How to Connect with Transitioning Service Members

Posted by Ashley Jones
transitioning service members

ClearedJobs.Net Account Managers, Bob Wheeler and Sara McMurrough, host monthly webinars to help employers better identify and recruit cleared talent. If you missed their training that explored methods to connect with transitioning military personnel, we’ve got you covered.

Individuals leaving the military for their first job in the private sector often come into the hiring process with unique circumstances. The more recruiters and hiring managers understand these factors, the better they’ll be able to quickly make a genuine connection. Read Bob and Sara’s insights below, that cover some of the specific characteristics and circumstances affecting transitioning veterans and how recruiters can proactively address them.

The Best Talent Isn’t Always the Best Job Seeker

Sometimes a prospect can be really smart, but not good at being a job seeker. So how can you better connect with these individuals? We’re going to discuss some factors that lead to the common mistakes that transitioning service members make, and some ways that you can communicate with them.

By becoming an advocate for them, you’re going to forge better relationships—which means landing better candidates. This reflects very positively on your company and can lead to referrals and increased relationships with veterans down the road as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the factors that lead to common mistakes veterans make, so we can learn how to proactively communicate with them and bridge the gap.

Issue #1: They Don’t Understand Timing

One of the biggest questions we get from veteran job seekers all the time is, when do I need to start looking for a job? If you’re a recruiter, you’re going to see some people that are talking to you either very early, because they’re super vigilant, or sometimes super late.

Also, some of these folks mistake action for progress. They think, when I start applying for jobs, I’ll just apply for 20 jobs at one time and that’s good. But progress can be something different – it can be that networking piece, which is equally important.

Issue #2: They’re a Product of Transition Classes

These job seekers are coming out with cookie cutter resumes, because that’s what they were taught in their transition classes. It’s not that those transitioning service members or veterans don’t care, it’s just what they’ve been given to work with.

More often than not, they’ve never needed a resume. A lot of them came out of high school or college and went right into the service. As recruiters, it’s important to recognize that. Don’t write them off and just throw those resumes to the side.

The big takeaway here is, you don’t want to assume that because it’s a bland resume, or because it doesn’t have the right keywords or something like that, that they’re not a possible fit. You might even consider coaching them on how to write a better resume that fits what your organization is looking for.

Issue #3: Little Knowledge About Government Contracting

The next issue is, they have little knowledge about government contracting. These people coming out of the service might know that contractors exist, but they don’t know the names of the companies or terms like prime, subcontract, contingent, contested, etc. Those are likely foreign words to them.

When you start having conversations and you throw out terms like, “we’re the prime,” or “we’re sub on this,” and “this offer is contingent on…,” all of a sudden you’ve lost them. And they may not ask questions, because they might feel kind of stupid, especially if they’re a mid-level to senior-level person, where they’re used to being the person with the answers.

Issue #4: They May Not Know Their Clearance Info

You ask about their clearance and they say something like, “well, I had a TS,” or “I had a TS/SCI,” and that’s the only information that they’re able to provide. It’s not because they don’t care or didn’t take the time to find out. They just know that while they’re doing XYZ job, they have a clearance, and that’s about it.

They might be doing a job in the active duty spaces where they’re using a TS/SCI clearance, but then they’re assigned to something like recruiting and they’re not using it anymore. That doesn’t click in their brain, because it was never that big a deal to begin with. They just do what they’re told – the clearance has never been an issue.

You might wonder, why don’t they just go to their local command FSO and get that information before they get out? The TAP class tries to tell people to do that, but if you’ve ever worked in the military, you know that it’s not as easy as it really should be.

Issue #5: They Never Had to Worry About Salary or Benefits

They’ve never had to worry about salary or benefits. For one, there’s nothing you can do about it when you’re in the military. Your salary is what it is based on your rank and your time in the service. And things like your housing allowance change based on your location. It’s all just part of the job. So when they’re coming out of the service and you’re talking about things like salary, healthcare, vacation time and so on, it can be really complicated.

In the military, they might get 30 days of vacation a year and every holiday too. So when you’re trying to tell them you offer 10 days of PTO, if they don’t understand what PTO means or how that compares across the civilian industry, all they know is that it sounds worse than what they had.

