Support Our Troops (in the Workforce): the Right Way to Hire Veterans
In part one of our conversation with Nick Swaggert, current director of Genesis10′s veterans program and a veteran himself, Swaggert called out the biases many employers seem to have toward veterans and introduced us to some very compelling reasons why employers should recruit former military members. In part two, he explains what employers can do to hire veterans and offers advice to veterans who are preparing to enter the civilian workforce.
If we’re going to fix the state of affairs regarding veteran employment, Swaggert says that employers and veterans alike will have to put some work in.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Nick, how are you changing veterans?’” he says. “I don’t think you necessarily change them. You have to really work with the companies to help them understand veterans. You can only change a veteran so much, but I think companies need to meet them halfway.”
As head of Genesis10′s veterans program, Swaggert dedicates much of his time to helping employers “meet [veterans] halfway” by working with them to develop best practices for bringing veterans on board.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all solution,” Swaggert says. Each company will have to tailor its veteran-recruiting program to its specific needs, goals, industry, etc. However, there are five characteristics – or “end states,” as Swaggert, ever the Marine, calls them — that all successful veteran-recruiting programs should have.
“How you get [to these end states] and what [the final product] looks like depends on the size and the scale of the company,” Swaggert notes before offering a detailed list:
1. A Skilled Veteran Recruiter: All veteran-hiring efforts will need recruiters who know how to work with the veteran population. “[You need] someone who understands the veteran profile, whether it’s a veteran themselves or someone who was trained to work with veterans,” Swaggert says.
2. A Dedicated Veteran Role: Employers are often tempted to choose “typical,” non-veteran candidates over veteran candidates, simply because they are more used to working with non-veterans. This is why Swaggert suggests that employers identify roles for which they specifically want to hire veterans, and then seek out the veterans who are qualified to fill those roles.
3. A Veteran-Specific Onboarding Program: “At my organization, we call it ‘Reverse Bootcamp’; at Goldman Sachs, they call it the ‘Veterans Integration Program.’ Name it what you want,” Swaggert says. “Essentially, it’s chance to show the veteran that you care about them and [an opportunity to] help them with some of the soft corporate skills.”
4. A Veteran-Specific Mentoring Program: As Swaggert notes, this end state is kind of self-explanatory: “It’s just assigning a veteran a mentor or leveraging the employee-resource groups that exist [for veterans].”
5. A Program Manager to Oversee the Whole Veteran Recruiting Program: According to Swaggert, this is the single most important end state — and the one that most veteran-recruiting initiatives don’t have. “What I’ve seen time and again across corporate America is that a lot of them have some of these components, but they’re just completely disjointed and not talking to each other,” Swaggert says. “You need to have that one person, that leader, who is responsible for not only aligning those four things, but really the fate of that [entire veteran-recruiting] initiative.”
Swaggert suggests that the program manager be someone whose entire role is dedicated to overseeing the veteran-hiring initiative. “What most companies do right now is just tap somebody on the diversity recruiting side and say, ‘You’re in charge of hiring veterans,’” he explains.
The problem with this approach is that the particular diversity recruiter may not know anything about working with or hiring veterans — he may be completely ignorant about life in the military in general. The recruiter may also already have a number of diversity-hiring initiatives already on his plate, and simply dumping veterans into their lap on top of everything else is a good way to make sure that no veterans get hired at all.
What companies need instead is a program manager whose can focus solely on running the veteran-hiring initiative — a program manager who is well-versed in who veterans are and how to work with them.
Advice for Veterans Themselves
As noted above, Swaggert says employers and veterans must meet each other halfway when it comes to bringing veterans into the workforce successfully. So, what can veterans do to improve their employment prospects?
“Starting early is the biggest thing,” Swaggert says.
According to Swaggert, veterans are often unprepared for life in the civilian job market because they’re used to just being handed their next jobs: “Even though they’re repeatedly reminded that they’re going to have to work hard to find a job, they really have no concept of how difficult it is, because in the military, you’re just told what your next job is.”
Swaggert often sees veterans who take some time off after leaving the military and before they start looking for work. This, he says, rarely turns out well: “Invariably, what happens is this person will get out of the military, and they’ll spend a few months traveling the world, sitting on the couch, whatever. Then, after about three months, they’ll say, ‘Okay, I’m ready to get a job. I’m ready to go back to work.’ And now it’s six or nine months from that point, and they still don’t have a job, they still don’t know where they fit in the world.”
This is why Swaggert says that veterans should start looking for work nine months before they leave the military. He also suggests that veterans — much like civilians — learn to treat the job hunt as a full-time job in and of itself.
“You have to say, ‘Alright, today I’m going to network with this number of people, or research this number of companies.’ I think a lot of veterans completely underestimate the complexity.”
Starting early and treating the search like a full-time job is going “to prevent that 12 months of unemployment, where your confidence starts to degrade and you wonder who you are and what your purpose is,” Swaggert says.