Over the past decade, a number of initiatives have been implemented to recruit and retain veterans and military spouses. Among them are the dismantling of stigmas against veterans in the workplace, the White House’s Joining Forces initiative, and the Department of Defense’s Military Spouse Employment Partnership (MSEP) which provides a platform for more than 600 organizations to actively recruit military spouses.
While the federal government offers instrumental support to veteran families, there is still work to be done by DEI and HR teams in hiring and retaining veterans and military spouses at the corporate level. One in four military spouses remains unemployed, and the unemployment rate for veterans continues to fluctuate, ranging from 2.2% to 3.6% throughout 2023.
A robust military and veteran hiring strategy not only levels up your organization’s recruiting efforts but also helps “demystify some of the stigmas that exist,” says Christal Morris, the chief DEI and sustainability officer at Milliman, who grew up with a father in the military. She adds, “In some cases, there’s this thought that if you’re a veteran, you have some kind of disability, and that disability could show up in the mental health space.”
In actuality, veterans have an array of transferrable hard and soft skills that lend themselves well to leadership roles. Plus, the more veterans and military spouses you hire, the easier it will be to attract others. It’s a strong network that wants to continue looking out for and helping one another.
“[Companies that aren’t hiring veterans and military spouses are] missing out on a huge segment,” says Tom Downs, head of diversity talent acquisition and talent pipeline programs at Booz Allen Hamilton. “It’s a matter of having conversations and not just turning away the resume because it doesn’t fit this boilerplate they’re accustomed to. It’s about getting out there and having conversations and understanding where they will be a match for you… 99% of the time you will be very surprised at how well they do for your organization.”
Senior Executive DEI spoke with executives and veterans who are working together to create a seamless transition from military to civilian life. Here are eight steps you can take to ensure you’re setting up both your employer and employees for long-term success.
Editor’s Note: Veterans and military spouses will have their own unique skill sets, experiences, and challenges, so it’s important to think about how you can support each group individually.
1. Provide training for hiring teams to ensure they can identify veterans’ and military spouses’ transferable skills.
Alongside your hiring team, a question you need to ask is: Are we hiring veterans and military spouses, and are we properly utilizing their skill sets? According to a report from the Call of Duty Endowment, a nonprofit that supports veterans in their job search, and ZipRecruiter, nearly one in three veterans is underemployed. Employees who fall under this category often become disengaged, leading to higher turnover rates and employee dissatisfaction in the long term.
There are two solutions to support candidates who are veterans or military spouses: Train your hiring team on identifying portable skills or assemble a team of dedicated military recruiters if you have the resources. Downs, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years, says hiring veterans is “a concentrated effort” as they have “every kind of skill set imaginable” that an organization may look for in a new hire.
As a result, Booz Allen has four dedicated military recruiters, each of whom is military-affiliated as either a veteran, spouse, or product of a military family. Each recruiter is also required to receive certification through the Society of Human Resource Management’s program Veterans at Work.
Downs adds that all of Booz Allen’s recruiters are required to complete diversity training, which includes a presentation from military recruiters. Every other month, military recruiters meet virtually or in person with the newest members of the recruiting team to learn how to navigate veterans’ nuanced resumes and better understand a military candidate’s profile.
The same goes for military spouses who have learned adaptability, project and time management, communication, and more as a result of adjusting to frequently changing military expectations. Some military spouses may apply to roles outside of their career as they were forced out of previous jobs to spend extended time abroad, to provide childcare, or another extenuating circumstance.
“We do a show and share with some resumes and how this person’s resume correlated into a hire, things they should be looking for, and understanding the jargon and the acronyms that might come up in conversations,” Downs says.
“It’s a matter of having conversations and not just turning away the resume because it doesn’t fit this boilerplate they’re accustomed to. It’s about getting out there and having conversations and understanding where they will be a match for you… 99% of the time you will be very surprised at how well they do for your organization.”– Tom Downs, head of diversity talent acquisition and talent pipeline programs at Booz Allen Hamilton and U.S. Army veteran
At Milliman, the global actuarial and consulting firm has a toolkit for hiring managers that gives an overview of the military’s many diverse roles and how those skills translate to the corporate world. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs offers a similar kit, which includes a complimentary online course.
