Branding Is Not Recruiting

MILITARY FRIENDLY EMPLOYER!      WE LOVE VETS!

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.

The Next Big Thing: Honesty

A few months ago I asked the question, “How Long Will Veterans Be Trendy?  Well, if social media is any indication, the answer seems to be, “Not much longer.” I think we are beginning to see a slight shift in message about veteran hiring, which in the end is a good thing.  I have a feeling the next big thing will be honest and forthright conversation. Stakeholders that are prepared to engage in the right discussions, at the right times, will ultimately be the most successful.

It wasn’t long ago that a Forbes article by Col . David Sutherland talking about the unsung value of veteran Non-Commissioned Officers was making its way around every veteran hiring group on LinkedIn.  This article spawned a lot of comments, many of them from disgruntled veterans who found the article sympathetic to their plight.  While these discussions between veterans may have been cathartic, I doubt they were very productive.

I don’t take issue with the article in and of itself.  Colonel Sutherland’s thoughts were very appropriate for the vast majority of regular readers of Forbe’s Magazine. Sometimes, though, by saying the right thing to the wrong people a positive thought can result in negative results.    I think passing this article around military circles probably did this, at least to some extent. We as veterans don’t need anything  reinforcing a sense of victimhood.

Feeling like a victim can lead to distrust of the system.  I see this not only in the article, Commitment to Veterans- Lip Service, Hype, Or True Investment? by Linda Rosser, but even more so in some of the comments on the article in groups like The Value of A Veteran and Hiring Our Heroes.  Unfortunately, every time an organization markets their commitment to military hiring, anyone who unsuccessfully applied to that company may begin to view them as disingenuous. “Just a bunch of hype”, they may say. Even if, unbeknownst to them, said position was actually filled by another veteran.

On the other hand, the article “Congratulations on Your Military Service- Now Here Are Nine Reasons Why I Won’t Hire You” , by Sultan Camp absolutely exploded in the veteran specific LinkedIn groups.  I’ve been actively preparing for my transition for over two years and I don’t remember ever seeing one article pop up so often, in so many groups, and been shared by so many different people.  This article really initiated some quality discussions (a great example was in the group Military Civilian Coaching Connection).

I think this shows that many veteran job seekers are prepared for the truth. So don’t be afraid to tell us what we need to hear, as opposed to what we want to hear. The former is an integral component of a hiring program, the latter is a marketing and public relations plan.

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If your organization is committed to hiring a specific number of veterans but most of those positions are for low skill entry level work, say so.  There are a great number of veterans leaving the service that are, in all honesty, perfect candidates for those positions.  If your organization only has a need for high level skill sets that require specific qualifications, make that known as well.

One of the best methods of risk management is to think to yourself, “How could this go wrong?”  Applying that to a veteran hiring program, one way organizations can (and often do) put themselves in a bad position is by sending personnel to career fairs who have no specific information about open positions.  Throw in a non veteran recruiter, and you have the perfect storm.

My work as an Officer Recruiter in the Navy has allowed me the opportunity to work on “the other side of the table” of many a career fair.  I know that far too often candidates show up to a booth unprepared. Lack of preparation on the part of some prospects, however, should never justify lack of preparation for the recruiter.

If  your organization has job postings on the website that are open, well then, your company rep had better know something about them.  Nothing kills the motivation of a job hunting veteran more than when they put forth all the effort of researching a company, finding job postings, preparing a resume, and making their way to a career fair only to be told to just leave your resume and “go ahead and apply online”.

Even if that recruiter doesn’t specifically work in the field the candidate is inquiring about, that booth rep should at the very least be a subject matter expert in the process.  Advice on how to navigate your companies Applicant Tracking System is better than nothing, and can go a long way in enhancing credibility.

Private organizations need both a recruitment plan and a marketing plan, and these two functions often do overlap.  All candidates want is for organizations to be honest.  If your company’s primary reason for purchasing a booth was to hand out free pens and stress balls in order to promote company awareness, then say so.

