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What Corporate Recruiting Can Learn From the U.S. Military

by
Morgan Hoogvelt
Jan 13, 2011, 11:39 am ET

Several Mondays ago, I watched a National Geographic documentary called Restrepo. Restrepo is a feature-length documentary from National Geographic that chronicles the one-year deployment of a platoon of U.S. soldiers in one of the most dangerous and remote locations on earth, the Korengal Valley. Named “Restrepo” after PFC Juan Restrepo, who died on a hillside 7,000 miles from home on July 22, 2007 the Korengal Valley was a Taliban-infested death trap where nearly 50 U.S. soldiers lost their lives in five years of conflict, according to the Miami Herald.

This was one of the most gripping and moving war documentaries I have ever watched. The documentary followed the daily lives of the platoon members assigned to the valley outpost. By now, you are probably asking yourself what in the heck does this have to do with corporate recruiting? The answer is EVERYTHING. U.S. Military recruiters SELL.

Watching and analyzing Restrepo made me think back on my time in the military — perhaps I had gotten a little bit lucky during my tour as our country was not involved in any conflicts like we are now. The location, the lifestyle, the battles, the pure hell these soldiers were put through on a daily basis made the selfish side of me think “I’m glad that’s not me.” In the days that passed, I would reflect on my time in service and on the men I saw in the documentary, and a thought crossed my mind: “Who and why in their right mind would want to go to that place?”

The military may not be for everyone, I understand that, but it is a company nevertheless, an employer; one of the largest employers in the world in fact, with its own culture, mission, pain points, and recruiting and retention needs. Looking back and examining the U.S. Army’s recruiting numbers over the past couple of years, this is what we find (numbers provided by U.S. Army Recruiting Command):

FY10 Mission Accomplishments

Active Army
Mission 74,500
Achieved 74,577

FY09 Mission Accomplishments

Active Army
Mission 65,000
Achieved 70,045

In fact, going back and analyzing the recruiting numbers from FY03 Mission Recap to present, the U.S. Army had only fell short one year in its recruitment needs. We are not talking about an organization that needs to recruit 20 individuals or even a few hundred; this is an organization that year after year needs to recruit upward of 60,000 individuals for dangerous assignments. Reviewing the recruiting numbers with thoughts of the Korengal Valley fresh in my mind, the recruiting success of the military astonished me.

So the question persists: How can the U.S. Military sell an individual into giving up their regular lifestyle, travel halfway around the world, be gone for months at a time, and risk life and limb while working in a hostile environment? Easy: the military sells the benefits of its opportunities and lifestyle, pays bonuses, and is aggressive. As dangerous as it can be, there are benefits in every opportunity. In my experience, corporate recruiters and hiring managers seek out every reason why an individual IS NOT qualified for a position — while military recruiters look for every reason why the individual IS qualified for a position. Another important selling factor is pure opportunity; everyone regardless of their background can be eligible for career fields such as HR, Finance, Aviation, Communications, Logistics, Nuclear Power, Combat Arms, Healthcare and many more fields. Everyone is given the opportunity to succeed.

People want to join the military for various reasons, just as they would like to find an opportunity within your organization. It’s important to outline the benefits, to be aggressive, provide future growth and training, to sell the applicant on the company and as to why an individual would want to work at your company — an important application I call “employment branding.” Moreover, the military is smart — it partners with trusted organizations to help build, market, and deliver the respective employment brand — rather than trying to do it on its own. In speaking with several former military recruiters, the group consensus on what makes military recruiters successful is the following: meaningful and productive activity, being personable and friendly, ability to outline benefits and long term goals, ability to relate to the applicant, and provide constant and consistent communication.

Here is a challenge: next time you find yourself interviewing a candidate, take off your recruiter hat and put on your sales hat. Look for every reason on why the individual is qualified for the position, listen to the applicant’s goals and objectives and match them up accordingly, give them their due time, outline the organizations benefits, sell them on why they should want to work for your company, advise the hiring manager on why you are presenting the individual and most importantly provide consistent communication — even if the answer is no.

Rest in peace PFC Restrepo. 

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. Lisa Rosser

    Thank you for the article, Morgan. My .02, based on 22 years of military experience and 14 years of HR consulting & staffing experience:

    1. The military hires for aptitude and attitude – not for what someone has already proven they can do.

    2. The military services conduct assessments and hire based on a person’s potential to learn and do well in an area of strength and interest; they will train the employee to do the job specifics.