Morris notes that punctuality, efficiency, excellent time management, directness, family-oriented, resilience, and empathy transfer well to a corporate setting. She has a fundamental understanding of the many skills veterans and military spouses hold since she grew up watching her father serve in the Navy.
“All of those things collectively together make for a quality human,” Morris says. “[Veterans] may have seen tragedies, but they’re resilient and empathetic. They’re caring, and they can have a calmness because they’ve seen so much… The military prepares you for different situations and challenges that corporate America could never prepare you for.”
Another transferable skill a lot of veterans have, especially former military recruiters, is in sales as they’re convincing civilians to join. Jim Eubanks, risk testing executive at Synchrony, a financial services company, says this correlation is often missed by hiring managers.
“When a hiring manager looks at a veteran’s resume, and they see that they might have been a boot camp drill instructor or a sniper school instructor, they have trouble understanding why [they would want] a person with those qualities in a sales position,” Eubanks says. “But to those of us who’ve been in the military, we fully understand what that person may bring to the table but the skill set and value of a veteran are hard to come across in a resume.”
2. Allow a grace period for veterans as they ease into working in a corporate setting.
One of the biggest mistakes JP Campbell, one of six participants in Synchrony’s Veteran Leadership Program led by Eubanks, sees companies making in recruiting and retaining veterans is sitting down a new hire and expecting them to immediately start taking assignments. He recommends “helping them build up and work on that transition” from military to civilian life. Campbell concedes companies hire people to do a job but adds veterans need an adjustment period to decide whether this works for them, too.
Giving veterans time to try on the company, just as it tries on a new hire, is a key to Milliman’s success. The organization was designated a military-friendly employer, in part, because of its retention rate. Since 2020, the retention rate has been 80% or higher for veterans, which Morris attributes to effectively utilizing veterans’ transferable skills. In 2022, the firm noted an 85% veteran retention rate.
“Because of that recognition, and the honoring of [veterans’ transferable skills in leadership positions], [Milliman] is a place that you want to return to year after year, in addition to…benefits, compensation, and our total rewards package,” says Morris. “People get to fully leverage their skills, which I think is meaningful coming out of the military.”
At Booz Allen, the company assigns an integration team to the veterans or military spouses with members who are outside their core teams. Downs attributes these sorts of efforts to the firm’s 80% retention rate with military spouses.
“We’ve done enough to recruit and get these folks in our organization, we can’t forget about the retention side of it as well,” Downs says. “We have to make sure we’re doing our best to keep them.”
3. Offer comprehensive benefits tailored to the needs of veterans and military spouses.
While veterans and military spouses are both often resilient, adaptable, and dependable, Milliman ensures it’s doing its best to meet both groups’ needs by providing apt accommodations says John Rogers, a consultant at Milliman who served in the Navy from 2006 to 2011 and leads the Military and Veterans employee resource group (ERG). In addition to the usual benefits like fair pay and paid parental leave, finding ways to provide additional flexibility is important. For example, if an employee continues to serve in the military reserves or National Guard and has to participate in drills, Milliman allows a two-week break and a pay differential.
For military spouses who become the sole caregivers for their families while their partners are deployed or on a short tour, a flexible schedule is critical. Johnson & Johnson, for example, provides short- and long-term schedule flexibility. Additionally, the company offers up to 10 days of paid time off for military spouse employees who receive permanent change of station (PCS) orders. Another example of flexible benefits is Comcast NBCUniversal, which provides transfer assistance for military spouses to continue their careers with the organization after a military move.
“By the nature of the type of work that Milliman does, a lot of our work has been virtual for a long time and that created this very flexible work environment that’s great for military spouses because they might have to change duty stations every few years,” Rogers says. “They might even change to another timezone or a different part of the world and we’ve had spouses that could very easily continue their employment with no problem.”
