How to Hire a Veteran

Thanks to training and military values, veterans make great hires in civilian workplaces.
February 06, 2012

Hiring a veteran is good business. Employers say that, thanks to their training and military values, they tend to excel in the civilian workplace.

"They know what it's like to work in a fast-paced and results-driven environment," says Melissa McMahon, senior director, talent acquisition for CDW, a technology solutions provider based in Vernon Hills, Illinois.

If that's not enough, there's also financial incentive. In November 2011, Congress passed President Obama's Returning Heroes Tax Credit and Wounded Warrior Tax Credit, both designed to get veterans back to work. The Returning Heroes Tax Credit provides businesses that hire unemployed veterans with a maximum credit of $5,600 per veteran, and the Wounded Warriors Tax Credit offers businesses that hire veterans with service-connected disabilities a maximum credit of $9,600 per veteran.

Paid training

In addition to the tax credits, business owners may also be able to get reimbursed for training newly hired veterans, thanks to the Workforce Investment Act of 1998, which provides high-quality job training through state and local workforce development systems. There are six regional ETA offices covering the continental United States and its island states and territories.

Says Nick DeMartz, deputy director of the Workforce Investment Board of San Bernardino County, "We want to get job seekers back to work as quickly as we can. If they need additional skills, we will put them through training programs—and the best bang for the buck is on-the-job training."

When matching a veteran or other candidate with an employment opportunity, the Workforce Investment Board will do a skills gap analysis and, if it finds that the person is mostly qualified but lacks, for example, knowledge of a particular software application, it will offer to pay 50 percent of the person's wages for a while.

"The employer now has the skills they need in a worker, in way it wants, and the employee has now gained new skills. It's a great win for us, great for business and great for the economy," says DeMartz.

Where the vets are

"Everybody realizes why it's good to hire a vet. The key is also finding out how to do it cheaply and effectively," says Tracey Luellen, HR generalist for Telos Corporation, an IT solutions provider.

She acknowledges that it can be extremely intimidating, but says that you don't need to hire a consultant. "Small businesses don't have the money to throw at that, and that's not what the government wants to do. The information is out there and people just need to know where to go to find it."

Annette Groenink, a former Marine and now COO of The Strive Group, a merchandising supply chain company, says it can be especially difficult for a small company that only hires occasionally to get in contact with separating veterans.

CDW uses a community relations approach. "It's a good idea to engage locally in the community, on the military bases or with veteran-sponsored organizations that are out there," McMahon of CDW says. Twice a month, CDW staffers carpool to the local military base, where they participate in career development workshops.

Veteran job boards

In addition to networking in your community, there are national job boards and special services to connect vets with employers.

Luellen of Telos recommends reaching out to the state employment agency, where you can list your job openings.

"Ask for your local representative. You can partner with that person and build a relationship, so that you can network directly," Luellen advises. For example, she's participated in panels set up by the local branch of the Virginia State Employment Agency to help vets learn resume writing and other job-hunting skills.

Warriors to Work has partnered with CareerBuilder, a free website devoted to posting jobs and searching for veterans. This project of Wounded Warriors lets you log in and post jobs free of charge once you register.

The Army Career & Alumni Program has regional office where you can post job openings at no cost.

Translatable skills

Once you've posted your opening and are ready to interview candidates, you should be aware that you may have to do a bit of translating of military skills and experience into their civilian counterparts. Someone who's worked in the military for several years has plenty of experience, but it may not be evident how his or her skills will transfer to the civilian workplace.

The Strive Group's experience is probably typical. Working with a few organizations that do placement for vets, the company's HR managers set up interviews for specific positions.

"They came back really excited," Groenink says. "They knew they really liked these people, they were great individuals with great work ethics; they were well-spoken, presented themselves well. But our HR people had a hard time understanding how the vets' backgrounds fit with what they needed."

Now, Groenink and other vets work with the HR team to help them translate the military experience on resumes.  Ideally, candidates will have already done the translation, says Maribeth Gunner, career services coordinator at Excelsior College, a distance learning college focused on teaching adults—but they may not have.

Gunner, who teaches classes in career development for vets, says the key is asking what she calls behavioral interview questions. For example, instead of focusing on the specific job, you might say, "Tell me about a time when you were working on a team and one member refused to cooperate. How did you handle that?"

If you do decide to recruit a veteran, Groenink says it's important to jettison any preconceived ideas, for example, that military folk are only comfortable in very hierarchical organizations. She says, "Do your homework and understand what the military experience is. If you have a veteran in your organization, take advantage of it."

Image credit: CarbonNYC