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Changes in Approach by HR Can Improve the Recruiting and Hiring of Military Veterans

If you are considering hiring military veterans, here are helpful tips for your HR staff to use that will benefit the business and veterans, making the recruiting and hiring experience more positive.
A female military veteran is interviewed for a job opening.

Try to imagine what goes through the mind of someone who one day is commanding 900 Marines in the field and the next day is struggling to figure out how to use a medical insurance card and find a doctor.

For Mary Kennedy Thompson, it was overwhelming. “I had a lot of skills to bring to the table, but in that moment, none of it seemed to translate,” said Kennedy Thompson, CFE and COO of Neighborly, formerly the Dwyer Group, during a session on corporate culture and veterans at the annual IFA Convention.

It’s not that the skills didn’t translate but, rather, the skills were lost in translation.

This is not an isolated incident. Each year, about 250,000 military personnel make the transition to civilian life, and almost 160,000* enter the labor force. One thing many business owners think of is “How can I be of service to those who served?” but that thought usually extends only to the point of hiring military veterans.

There is certainly much value to hiring veterans: leadership, diversity, potential tax credits, and more, but for both sides to gain the most from the experience, business owners need to consider the entire employee lifecycle for military veterans, including onboarding, training, and development.

“Veterans want to serve, they understand commitment … and they are driven to belong to an industry that matters,” Kennedy Thompson said.

Monty Heath, a former Navy SEAL, said no veteran wants pity. “Veterans don’t want a handout, they want a hand up. And it doesn’t take much. Everyone can get better.”

He was speaking specifically about veterans transitioning from military duty to the civilian workforce, but he was also talking about businesses in general. Changes are necessary and businesses need to develop a better understanding of what veterans require as they not only look for gainful employment but, also, what they might need when they do get hired.

Many of these changes can start with human resources. Start by educating yourself, especially if you're not a veteran yourself because understanding and meeting these individuals' unique needs can be especially challenging. Fortunately, there are many resources available to educate employers on military culture and ways to help them adjust to a civilian workplace.

How to recruit veterans

A challenge that many employers face is knowing where to find and recruit veteran talent. While there are military-sponsored job fairs specifically targeted at helping military members transition to the civilian workforce, these can be cost-prohibitive, especially for small businesses on a budget. That said, there are ways to actively search for veterans and military spouses. You may want to consider taking advantage of online resources, job boards, and hiring fairs that can be both useful and cost-effective.

Michael McDermott, a consultant for the Blackstone Group, who also does training classes on military bases, said the list is long to mine military veteran talent, including the Department of Labor’s American Job Centers and its Hire Veterans Medallion program, as well as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes program. There are other sources, as well, including the Wounded Warriors Project and colleges and universities.

“There’s also lesser-known but equally effective spots to recruit,” said McDermott, who consulted on a project spurred by the Obama administration’s military drawdown that set a goal to hire 10,000 military vets a year for five years, which ended in 2018. “We hired 70,000 and that included 5,000 military spouses.”

Since one of the barriers to hiring military veterans is that they don’t always know where to look or are hesitant to ask for help, McDermott suggested attending holiday recognition events and activities such as parades and gatherings at V.F.W. posts.  

How to use social media to recruit veterans

HR personnel can use LinkedIn to communicate directly with veteran job seekers by posting questions and answers in various targeted groups. This can lead to connecting with influencers who have trust and credibility in the veteran community. Also, consider highlighting the company's current veteran employees and their career successes.

Consider building a company page or adding a veteran-facing company page on Facebook. Then regularly post messages, invitations, photos, and comments that highlight your company's values and goals and show how veterans are desired candidates for your business.

And don’t forget YouTube, which is great for highlighting what your business cares about and is involved with. Instead of writing a one-page marketing flyer, consider producing a video of your current employees — particularly veterans — talking about their jobs, why they work there, and other advantages of the company. Include contact information on all YouTube videos so a veteran knows how to pursue an opportunity with your organization.

What are the benefits of hiring a veteran?

Individuals who come from the military often have many traits that are assets in the private sector: team-oriented, trustworthy, and dedicated. These individuals also may exhibit strong character and leadership skills in even the most-tense situations.

Here are other common qualities of those who have served in the military that are attractive to employers:

  • Strong work ethic: Many former military personnel possess a work ethic that incorporates both maturity and professionalism. And in many cases, veterans have learned skills to cope with stressful situations — so when work gets stressful, don't expect them to fold.
  • Self-direction: Military training emphasizes recognizing complex problems and acquiring the skills needed to resolve them. For this reason, many veterans understand how to address workplace issues without needing significant guidance from supervisors.
  • Efficiency: Veterans have experience working in a culture that stresses accuracy and timeliness. They tend to be well-versed in setting priorities, multitasking, and meeting deadlines.
  • Willingness to be a team player: Military personnel learn very quickly the importance of being a strong, reliable team player. They understand the value of taking responsibility for not only their work, but for the success of their co-workers, and how working closely together can contribute to overall success.
  • Eagerness to learn: The motivation and ability to learn is a key element of military culture. By the time they leave the service, most veterans are adept at processing new information and gaining new skills. Many are already experts in areas such as finance, medicine, engineering, administration, and security. And since technology is critical among all armed forces, many vets enter the private sector with advanced technical skills.
  • Leadership: Individuals who rise in the ranks generally have done so because they have demonstrated strong leadership skills. So, when they seek civilian employment, they come to the workplace with the ability to inspire and lead others.

