Branding Is Not Recruiting


Those are both great slogans for a PR campaign or organizational branding efforts.

They are not, however, great for recruiting or hiring.  This is because slogans attract too wide of an audience.  Recruiting is not about connecting with a group of people, it’s about connecting to the (correct) individual members of the group.

It’s about quality, not quantity. The greater the quantity of applicants, the more an organization needs to find ways to maintain some degree of process efficiency, which inevitably leads to less personal contact between an organization and its applicants, and ultimately, a loss of trust in the system.

This is why many veterans are feeling betrayed by the system.  Organizations initiate a conversation with “we want you”, only to end the conversation with “you don’t meet our needs”.  It leaves them feeling like they’ve been involved in a bait and switch scheme.

To be fair, I really don’t believe private organizations are doing this on purpose. In fact, when I speak with recruiters many of their complaints are centered on the wasted time spent engaging unqualified applicants.  If organizations are truly committed to tapping into the veteran talent pool they should move past catchy slogans and begin targeting their recruitment at those who have the talents they need.

This starts with good job announcements that focus on the specific requirements and individual skill sets needed to succeed.  Identifying these traits early in the process allows people to self-select out of the process, and by so doing, save everyone a lot of time and frustration.

To truly attract veteran talent organizations must understand the various types of people who claim the title “veteran”.

One and Done / No College– These individuals did one enlistment (usually 4-6 years) and have chosen to get out. They are a terrific source for entry level positions despite the fact they do not have a college degree.  In fact, one of the best things a veteran friendly organization could do would be to recognize four or more years of military service as the equivalent to college degree in regards to job requirements.

This doesn’t mean an organization would or should hire someone based solely on their service any more than it means they presently hire people simply because they have a Bachelor’s Degree.

It would mean, however, that if a company was looking for someone that could handle basic tasks, with the aptitude to learn even more, was willing to work for an entry level salary, yet also had the potential to move up the ladder into leadership positions, then understand that you’ve just described a whole lot of young Non Commissioned Officers.

If, on the other hand, the current job description does not require a degree, then engaging this talent pool should be a no-brainer.  The hardest part about attracting this demographic is often based on a lack of understanding about the job. Explaining what the position is, does, and could lead to, should be part of the marketing.  A video vignette of a current employee talking about the position would go a long way.  If that video featured a veteran, even better.

One and Done / With College– This group breaks down into a few subgroups, but essentially the value here is that these individuals have skills and certifications.  The drawback is that they may be older and farther along in life (family, standard of living, etc.) to take entry level work.

Officers come into the military with a degree and are put to work.  Organizations should view those that choose to remain in their career field as potential fits for positions other than entry level. This is particularly true for those in fields like IT, Logistics, and Engineering.

Other vets may attain their degree after leaving the service (Thanks to the Post 9/11 GI Bill).  Again, there is great value here for organizations, especially when they find a veteran who is in school to validate her experiences with a degree. This is the opposite of the traditional model where people are certified before they are trained. This veteran new grad may not fit the “typical candidate profile”, but her odds of long term success are likely much greater than the “typical candidate”.  One great way to target these students is through student veteran organizations on campus, as many of them may be commuter students an less involved on the typical on campus activities.

It should be noted here that there are also many enlisted individuals that also have college degrees and /or advanced training.  They may have had a degree before enlisting or they may have taken advantage of educational benefits offered by the services to complete their degree while on active duty. Often times this will involve online education. One thing veteran friendly can do would be to recognize nontraditional education in the same way they recognize brick and mortar schools, especially when the degree is in the same field as the person’s relevant experience.

Many veterans go to college to validate the experience they already have.

While traditional students seek a degree in hopes of gaining experience, many veterans pursue an education to validate the knowledge, skills, and abilities they already have.

The challenge for veterans is that the standard “new grad” job may not be sufficient to maintain the lifestyle they’ve grown accustom to. The military offers a steady pay check and great benefits, it is an attractive environment to start a family. These extra financial obligations can make it more difficult to transition for those without a solid transition plan. Overcoming this challenge is primarily the responsibility of the veteran, but one small thing a private organization can do is to clearly (and honestly) outline the possibility for future growth in their organization.  Applicants may be able to withstand a couple of years of financial struggle if there is a legitimate payoff in the long run for solid performance.

