How private employers can recruit and retain veterans

Wendy Buckingham is an associate attorney at Littler and currently serves as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, Judge Advocate General’s Corps. Views are the author’s own.

Veterans Day originally began as a day of remembrance to mark the end of World War I. In 1938, it became a national holiday. And in 1954, that holiday officially became known as Veterans Day, to recognize and honor America’s veterans.

To thank veterans for their service and to recognize the honed skills service members bring to the workforce, many private employers have committed to hire and retain veterans.

Through military service, veterans gain in-demand skills for workplace success in the private sector, including mental fortitude, flexibility, leadership and management experience, teamwork and collaboration, professionalism and discipline. Private employers need those skills and realize the value of military service in sharpening those vital capabilities.

Recruiting approaches

As an initial step in attracting job-seeking veterans, many employers, regardless of size, have demonstrated a commitment to hire veterans by offering veteran-specific opportunities or outreach. Some companies have committed to hiring a specific number of veterans within a stated timeframe. Many companies have dedicated human-resource and talent-management teams, often lead by an executive, focusing on recruiting veterans.

Members of those teams are knowledgeable about military roles and duties. They are also trained on translating military experiences into private sector skills and identifying positions particularly suited for military experience. A dedicated office or team for recruiting military talent, however, may not make sense depending on company size and resources. In those circumstances, here are four practices companies can consider implementing to recruit veterans.  

Train HR on what to do

Companies should train HR representatives to understand how to translate military jobs and duties into private sector roles and responsibilities. The SHRM Foundation, in conjunction with its corporate partners, provides HR professionals a free certificate program offering critical insights for recruiting, onboarding and retaining veterans and military members.  

Have solid position descriptions

HR staff, along with hiring managers, should identify positions well-suited for military talent and tailor job descriptions accordingly. Where appropriate, job descriptions may be edited to state relevant military experience qualifies.

Create a veterans website

To attract veteran talent, companies can create a separate link on their corporate websites for job-seeking veterans. Webpages targeted to recruit veterans can highlight open positions that are well-suited for military talent, identify key HR professionals in the veteran space and describe internal company resources focused on developing and retaining veterans.  

Find military recruiting sources and job fairs

HR representatives should attend hiring fairs at military installations and Veterans Affairs facilities, and other veteran-focused employer hiring groups, like the Veterans Jobs Mission, to recruit military talent. Potentially, HR professionals may want to partner with veteran employees or local Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve representatives to brainstorm additional ways to attract veteran talent.  

Retention Initiatives

The transition from a military work environment to the civilian sector poses unique challenges to military members, including uncertainty about promotion processes and performance evaluations, communication-style differences and cultural changes. Companies that want to retain military talent frequently implement veteran-specific practices and programs to help veterans acclimate to corporate culture. While the size of a company and its resources may dictate the availability of veteran-specific retention tools, three retention initiatives and programs are highlighted below.

Provide promotion and career path transparency

In the military, service members receive clear guidance on requirements to achieve their next promotion, including the dates of upcoming promotion boards, their eligibility for promotion and steps they can take to increase their chances for promotion. The same transparency often does not exist in the private sector and the absence of clear career development guidance is a common reason veterans leave companies.  

To retain military talent, companies should provide career progression training throughout a veteran’s employment, and particularly, at milestones, like new-hire training and annual performance reviews. If possible, career path training should also identify resources and personnel available to discuss career paths, promotions and opportunities within the company.      

Establish mentorship programs

Many companies allow veterans to participate in mentorship programs to ease the transition from the military to the private sector. These programs pair new veteran hires with senior employees who can answer cultural assimilation questions, assist veterans in building their business networks outside the military, help them establish professional goals and steer their career progression.

Companies should formally advertise mentorship programs during new hire training and encourage new hires to participation at the onset of their employment to increase program participation and maximize retention. HR professionals should also highlight the existence of these programs on company websites and in recruiting materials to serve as a selling point to job-seeking military members.

Form affinity groups

Veteran-focused affinity groups and mentorship programs help military members transition to the private sector by introducing new hires to a network of peers with shared employment and life experiences. These groups also aid established veteran employees in maintaining a connection to the military and the sense of purpose that military service offered. Advertising these programs can also boost a company’s reputation as military-friendly, which may attract new business and help recruit military talent. 

The efforts and recommendations discussed above represent some of the many ways that employers can recruit and retain military talent in today’s challenging job market. Employers should partner with employment counsel to identify and discuss legal considerations in developing targeted efforts to recruit and retain veteran employees.   

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