Conversely, an organization whose recruiters have specific information about actual positions, should  absolutely advertise that ahead of time.  Telling people what you have open, the skill sets needed, and where to find your booth can actually be a differentiating trait between competing organizations.

In regards to any recruiter /candidate relationship, it’s honest conversation that increases quality interactions over quantity of interactions. And these quality interactions are the crux of any hiring initiative, veteran or otherwise.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/reenita/4892984424/”>Reena Mahtani</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>cc</a&gt;

GE Veteran Employment Workshop: All Meat, No Filler

Earlier this month I attended a veteran transition workshop provided by General Electric.  The two-hour course was presented free in conjunction with the Hiring Our Heroes Job Fair held at M&T Bank Stadium.   I found this event to be an excellent experience and something that I encourage every transitioning veteran to take advantage of sooner, rather than later.  This was much better than the Transition, Goals, Plans, Success (TGPS) class I attended in August.

The GE veteran transition workshop was truly professionally.   It packed all the relevant info into two hours, and then offered ample time for individual question and answer sessions with actual GE employees.ge-logo

No matter what you hear about TGPS, it’s still mandatory, so there is no escaping it, and to be fair, it wasn’t so much that the information was bad or irrelevant, it was just inefficiently presented.

The GE seminar should NOT replace TGPS, particularly since only TGPS addresses VA specific issues,  while the GE workshop focused solely on employment. It is, however, an outstanding opportunity that should not be missed. I recommend attending this program sooner in your transition, rather than later.

The presentation I attended was facilitated by Mr. Chip Cotton and other members of the GE Veteran Network from the Baltimore/DC area.  Cotton is a former Navy Supply Corps Officer now working as a program manager in the Energy Research and Development Division.  In addition to the four other military veteran employees, they also had on hand a member of the GE Human Resources team who was available for questions and offered insight on the hiring process in general.

The program began by providing an overview of the GE Veteran Network and a little bit about how life on the corporate world is both similar to, as well as different from, the military.  For example, I was impressed (and a bit surprised) when they mentioned the amount of ethics training that GE provides its employees. One of the GE gentlemen went so far as to comment that he gets more now than he did while in the Navy.  For anyone who’s sat through some serious General Military Training that’s saying a lot.  They also spoke about how qualities like timeliness and reliability are so valued by civilian organizations because those characteristics are not as prevalent on the outside as they are in the military.

The introduction to GE as a corporation was as impressive as it was succinct.  It didn’t take up much of the time in the overall program, but it absolutely set the positive tone that GE is a diverse, professional organization, composed of good people. All the presenters genuinely seemed very happy about their company.

From there the presentation moved onto tangible skills about managing the transition process, developing a resume, interview skills, and the hiring process in general.  Most of the presentation repeated information that I had heard before (well before TGPS Class) but, just like in the TGPS course there were a great many people in the audience that seemed to be hearing it for the first time.

That shows me that there really aren’t that many secrets out there, people just have to be proactive and search for the advice. In that spirit I’d like to pass along some things that were covered.

Chip Cotton talked about how many veterans fall into one of two categories. Either they downplay themselves because they think the military only taught them “how to blow stuff up” or they have an inflated opinion of themselves and believe they can just jump into any organization and fix everything.  Cotton said organizations aren’t looking for Superman they’re looking for people to do specific jobs.  Each organization has a mental picture of the kind of individual they are looking for and they put that into the job description. The goal of the applicant, according to Cotton, is to tell the story of “That’s me. I’m the person who can fill that need.”

Even those who may feel like their military experience doesn’t readily translate to a civilian position shouldn’t be too quick to sell themselves short, he said.  If you think you don’t have any skills at all, dig deeper into your military job description you’ll find that you did more than you thought.  That being said, he also stressed “honestly knowing yourself” and if there is a direction that you want to head that requires more training, you may have to go out and get it.  As to the “Superman Complex”, he said it’s better to be humble. You’ll come off better if you stay focused on the job description for the opening at hand. Once hired going above and beyond is a nice perk that may, in fact, take you far. Just don’t roll into an interview with a pompous attitude.

