Don’t just talk about hiring veterans, commit to it

I’m happy to report we’re starting to move the needle. IEC just hired a former Army Ranger in our Alaska office and our team in South Carolina recently brought on three vets there. Overall, the company is proud to boast a 30-percent veteran employment rate, significantly higher than the national average.

As a country overall, we’re starting to do a better job of hiring vets. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the unemployment rate for veterans has dropped from 12.1 percent in 2011 to 5.9 percent this year. But when you consider that approximately 300,000 leave the service each year, this is one effort that needs continual attention.

Unfortunately, many companies may have the best intentions to hire more vets but in reality aren’t necessarily trained to spot those ideal candidates. It’s time to get your business ready.

Bring battlefield leadership to the job site

I’m proud to be representing not only IEC but also the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City as we work with the U.S. Armed Forces Recruiting and Veterans Assistance and other Kansas City companies to collectively boost veteran hiring rates in our region. We’re working to launch an area initiative to more effectively integrate vets into the workforce by providing them with access to opportunities, interviews and networks.

So why is this important to me and so many other companies? Aside from the altruistic reasons of giving back to those who have given so much for our country, I know how valuable these men and women can be for the employers who hire them. Ritch Eich summed it up nicely in a recent opinion piece:

“The most compelling reason is simple: Veterans are often the best-qualified candidates. Period. While they may not have worked in a traditional office, or have an MBA, they do have strong leadership skills, understand how to work with diverse groups, work well under pressure, know how to solve problems, and appreciate what it really takes to work as part of a team … Veterans bring true real-world experience to the workplace.”

Personally, I can attest to the leadership and experience exhibited by the veterans on our team, whether they’re working on a commercial project here in the Kansas City area or on one of our military projects around the country.

Rank your company readiness

If the benefits are so apparent, why are there still so many veterans without jobs and so many companies struggling to find good talent? Sometimes the problem lies in the company’s hiring practices. Consider the following tips to get your company ready:

  • Learn how to read a military resume – Just like any industry, the Armed Forces has its own set of jargon, not to mention a variety of ranks among the branches. Teach your hiring team how to understand that language so they can spot a high-quality resume.
  • Adjust your interview technique – We’ve all been taught to “sell” ourselves in an interview, but veterans often don’t feel comfortable boasting about their own accomplishments. “They are very humble,” said Melissa Stirling, director of military, campus and youth programs at Hilton Worldwide. “They’re not good at singing their own praises—all the opposite of what you might expect in interviewing a civilian. So you really have to get HR people to shift their mindset to make sure that they are giving this veteran the best chance that they can.”
  • Get feedback from your staff – What better way to ensure you’re cultivating a military-friendly culture than by asking the veterans you already have on staff? Ask for their feedback on ways the company can be more sensitive to the issues faced by veterans and their spouses—and then actually implement them.

A lot of resources are already available to employers who want to hire more veterans. Check out Joining Forces, a comprehensive program offered by the White House, and Veterans Jobs Mission, a coalition of companies devoted to improving hiring practices. VA for Vets also offers support tools for HR professionals to help you recruit and acclimate veterans to your workforce.

Enlist your team

As employers, we have the potential to make a tremendous impact on our local communities. Hiring veterans is a great way to not only give back but also boost the success of our own businesses. At IEC, we’ve added many high-level engineers to our team that exceed both on our commercial and military projects because of the skills and experience they received while in the Armed Forces.

I’m proud of our team, but I’m even more excited about the work we can still do in our communities. I urge you to join me!

Nilson Goes serves as the chief operations officer and general manager at IEC. What steps does your company take to hire more veterans? Share your thoughts on our Facebook page or tweet them @IEC_KC.