Careerist- These individuals often have the toughest time transitioning and are frequently frustrated by an organizations branding plan as a being military friendly.  Military careerist, officer and enlisted, will likely have a degree, many have secondary degrees.  They will also have decades of experience.

Finding the right person from this group typically involves similar methods used for lateral recruitment of passive candidates.  Unfortunately, unlike an employee-at-will, these individuals cannot give two weeks (or even 2 months) notice that they will be leaving their present organization. This is the reason standard recruitment methods used to attract higher level candidates become unworkable for finding veterans.

Retiring veterans make the decision to leave the service a year or more before they are actually available for hire.  This means months of not being considered a legitimate candidate because they can’t fill the current opening.

Once they get closer to separation, the race is on to find a job before the paychecks stop. Frustration levels get higher, because they likely have family and financial obligations but at this point there’s no going back.

The positions these individuals seek are not going to be found at the booth of a career fair, yet too often that’s where they end up, talking to a recruiter tasked with finding people to fill lower level positions.

If the clock strikes midnight and the veteran still hasn’t found suitable employment he will be forced into the pool of active job seekers where the focus becomes paying the bills, as opposed to career development

What transitioning careerists really need is a good network. This network should include people inside their industry, yet also outside of the military.  It must be built and maintained well before the process of separation. This enables them to perform a personal “skills gap analysis” early enough to take corrective action.

Helping to build these networks is another area in which an organization can distinguish itself as veteran friendly. Private employers who encourage their members to engage those still on active will not only help the veterans but it will also allow the company to scout the talent pool early and develop relationships with those they would most like to employ once the time comes.

This is not an inclusive list by any stretch of the imagination, many people will fall somewhere in between the categories outlined above. Regardless, a true military hiring program will focus on finding the right people for the jobs that an organization has available, not simply encouraging any and every veteran to visit their website or career fair booth.

The more private industry understands the nuances of the veteran, and the more veterans understand the nuances of the hiring process, the more efficient and less frustrating the hiring process will be for all parties involved.


Our Greatest Strength Is Also Our Greatest Weakness

We’ve done so much, with so little, for so long, that we can anything, with nothing, forever.  

This phrase highlights the strength of the current military member, and at the same time, the weakness of the veteran job seeker.

One of the biggest issues transitioning veterans face as they prepare to move on from military service is the “jack of all trades” hurdle.  Although we prided ourselves on being able to accomplish any task given to us, we quickly discover that there are no listings on job boards for the position of, “Swiss Army Knife.”34912_3901

Yet, if there isn’t a market for this, why do so many veterans end up here?  I believe it’s because that is the only world many veterans have ever lived in.

Think about it. For the vast majority of transitioning veterans the only recruiter they knew didn’t care about what they did, they only cared about what they could do.  Enlisted recruiters in particular sell the organization, not the job.  The ideal applicant will be committed to being a Marine or an Airman, for example, well before they are offered any specific job in the organization.  In fact, there are even opportunities to come in under an open contract. This means you’re hired first and eventually we’ll figure out something to do with you. In the meantime, of course, you’ll get chance to do the much-needed, but not so desirable tasks of the organization.

Eventually, though, the services will find a job field that the applicant qualifies for and then he or she is sent off to training for a series of weeks or even months. Ultimately the service member is then given the opportunity to perform the job.  This cycle, by the way, may be repeated a number of times over an extended career.  Needs of the organization are identified, training is provided, member does the job.  This onboarding and subsequent cross training process is how we end up with so many veteran job seekers with a breadth of technical and management skills, yet no real career focus.

Unfortunately at one of the most critical times of their lives these people can’t answer the critical question, “What do you do?”

Private organization don’t operate like this.  They have specific needs that have specific requirements.  Very few, if any, will have the financial resources to hire people into a long-term training pipeline, and the ones that do, much like the military, will only do so for entry-level positions.

