By Kimberly Schneiderman
Have you ever considered adding a transitioning service member to your small business team? U.S. armed forces veterans can make great small business employees. They’re accustomed to dealing with tough situations and seeing complex challenges through to completion with limited resources. They’re loyal. They respect authority, follow the chain of command, and they understand the value of established processes. They are team players, and many have exceptional leadership skills.
Over the course of their service, veterans gain valuable experience, and much of it is directly applicable to the business world. However, military culture is significantly different than the small business environment, and service members who are looking to reintegrate into civilian life may encounter difficulties because they don’t necessarily use the same language to describe their experience that business owners expect.
If you’re a small business owner who’d like to include veterans in your workforce, there are specific techniques you can use to recruit, interview, hire and retain former service members. If you don’t have a military background, it can be a challenge to understand veterans’ perspectives and formulate job ads, interview questions, and hiring and retention strategies for them, but these three techniques can help:
Create military-friendly job ads: Many small businesses use job candidate referral services that screen applicant resumes for keywords. This can be a helpful way to identify the most qualified civilian candidates, but it can also inadvertently screen out people with military experience since the jargon typically used in business doesn’t match the language used in the military.
When creating a job ad with a goal of attracting veterans, focus on the experience that is important rather than job titles. For example, include skills like “building and managing a team” or “leadership” rather than “supervisory experience in a retail environment.” Keep in mind that veterans may have relevant technology experience, but it won’t be categorized under business software brands.
Formulate interview questions carefully: When interviewing a veteran, you may need to use a different set of questions so you can elicit revealing responses without encountering barriers related to differences in business and military culture. “Describe a time when you changed a process” is a popular civilian interview question, but it isn’t relevant for someone returning from the military.
Instead, ask questions that reveal the veteran candidate’s problem-solving skills, such as, “Describe a challenging mission you handled and the method used to achieve the desired outcome.” Expect short, crisp answers, and know that veterans tend not to take personal credit for achievements. Ask specific questions about problem-solving, teamwork, communication and technical skills.
Create a welcoming atmosphere for veterans: Another proactive step you can take to hire and retain veterans is to make it clear on your website and job recruiting materials that your company values service members’ experience. The U.S. Department of Labor recommends including a sentence to that effect, such as “If you are a Veteran or wounded warrior and would like assistance with the employment process at XYZ Company, please contact us at email@example.com.”
It’s also a good idea to learn the basics of military culture so you better understand the context in which veteran applicants gained their experience. And if you have veterans on staff already, consider involving them in the recruiting process. Veterans tend to gravitate toward one another due to their shared experience, and they may be able to recommend good job candidates.
Veteran employees can be a valuable asset to any type of small business. They’ve already displayed a remarkable commitment by joining a volunteer military force and honorably completing their service. Many will have served overseas, working with global populations and integrating tightly into diverse teams comprising of people from a variety of backgrounds.
Transitioning service members may find it challenging to reintegrate into civilian life because of the cultural divide that exists between the business and military environments. As a small business owner, you can use these simple techniques to attract, interview, hire and retain veterans. When you do, you’ll not only be helping a veteran reenter civilian life — you’ll be gaining an excellent employee.
Kimberly Schneiderman is a Senior Practice Development Manager with RiseSmart, Inc. where she creates and manages RiseSmart’s coach and client-facing programs, training, and support materials. Prior to RiseSmart, Kimberly built a specialty coaching practice working with senior officers in law enforcement. She has authored numerous career-related book chapters, articles, and videos, and has appeared on news and radio programs as a subject matter expert. Kimberly is also the Certification Committee Chair with the National Resume Writers’ Association.