One hurdle, however, especially as it relates to skillsets and training, is that individuals trained in the military often are qualified but they are not certified at the state level. Many industries need electricians and plumbers and other trade-oriented personnel. When seeking to hire former members of the military, businesses can help the process by encouraging such jobseekers to obtain certification – perhaps by including it as a benefit for all employees.

“We forget, and maybe it’s because we are in awe of what they do while serving our country, that these individuals have fears and doubts,” said Carly Fiorina, a 2016 presidential candidate and the current chairwoman of Carly Fiorina Enterprises. “(Businesses) can help by providing training, coaching, and mentoring.”

How to go about hiring veterans

What are the best ways to develop a veteran hiring program? How can you attract these talented individuals to your business? What are some best practices for introducing them into your workplace?

Here are some ways to tackle these questions:

Enlist the help of a veterans' advocate. Once your newly hired employees are on board, you should provide ongoing support to help them deal with the challenges of transitioning into a new role. Veterans in the workplace who don't feel supported may be more likely to leave. By enlisting the help of an advocate who is well-versed in veterans' needs, you can offer your new hires the support they need. This could be an individual on your HR staff, an outside volunteer, or an organized group of supportive co-workers who all share the same concerns.

“Don’t make them sink or swim,” Heath said. “Get HR and the leadership team on board and then properly onboard the new hires.”

Consider the first item in starting the hiring process: writing a job description. An HR professional should acknowledge there might be a potential language barrier. The business might be looking for a program manager, but military veterans are familiar with the term “mission manager.” So, don’t rely on the job title to draw in military veterans.

“And if you’re looking to recruit military veterans for jobs, present a military-friendly image – and keep it current,” said McDermott, who cited examples of businesses missing out on hiring veterans because the pictures used in an advertisement did not show the current Army uniform. “These are proud people and they are perceptive.”

Redesign your training program. Veterans who have never held a non-military position before may be accustomed to a strict, regimented training style and may need more time to adjust to a less structured environment.

However, not all military veterans were in the field, according to Heath, who said that in his experience more than three-quarters of military personnel didn’t carry a gun.

“We’re tribal, but effective teams develop best with people who are different,” Fiorina said. “Put the military veterans with others and get them to solve a problem and they will show you how to get beyond the superficial aspects and get things done.”

From an HR standpoint, to meet the unique needs of veterans in the workplace, you may need to adjust your onboarding and training program to help make veterans feel more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Setting up your employees for success from the beginning is a critical part of any veteran hiring initiative.

“And if you’re looking to hire wounded veterans, it doesn’t take much money to revamp a program or even rebuild a workspace,” Heath said.

Are there tax credits available when hiring veterans?

The Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) is a tax-incentive program that encourages businesses to recruit and retain staff from specific population groups, including veterans. A business may qualify for a tax credit of up to $9,600 per individual during their first year of employment. There is no limit on how many individuals an employer can hire in order to qualify for this credit.

And with the extension of the WOTC through Dec. 31, 2019, businesses can receive an ongoing tax incentive to hire them. The WOTC:

  • Reduces an employer's cost of doing business
  • Requires little paperwork
  • Can reduce an employer's federal income tax liability by as much as $9,600 per employee hired
  • Allows certain tax-exempt organizations to hire eligible veterans and receive a credit against the employer's share of Social Security taxes.

The IRS provides a useful chart detailing certification criteria for the WOTC. It should be noted that this tax credit will not exist after 2019 without further legislative action.

Employers that hire WOTC-eligible individuals generally receive a tax credit equal to 25 percent or 40 percent of a new worker's first-year wages, up to the maximum for the group to which he or she belongs. For example, for non-tax-exempt employers, their business earns 25 percent for hires who work at least 120 hours during the first year of employment, and 40 percent if they work at least 400 hours in that first year. The rates are different for tax-exempt employers.

Your company may be able to claim other tax credits. A service provider can help you identify and collect funds for which your business qualifies, creating a documented, legally compliant audit trail. For further information check out the Paychex Tax Credit Service page.

Getting veterans on board

Companies that successfully recruit, hire, and develop veterans often follow these best practices:

  • Set clear expectations. Your civilian hires appreciate a roadmap at the outset of their employment. For your veteran hires, it may be paramount. In their previous career, the veteran likely did not have to compete for new jobs and advancement and may not understand what is expected of them to perform to your standards. Clearly articulate what success should look like for them in your company. Help them understand the chain of command, rules and protocol, and what it takes to advance their career in your organization.
  • Conduct training. Integrating someone with a military career into a predominantly civilian workplace requires training for the supervisor and employee's team. This can be as simple as informal meetings to brainstorm and discuss challenges and successes.
  • Establish clear goals. Perhaps your company wants to hire three veterans in the next year. Your strategy would include resources needed, benchmarks to achieve, and return on the investment when those three hires are performing on the job. Refrain from setting goals that are too ambitious at the outset.
  • Appoint an executive sponsor. A champion for the program who sits on the executive team at your company will be able to advocate for programs, training, and funds to support the necessary costs you'll need to make your veteran hiring program sustainable. This sponsor may or may not be a veteran.
  • Engage all employees. A veteran hiring program should include more than just veterans and managers; engaging all employees in the company can help everyone feel attached to something bigger than their job.

“The key is to build momentum,” McDermott said. “Let’s hire one (veteran), see how they do, then hire another one.”

Looking for resources to help with your hiring strategies? Learn more on the Paychex Hiring Services page.


*-Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, March 21, 2019

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* This content is for educational purposes only, is not intended to provide specific legal advice, and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice of a qualified attorney or other professional. The information may not reflect the most current legal developments, may be changed without notice and is not guaranteed to be complete, correct, or up-to-date.

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