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

Jan 13, 2011

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

FY09 Mission Accomplishments

Active Army

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. 

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