Meanwhile, at Booz Allen, military spouses who are told to move are relocated to a different office or remote position, if possible. Booz Allen also offers all employees flexible education and tuition reimbursement, which typically requires a one-year commitment to return to their role upon completion or else pay back the tuition. The payback requirement, however, doesn’t apply to military spouses.
“In the event that you do have to leave the firm because we couldn’t find another opportunity for you…we’re not going to make you repay that tuition reimbursement or flexible education money,” says Downs. “There’s no reason for us to come back and try to get any money from you because it’s an unforeseen or unplanned thing [military spouses have to] navigate.”
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4. Create program such as rotational programs, mentorships, or returnships to assist veterans and military spouses.
Earlier this year, Eubanks helped Synchrony launch their Veterans Leadership Program. Out of a pool of applicants, six veterans without prior civilian work experience or a college degree are hired to join the 13-month rotational program. The first month is spent easing the veterans into their transition to corporate life. Then, they participate in two six-month rotations in areas of interest across Synchrony. At the end of the program, participants are invited to apply for a full-time position.
Program participant Campbell, who served in the Marine Corps for more than 10 years, says he appreciates the program’s fluidity because it “means there’s more opportunity to learn and grow and navigate my own paths.” It also gives veterans an opportunity to learn about the scope of an organization and where they’d best fit in, ensuring they don’t become one of the 43% of veterans who leave their first job as a civilian within a year and the 80% who leave within the second year, per Korn Ferry.
“If there’s a program like this that’s designed…to help the veteran along the way, you’ll get much more buy-in on the back end from the veteran to stick with the company,” Campbell says. “You hire a company just like they hire you, and Synchrony gave me a shot. I’m not nearly as nervous as I was a year ago about working in the civilian world.”
Booz Allen also has a program called the Transition Center of Excellence, a one-year mentorship program that pairs every new veteran with an employee outside their team. This provides another safe space for veterans to pose commonly asked questions like:
- How do I dress for a business casual dress code?
- How do I access and utilize my benefits?
- What is the annual bonus?
- Which groups can I join?
- What kind of volunteer opportunities are available?
When it comes to returnship programs, these can be especially helpful for military spouses who leave their career for an extended period and can benefit from an opportunity to upskill. If you don’t have the resources to create such programs, there are online resources such as Onward to Opportunity program offered through Military One Source.
5. Host local and digital events to connect with veterans and military spouses.
At Booz Allen, the holistic strategy for recruiting military families includes a quarterly virtual talent attraction series on LinkedIn called “Destination Booz Allen.” Military spouses, transitioning veterans, and veterans who have already transitioned from military to civilian life are invited to attend.
During the 90-minute session, Booz Allen’s military recruiters present an overview of the company, how to apply for a position and prepare for the interview process, as well as a panel discussion. Veterans and military spouses at all levels within the company provide testimonials while executives answer attendees’ questions during a Q&A. Attendees then leave with a direct email contact to start the application process.
Each year, Booz Allen partakes in approximately 45 military hiring events across the nation, including Hawaii, and also in Germany, where the second highest population of U.S. troops is stationed after Japan. By going where military families are, Booz Allen gives spouses the opportunity to work for the company while continuing to build their lives in the cities where they’re stationed.
Meanwhile, Synchrony leads executive-led lunch and learn sessions. Each month for one hour, executives volunteer to sit with veterans, virtually and in person, share their stories, and answer questions. It’s a low lift that means a lot.
6. Establish partnerships with nonprofits that support the military and veteran community.
Another piece of supporting veterans and military families is giving back on their behalf. Campbell shares that the finance company donates to Folds of Honor, a nonprofit that pays the college tuition of fallen veterans’ and first responders’ children. He recently familiarized a family who’d lost their veteran father with the nonprofit. Being able to make these connections is especially important to Campbell because it was through his network and a fellow veteran that he learned about Synchrony’s Veterans Leadership Program.
On a similar note, consulting firm Milliman supports organizations like the Warrior Connection for philanthropic purposes and relationship building. Veteran candidates who see that their potential employer supports these types of foundations that support their community are more inclined to apply and become committed to their organization upon hiring.
