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.

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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;

LinkedIn Groups….Who Are You Hanging Out With?

You need to be on LinkedIn…..that drum gets beat into every separating service members head during their transition classes.  Unfortunately, though, LinkedIn is not something a lot of people in the service use during their time on active duty, so it can be daunting to just jump right in.  A lot of people establish profiles under duress, not believing they will do any good.  Without any direction on how to make the platform work for them, their profile sits there in cyberspace with very few connections, only reinforcing the service members original thoughts on its lack of value.

So, what can service members do to break out of their shell and quit being a wallflower at the Post Military Employment Prom?  Just like any other social event, if you don’t already have a date, you need to hang with a group.  And just like High School, who you hang with is critical. Unlike High School, however, LinkedIn recognizes that people are complex, so there is no need to feel like you have to declare your allegiance to one clique. LinkedIn allows you to be a member of up to 50 groups.

The tips below can help you make the most out of LinkedIn Groups.

 First, you need to diversify. There are always certain groups that we will feel more around than others.  LinkedIn has a good number of military oriented affinity groups and these are the ones service members typically join first.  I’m a Navy Chief….there’s a group for Navy Chiefs…..I know I’ll be among friends…..easy choice.  There’s nothing wrong with joining a group like this, but if this is a far as you go, you’re not likely to grow or expand your network much beyond the military community.

To broaden your horizons and really expand your network, look for affinity groups based upon your actual job in the military.  For example, if you’re an electrical engineer, perhaps you’d find some benefit from joining the over 6,000 members of the Business Industrial Network who’s group page states, “Engineers, Electricians, Mechanics, Maintenance Welcome”.  Those currently on active duty can use this to keep up with the current issues of their industry which is critical for ensuring you’re prepared to jump into the private sector.  And if you’re transitioning from the service, perhaps one of over the 200 job postings in the group may interest you.

In addition to industry affinity groups there are a number of groups that were formed for the purpose of assisting transitioning service members, but be advised, not all of these are created equal.  Some are location-based, such as the Fort Meade Military Transition networking Group and the Camp Lejeune Transition Readiness Seminar Group. The Fort Meade group has over 200 members (about 1/3 are recruiters) and over 850 jobs listed, while the Camp Lejeune group has 89 members (only one with the word Recruiter in their title) and zero jobs. I’m not saying that one group is inherently better than the other (I’m a member of both), but it’s important to know the make up of each, in order understand what they offer.

Other groups with a focus on transitioning veteran have a global audience.  Although the following is not all-inclusive, the following are just three in particular that I’ve found helpful as far as actionable advice: Military-Civilian Career Coaching Connection (MC4), Boots To Loafers, and Recruiters 4 Veterans. Sites like these are less likely to have jobs posted, but will instead be more focused on offering genuine tips on the transition process.

There are two ways to find these niche groups. The easiest method is to use the search field at the top of the LinkedIn page and type in key words by either title or location (engineer, recruiter, nurse, Baltimore, San Diego, Austin).  Another way (and I think more effective method)  is to look at the bottom of the profiles of your connections to see which groups they are a member of.  No matter how you do it, being active in even a few LinkedIn groups from the different categories will set you up for success.

Second, you need to participate. You build your network by meeting people, and meeting people on LinkedIn occurs when you join in on some discussions.  See an article you like? Share it with a group.  Did someone in the group post something you find relevant? Share it with your connections.  Have a thought? Add your two cents in the comments section.  These are the things that bring people together.  Participation is the catalyst to check out the profiles of other individuals (which is a great way find ways to improve your own).  This is what leads to connections and allows your network to grow exponentially.

Third, know your audience. Preaching to the choir might be safest way to communicate, but it never really changes anything.  We need to understand our place in relation to the rest of the group and ensure the things we share are likely to benefit those who will see our message.  A great example of this centered around a recent Forbes.com  article about the value of Non Commissioned Officers. The piece has a different meaning when shared with other military members than if it is shared by/with private sector recruiters and hiring managers.

