Last Thursday I went to the Military and Veteran Job Fair at Target Field (downtown Minneapolis, MN). It was put together as a pre-event by the Medal of Honor Convention Twin Cities. The morning started with an Employer Town Hall. Two veterans who had successfully transitioned into the corporate world spoke to us about recruiting and retaining military and veterans.
Surprisingly, their focus was initially more on retaining than recruiting. They said it is not uncommon to see military and veteran hires leave after 9 months, a year, and so forth. They said much more focus is needed on retaining them.
They said you have to remember they are used to being given defined paths in the military. You study this and do that and then you can get promoted or are assigned to this other task. Also, during duty they are given missions to complete. Everything has goals in mind and outcomes that come afterward.
They mentioned that often moving into corporate is difficult if there is no defined career paths and vague goals to be accomplished. They want goals that challenge them and they can accomplish. So if they get bored…or they see no way to progress in the career (no defined next step)…or are not really sure what they are trying to accomplish…they quickly become unhappy and leave.
They need to feel needed and have a purpose…and be challenged (the challenge was mentioned repeatedly).
To help with this transition, they said it was very necessary to pair a new hire from the military with someone who used to be with the military that successfully transitioned. The more senior is familiar with the challenges in transitioning and the differences between military and corporate thinking.
One of them told a story about how after he transitioned he had an incident in a meeting. It was a long meeting about financials and such and he was listening but bored. So after finishing his bottle of water, he took a bit of chew and started spitting into the bottle. Later he was told that is something you can’t do. But he did not know…in the military, meetings had this kind of thing happen and no one batted an eye about it. He was still running under a different set of ideas and it just didn’t occur to him that this was not allowed.
The other one agreed and said due to the different circumstances of military life, sometimes one’s manner and speech might be a bit rough…but that is what they are used to. Once someone mentors or coaches them on the expectations and rules, there is no problem.
They cautioned us (roomful of recruiters) that we may hear or see some interesting things during the fair. They said to just speak with them and get their stories. They assured us we would meet many great potential employees with great leadership skills…although they may not have the perfect resume or polish.
They said that we had to be willing to take a chance on someone, because they will not have the perfect resume or appear as polished as other candidates. They often have gained a whole lot of skills (leadership, getting this done, etc.) but don’t always know how to convey it well within the resume.
They said it was important to earn their trust, but once you have it they are the most loyal people around. You need to give them a little extra help. Give them an email or phone number to call when they have questions or issues…speaking with another military or veteran who transitioned into your company. Listen to them. Ask questions. Don’t assume.
One of the recruiters shared a great story about how when their security guard (who was in the military) was called up to be deployed, she asked him for his mailing address. While he was gone, she and others at the company sent him letters. So many in the military are deployed and receive little or no contact while abroad. She said it probably meant a lot to him…and the two vets speaking agreed and said that was spectacular. They said that kind of support is what will keep a military or veteran with the company.
Anyway, that is how the morning started. I spoke with several great people during the day. It was a good day.