both saved yourselves a lot of wasted effort.

The good news is that these companies can now learn about you from Hiring Our Heroes and USAA instead of from your efforts to teach them. You no longer have to start your job search where you know the military is already welcome. You don’t have to begin with defense contractors or security firms. When you research your potential employers, you’ll quickly learn whether they’re using the roadmap. If they’re just giving lip service to hiring veterans– and spouses– then you’ll see that on Linkedin and other career networking sites.

Did I mention that Hiring Our Heroes has a resume-translation website? It works for spouses as well as for veterans.

USAA already has a transition program to help you and your family plan your bridge career. Now that program will be complemented by their work with other employers. You’ll still have to research your potential employers to see whether you’re a good fit, and you’ll still have to sell them on how you can help their business. They can already see your attitude and aptitude, and now they’ll know how to put you to work. Better still, Hiring Our Heroes is bringing them to a military base near you. Take a look at their Hiring Fair schedule and register for one near you.

Have you already been to a Hiring Our Heroes fair? How has it worked out? Please share your advice in the comments for our readers, and for the next edition of The Military Guide!

Related articles:
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Making the transition
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Observations on a military transition
Military experience to civilian careers
Starting your bridge career after the military

WHAT I DO: I help you reach financial independence. For free. I retired in 2002 after 20 years in the Navy's submarine force. I wrote "The Military Guide to Financial Independence and Retirement" to share the stories of over 50 other financially independent servicemembers, veterans, and families. All of my writing revenue is donated to military-friendly charities.

  1. Excellent points, Deserat– thanks!

  2. Doug – if I may also mention another resource. Have them go talk to their local Reserve unit or IMA while on active duty. We’ve been juggling and translating at times for years and can help them with the language, expectations and creative thinking with regard to what their skills are, what they desire and what the opportunities are. I’ve had that talk with many of the Reservists, active duty and others while I am in uniform and out. I am a bit different in that I don’t work in the military industrial complex for my civilian job. What’s important are not only your marketable skills but the character traits that are stressed in the military. When I ask people what they value about me the most when they work with me it is my integrity, my ability to think of the mission or organization first without constantly angling for my personal agenda and my ability to communicate clearly both written and orally up and down the corporate ladder. These are skills/traits that are just expected of military personnel and are not the norm outside. They may help you get your foot in the door, and then they will definitely help you move up once your are in.

    Keep up the great work, Doug – from where I sit I see it getting much more challenging and the more people have the information you are supplying the better informed their decisions will be.

    Comment? Question? What's on your mind?