Why Hire a Veteran Part 1: HR

Many companies have a policy to try to hire veterans. Some do it for the good PR, some because they want to support the soldiers coming home and other just want to hire someone that is disciplined, hardworking and reliable. However, despite the corporate policy some veterans might not make it through the hiring process because the civilian HR process isn’t set up to for military members. Here are common HR hiring practices that fail service members,

Hiring Questions
Some people don’t understand why I laugh when they ask, “What was your most stressful day on the job?” This is a problematic question for veterans. No offense to any hiring managers out there but most veterans will not share those kinds of stories with someone they just met. Also, what constitutes a stressful day is different in the military and in the civilian world. A bomb going off in the office should be the worst day you ever had at work, for a Marine that might just be yesterday’s patrol.

In addition, stress is interpreted differently by different people. Putting out fires is what firefighters are trained to do. It is their everyday job. Unless it is in the far extreme, one day may not stand out more than every other as being the most “stressful.”

Reacting to extreme situations is what military and first responders are trained to do so they might not see those situations as stressful. And other situations where lives are not on the line might not cause any anxiety in a well-trained soldier. It is entirely possible that the guy that gave Bin Laden lead poisoning was more nervous proposing to his wife than taking down the top terrorist in the world. After all, only one of those is his actual job.

If you ask a soldier what his most stressful day was and he starts telling a story about the time he was knee deep in empty magazines and hand grenade pins just stop the interview there. He is one of the gomers and will suck no matter what the job is.

Other questions like “What is a typical day like” or “How did you spend most of your time” might also yield blank stares. A finance clerk will actually do his or her job almost every day of a deployment. An Infantryman will spend a lot of downtime doing very little between missions. A medic working at the base hospital might have regular shifts, but the line medics will be playing video games with the grunts between missions. Even outside a combat zone the days sound routine.

A red flag should be someone that has a lot of cool training and things to talk about. The people that do the most, brag the least.

Job descriptions
You might as well throw this away. A job description is like a hand grenade, it just has to get close so the vet knows if the general aspects of the job is something he/she wants to do. Do you expect her to be a brain surgeon or a janitor? Although it is possible to hire a vet without actually telling him or her what the job is. That is actually pretty much how the Army works.

An Infantry Staff Sergeant (E-6) will spend his whole career working directly with troops. Then might make Sergeant First Class (E-7) and on the next move get placed in an operations platoon. He knows how to break shit and lift heavy things and suddenly you have him planning stuff and working with POGs.

Everyone knows they have to do a little more to accomplish the mission. A civilian job description should be the MAJOR duties that the veteran is getting paid to do. A sergeant has to walk around the parking lot picking up cigarette butts with everyone else. Outside the Pentagon, there are very few janitorial services in the military. Everyone has to take out their own trash. No good soldier is going to say, “That wasn’t in my job description.” If they do, don’t hire them. If they already made it past the hiring process, get rid of them before they infect the rest of the staff.

Don’t ever ask a vet how much he or she has to make. Just offer a fair wage. This is simple, everyone in the military makes as much as everyone else of the same rank. There are a few differences like language for linguists or jump pay for Airborne. Combat pay is also equal across the service. A Navy Chief that makes power point presentations in the air conditioned JOC makes the same amount as the Navy SEAL Chief that assaulted the Bin Laden compound.

Vets might not know what the going rate for a job is especially when you throw in a government v. civilian job. A government paper pusher might make $65k a year while a civilian contractor doing the same thing might make $120k.

There are only two reasons to ask for salary requirements, to be able to tell an undesirable candidate they are “too expensive” or to be able to save money on payroll and get a quality candidate for cheap. The first one is a cop out and it is a good reason you aren’t hiring a warrior with values. The second one is going to backfire when he finds out that the slacker makes more money. It proves you aren’t paying for quality. You run the risk of losing the respect of what would be your best employee.

Offer a fair wage for the position, more if they bring extra skills to the table you can take advantage for, less if they are less qualified as other employees in the same job (but be prepared to give a raise if they outshine everyone else later).

Not all vets are stellar
Sadly, this is true. Companies want to hire veterans because they think they are getting a highly disciplined employee that will work harder than anyone else. Unfortunately, not everyone will fit that stereotype. The best way to find out is to ask, “Why did you get out of the military?” That answer will most likely reveal the temperament of your veteran.

This is the same as a hiring manager asking why someone left their last job. Just as a person trashing their last boss is a red flag, so is someone that says how stupid the military is. Yes, there are aspects that annoy everyone, however there should be some pride in service. There are many reasons why a person will choose to get out of the service. In my experience, most of them are good, responsible reasons, but there are always a few dirtbags. So look for the one that has pride in service, still loves her country and wants a chance to prove herself. You will find no better employee.

In the end, hiring a veteran is a great investment. You will get someone that is hard working, understands how to put the team first and will appreciate the fact that what they are doing now is far easier than what they used to do. You can also get someone that has a lot of experience in being adaptable and learning on the fly. For most civilian jobs, this is where POGs have the advantage. They are able to get a lot of expereince doing their jobs when not deployed. (Sorry grunts, I was one of you so I know that this stings.) In an office job, hire a PAC clerk or a TOC person in a heartbeat. They know how to work in a nonexciting enviroment and keep their sanity. They will love their job because they don’t have to wear a uniform and at the end of the day, they get to go home.

So give a veteran a chance. And if he doesn’t work out, unfortunately there are far too many more behind him.

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