Empathy for Veterans and Recruiters

Posted by Bob Wheeler

Many veterans on the job hunt get frustrated because they feel like potential employers don’t understand or appreciate their experiences. While this is often true, we have to remember that empathy goes both ways. Service members also need to find ways to understand the unique constraints that recruiters, hiring managers, and supervisors find themselves in when dealing with veterans in the workforce. Bridging the culture gap takes more than just finding newer and (often times louder) ways to tell our side of the story, the empathy that we need comes from understanding where the other side is coming from.

Imagine if a civilian technical representative were assigned to your active duty military team. The person has obvious qualifications on how to run the machinery in your shop. In fact they may know more about it than anyone else. What they lack would be the ability to apply that concept within the norms of your military organization. How would you feel about this situation? Would you expect that individual to adapt to the norms of the group, or would you expect the group to adapt the norms of the individual? I think we can agree that if the individual refused to adapt to the group, the group would continue to exist, even without the member.

Onus is on the Transitioning Service Member

So it is with veteran hiring. If both sides work to understand each others’ situation then individual and organizational success is much more likely. In the end though veterans must be prepared to reach out first, and reach out the farthest. If we do, the hands we find on the other side will be in the best position to offer a strong grip and be the most equipped to help us over the wall that divides our military life from a potential civilian career.

Job Search from The Perspective of Hiring Managers and Recruiters

Recently an organization known as WILL Interactive in collaboration with The Coming Home Project produced a really great interactive video program entitled “Reinventing Michael Banks”. The best part of this interactive video is that it allows people to take on the various roles of veteran job seeker, recruiter, hiring manager, and supervisor. Playing the scenarios from different personalities not only allows the participant to make choices about what to do next, but more importantly it allows the player to hear some of the “thoughts” that go through the heads of each person.

Human interactions are much deeper than the verbal or non-verbal signals we send out. The more empathy we can have about why a person says or does things, the better we can become at tailoring our messages and actions to best fit the situation. One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Mark Hortsman, who says:

Communication is what the listener does.”

In this regard, empathy is a force multiplier. The object is to deliver the message in all of its intended meaning. The more we know about the receiver, the better our chances of success.

I encourage everyone associated with veteran hiring and veterans themselves to spend some time on this simulator. If you only have time to go through it once please play it from a perspective other than your own. If you have time to go through all four scenarios, I suggest you play from your current perspective last.

You already know what it’s like to be you. This is about finding out what it’s like to be somebody else.

Click here to go to the Reinventing Michael Banks website.

Bob Wheeler is a Navy veteran transitioning to the civilian world in early 2014 after a 20-year career in Navy Medicine HR. He is currently a Medical Officer Recruiter. Read Bob’s Veteran Transition Diary.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, December 11, 2013 7:29 am

3 thoughts on “Empathy for Veterans and Recruiters”

  1. Good read. I retired in 2006 and have been looking for work ever since. Thus far, I have had six interviews. One job offer which I accepted then the company recanted the next day without telling me why.

    Is finding a job really that hard?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of updates to this conversation