The “move up or out” organizational culture is pretty unique to the military. We as veterans can’t expect the real world to change for us. Today’s job seekers must be able to focus their resume, elevator speech, and personal brand around specific goals.  If you’ve had multiple tours doing different jobs, you may need to get comfortable with multiple personalities.  It’s not fake or disingenuous to portray yourself as a technician to one person and a trainer to another as needed (provided you actually have those experiences).

For those currently in the service, the best advice I can give is to learn this lesson now.  It’s true, the military does provide great training and tons of experience, but as your career moves forward you’ll eventually have to figure out where you  want to be after the military. Once you figure that out you need to make every effort put yourself into positions to succeed in that arena.  Hit the right wickets, get the right education, capture the right data, all  while you’re still in. Then, when the time is right, you can set out on a targeted job search. Believe it or not, keeping up with your own professional career can actually make you a better service member, too.

I’ve always said that you’re better off running towards something than running from something. Many people join the military because they are unhappy with their current life situation. They fact that they then find relative success in the armed forces can provide a false sense of security when it’s time to leave. The process won’t be repeated in the civilian sector.  Only the armed forces are built to make that kind of magic happen. In this regard, the military is as unique as it is awesome.

If you try to run away from the military without knowing where it is you’re going you will end up discovering that there are no private organizations for you to “join”.  You’ll need to be hired. And organization only hire because they have a specific need and they truly believe that you will be the one to perform the needed tasks. If you can’t convince them of that, someone else will.

Veteran: Innovation vs Standardization

Back in 2010 Harvard Business Review had a special issue largely focused on things the private world could learn from the military.  One of the articles in that issue that immediately stuck with me focused on the different leadership styles that each service cultivates.  The authors of Which Of These People Is Your Future CEO? essentially separated the services into Ground Pounders (Army and Marines) and Non Ground Pounders (Navy and Air Force).

Harvard Business Review November 2010

Harvard Business Review November 2010

The article took the position that the Army and the Marine Corps cultivates a spirit of innovation, while the other two focus on standards and process.

This is true at the macro 10,000 foot level, but may not always be the case at the individual level.

In general, the ground units do rely on the concept of Commanders Intent much more than the Air Force and Navy. For those unaware, the concept of Commanders Intent is a general mission statement that enables lower level personnel to adjust their course of action based upon the facts on the ground, even if they are not the facts they anticipated finding. (See the video below for an excellent example of a Two Minute example of commanders intent)

The saying “No plan survives contact with the enemy” is certainly a bit cliche, but it’s only cliche because it’s so true. Success in combat is measured by quickly and efficiently accomplishing the mission. Individuals are trained to think about the big picture, process the reality of the situation, formulate, and then execute a plan.

On the other hand, the authors reported that vast majority of people in the other services work in very technical fields maintaining ships and aircraft. These environments stress process.  For example, if your job is to ensure a properly functioning nuclear reactor or to repair the landing gear of an F-16, your boss will not be quick to let you off the hook for “trying something new”.  In this situation, success is defined as the absence of failure. Every time.  Without exception.

Both cultures produce very fine leadership styles based on their environment, but it would be a mistake to only apply them based only upon branch of service.  The Navy also has elements such as Seals and Riverine Boat Units that operate in an expeditionary environment, for example. These units are more amenable to the commanders intent style of leadership. The same can be said for the Air Force Para-Rescuers or ground security forces.  By the same token, a zero defect mentality about safety is as critical for Marine Corps and Army aviation units as it is Navy ships and Air Force aviation.

Personally, I’ve spent nearly 20 years in the Navy, but most of that has been serving in support of the Marine Corps ground forces and I’ve been very happy in that environment. I would not say that my years with the Marine Corps is responsible for my leadership style of commanders intent, but I do think that environment allowed me to flourish the most.  In so doing I was able to exercise the traits that were most natural to me.

Despite my inclination to one style over the other, I still completely appreciate the details of a process and the need for checklists. Organizations need both innovation and standardization.  I  know myself well enough, however, to doubt I would be happy in a job that has, as its primary responsibility, the task of ensuring compliance. Emotional intelligence can be a helpful trait in the job search.

Great things happen when the right person is in the right position.  That is why it’s important that we, as veterans, understand where we best operate then seek out those positions. At every opportunity we should highlight the specific character traits in detail, otherwise we are letting the hiring manager assume we have a particular leadership style and that decision might get made based upon our status as a veteran in general, and may not be entirely accurate.