Another exemplary partnership is Booz Allen’s with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes program. It’s known as “the gold standard nationally in regards to outreach and engagement for the military community,” says Downs, and is open to both veterans and military spouses.
The company works with Hiring Our Heroes to run the DoD SkillBridge Program. Traditionally, this program allows transitioning veterans to work for a U.S. corporation for the last six months of their time in the military while still receiving their salary. Military spouses are also encouraged to apply and they receive a stipend from the Chamber of Commerce.
Booz Allen’s program is slightly different as they hire military members for a three-month stint at any point in the six-month period.
“We get a chance to do a full interview and assessment and just have them as part of our team for three full months,” says Downs. “Vice-versa, they get an opportunity to evaluate an employer for three months. Either way, it’s a resume-building experience for that transition.”
Downs shares that veterans and military spouses who participate in the program have an 86% conversion-to-hire rate and an 83% retention rate after one year.
Other partnerships to consider:
- Service Academy Career Conference, which hosts one hiring event per quarter for military service academy graduates only.
- Military MOJO serves the military population that is enlisted and also nonservice academy grads, such as ROTC graduates.
7. Create a community for veterans and military spouses and encourage executives and allies to integrate themselves.
After serving for more than seven years in the U.S. Air Force, Eubanks stresses that veterans lose two things when they leave the military: their community and their sense of mission and purpose.
“When you leave [for example] Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and you go back home to North Carolina, you’re losing that mission and you’re losing the people that you serve with so you have to recreate that in order to help veterans transition,” Eubanks says. “Two key things I would tell other companies is you have to make sure that they have a mission and they get their own new tribe, their own new people where they can work with and share experiences with.”
While veterans may crave the military community they left, military spouses may also benefit from connecting with others at the company who share similar challenges and experiences as them. One of Milliman’s seven ERGs is the Military and Veterans ERG while Synchrony has a Veterans Network+ for veterans, family members, and patriots.
If you don’t already have an ERG, consider creating one for veterans and another for military spouses if you have the resources. Booz Allen has a military business resource group (BRG) and two subsidiary groups: the armed services network and the military spouse network.
“It can feel a little bit like an island being a professional and being a military spouse or having combat experience and being a professional… The ERG has been a nice way for folks to connect, and we hope to do more in-person events over the next few years,” says Rogers.
At Booz Allen, one in three employees is a veteran or military spouse, which makes integration easy and keeps retention rates high.
“It’s nice that you can walk into a room and know that one of the three people you see in that room is going to have a similar shared experience, and it doesn’t matter if they’re Black, Asian, Hispanic, LGBTQ, or what have you. They’re still a part of the veteran community.”
8. Seek out awards and accreditations.
It’s no secret that applying for and receiving business awards is good for business. It builds brand awareness and attracts new employees. Veterans want to work at companies that value them.
At Milliman, Rogers focused on applying for awards for the organization’s work toward supporting veteran and military employees. “I thought it was a good chance to promote [and also attract] veterans at Milliman… I thought the visibility would be a really good thing.”
In 2023, Milliman received three 2023 Military Friendly designations from VIQTORY, a military recruitment agency, in the Employer, Spouse Employer, and Supplier Diversity categories.
Rogers notes the application process can take up to three months. To determine whether Milliman met the designation requirements, Rogers collaborated with HR to collect data regarding veteran employment, a critical component of the application. Additionally, he needed buy-in from senior leadership since they would also be essential in completing the application, which has hundreds of questions.
Note: A key component of some awards is ensuring that veteran-owned businesses are a facet of your supplier diversity strategy. Milliman was recognized for its efforts in incorporating disabled veteran- and veteran-owned businesses into its supplier diversity program.
Despite there being leeway for companies vying for public sector contracts to explain why they’re unable to work with certain small businesses or diverse companies, Rogers says one reason he believes Milliman won this designation is that it doesn’t cut these allotted corners.
“We’ll bend over backward to make sure we find that disabled veteran-owned business or minority-owned business,” Rogers says.
Earning a Military Friendly designation is another useful recruiting tool for reaching veterans and military spouses. It shows them that your company is one that will make them feel supported and included.