How Amazon Is Hiring 25,000 Veterans in 5 Years

December 27, 2017

“Why do you recruit?” asks Sean Kelley, Talent Acquisition Director at Amazon, speaking to an audience of recruiting professionals at Talent Connect 2017. “I know why I do it,” he says. “I do it to change lives, I do it to feel joy, I do it to make a difference, I do it to have an impact—and the point at which I feel most alive is when I do this on behalf of military veterans.”

A veteran of the Navy himself, Sean helps lead one of the most ambitious veteran hiring programs of recent memory: in 2016, Amazon pledged to hire 25,000 veterans and military spouses in five years, while training 10,000 more in cloud computing.

Partnering with Kathleen Carroll, another veteran-turned-recruiter who’s now a Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Amazon, Sean and his colleagues were able to get a rapidly growing program off the ground—and reaffirm what they love most about recruiting. Their Military Leaders Program supports veterans’ transition into the workforce and puts them on a fast-track to become senior leaders and executives.

Here’s how they did it at Amazon and how you can make an impact at your company.

The power of one: take the initiative and become a change agent

Within Sean’s first month at Amazon, he was told to design an in-depth five-year talent acquisition plan, which included a veteran hiring bet. While he served as Microsoft’s Director of Military Affairs prior to joining Amazon, he still felt a bit unprepared to tackle the monumental task so quickly out of the gate.

So Sean gathered the smartest people he could find, worked long hours to put together a plan, and presented it to senior leadership. He didn’t immediately get a green light—but he didn’t get a red light, either. So instead of letting the plan linger in limbo, he took the initiative to start creating requisitions immediately after the meeting.

Any single recruiter can take that sort of initiative, whether starting a program from scratch or volunteering as an individual. It’s a principle Sean and Kathleen call “the power of one.”

“The power of one is [...] the power of one recruiter, one hiring manager to say, ‘Hey, this matters to me. This is something I’m going to step up to: I can be a change-agent,’” says Sean. One person’s action can inspire ripples and lead others to pay it forward, creating an outsized impact on an entire organization.

Assembling an authentic team of veterans to engage the military community

When Sean and Kathleen first started Amazon’s military program, it was small—but it grew tremendously when they started tapping other vets and their networks. “Part of the power of one is the power of the network,” says Sean.

When looking for the first people to join their veteran recruiting team, they put a premium on military experience and authenticity. “Who’s going to build a trusted relationship and connection with the community?” asks Sean. That’s why they brought in highly respected and accomplished military leaders.

Your veteran recruiting team doesn’t need to have recruiting experience. “We can teach you recruiting along the way,” says Kathleen. It’s more important to find people who can win the trust of other vets—fellow veterans who “had a way to connect with folks in a very authentic way to say, ‘I get where you’re coming from, let me tell you what we’re building,’ and draw people in,” says Sean.

Even relatively small efforts, carried out with authentic passion, can have meaningful chain reactions across the broader military family. “It’s creating authenticity in spaces that keeps you relevant in the communities you’re trying to support,” says Kathleen. Smaller military hiring programs may not produce “shock-and-awe numbers,” shes says, “but they count and they matter, and they’re having these infectious ripple effects.”

Tactics to reach the military community: targeted job posts, engaging military spouses, and student outreach

When it comes to actually engaging and hiring from the military, Sean and Kathleen learned a number of effective approaches.

“Tactically, as a recruiter, one of the things we did was post specific jobs for the military leadership program,” says Sean. Most companies might welcome vets, but if you have a dedicated program, you should absolutely advertise that in job posts.

They also recommend reaching out to the military spouse community, which faces huge unemployment issues. As the majority of spouses are women, it’s a great opportunity for companies looking to bring more gender diversity into their workforce—particularly if you can hire remote, mobile jobs.

“We have virtual call center opportunities where you can build a whole career virtually,” shares John. “We just turned on the military spouse-specific effort a few months ago, and we’ve surpassed 1,000 hires in a matter of a few months. It’s stunning. The demand is so high for support and connection.”

Another promising talent pool to tap is student veterans on college campuses. Amazon dedicated just two recruiters to this community and working with Student Veterans of America, they were able to hire a year’s worth of veterans in just the first month.

Building bridges and partnering with other organizations

There are several organizations already doing great work that recruiters and companies can partner with—including Amazon. Sean and Kathleen encourage those interested to connect with them. “Any of this is yours,” says Sean. “We’re an open book on this, it’s not proprietary.”

They encourage companies to partner with initiatives like Hiring Our Heroes, Student Veterans of America, the USO, and Four Blocks. Beyond advice, many of these organizations can offer real financial support.

Hiring Our Heroes, for example, offers a fellowship program that places military members approaching the end of their enlistment in internship positions with local companies. There are no costs to the company, as the service member is still on active duty. “It’s a win-win for a skeptical hiring manager,” says Kathleen.

You can also make a big difference as an individual outside your organization, Sean and Kathleen stressed. “It’s easy to go volunteer as an individual recruiter and help [veterans improve their] resumes, join the USO in their effort to transition, show up at a base and give a career talk,” says Sean.

No matter how you go about helping the military community find employment opportunities—as an individual or as a leader within your organization—every bit of effort counts.

“Consider yourself part of our community of leaders,” says Sean at the end of their presentation. “We invite you in to make a difference with us. We hope this gave you a little bit of that sparkle back about why you do what you do—it’s not all abou ATSs and reqs—it’s about changing lives.”

*Image by The U.S. Army

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