Hiring Veterans…

FOT Nation – Salute Steve Gifford

Editor’s Note –  Steve Gifford, MBA, SPHR, is the Director of Human Resources for Eurpac Service, Inc., a national grocery and retail brokerage.  His first HR job was in the US Army during his second tour in Iraq, where every employee in his client group carried an automatic weapon.  It helps him keep the problems of retail employees, who show up to work late, in perspective..

Hiring Veterans = Hiring Better

Veteran hiring is all the rage this year.  With unemployment for veterans trending two percent over the national average, Congress has actually agreed on incentives for hiring former servicemembers.  Individual companies have gotten into the act as well, with Chase pledging to hire 100,000 veterans, and other organizations following suit.  Plus, there’s a business case to be made: veterans tend to be more dedicated, more disciplined, and the only people who think working in Amarillo sounds good.  So, problem solved, right?

Not hardly.  These macro initiatives fall apart on the individual level.  If we can cue the HR theater music for a moment:

Recruiter: I sorted through the 150 resumes for the Customer Service position, here are the ten best.

Hiring Manager: I saw them.  I’m looking for Customer Service people; why would you give me a “Squad Leader” and a “Logistics Specialist”?

Recruiter: Well, I talked to them, and I think that they could really step up and –

Hiring Manager: Look, we’re really busy, and I don’t have time to train new people how to do their job.  Give me people who know what they’re doing.

Recruiter, head bowed: …OK…

And it’s done!  No bias, no discrimination, just a hiring manager who wants what he wants, and a recruiter without the organizational firepower to push him outside of his comfort zone.  Worse, if your ATS is set up for keyword searching, many veterans’ resumes will never actually see a human eyeball capable of thinking creatively.

We veterans set ourselves up for failure at times.  Sure, we can come across as scary in interviews sometimes.  But the biggest problem for a newly separated veteran is defining themselves careerwise.  Think about the military from a hiring standpoint: it’s impossible to recruit people with experience (“Well, your resume looks interesting, but I notice you’ve never been in a Navy before…”)  I led four tanks across the Iraqi border in 2003 – none of us had ever invaded a country before!  The organization assumes that it will have to train people to fit the job at hand, and service members learn that we can do pretty much anything.  That’s a great attitude to have personally, but on a resume, it comes across as unfocused.

We tend to focus on the plight of hiring veterans because there’s a strong emotional resonance there, but this is a larger problem.  Veterans aside, there are plenty of times when the right person for the job hasn’t had that exact job before.  However, if the person reviewing incoming resumes is (a) the most junior person in your department; (b) a contract recruiter with no real longevity; or (c) a Boolean search, you’re doomed to keep getting the same results as always.  How you pick your applicants and spot hidden talent is what will determine the future direction of your company!

FOT Background Check

Steve Gifford
Steve Gifford, MBA, SPHR, is the Director of Human Resources for OEM America, a PEO of more than a hundred companies and more than two thousand employees. His company gives small businesses the buying power and HR expertise of a big company, but without the bureaucracy! In the past, he’s been the HR guy for marketing, manufacturing, retail, and government organizations. His first HR job was in the US Army during his second tour in Iraq, where every employee in his client group carried an automatic weapon. It helps him keep the problems of employees who show up to work late in perspective.


  1. R. J. Morris says:

    Thank you for writing and thank you for your service. You hit on the struggle: articulating the transferability of skills. Junior recruiters are not set up to do that, nor are ATS systems. Companies need to train managers to identify how to work with veterans to identify, articulate and leverage their many skills.

  2. Eric Salzman says:

    Great article! I’ve spent 9+ years working for a military placement firm and see the what you wrote about every day. The great thing is the companies that understand the intangibles and adaptability of these candidates are hiring them and seeing their talent bar rise far higher than imagined.
    Thank you for your service!

  3. Steve Gifford says:

    RJ, you’re absolutely right, and when unemployment falls back down, lots of recruiting departments are going to have to relearn how to find candidates with transferable *skills* more than explicit job titles.
    Eric, I’m sure you’ve found that the *second* veteran is an easy sell. Once the organization or hiring manager knows what they’re getting, they want to repeat it. The trick is getting a, well, boot in the door.

  4. Jodinesplace says:

    “managers who may not understand how military skills can be transferred into the workplace”
    I believe this applies to every job seeker not just veterans.
    Managers don’t have the time or can’t see the transferable skills.

  5. M E McDonald says:

    As a hiring manager in a Customer Service organization, I love to hire veterans. They are hard working people who are open to new experiences and willing to learn. They have an excellent work ethic and do not have any sense of entitlement. I also agree that once you take a chance on one vet, the next one is easier to hire.

  6. Heather Evans says:

    Here in Indiana, the Post 9/11 veteran unemployment rate is 24%. Much higher than the national average.

  7. Steve – Great article! Thanks for your insight.
    Take the Interview has partnered with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Hiring our Heroes to help veterans improve their interviewing skills in order to successfully assist their transition into the private sector. Last week, Take the Interview attended Hiring our Heroes in Las Vegas, to show how this software can help connect veterans with potential employers!
    For veterans who couldn’t make it to the event in Vegas, please visit our website and sign up for a free account to see how Take the Interview can help with your job search. http://bit.ly/sXskxK
    Take the Interview

  8. sol jacobs says:

    We are aware that most of our returning vets do not have much “industrial” experience and can not put all of their experiences down on a standard one page resume.
    For them we have come designed ROMSHU.COM which would allow them to express themselves with text, pictures, vdeos, sound bytes and slide presentations on the true accomplishments that they have made.

    You can see an example we made for Audie Murphy, America’s most decorated soldier http://www.romshu.com/audiemurphy.

    Please let the soldiers that you were in contact with know that they now have a tool to help them. It is completely free and their info will not be sent out.


    Sol Jacobs

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