    3. A decade ago the military’s efforts to use every tool in the marketing tool box was far behind corporate efforts. These days, their marketing efforts put most corporations to shame. Mobile recruiting, chat, YouTube videos, all manner of social media outreach, video games – you name it. It can be an uphill sell, but the 4 services and their guard and reserve components have to recruit over 260,000 people a year, and they accomplish their mission. As a matter of fact, the services are already well ahead of mission for FY 2011, thanks in part to a lousy economy and overall frustration with competing with 400 other people for every job opening.

    Lisa Rosser
    Military Hiring Expert
    The Value Of a Veteran
    http://www.TheValueOfaVeteran.com

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  3. Bob Thomason

    Recruiting IS the ultimate sales job. Great article, even though, I am former Navy. The positive approach to qualifying is something that recruiting professional should follow.
    Bob Thomason, CPC
    Recuiting Project Consultant for Recruitment & Retention Resources, Inc.

  4. Steven Rothberg

    Lisa is absolutely correct that the military’s recruitment marketing efforts put to shame the vast majority of corporate recruitment efforts. The military consistently markets its opportunities like consumer marketing experts do and they understand branding.

    Corporate employers, on the other hand, are often focused on the wrong metrics: cost per click or cost per application when the vast majority don’t even know with any degree of accuracy where those clicks or applications are coming from because they rely on candidate self-identification.

    More and more corporate employers are getting better and better at marketing their employment opportunities but if they’re looking for best practices, they need look not further than the many who serve with distinction in the Army, Marines, Air Force, and Navy.

  5. Joshua Letourneau

    Restrepo was a highly moving documentary – I fully agree that it’s extremely eye-opening and is certainly worth watching, especially for those looking for more insight as to what we’re encountering in Afghanistan.

    In regards to this well-written article, I can’t speak for all military services, only the U.S. Marines. Here’s the skinny:

    In regards to Recruiting, the Marines don’t have to “sell” you. You “sell” them. They’re not asking you to aspire to earn your way into their Ranks. Either you want to commit and do what it takes to earn your way into the lifelong brotherhood, or you don’t. Not everybody will earn the title “Marine”, but if you’re willing to commit, all the Leaders around you will do everything in their power to make you a success.

    Consider their ad campaign that laid this out, point blank. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvQHAEz8yn4)

    “We don’t accept applications. Only commitments.”

    Let that sink in for a moment . . . their entire Recruiting philosophy is simplified with this statement.

    While I do not mean this to be a shot against any other military services, it’s undeniable that Corporate Recruiting has more in common with how the other services recruit (US Army, US Navy, US Air Force, US Coast Guard, etc.) I mention this because their commercials and ad campaigns are inundated by “what we can do for you”, such as technical skills, tuition coverage, etc.

    In that way, they’re selling you. The Marines don’t work this strategy. You sell them.

    So here’s where I’m going: When you develop a brand (an employment brand, if you will) that is bigger than any one person and speaks to truly becoming a part of something special (i.e. “the best of the best”), there is a new-found shift in the equation where you’re now in a position of advantage . . . and quite frankly, the quality of Candidates increases because the best want to join the best.

  6. Bill Scott

    Here’s a mention on HireMilitary.com about how the military is tapping into the social networking skills of their target market:

    http://www.hiremilitary.com/2010/06/military-taps-social-networking-skills/

    Bill Scott
    Bradley-Morris, Inc. (BMI)
    http://www.Bradley-Morris.com

  7. Tracy Brisson

    Interesting post. One of the most intriguing documentaries I ever saw was The Recruiter, which followed one of the most successful army recruiters in the country. He recruited high school students out of Arkansas. The work he did to help people qualify made an impression on me (though it was also exploitive on some levels, but I think that was the director’s intent). In corporate recruitment, we’d never go to those lengths to help a candidate. However, it was also clear that the needs and desires of most people who are joining the military (average age is 20 with no college degree) are very different than most job candidates corporate recruitment works with.

  8. TRC Staffing

    Love this article. So much we had to discuss it ourselves. Couldn’t agree more with the emphasis on the positive… it’s a good little perspective check. http://businesschallengesworkforcesolutions.blogspot.com/2011/01/military-vs-civilian-recruitment-style.html

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