At the same time, organizations that understand that these differences are not only based on branch of service will have a leg up on finding the right person for the task.  This means digging a little deeper than the HBR article. It means getting to know the intricacies of the job descriptions within each branch. It can also mean finding an exceptional sales leader or an terrific risk  manager. Two positions that require different talents, but both of which contribute to the bottom line success of a private organization.


The video below is an outstanding example of Commanders Intent.  The clip features the  Battalion Commander of 2d  BN, 8th Marines (my unit) as we went into Helmand Province in 2009. I can tell you that this was certainly not the first time these Marines had heard the idea of bringing the Afghan people closer to their government.  We had spent months training for the mission and that concept was drilled into our heads.

This would be the last time LtCol Christian Cabaniss would physically see or speak directly to most of these individuals over the next 6 months. They would face many decisions that would need to be made on the spot, in an environment in which there was no checklist or algorithm to go by and no time to call back and get their plan approved. Quite a lot of responsibility for a group of people, some as young as 19.

The clip was taken from the documentary film Hell and Back Again.

Accenture’s Military Career Coach: It’s Good To Go

The military Transition Assistance Program is often referred to as the class where you learn about the stuff you should have already done.  In order to avoid this feeling those of us that know we will be leaving the military need to start working on these skills well in advance.  One website I recently discovered that looks to have a ton of information to assist in the transition process was put together by Accenture, a Fortune 500 Management Consulting Firm. accenture military career coach

The Career Coach website is certainly extensive.  The information is broken down into ten categories and in each category content is provided through both print and video methods. It’s a wealth of information, but much like TAP Class, it’s the kind of stuff that will seem overwhelming if you wait too long to access it.

The first three topics: Planning, Networking, and Building Your Online Brand are particularly relevant for those of us still a ways out from retirement/separation.  Here, for example, you will find information about how to set up, and effectively use, LinkedIn to build a network.

Think of this as predeployment training plan for the next stage of your life.  Just as no unit should go into harms way without an extensive “work up period”,  we should not move from one career to next without doing the same.  To paraphrase our old boss Donald Rumsfeld; You retire with the network you have, not the network you wish you had.

One of the advantages of retiring from the military is that you can network and look for new jobs without having to hide it from your current employer (an issue for those in the civilian world).  Starting early and putting in the work bit by bit are keys to success.   We must remember that in terms of transitioning; slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Accenture’s Career Coach is an excellent road map for success.  Kudos to them for developing this tool.

NOTE: Accenture’s Military Career Coach, along with the social networkings site Rally Point was recently featured in a FoxNews story.

Focusing Your Brand With Dependable Strengths

Last week I attended a Veterans Job Fair hosted by the Stevenson University Career Center.  The event featured not only the gathering of veteran friendly employers, but also had a two hour “Dependable Strengths Workshop” that was offered immediately prior to the fair.  It was a condensed version of a more in depth course, which is designed to help attendees discover the common threads that have run through their careers.3649-KFOTJF

By determining what it is in your career that you have done, done well, and enjoyed doing, attendees gained clarity and focus on the direction they should be heading in the job market. The Articulation of Dependable Strengths process is designed to help people  break free from job titles and look at the individual aspects of our success.  This is important because there is a relative safety in a job title.  It may be an easy and comfortable way we define ourselves, but it can also become a limiting factors in the job search process.

I, for example, am very proud to be a Hospital Corpsman in the Navy, but am not necessarily looking for work in the health care field.  My “dependable strengths” turned out to be more along the lines of being an individual passionate about organizational success through the empowerment of individuals.  You could say that I’m a “rising tide lifts all boats”, kind of guy. I’m also someone who isn’t afraid of the risks associated with trying new approaches to solve problems.  Once identified, the next step was to look for specific examples of me using these strengths for the success of the organization.

I highlighted the fact that in my current role as a medical officer recruiter I have established a local network of physicians and medical school students in the Baltimore. This network has resulted in an increase in cooperation and support for individuals associated with Navy Medicine in the local area. Most importantly it has significantly advanced Navy recruiting efforts and I have the numbers to prove it.

