Apr 06

Hiring and Retaining Veterans in the Private Sector

Hiring veterans has been a focus for many companies across the United States. Placing a veteran in a job can can be an automatic “win-win” for both the vet and the company; unfortunately, getting a job doesn’t always mean staying in the job, without careful research and effort on both the company’s part and that of the transitioning service member. Retention in the job takes effort and finding the right fit from the start.

I asked CALIBRE Systems executive vice president, Craig College, to share his thoughts on this issue.

VSB: Why is it a priority for your company to invest in the recruitment and retention of veterans?

College: One in three CALIBRE employees is a veteran, and many more are spouses or children of veterans. We know the value that veterans bring to the CALIBRE team and our clients (more than 60% of CALIBRE’s business is Defense related).Veterans provide combinations of values, skills, experience, loyalty to the organization, and dedication to the mission that are exceptionally valuable to our company. Their proven ability to function as part of a team is critical, because teams of organizations and skills are often key to client success.

VSB: What are some of the strategies you consider to be most successful in retaining veterans, once they are hired?

College: We adhere to CALIBRE’s First Principles, established when we were founded in 1989: operate ethically, deliver superior quality, and continually renew our skills.  Veterans can associate with a culture that is derived in large part from those First Principles.

As members of the military, veterans own their units’ missions. As CALIBRE employee-owners, veterans again own the mission and share in the benefits of employee-ownership. Our company gives veterans challenging projects and responsibilities. We train them, give them the tools they need, and coach them without hovering over or leading them through every step. Specifically, veterans participate in CALIBRE University, our internal educational program that familiarizes employees on the responsibilities of employee-ownership, required skills as a member of a team, management of portfolios of programs, and service as a CALIBRE senior leader. We teach the CALIBRE employee-owner culture, strengthen management and leadership skills, and prepare our employees to accept greater levels of responsibility and authority.

Communications are critical to ensure veterans know where they fit in the organization and that they have a sense of their potential career paths. We know that veterans want more than just a job; they want a successful career as part of a growing company.

CALIBRE also funds tuition assistance, education, certification boot camps and other training. We know that many veterans wish to continue to develop professional skills and we support them in that effort.

VSB: What advice would you give to military leaders in transition to the civilian workforce as they contemplate their possible career pathways?

College: Your best chance of finding a great job is to use your network and not rely on job sites and cold-call responses to company job listings. Build a list of people to contact—ex-bosses, friends, classmates, and vendors in the private sector who may be able and desirous of assisting you. Be honest with yourself about the kind of work you want to do, where you want to do it, and the kind of relationships you want to build. Find your passion and follow it.

Study the companies that you contact. Develop an idea of what you would want to do (not what you could do) at that company.  Be ready to discuss how your skills and experience demonstrate a good fit for the company. You must be able to answer two questions succinctly:  What do you want to do? What will you contribute?

Companies want to place you in a position that you are passionate about to minimize the chance that you will work a short time, get disgruntled, and leave. Hiring someone is a costly business; companies hope to avoid unexpected turnover.

Companies want to place you in a position that you are passionate about to minimize the chance that you will work a short time, get disgruntled, and leave. Hiring someone is a costly business; companies hope to avoid unexpected turnover.

Establish 24-hour communications—personal email accounts and smartphones—are key to follow-up connections. I received my first interview request while on travel in Europe.

Gain an understanding of financials as part of your industry preparation. Budget management as done by most military personnel is only a part of the financial framework that you’ll need to understand.  Additionally, if you are interested in program management, earning your PMP certification is a differentiator.

VSB: How do you think companies can do a better job ensuring a good fit for their veteran hiring?

College: Learn precisely what the veteran wants to do and where and how.

Seek to understand what made the individual successful in the military—sometimes a veteran’s career may not sync obviously with private sector opportunities; how many combat infantry positions exist in the private sector? That said, the underlying skills, attitudes, and dedication may be just the mix to become exactly what a company needs.

Seek to match preferences and experiences to opportunities in your company. If no opportunities are available, offer to share what you know about the veteran with colleagues in another company.  We should want all veterans to succeed—even if not in our company.  They may become a future teammate or client elsewhere.

During the onboarding process, assign a sponsor, preferably a veteran, to the newly hired veteran to ensure a smooth transition. Personal connections are key to success.

VSB: Any other advice to share with those in transition from military service?

College: Start your process by meeting informally with your contacts. Discuss aspirations, ask for advice on your resume, and use these opportunities to practice your interview skills without pressuring the interviewer for a job.  The interviewer will know you are looking but will appreciate the opportunity to offer advice without the immediate pressure of you requesting a position.

Veterans hiring events and outreach programs can be a great source of contacts and opportunities to refine resume and interview skills. Don’t hesitate to develop a resume using your specific military positions, responsibilities, and accomplishments so a hiring manager can quickly determine if you are a fit for contracts supporting Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security.

After you have tuned your resume and practiced interview techniques, you will be ready to handle focused job interviews. Your coaches will recommend hiring managers with whom to speak.  Your resume will be polished.  You will be confident in your ability to handle interview situations.

Don’t be afraid to ask interviewers to share your resume with their associates in other companies if they don’t see a fit in their organization.

Don’t be discouraged if it takes some time to find a good fit. This may be your first chance to pick your next job (instead of accepting a military “assignment”) so try not to be impatient.  Good people will find good fits.I completed 150 engagements over several months before offers began to flow. Pursue all avenues of interest, be persistent—and don’t give up!

Finally, remember that you are offering a company an opportunity to hire a skilled, experienced, and dedicated employee that will make the company more successful—do not feel as though you are asking for a favor.

Dr. Craig College is Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer at CALIBRE Systems. Dr. College joined CALIBRE in October 2012 after 34 years of government service as a military officer and civil servant.  A recipient of the Presidential Rank Awards of Distinguished Executive (2001 and 2007) and Meritorious Executive (1998), Dr. College received a BS from the United States Military Academy at West Point, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Economics, both from Stanford University.

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