The other thing to remember is that a lot of the salary and things like housing allowances in the military is actually tax free. That’s going to be a big difference when they get out. This is why they can’t really answer your question about salary expectations very well.

Issue #6: They Don’t Understand the Hiring Process

This last issue is probably one of the biggest ones – they don’t understand the hiring process. They don’t know what recruiters and hiring managers really do.

When talking to a Navy captain who had been in the Navy for 25 years, he said his last time applying for a job was when he was a junior in high school. This person is a super smart PhD, nuclear scientist, but he’s scared to death because he doesn’t know anything about the hiring process. If you can explain how the process works, you’ll become their friend in a hurry.

Recruiting in the military doesn’t always have the greatest reputation, so they’re coming out thinking recruiters are trying to get something over on them. So as a recruiter, be their friend and explain to them that you’re here to help them. But remember, they’re not starting with that assumption. They’re assuming that you’re there to try to get talent for your company at a cut rate.

So you want to connect with them, so that you can say, “no, I’m actually here to help.” And by answering some of their questions and addressing these issues that we’ve outlined, they’ll start to feel more comfortable with you. This could be the thing that differentiates you and your company from the competition.

Six Tips to Help You Connect with Veterans

You know the value of recruiting from this talent pool. Helping transitioning veterans is good business. We’re not saying that you have to give every veteran a job at your company. But when you find a veteran that you want to hire, how can you do that better? Consider these six tips:

1. Let them know you’ve worked with veterans before. Lean into that and tell them, “You’re not the first veteran I’ve helped transition.” That’s going to help them feel like you’re an advocate for them, and you understand the process.

2. Instead of “yes/no” questions, proactively explain potential misunderstandings. One of the issues we talked about earlier was that veterans and transitioning service members often don’t know contracting terminology. When you say things like “we’re a sub on this contract,” proactively explain what that means and why it’s important to you. Don’t ask if they know what a subcontractor means. They might say yes even if they don’t, or they might believe they know when they actually don’t. So just explain it a little bit to be sure.

3. Lay out the hiring process – and do so early. Like we said, they don’t always understand the process. For instance, they might think a hiring manager is a specific position in the company. You might start off by saying, “I’m not trying to insult your intelligence. Since I’ve worked with veterans, I want to make sure you understand who these people are in the hiring process.” When you do these things, you’re not only helping them and gaining some trust, but when they go back and tell their peers what they’ve learned, they’re gonna be dropping your name and your company’s name.

4. Use existing employees to tell their transition story. Even if your company isn’t able to have a specific military liaison, have some employees in your back pocket that have made that transition. They can help facilitate a more comfortable conversation.

5. Explain your benefits and how they compare in the industry, even if they’re only average. If you don’t, you risk them assuming, that doesn’t sound as good as what I had in the military. Giving them the lay of the land helps them to make decisions. Again, you’re helping them, and people like people who help make them smarter.

6. Provide good contact info and encourage follow on questions. Sometimes veterans are afraid to follow up. Be very genuine in your conversations and say, “Please contact me, connect with me on LinkedIn, and send me an email as you’re going through this process” if they’re networking a year out. Don’t just say, “Let me know when you’re ready for a job.”

If they’re networking with you, let them know it’s great that they’re getting to know people in the industry. You can give them recommendations for when they begin the application process. And encourage them to reach out if they have questions. That really goes a long way. They’re going to go back to their unit and talk about how you really helped them. This will in turn get more veterans interested in your company.

You can watch the full webinar here for more insights from Bob and Sara.


  • Ashley Jones

    Ashley Jones is ClearedJobs.Net's blog Editor and a cleared job search expert, dedicated to helping security-cleared job seekers and employers navigate job search and recruitment challenges. With in-depth experience assisting cleared job seekers and transitioning military personnel at in-person and virtual Cleared Job Fairs and military base hiring events, Ashley has a deep understanding of the unique needs of the cleared community. She is also the Editor of ClearedJobs.Net's job search podcast, Security Cleared Jobs: Who's Hiring & How.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 11, 2023 5:23 pm

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