Yes, You Can Recruit Like the Army

Sep 28, 2012
This article is part of a series called Opinion.

Back in early Spring, I was approached by a local HR organization to present at its local symposium with regard to an article that I wrote for ERE several months ago — “What Corporate Recruiting Can Learn from the U.S. Military.” Apparently the article struck a chord with the program manager, and he reached out to me and asked me if I could deliver a presentation based on the theme of the article. I obliged.

For those who perhaps missed the article when it ran, the main idea revolved around the high recruiting demands of the U.S. Military (in particular the U.S. Army); and how year after year the Army not only meets, but exceeds, its recruiting goals. An interesting fact to note: in one particular year, the Army needed to recruit 75,000 individuals into its ranks. The question I investigated was how a business (the Army in this case) could successfully recruit several thousand individuals year after year while companies in corporate America fail to reach recruiting goals that are nowhere close to the numbers the Army needs to obtain.

Through my research and personal experience, I drilled down on this concept and arrived at a simple conclusion: for the better part of Corporate America, recruiting is a broken concept. Our recruiting mindsets are broken. For further proof of this conclusion, unknowingly to me, I was later sent the anonymous survey results from the crowd that attended my presentation. While the majority of the feedback was very positive, some of the feedback and comments really surprised me, as in my experience — HR symposiums, conferences, conventions, etc. always serve as great meeting grounds for positive thinking, the sharing of successful practices, networking, and in helping each other build for success.

Below are several of the successful activities I found the Army engaging in through my research for the presentation I delivered:

  • Testing of candidates for aptitude and career field placement accordingly
  • Selling to the decision-maker
  • Identifying and meeting needs of the candidate
  • Selling excitement
  • Promoting strong set of core values
  • Providing training, advancement, and education
  • Stating points around benefits

Secondly, I compared the activities of the Army to some further research I located on the Internet about the way interviews are conducted in corporate America. The research was all readily available information and centered mostly on some ridiculous questions posed in interviews such as the following:

  • “How many balloons would fit in this room?”
  • “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”
  • “How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?”

I could go on forever, but I am sure you get the point.

The bottom line is that a decade ago the military’s efforts to use tools in the marketing/branding recruiting tool box were far behind corporate efforts. These days, its marketing efforts put most corporations to shame — and the numbers prove it. The main idea of this article is not to elevate the recruitment efforts of the military; rather, to help change the recruiting mindset in Corporate America.  The core functions that you can take away from Army recruiting and apply to your desk are the following: maintain high recruiting activities, keep an upbeat and positive attitude, use basic human touch techniques such as phone calls and face-to-face meetings, and sell opportunity.

I bet you are still wondering about the comments I received. Here they are, so you can see for yourself:

  • “Not all companies can recruit that way …”
  • “Did not appreciate insulting comments on other companies’ interview questions …”
  • “No relevant examples …”
  • “I don’t understand how aptitude factors into hiring decisions …”

Conclusion: the world has changed, human resources has changed, and last but not least, talent acquisition has changed. It’s a competitive labor landscape with a high demand of skilled and talented workers. If you want your organization to be competitive in its hiring objectives, then get with the program and drop the negativity and the “we can’t recruit like that” attitude and start thinking about what you can do. Lastly, if you are a CEO or any C-level executive for that matter and talent acquisition keeps you up at night, then maybe it’s time to get the right people on your bus.

This article is part of a series called Opinion.