6 Reasons Recruiters Consistently Underrate Veterans

August 3, 2015

Lots of companies want to hire veterans. Home Depot, Disney, Walmart and countless others have programs designed to hire former members of the military, while the US government continues to pass mandates to improve their chance of getting hired.

And yet, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Situation Summary from July 2, 2015, nearly half a million veterans remain unemployed, 267,000+ from the two latest Iraq invasions.

While ultimately the responsibility falls onto the veterans themselves, part of the reason is because recruiters consistently underrate veterans, without even realizing it.

Why do recruiters misjudge veterans? Here are a few factors:

1. Veterans aren’t good at highlighting their individual successes

Part of a veteran’s training is not to highlight their own success, but to see themselves as part of a larger team. For example, service members don’t regularly highlight their individual role in missions, such as “led a team of twelve men, and I was responsible for communications in a forward area” – and instead talk about the success or failure of the mission as a whole.

Therefore, many recent veterans make for bad interviewees and write bad resumes, because they have a hard time highlighting their individual accomplishments and specific skills. They’re trained to be team players.

But, by changing the way recruiters ask questions, the relevance can become more clear. Asking specifics about what the individual’s role was in his or her missions can draw out those qualifications and skills.

For example if a recruiter asks a veteran about his or her customer service skills, the answer might not be great. If this same recruiter changes the question slightly and instead asks something like: “Can you tell me about a time you had to help someone with a problem, even if that person’s need was not in your area of responsibility?” theres a good chance that service member can tell you about a number of times he or she needed to solve someone else’s problem or point to the correct resource.

That's a customer service skill, but the veteran just didn’t know he or she possessed it.

2. They speak their own language

When you’re in the military, you're taught a whole new language, filled with jargon, acronyms and slang. Everyone around you speaks that language as well, and soon you think it’s just the way everyone speaks.

Then, when you return to the civilian world, you’re often slow to realize that most people have no idea what you're saying.

Just one example - in the Army, after you hear a command, soldiers say “HUA”, which means “heard, understood and acknowledged.” Yet, if a veteran was to say HUA in an interview, the recruiter would look at them like they’re crazy.

Again, this sets the stage for bad, jargon/acronym-filled resumes and confusing interviews. That’s not necessarily an excuse for veterans who are still speaking military-speak, as they should and eventually will adjust. But, it is worth remembering and maybe cutting them some slack.

3. The stigma that all veterans have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

There’s been a lot of talk about PTSD. For the most part, this is a good thing, as it's bringing awareness to a problem among veterans - particularly those who were in combat. However, this fact also makes some companies wary of hiring veterans. Sadly, there exists a stigma that all veterans leave service with PTSD.

But, here’s something to remember: the vast majority of veterans do not have PTSD. And, a lot of non-veterans struggle with psychological issues, including PTSD.

For example, the National Center for PTSD reports that between 7-8% of the population experiences PTSD at some point in their lives. That means if you work with more than 20 people, chances are at least one of them has dealt with or is currently dealing PTSD, whether or not he or she served in the military.

The fact is - the numbers don’t back up the fear of hiring veterans because they may suffer from PTSD. That fear is often misplaced. As a matter of fact, the military diligently screens service members for PTSD and offers a number of resources to help in dealing with this issue. The general population does not have this benefit…some food for thought.

4. We have a fear of firing a veteran

Another thing I often hear is that people don’t want to hire a veteran because they don’t want to fire a veteran. Companies fear that firing a veteran would look bad and ruin their reputation.

In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth. First off, veterans often last longer at their jobs than non-veterans. Secondly, and more importantly, in the times I have dealt with veterans who were fired, they were often resilient and eager to restart their job search.

5. Veterans don't have the required skills

Many people don’t understand how a veteran’s acquired skills from service match up to the needs of the organization.

Here’s a benefit that recruiters don’t always factor in when interviewing veterans – they come with an innate set of intangible skills. The military preaches leadership, people and project management, teamwork, punctuality, calmness under pressure, high effort and many other skills coveted by employers. They also train their personnel for their jobs; meaning veterans are generally coachable and willing to learn new skills.

That isn’t to say those same skills can’t be acquired by civilians. But, when hiring a veteran, it’s almost a given.

6. Veterans won't be long-lasting employees at our company

I saved the most telling statistic for last: veterans are more loyal than the average employee. According to the CEB Corporate Leadership Council:

“Veterans, on average, perform at higher levels and are less likely to turnover, generating significant business outcomes. For a company of 1,000 employees and average revenue per employee of $150,000, decreasing turnover by 3% saves $1.3 million annually and increasing performance by 4% improves revenue by $6 million.”

According to my colleague Lisa Rosser, CEO and Founder of The Value Of a Veteran, "Companies like Wells Fargo that are starting to track and compare overall turnover to veteran turnover have made the pleasant discovery that 60% of their self-identified veteran team members have been with the company for more than 5 years.”

Final thought

In 1945, at the end of World War II, there were 12.2 million Americans in the military. At that time, the country’s total population was 140 million. As the years have gone by, that number has mostly declined, to the point that today there are 1.35 million Americans in the military, despite a population of 320 million. That means less than 1% of the US population has worn the uniform today.

That trend has been relatively common in most countries around the world. As militaries become more advanced, fewer troops are needed to man them.

So, in the past, there were a lot more people who were either in the military themselves or interacted with someone who were. Today, that’s becoming less and less the case. Military bases have consolidated and become the largest “gated communities” of the world, so contact with the “outside” world is less than ever before. The result is that now veterans – once an imbedded part in our society – are a rare class of people that the rest of us have little experience dealing with in person.

Unintentionally, stigmas and stereotypes about veterans stem from our collective ignorance about them, and that can rear its head when hiring. By being mindful of the differences, you can bypass those stigmas and end up hiring an employee who might provide the spark you need to push your company forward.

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*Image by MarineCorps New York

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