Cotton also talked at length about the Hiring Process. “Resumes don’t get jobs,” he pointed out, “they get interviews.” Transitioning veterans need to understand the hiring process not just to boost our chances for success, but also to maintain our sanity as the process drags on.

Initially, the goal of a busy HR department is to take all the applications/resume’s and narrow a big group down to a manageable group.  As an example, this may mean winnowing down a hundred applicants to just ten in order to consider which of those will ever even get a face to face interviews. All this in the hopes of hiring one person to fill the open position. In order to make things efficient large organizations use computer based Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to filter the initial group. Cotton spoke about the need to ensure your resume reflects the key words in the job description as much as possible to give yourself a better chance of making it past the first cut. (Just recently, I came across a terrific article about ATS and how they work. Check it out to learn more.)

Unfortunately, many will find themselves on the outside looking in if their resume is not included in the initial pull from the ATS. We have to understand that if the organization can still find three really great candidates out of those first ten, the system is working just fine as far as they are concerned, no matter how many equally qualified people never really got looked at by a real person.

From this stage the hiring organization will determine who from that smaller group should get a closer look. Many will do phone interviews first of all ten, for example, before ultimately deciding which three to actually interview in person. This is another cost-effective measure that allows the organization to further narrow down the field without expending too many resources (time in particular).

Hopefully you make it through the phone interview and get called in for a face-to-face meeting. Now it’s on! Many people, including those at the GE session, indicated that at this stage, even if they have an obvious favorite based on the resume, companies will expect that anyone in the face to face interview round would ultimately be a safe hire. This is the place to really shine. We do that by not being afraid to brag about ourselves a little, so long as it’s in connection to the job description.  Telling short stories about what you’ve done helps connect you with the interviewer, but it’s good to make sure your stories have some structure.  Cotton mentioned the STAR acronym  (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) as a method to ensure your answers remain relevant and job focused.  It’s good to have a stable of these stories in your toolbox, and have practiced telling them to other people in a mock interview format.

At the same time, remember that you are also interviewing them, so be prepared to ask  questions.  Cotton pointed out that this is an excellent time to inquire about how other aspects of the job such as how success is measured or about growth opportunities in the organization.

Another great tip was not to assume one job is the same as another job in the same field.  Different organizations have different needs and different working environments.  The same job title (Computer Programmer, Outside Sales, Project Manager, etc.) at different companies can have subtle differences in the job description.  Knowing exactly what you’re applying for can help you tailor your resume.  Should you get to the interview stage the more homework you’ve done on the organization and the specific job, the greater your chance of success.

The GE workshop was presented in conjunction with the "Hiring Our Heroes Program" sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce. The workshop was held at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore along with a "Recruit Military" Career Fair.

The GE workshop was presented in conjunction with the “Hiring Our Heroes Program” sponsored by the US Chamber of Commerce. The workshop was held at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore along with a “Recruit Military” Career Fair.

The final thing he spoke about was the need to have a strong network. I’ve written before about the fact that you have to develop your network before you need it.  You do this by getting out and meeting people in your field and having well-developed electronic footprints on platforms such as LinkedIn and American Corporate Partners.  Building and maintaining relationships is the critical component to any job search, attending smaller workshops like this is just one of many excellent ways to do so.

Overall this GE Veteran Workshop was terrific.  I went in search of validation to what I had previously learned and that’s exactly what I got.  Even better, I got it in a well-organized format from a group of military veterans who genuinely cared about the success of everyone in attendance.  It was well worth my time and I thank GE and their Veterans Network for putting this on.

Learn more about the workshop as well as the career fairs at http://www.uschamber.com/hiringourheroes.