This Is What Military Veterans Are Thinking When They Visit Your Company for the First Time

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Mar 10, 2016
This article is part of a series called How-Tos.

I used to manage a 30-person office for a national military recruiting firm. We placed transitioning military service members into Fortune 500 companies all over the United States. One of the worst hires I ever made was more than 10 years ago.

“Margaret” was an employee lead given to me by my corporate office in Atlanta. She interviewed well and said all the right things, and I eventually hired her. From the beginning, she had trouble fitting in. She was a loud East Coaster, working in a laid back San Diego office. She brought lunch every day, microwaving her bacon made from soy in the breakroom — her “fakin’ bacon” would stink up the entire 4,000 foot office. At our company Christmas party, her date was her 16-year-old son.

More significantly than any of these “fit” issues, she couldn’t close any clients. At the end of her four-month probationary period, I had to let her go.

I saw her a couple of years later in a successful sales job and we had coffee. We talked and she asked about the office — after listening to my quick update she said, wistfully, “I was really trying hard to belong there.” Margaret finally answered the question she forgot to ask during her initial interviews. She was trying to fit in to a culture that clearly wasn’t for her — one that I should have seen was not for her either.

People will look past quite a bit when they are excited about landing a job. But that’s when they should be paying the most attention.

When I send veterans to their first interview, I tell them they shouldn’t hope to fit in — they either do or they don’t. Company culture is not going to change if they get an offer, and they need to trust their gut feel. Here is what veterans are thinking when they visit your company for the first time, and the questions you can answer to get them to look and only look at your opportunity.

  • Are people here for a job or for a career? Veterans are looking for a company to call home and a mission to dedicate themselves to. Yes, pay and benefits are important, but veterans need to believe in what they are doing and the organization they are a part of. They will be looking for people who are watching the clock and are not personally invested in their work, while also on the lookout for someone going the extra mile.
  • Is everyone here on the same team? Regardless of position in the company, veterans can tell if employees are truly a team and are working toward the same goals. Do people greet one another? Do employees know what goes on all over the site, not just in their area? Do managers know their employees and are they present in their work spaces? Do people look out for one another professionally? Veterans know immediately if everyone in the boat is rowing in the same direction. 
  • What are my opportunities for advancement? Understanding that they are not going to be promoted tomorrow, veterans want to know how they can advance and move to the next level in their careers. Consistently performing under high expectations with clear goals in their military careers, veterans will want to apply what they know to the next stage of their career. Give them a target to aim for, or they will aim somewhere else. 
  • What are the training and professional development opportunities? Professional conferences, training, volunteer opportunities, and cross-functional development are all great ways to prove to veterans they will can continually sharpen their skills and advance their career. Veterans will always be looking for opportunities to grow and contribute in their company.

And just as veterans will be assessing your company’s culture, as a recruiter you must assess their role as well. While many veterans successfully transition to the civilian workforce every year, some do not possess the flexible mindset to adapt to the corporate world. It is a challenge to see the forest for the trees — with all of those questions about the job, it is easy to forget to look for signs that someone may not fit in.

I’ve learned from my mistake with Margaret and spend more time assessing fit than I used to. Take a step back and visualize this veteran in your company, as a member of the team, contributing to the bottom line. It’s the final and critical piece to ensure a successful hire.


This article is part of a series called How-Tos.
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