When Hiring Veterans, Ignorance Is Bliss Until It Becomes Offensive

Soldiers of the 372nd Engineer Brigade stand in formation during the signing of a Hero to Hire statement of support for a veterans hiring initiative at Historic Fort Snelling, July 26, 2013.
Photo by Sgt. Clifford Coy

Editor’s Note: A version of this article appeared on LinkedIn.

As an employer engaging in hiring veterans, do you ever ask yourself how much you actually know about the service? Do you ever pause to consider the fact that you may know even less than you thought? Is all of your knowledge taken from World War II movies and the media? Most importantly, have you done anything specific to better inform yourself and your team about this population that you are aiming to hire?

There comes a point in time when your lack of awareness is no longer because you aren't privy to the information, but because you haven’t been proactive to inform yourself. If you choose to educate yourself about a cause, ignorance is acceptable until it becomes offensive.

Related: The big offensive mistake employers make when hiring vets »

I bring this to your attention because I tend to emphasize the concept that education is more than half the battle in hiring, and I say it because day in and day out, I realize how little the everyday civilian knows about the military. To many, everyone enlisted in the military from high school, was in the infantry or flew planes, and was probably shot at on the battlefield. Because of my demeanor and appearance, the assumption is that I personally had to have been in the medical field as a nurse. And the fact I have graduate degree is even more shocking! “Oh honey, did you get to go to college?” is not an uncommon question for me to receive. Yes, and I had to have a congressional nomination, thank you.

A few things to remember when is comes to the veterans community:

  • Why would a veteran want to work for a company that doesn't truly understand their background or employs recruiters that make them feel inadequate? You can compare it to diversity initiatives and think of how many would be insulted by stereotypes.

  • Terminology and acronyms are large in the military and the improper use of terms when conversing can be offensive. There is a fine line between not knowing, and using an inadvertent derogatory or improper slang word.

  • Not understanding the general variations between branches, ranks, and hierarchy indicates that the company may not have a vested interest or care. If a company doesn’t take the time to know simple nuances during the hiring process, what would make veterans think that the company would care about them as employees?

  • Assuming that you have to pick specific positions for a veteran to fill, rather than understanding that a veteran can fill any role in your company (depending on the background) does a great disservice to your company and is insulting to the veterans community.

  • Education and experience for a veteran is not the same as a civilian. You may have a senior enlisted who doesn't have a degree, but has been involved in critical global missions. Without understanding what the resume says, you may disqualify your next senior vice president of sales.

  • There are some key trends that attract a military mindset. Do you know what these trends are?

  • Service members are taught to think outside the box. If there was a script to send troops to Haiti, do you think we would have needed to go there in the first place when the earthquake hit? Assuming they only think in black or white terms is unfair and inaccurate.

Do you know what the true definition of a veteran is? Is it a number of years of service? Did they have to serve in combat? Do they only fit the profile of those you see in a veteran’s home? Can a reservist be a vet?

If you aren't sure the answers and you have an interest in hiring military, maybe it is time to educate yourself and your hiring team before you start down that path.

Learn + hire + onboard, equals maintaining success.

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