Hiring Success
Young, adult, Hispanic male smiles softy as his female counselor sitting across the table from him. She gestures as she speaks.

Lost in translation— why recruiters are missing the boat on hiring veterans

In the the war for talent, recruiters and hiring managers have to get creative in how they source and attract the best candidates. Hiring veterans can be the ticket to diversifying your workforce and tapping into a pool of talent that most companies are not maximizing. 

What does it mean to be a “lance corporal”? I asked myself that question when my brother-in-law asked for my advice on his resume. As a recruiter, I often get asked for resume and job-seeking advice. However, I took this task especially seriously because it’s family. Knowing his general experience and what would be on the resume, I figured it would be a pretty easy glance over— a few pointers here and there and he would be ready to send it out to the universe. What happened was a huge learning experience. I realized I was lacking in a specific area of my recruiting approach. I was underutilizing a massive talent pool, often right in front of my eyes, veterans. 

Two young male and female business partners having a meeting in a restaurant. Discussing and planning.

Beyond the hard skills needed, soft skills are critical to finding the right hire. Hiring managers and talent acquisition experts are well aware of this fact and will often hire someone with less relevant experience, if they seem to possess the soft skills and intangibles needed for the role. But how do you determine that?

I have preferred methods and questions of assessing talent, but it is always challenging to know how candidates will shape up when there is conflict in the office or faced with a tight deadline. You have to find candidates who have experience with these situations and a demonstrated ability to handle them successfully. You know which candidate group perfectly fits the bill? Veterans. 

A recent article from Military.com summarizes nineteen of the soft skills veterans develop during their time in the service and states, “From the moment they enter the military, service members are taught identical skills and traits that many employers emphasize in job postings and interviews.” The article then goes on to mention how the translatable skills are difficult to summarize to the civilian world due to how the languages of the civilian and military word “can seem radically different from one another.” 

I found this to be true when reviewing my brother-in-law’s resume, which gets us back to the question “what does it mean to be a lance corporal?” I could read the words on his resume, but understanding what they meant and how they would translate to the positions he was applying to was complicated.

I redirected my approach and came at it with my “recruiter and hiring manager lens” and looked at this as an in-take session. I started asking questions. After a good thirty minute Q&A session commenced, I had a totally different view on his professional experience. He was proficient in leading teams, working in high stress environments, training others, analyzing situations, and problem solving and, most importantly, he took a lot of pride in his work. 

The challenge for most civilians is translating the bullet points on the resume to the job qualifications, therefore getting lost in the translation of words on paper to the actual experience. To get over this hurdle, we have to start asking better questions. Looking over a resume and comparing experience to the job description is a start, but if we don’t ask about their military experience and training, we are losing out on their most valuable professional experience and devaluing their candidacy. 

Perhaps you are sourcing on a requisition and the job requires a candidate to have experience managing a profit and loss statement. Veterans might not oversee the day-to-day transactions that make up a profit and loss statement, but they may have been responsible for the maintenance of a multi-million dollar aircraft and figuring out ways to manage the supplies and labor needed to maintain said aircraft. Sure it might not translate as fluidly as an operations specialist who drives revenue in a retail setting, but it does translate.

Training a team of Marines getting ready to go into an environment where they will each have to heavily rely on each to make their mission successful might not translate to training someone on how to use a specific computer system, but it does translate. 

Attentive female soldier meets with a bank manager or loan officer about obtaining a loan.

We have to dive deeper into the bullet points. We have to be vulnerable enough to admit we are not familiar with the language and lingo of the military and ask for an explanation. Ask the veteran you are interviewing to explain what being a lance corporal means and then ask him/her to translate that to something in the civilian world you would understand. It is a win/win situation as you are learning and they are demonstrating their ability to transfer knowledge.

Harvard Business Review published an article about veterans making the transition from military life to civilian life in the corporate world. The article encouraged veterans to leverage the soft skills developed from their work in the military, even if the hard skills do not translate entirely.

