Military Veterans Face Communication Gap, Misconceptions in Recruiting

There are traits that just about every employer says they look for in candidates. They want people who are hardworking, team-oriented, highly adaptable and trustworthy. One group that demonstrates all of these in great supply is U.S. military veterans.

Every year there are nearly 250,000 servicemembers transitioning out of the armed services, ready to enter the civilian talent pool. And while there is encouraging news about veteran unemployment, there are still challenges military veterans face when interacting with civilian recruiters and hiring managers.

It all comes down to communication and speaking the same language.

“If you don’t understand what someone did, you don’t know what they can do,” said Dennis Carpenter, Senior Recruiter for Cielo.

Learn the Language

As a veteran himself, Dennis knows all too well how military ranks and duties do not always translate neatly into terms that are familiar to the corporate world.

“You might be looking for someone with a certain number of years of supervisory experience, but cannot recognize that strictly from a military rank on a resume,” Dennis said. “But, trust me, if you have spent time as a platoon sergeant, then you definitely have experience leading people.”

Like any insular environment, the military has jargon, abbreviations and acronyms all its own. If a person has spent their entire career in the military, they might have difficulty writing their resume in civilian terms that a recruiter would understand. Say there is a veteran who would be a great fit for a technician role, but their resume only references military jobs codes like AFSC/Rate/MOS 89D, AFSC 3D1X3, or STG (Sonar Technician Surface). There may be a gap in communication that results in an organization missing out on a great candidate.

Whatever name or code it goes by, these jobs all produce professionals with well-rounded technical aptitude, troubleshooting, repair, and ability to manage problems, projects, and personnel with limited resources.

While both parties should make the effort to try to understand each other, talent acquisition professionals would be well-suited to perform their own maneuvers, including:

  • Reconnaissance: Building your organization’s brand within the military community is critical. Attend job or career fairs at military bases, and post open positions on job boards such as RallyPoint.com that cater to veterans. Another tactic is to create marketing material – emails, brochures, blogs, postcards – that specifically speaks to veterans and lets them know your organization is military friendly.
  • Reinforcements: Veterans already in your organization can help translate military skills into terms that civilian employers will understand. They also could serve as mentors for any prospective hires with military experience, and even refer other veterans they might know to come work for you.
  • Response: Once the hiring and interview process begins, be sure to provide a great candidate experience. Vets are not looking for special treatment, but like any other candidate they have the right to expect prompt responses to communication and a smooth, consistent interaction with your organization. It is often said that candidates are customers, and that needs to be given extra consideration with military veterans as they are often tight with their fellow vets, and will no doubt spread the word.

Hurtful Misconceptions

Another hindrance for military veterans are misconceptions that continue to persist. The most damaging include:

  • PTSD, health issues: Hiring leaders sometimes worry that a military veteran may be out of control or unable to manage the regular requirements of the job. Civilian recruiters are often unsure how to ask questions about military for fear of setting off triggers or digging into a sensitive discussion. The truth is that too often, veterans are asked inappropriate questions about their experience that have little to do with the job they’re applying for. Veterans, in turn, worry they may ruin an opportunity to work for an employer by disclosing their history and could then miss out on a company that has great support systems.
  • Not independent thinkers: The rigid structure of the military, with the emphasis on rank and following orders, leads to a perception that veterans are like trained robots, and wouldn’t be able to think for themselves. But service people are still individuals with varying aptitudes and attitudes, and they have likely faced many situations that require creative solutions. Their experience with the chain of command actually translates well to the corporate environment in situations where they need to follow the appropriate ladders of escalation.
  • Culture clash: The popular portrayal of military culture in movies, TV and books is of an overly aggressive environment where people are yelling orders at each other and engaging in rough-and-tumble behavior that just isn’t appropriate for a civilian workplace. Yet regardless of what an individual’s experience in the military was, hiring managers should not assume they won’t be able to make the transition. There are many veterans, in fact, who performed their duties in office-like environments.

In the end, recruiters and hiring managers should approach military veterans as they would anyone else – as individuals with unique experiences who are interested in joining your organization. Giving them a fair shake when it comes to hiring puts some real-world meaning behind “thank you for your service.”

To learn more about putting military veterans to work, read about Cielo’s partnership with RallyPoint.