Identify and Overcome Recruiting Obstacles

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Identify obstacles to recruiting and hiring veterans.
  • Describe some common stereotypes about veterans that civilian companies can overcome.
  • Name some ways that military experience and culture translate well to civilian roles.

The Military-Civilian Gap

Until veterans describe a mission or accomplishment, you can struggle to associate their military skills with the jobs you’re seeking to fill. In fact, you can even struggle just to find candidates who are veterans.

A frustrated and overwhelmed recruiter

For recruiters, common elements of the military-civilian gap include:

  • Finding veterans, because many of them lack a social—or professional—media presence
  • Understanding the types of roles veterans are interested in pursuing
  • Understanding the industries that veterans are interested in joining
  • Determining what veterans are qualified to do

Consequently, it’s challenging to build a reliable pipeline between veterans and recruiters. In this unit, we discuss some obstacles to recruiting and hiring veterans, and some ideas for how to overcome them.

Unconscious Bias

Civilian stereotypes of the military often originate from a single connection, such as the one person you know who enlisted after high school. Television, movies, and video games also propagate stereotypes that are well ingrained in our culture.

So when a company decides to seek out veteran candidates, decision-makers must overcome their preconceived notions. In truth, the odds are high that the stereotypes don’t apply to the veteran sitting next to you.

If your impression of the military is based on video games or movies, then it’s possible you think:

  • All military personnel go into combat.
  • All service members enlist because they don’t have better options for their future.
  • All veterans have PTSD and are unpredictable.
  • All service members are trained only to execute orders and not think independently about a problem or challenge.

None of these stereotypes is true, but they contribute to the unconscious assumptions that recruiters or hiring managers can apply to candidates with military experience.

Disability and Accessibility

It’s a common misconception that most veterans struggle with PTSD-related disabilities or other needs that put them at a disadvantage among their civilian peers.

According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 65% of today’s veterans deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan at some point during their career. Of this cohort, between 11% and 20% of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan experience the effects of PTSD in a given year. This statistic isn’t all that much higher than the general US population, of which 7% to 8% are expected to experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

A 2015 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that 20% of all veterans actually had a service-connected disability. Around half of those veterans are employed. While some disabilities are too debilitating for the workplace, others—such as hearing or vision loss, joint or muscle pain, or loss of limbs—are easily overcome in an accessible workplace.

When a disabled veteran is a candidate, it’s important to note that this disability is no reason to avoid a hire. For example, Salesforce is an equal opportunity employer that accommodates disabilities and supports disabled staff members through accessibility tools. We also offer community support, such as the AbilityForce and Vetforce employee resource groups. Hiring managers at Salesforce are prepared to support these new hires by introducing them to these welcoming communities.

Identify High-Traction Roles for Veterans

Recruiters can become frustrated when trying to decipher how veterans’ skills translate and where veterans with those skills can fit in a company. For example, a role like “advertising program manager” can require “4-plus years experience leading teams in dynamic and complex environments.” A veteran can have that qualification easily covered but lack industry expertise. To successfully match a candidate with a certain role, recruiters need to identify the critical aspects of the role.

When you look at the underlying skills required for individual military professions, it’s easy to see deep skill crossover, especially in fields touching on operations, customer success, account management, and, of course, technical skills.

Roles that focus on operations and project management and require less industry-specific knowledge are often an ideal foot in the door for veteran candidates.

Hard Skills: Technology in Every Profession

Almost every military career path involves becoming a technical expert in a specific field. Technicians who defuse explosive hazards must be technologically proficient to a level at which they trust their lives to their equipment.

Helicopter pilots possess soft skills, such as unwavering focus and attention to detail. They are also responsible for the teams who maintain their aircraft, and therefore they must know the function of every switch, circuit, and mechanical process in the aircraft.

For every service member, no matter what their specialty, technical expertise is the foundation of their job.

Translating the Benefits of Military Culture

Military culture encourages the development of social skills through relationship building without regard to social status. In the military, people shed their outer appearances and form friendships on the basis of shared interests and trust.

At the most fundamental level, the structure of the military—with its hierarchies, clear requirements, and expectations of service members at all levels—encourages personal and professional growth.

For example, when service members meet each other for the first time, wearing the same uniform and haircut, they can get past appearances and get to know one another’s backgrounds and interests. Relationships develop out of mutual respect and shared interests. From these kinds of relationships, a sense of pride and confidence emerges, noticeable in the way service members carry themselves and interact with others.

Structure and hierarchy are key to breaking down barriers and eliminating biases when people begin their military service. Everyone is on an even, merit-based playing field. The best leaders develop a reputation for putting the needs of their people before their own. And, in decision-making situations, the person with the highest rank has the final say, but it’s the subject matter experts who have the most influence on the decision.

For example, a senior officer might have to make a challenging decision related to logistics. Rather than risk a decision based on personal feelings, the officer trusts the judgment of enlisted logistics experts, even though the officer is higher ranking. That only works if the relationship is one of understanding and respect.