The author speaks about “controlling the narrative” and helping hiring managers better understand those unique skills. She provides examples of individuals who were able to market their strengths and find success landing a job. I think the other part of the equation is for recruiters to help coach veterans on the hiring process; the interview do’s and don’ts, as the traditional interview process is vastly different in civilian life. 

When asked why you want a specific job, “money,” while an obvious and direct answer, is not what a hiring manager wants to hear. That kind of straightforwardness is required in the military, but can be problematic in the private sector. My brother-in-law made this mistake during an interview and did not understand why it was deemed unacceptable. After asking him a few questions, I brought it to his attention that yes, it was about the money, but also about contributing and being a productive member of society. The latter goes over less like nails on a chalkboard when speaking with a recruiter or hiring manager. 

I am happy to report that my brother-in-law did land a job in his field of study, accounting and finance, and is taking classes to get his Masters to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). After celebrating his first job out of college I talked with him and asked how recruiters could help coach veterans during an interview process and his perspective was really insightful:

With regards to clarifying the experience on his resume, he said he’d never had to do that in the past because “…in the military you wear ribbons and ribbons mean something. If you’re an expert rifleman, you earn that ribbon and you wear it. Essentially your chest is your resume and you don’t have to explain it to anyone or break it down.”

He went on to say that he did not have knowledge about “corporate culture or mannerisms” and even things as simple as “dress code and what type of language to use” were foreign to him. “[In the military] it’s a structured environment with a playbook for everyday. When you hit the civilian world you don’t know what to do everyday and there is no structure,” he added.

Recruiters can help provide insight on culture in specific departments within the company and make veterans feel more prepared by explaining the day-to-day chain of command and how to talk to hiring managers about their experience in a way that is commonplace to the corporate world.

As recruiting professionals it is our job to help coach veterans on the process and what to expect during the specific stages of interviewing. . By guiding veterans through the interview process you are coaching them on how to explain that their experience is relevant and at the same time giving them confidence that they are a viable candidate for the role. 

Recruiters have a multitude of resources at their disposal to tap into the pool of veterans looking for work. If you visit a local military base and speak with their career services department, you can often speak to a group of veterans right before they are discharged to talk about your company and what you can offer. They hold career fairs on base and have other resources available for how to connect with those who have been out of the military, but who may be looking for the next opportunity.

Setting up search filters for candidates with military experience can also help you reach out to those who are on different platforms looking for career opportunities. Veterans tend to be close to those they served with, so while the one you reach out to might not be the right fit, they may know someone who is looking and can connect you. What recruiter doesn’t love a good referral? 

In addition to diversifying your workforce with individuals who have different life experiences and backgrounds, there are other benefits such as tax credits and possibly other paid expenses such as relocation. Another win/win situation for the employer and veteran candidate. 

A mid adult female military officer wears camouflage as she sits among a group of new recruits in a training classroom. She holds a clipboard.

Many veterans possess the soft skills we work so hard to discover during the interview process by asking the right questions and using a variety of assessments. They bring so many valuable resources to the workforce, and many of them have gone on to successfully start their own businesses.

Forbes published an article in 2016 highlighting the top 25 veteran-owned start up companies, and I would venture to say you may recognize a few of the names. Not only are these companies fast growing, but they are growing with a mission and purpose, further demonstrating the value veterans bring to organizations. 

Veterans have what it takes to be successful in the workplace if we as recruiters take the time to better understand their experience. We have to stop getting lost in the translation from resume to requisition details and requirements.

Last I heard recruiters spend six seconds on each resume before deciding on whether or not to contact the candidate. I challenge recruiting professionals out there to spend longer than six seconds on the next veteran resume that crosses your desk and not be afraid to ask “what does it mean to be a lance corporal?”

Doriana Mitan

Doriana Mitan

Doriana is a freelance HR and recruitment consultant and owner of River Peak Consulting. Doriana has been in HR and recruiting since 2007 and has worked in a variety of industries including healthcare, fitness, marketing and retail. In her free time she enjoys exploring the great outdoors with her family in Southwestern Colorado.