In fact, one of the coaches, (Joseph Paschal) in the MC4 discussion thread put it very well saying, “this article has resonated well on many other veteran sites because it tells veterans what they want to hear. However, it is a grossly obtuse analogy that really does not help veterans because it may lead NCOs (and others) to believe that they can make the case for being qualified for positions simply because they have such solid experience as NCOs (or veterans).”

 Joe wasn’t saying anything bad about the content of the article, but I think his point about how the message was being perceived was spot on. (See the full discussion thread here.)

We need to tell private industry about the military and, at the same time, tell the military about private industry.  These are two distinct conversations and the way we have those conversations on LinkedIn is to be active in many groups, and to share the appropriate message with each.

Veteran participation in industry specific groups helps us all. By sharing relevant articles and making insightful comments we can knock down the walls of misperception.  Even more to the point, we do far more good for our own post military employment chances by participating in the civilian networking groups than we do by simply hanging out with our closest friends telling each other how great we are.

Its time to quit holding up the wall and get out there on the dance floor.

Five Things I Know (So Far)

When I began this blog seven months ago the purpose was to document my thoughts and experiences during the last year (or so) of my active duty time in the Navy.  As we draw down on 2013, I wanted to take some to reflect on my experience thus far.

First of all, I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the project as a whole.  I’m particularly grateful whenever I hear from my friends that are still years away from retirement/separation.  The original purpose of this was to provide a platform to capture information in order to share it so that others may  succeed and I hope I’m accomplishing that.

 Back in my second post I described this transition process as trying to pull off a trapeze stunt without having the benefit of practice, seven months later that feeling remains. I’ve committed to the process and let go of the first swinging bar, and look forward to catching another.  It’s not a very comfortable feeling.  It’s a stage we all have to go through, though.

For those that have followed this blog from the beginning you may have noticed that the posts have become more advice oriented and less on personal reflections.  Getting some of my posts picked up by other organizations has been a big reason for this.  My article about the American Corporate Partnership was picked up by their website, and I’ve also had pieces shared by the local job board ClearedJobs.net as well as the recruiter organization RecruitDC.

This success, though very moderate and with zero financial gain involved, has validated for me that my real passion lies in helping organizations succeed by recruiting, training, and retaining veteran talent.  Over the years I’ve come to see that making this happen is a two way street. We as veterans need to market ourselves correctly and organizations should continue to proactively seek out military members for employment.  I’ve seen first hand that there is good stuff happening on both sides of this equation.

I’m also convinced that there is room for improvement.  Hence, some of my posts have offered advice to veterans, and other posts have been aimed at exposing civilian organizations to the unique challenges of engaging a military audience. Working to bridge this gap is what I truly love to do and I look forward to helping individuals and/or organizations succeed by helping to get the right people into the right jobs.

Since it’s been a while since I wrote anything “personal” about my experience, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve learned.

1 Networking early and often is the key.  I can not stress enough how thankful I am to the many civilian individuals that I’ve come into contact with who have helped me.  They have provided great mentorship and even better they have always been quick to introduce to me to others.  Networking really is exponential and there are a ton of very good people in the world. As scary as it is now, I can’t imagine where I’d be without these individuals. Every success I’ve had in this process can be directly traced back to someone in my network.

2- There are some outstanding programs out there  and American Corporate Partners is a great one.  My mentor has given me a fresh perspective about career paths and the organization has been truly top notch.  I look forward to attending a specific ACP Networking event at the end of January.

One thought that continues to bounce around inside my head is the idea of striking out on my own. I’ve found the Small Business Administration has great information. I have also learned about an organization known as Score that provides local mentors for service members starting their own business. For those that are service disabled and looking to start your own business please check out the Entrepreneur Boot Campthis looks like an amazing program. (I don’t qualify, but it’s worth passing along.)

3- The amount of helpful outlets can be overwhelming. For example, LinkedIn has a ton of groups that offer career advice, many of them are very good, but there are so many it can be tough to keep up.  I was told that these are the key to building your network on LinkedIn and I should pick a couple and be active in the discussions forums. I’ve done that and it’s worked out just as I was told. I’m establishing myself as a “content creator” with “virtual footprint“, but sometimes I know that can get lost down the rabbit hole of LinkedIn.  There’s a lot of people, on a lot of sites, saying the same things,  to the same people.  Sometimes I just  need to remind myself I don’t need to be everywhere, all the time. I can’t read everything on the internet.  I also hope that this blog doesn’t fall into that category of just regurgitating the same information.

