For most of my life, I knew virtually nothing about the military. This is a shortlist of some of the things I didn't know:
- There are five branches: Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy. All have their own training academy except the Marine Corps.
- There is a difference between enlisted and commissioned officers, and they have entirely different ranks.
- Squad, platoon, battalion, brigade, regiment and company do not mean the same thing.
- You're not required to, but many active duty military personnel live on bases that contain their own schools, grocery stores, neighborhoods, etc. The commissary is a grocery store. The PX is basically a mall.
- Deployments can last anywhere from 3 months to 15 months; they can be to areas of war, areas of political unrest, or areas of peace.
- Saluting is a sign of respect, and you can salute anyone you wish. But enlisted must always salute officer, and officer must always salute a senior rank.
- A civilian is a person not in the armed forces.
For the next three years, I was thrust into a world I had respected, but had no context or understanding of. I spent a lot time of nodding when I had no idea what the conversation was about; I didn't know whether to offer support, ask questions or stay silent when I listened to literal war stories shared by Evan and his friends; I sat in my Ford Taurus and cried on the day I watched him leave for a four-month deployment in the Middle East (his third tour); and I fought to balance relief and guilt on his last day of active duty.
But out of everything, the hardest part was supporting him in finding a new purpose in the civilian world. I'm not exaggerating; it was a time that pushed us to our limit. So when I recently heard about a veteran initiative from SCL Health's talent acquisition team that gave me chills, my fingers furiously hit the keyboard to share.
Finding a job is hard; finding a job as a veteran is life-altering
For what it's worth, I'll share my quick perspective on why so many companies struggle to hire and retain veterans. It's what I talked about with Stephanie Mancuso, the leader of talent attraction and sourcing at SCL Health, when we discussed why her team felt so strongly about creating a mission around military hiring.
- Most people don't understand the military. Only .5% of the U.S. population serves in the military, which means there are a ton of people who don't know anyone in the Armed Forces, let alone understand the pressures, expectations and requirements to succeed. Plus, there is so much nuance between branches, ranks, specializations, enlisted vs. officers, and skillsets that saying you want to hire a veteran is basically saying you want to hire a person. Veteran hiring is hiring, and you can't do it well until you understand the people behind the "category."
- A military job is a lifestyle; a civilian job is a ... job. I'm generalizing, because there are civilian jobs that serve a higher purpose and can be a lifelong calling. But it wasn't until I was in this new world supporting my husband that I realized the military is unlike any other career path; it's a way of life. An unbreakable bond between people brought together in the toughest of circumstances. A community that believes in discipline and self-sacrifice, a chain of command and unwavering respect. To find that type of belonging and purpose in the civilian world is exceptionally difficult, and it was my biggest fear that my husband would end up back in the Army after an empty search (which happens to many, many veterans).
- Stereotypes deter smart hiring. Stereotypes abound in hiring across gender, age, education level, ethnicity, and more Ð it's part of our unconscious and conscious biases as humans. But I can't think of a group of that has more serious stereotypes, both negative and positive, than the military community. The negative, like, "How will I know if she has PTSD, and will she act appropriately in team settings?" can cause fear and alienation. The positive, like, "I heard Army Rangers are all great leaders, so let's hire quickly and give him a team," can cause blanketed hiring in the wrong-fit roles.
- Hiring systems are set up to see resumes, not people. You know that little box you can check during the application process that designates you as a military veteran? Yeah, that just sends you to the ATS black hole like everyone else. But unlike everyone else, veterans are sent to a deeper, darker black hole because recruiters aren't going to come across a resume with "Platoon Leader" or "Military Intelligence" and consider it for that open Operations role. My husband didn't get even one call from a recruiter asking to explain his leadership experience from Ranger school or share how his intelligence training could be utilized as a manager. On paper, military experience won't ever align to civilian job openings.
