According to a survey by VetAdvisor and Syracuse university, a full 65% of veterans leave their first civilian job within two years. Usually at CONUS Battle Drills we focus on how the veteran can improve their position, but in this case, I want to send a shout out to folks out there hiring veterans and give them some tips.
At first glance, that statistic can deter you from even considering hiring a vet because of the costs of turnover, but there are some significant benefits that these people bring that make them excellent employees. They are disciplined, on time, courageous, leaders with integrity and incredible work ethic. They will accomplish tasks at what seems like impossible timelines, and they aren’t afraid to give you bad news, two qualities that are exceptionally rare in the civilian world. They are fiercely loyal and if they have a problem you can be sure they will tell you about it…and bring a solution as well. I strongly believe you should always look at the veteran community when making hiring decisions for all these reasons, but you have to control that turnover rate.
Make a Career Plan
Before I had even pinned on my Lieutenant bars, I knew what my career would look like from my first platoon leader time all the way to retirement and the key jobs in between. I could set career goals early on and work to achieve those goals. Every move I made was calculated towards achieving those goals. This is something that is greatly lacking in the civilian workplace. For years I asked my superiors and mentors to no avail, all they ever said is “there is no real path”. Turns out this wasn’t exactly true. By picking up little bits of information as I went along, I was able to determine some key jobs titles that I would need to move forward. So if you have hired a veteran, you need to have a career path of some sorts planned out for them, or be ready to give them some tips and key positions in their advancement. The job they are in can’t look like a dead end and they need to know that there are future challenges ahead, this will keep them excited.
It also helps to know salary ranges with responsibilities. For some reason human resources departments try and keep this information top secret which I have never understood. The lowest private can see what his commander makes every month, and he can look at those salaries and make a determination where he wants his career to go. We come from a place where everyone wears their pay grade and qualifications on their chest, and we can all see how much the other guy makes. The secrecy with which civilians deal with pay grades and salaries makes no sense, but I don’t want to fight for a promotion or a position if the pay isn’t worth the sacrifice in my opinion, and it’s better to know that before getting the job.
The dismal on-boarding process that I have observed in many civilian companies is incredibly frustrating. When the military takes someone on, they spend months training them to be a soldier, then more months training them in their initial entry job, then as they get promoted, there are other schools and training they have to go through in order to pin on the next rank. When they aren’t deployed, they are training, train, train, train, train, train. Civilians are terrible at training. If you want to get the most out of the veteran you just hired and experience all the benefits I outlined early on, you have to train them how to do the job; a week of safety presentations and powerpoints is not it.
One way to develop a training plan is to list out the qualities that you are looking for in the job that you are hiring for. What skills does this person need to have? What programs do they need to know? Who do they need to meet? List those things out and give them to your veteran with a plan on how to have them “certified” in every item within the first 3 months. This will provide a goal and help you work with them as they integrate.
Establish a Veteran Community
Hopefully this isn’t your first veteran hire, so there should be other folks in your company that have successfully made this transition. We don’t usually shout from the rafters about our service, so you typically have to get to know us to find out that we have worn the uniform. As a hiring manager, I assume you know the people around you and can introduce your new veteran hire to some senior veterans in your organization. I can’t tell you how important this is. There are questions that your veteran has about the differences between civilian life and the military that you are not prepared to answer. Meeting someone else also establishes a support network of like-minded individuals. Many of the questions your veteran has, someone else in your organization has already struggled through.
During our entire time in service, we always had a buddy. One other man who had our back and we were accountable to each other. We looked after each other’s gear and health. We grew up in that world, and entering a different world where our jokes don’t make sense and we don’t have anyone out there looking out for us can feel very lonely. This is going to decrease job satisfaction, and if there doesn’t seem to be a good career path and we have no idea what we’re doing because we haven’t been trained, then we’re going to find another job. So establish a veteran community and some way of putting these veterans in contact with each other.
Even after you do all these things, you might still lose some veterans, don’t take it personal. One of the four big questions I am always telling folks getting out is, “Do you know what you want to do?” Too many folks get out without answering that question and some honestly don’t know. Maybe they think they can leave the adrenaline junky job behind but find out after a year or two behind a desk that they can’t find joy in their life without chasing bad guys. That’s on them, but if you want to take that 65% turnover rate and drop it into the single digits, you need to Have a Career Path, Make a Training Plan, and Establish a Veteran Community.