4- I know more than I think I do.  In all honesty, having the blog posts picked up by other organizations has been an ego boost. So has the feeling that I’ve become a subject matter expert, at least to some degree, for veterans and recruiters alike.  This has given me a lot of confidence. The more people tell you that you can do something, the more likely you are to succeed, and as an active duty person it’s very nice to get that validation from those in the private sector.

5- I don’t know everything. Despite point #4 above, there are still some things that I need to learn and experience.  Knowing this has led me to ask a lot of questions of a lot of people.  It’s what motivates me to attend professional events and do a lot of professional reading.  I think there is such thing as healthy amount of self awareness and that knowing our shortcomings is a critical component in preparing for the jump from Sailor to Civilian.

Over these past few months it’s become obvious that the transition process can happen very quickly, and yet at the same time seem painfully slow. I’ve always believed that you’re better off leaving the military because you are running to something, as opposed to running away from something and at this point I feel like I have found my focus in terms of what I want to do. For that I’m thankful.

Although the manner and location I ultimately do the work of connecting organizations with veteran talent is still undecided, I remain confident that it will all work out.  Terminal Leave starts in June of 2014 and my last day getting paid on active duty is August 31st, so I still have some time.

I hope that my thoughts thus far have been helpful to at least a few people and I look forward to continuing to share this experience with those so inclined to follow.

Seven months into this project, has anything been helpful?  Is there anything else you’d like to see addressed?  Let me know in the comments section.

Reinventing Michael Banks: A Lesson in Empathy

Many veterans on the job hunt get frustrated because they feel like potential employers don’t understand or appreciate their experiences.  While this is often true, we have to remember that empathy goes both ways. Service members also need to find ways to understand the unique constraints that recruiters, hiring mangers, and supervisors find themselves in when dealing with veterans in the workforce.  Bridging the culture gap takes more than just finding newer (and often times louder) ways to tell our side of the story, the empathy that we need comes from understanding where the other side is coming from.

Imagine if a civilian technical representative was assigned to your active duty military team. The person has obvious qualifications on how to run the machinery in your shop, in fact they may know more about it than anyone else. What they lack would be the ability to apply that concept within the norms of your military organization.  How would you feel about this situation?  Would you expect that individual to adapt to the norms of the group, or would you expect the group to adapt the norms of the individual? I think we can agree that if the individual refused to adapt to the group, the group would continue to exist, even without the member.

So it is with veteran hiring. If both sides work to understand each others situation then individual and organizational success is much more likely. In the end, veterans must be prepared to reach out first, and reach out the farthest.  If we do, the hands we find on the other side will be in the best position to offer a strong grip and be the most equipped to help us over the wall that divides our military life from a potential civilian career.

Recently an organization known as WILL Interactive  in collaboration with The Coming Home Project produced a really great interactive video program entitled “Reinventing Michael Banks”.  The best part of this interactive video is that it allows people to take on the various roles of veteran job seeker, recruiter, hiring manager, and supervisor.  Playing the scenarios from different personalities not only allows the participant to make choices about what to do next, but more importantly it  allows the player to hear some of the “thoughts” that go through the heads of each person.

Human interactions are much deeper than the verbal or non-verbal signals we send out.  The more empathy we can have about why a person says or does things, the better we can become at tailoring our messages and actions to best fit for the situation. One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Mark Hortsman, who says “Communication is what the listener does.” In this regard, empathy is a force multiplier.  The object is to deliver the message in all of its intended meaning. The more we know about the receiver, the better our chances of success.

I encourage everyone associated with veteran hiring to spend some time on this simulator. If you only have time to go through it once- please play it from a perspective other than your own.  If you have time to go through all four scenarios, I suggest you play from your current perspective last.  You already know what it’s like to be you……this is about finding out what it’s like to be somebody else.

Click here to go to the Reinventing Michael Banks website and participate in scenario.

http://www.reinventingmichaelbanks.com/