- Managers overlook transition time and upskilling themselves. We can't expect veterans to do all the learning; believe me, they know they have a lot to catch up on. But hiring and retaining key people isn't a one-way street, and from personal experience watching my husband succeed Ð and fail Ð in a new role, I realized how little companies and managers bend or adapt themselves or their processes. Most also think officers, for example, can come in and lead any team on day 1, that they'll just have this miracle plan for making people gel and operate perfectly. We need to learn their strengths, their weaknesses, their approach, their pace. Bringing a veteran into your organization is an advantage, so don't waste it forcing them into your box.
The campaign that moved a company and fueled a cause
As I just wrote those five critical reasons down, I realized that SCL Health approached their recent veteran mission in a way that addressed all of them.
What I know about this talent acquisition team, I love: they're movers and shakers, and most importantly, doers. They learn from past failures and don't let them happen twice, which is why Stephanie approached their veteran hiring idea differently this year. She shared openly, "I'd tried to do this twice before at other organizations, and it never got off the ground. But I wasn't going to let my team's excitement and momentum stall this time; we were going to create it first, then get buy in."
Here's a look at how they made this happen and turned a campaign into a company hiring mission:
- Learn as you plan. Stephanie and her team started planning for this initiative in January 2019, always eyeing Veterans Day as the launch. For months, her team utilized third party resources to learn more about the military branches, read up on articles they could use and share as part of the campaign message, and thought through the content needed short-term and long-term to make the website landing page both useful and special.
Tip: "The military skills translator on our site links out to a third party; there are so many resources out there for veterans and military hiring, you don't have to create everything from scratch!"
- Focus on purpose. The team wanted to really understand how veterans felt about their time in service, their transition to the civilian world, and their experience with SCL Health, so they started by sourcing veteran voices from within the company for testimonials. The team also aligned each brand of service's oath of enlistment values to SCL Health's values to help veteran talent see their potential at the organization.
Tip: Figure out the purpose of your industry, your brand and your company and how that aligns with service-driven military branches.
- Maximize your own success stories. Not only did Stephanie and team source testimonials from veteran employees, they also tapped into hiring managers who hired veterans and saw exceptional performance on their teams. They spotlighted a particularly thoughtful personal story from one of their own recruiters, Frank, who took an immense amount of pride in sharing his experience in the military and SCL Health.
Tip: "It was critical to share multiple perspectives on the power and value veterans can bring to our organization and encourage hiring managers and recruiters to consider veteran talent for new roles."
- Rewrite the system. Of utmost important to Stephanie was to create a tool for hiring managers that would fuel a more constructive, valuable conversation between themselves and veteran talent. Instead of a checkbox sending them to the black hole, SCL Health prompts veterans to join their talent network, which alerts the talent attraction team of a new veteran talent network member in their SFX CRM, prompting the team reach out and talk about their experience vs. scanning them in a resume.
Tip: Be an advisor! The team created a hiring manager guide that puts recruiters and managers in an advisor position, helping veterans apply to the right role at first try instead of applying for a job they know nothing about or wouldn't match their strengths.
- Think long-term. Excitement goes a long way, and the company has fully gotten behind this initiative. Long-term, Stephanie is looking for an executive sponsor and more support to put resources internally behind building veteran relationships and retention. First, she wants to pair new veteran hires with current employees to make their initial transition more successful and supportive.
Tip: The more your internal teams learn about the value and skillsets of veterans across branches, the more conversation and hires you'll make. The more hires you'll make the, easier it will be to refer more veterans and develop their careers. "How do we work to enable their success and build bonds within the organization?"
After three quarters of hard work and preparation, Stephanie and team revealed this initiative to the company on Veterans Day, November 11 and as a total surprise, featured her recruiter Frank's proud words front and center on the website, unbeknownst to him. All the emotions. All the chills.
Want to honor a veteran? Hear them. See them. Seek to understand them. Invest in them. They are people, not a campaign.
SCL Health did all of the above, and because of that, they've created a mission within every employee in their company. The team has already connected its first veteran candidate with the right people in the organization to actually discuss his experience and the best potential roles for success.
That's how you change talent acquisition.