At another time, I organized and implemented a staffing and operations plan for medical care in an austere environment.  This called for non-traditional solutions to otherwise standard problems such as communication and logistics. It was through the training and empowerment of individuals that we were able to successfully execute the plan. Over the next six months many lives were saved and five of the individuals in our team received meritorious promotions.

A third example occurred as the Chief of Academics for a school house.  The idea of totally revamping everything from the textbook, to the written exams, to the manner in which future updates would be made, was an idea born inside our department, not something directed from above.  As a small group, we had to not only make the changes, but also guide the change process through a lot of other stakeholders. Many of which, by the way, were perfectly happy with the status quo.  The process took many months, and was not without it’s bumps along the way, but in the end the project was completed on time, as promised. It also produced a quality product and greatly enhanced the learning experience of hundreds of students.

As you can see, the strengths I leveraged for each of these examples are very transferable to other organizations, but are not confined to my Navy job classification.bigstock-The-Golden-Brand-2559459

Understanding these strengths is a form of emotional intelligence.  The process of focusing them for the job market is known as “branding” and should be tailored to the specific job or organization as much as possible.  Service members (especially those retiring after 20+ years)  will likely have far too many accomplishments to fit on a one page resume.  It’s advised to establish a “career management document” of the various things you’ve done.  This makes it easy to plug and play for specific scenarios.

A friend in my network recently sent me a link to a job posting at very large organization seeking a “Military Relations Team Member”.  Looking closer at the job announcement it said “USMC experience preferred”.  The resume I built for this position highlighted my many years serving with the Marine Corps. This went against the typical advice of de-militarizing, you resume, by the way. It was, however, highlighting a specific set of experiences that the company desires for this position.

I also had another person in my network, from PKW Associates, reach out to me and ask for a copy of my resume.  She knew I wasn’t leaving the military for a few months, but wanted to keep it on file.  Before doing so, I made a point to do some basic research about her company. 

I looked at the company website initially to see if they had any key words or phrases I should know about. Eventually I clicked on the “What Sets Us Apart” banner.  It seemed like knowing what they viewed as key to their success would be some good intel. There I found that part of their mission and value’s statement is a focus on long term relationships and “alumni placement”.

With that knowledge, the resume I forwarded in this instance took out much of the military accomplishments that were in the previous one. Instead this one focused on recent experiences such as establishing and maintaining a network of previously hired physicians/scholarship recipients for leads, referrals, and overall process improvement.  

The success of this network is one of the things I’m most proud of in my current position. Until I researched the website, however, I had never put it on a resume.  Here was a dependable strength lining right up with an organizations core competency.

After twenty years, and moving from not only one unit to the next, but from one position to the next, I find it particularly difficult to put together a generic, one page, resume. This is why I believe  it is so important to  start this process early. By doing so,  I can continue to refine not only my career management document, but also the skills needed to target my strengths at organizations most likely to appreciate them.

The way ahead for me is to keep crafting resume’s for specific positions and save each one.  Eventually I will have a stable documents that can be used in various situations.  One for recruiting, one for training, another for health care, etc.  The tweaks for each specific job opening will only get easier.

To me, a successful transition from a military career to a civilian position is much more than just finding a job, it’s about finding a position where I’m happy to get up and go to work, even on the tough days.  For twenty years being in the Navy has been a way of life, not just a paycheck.  That passion for the people and job, by the way, is not unique to me, it’s part of the culture.  I’m hoping to land in a position where I find a similar situation.  Using the dependable strengths idea to communicate my brand should help me attract interest from the organizations that are most likely to  produce a good fit.

I’m sure there are organizations out there, for example, that operate on more of a “staff and forget” model, and they may even be successful organizations with good pay and benefits, but it wouldn’t align with they way I operate, and therefor, I would be less likely to be happy about going to work. I’m a big believer in person/organization fit.  The right person in the right situation will produce the best results.   A good resume, that reflects an honest brand, based upon sincere strengths is the first step to finding the right fit.

NOTE: I found a nice article about branding as I was working on this post.  It is titled Five Ways Veterans Can Build Their Brand and is pretty much in alignment of my thoughts and experiences above..