Tapping the Veteran IT Talent Pool

Posted by Bob Wheeler

The hiring process can be painful for both organizations seeking talent and individual job seekers. Gaps in common skills and language are typically cited as reasons for veteran hiring initiatives. It’s also agreed by most experts that of the military skill set, Information Technology and cyber skills are some of the most translatable. Why then do we have difficulty when it comes to attracting and hiring veteran IT Talent?

The problem lies on both sides of the equation. Neither side really knows what the other one is talking about.

I recently showed a job description to a transitioning Marine Corps communications officer. I asked him for his thoughts and it didn’t take him long to identify that the position of Sr. Network Threat and Media Forensics and Support Specialist had a USMC counterpart. “Looks like an 0689 Gunny to me,” he said.

OK great, you ask, “So what’s an 0689 Gunny, and how can I get me one?”

Enlisted vs. Commissioned, what’s the difference

The first thing recruiters need to understand is the rank structure of the military. In the broadest sense the military has two major classifications, officers and enlisted personnel. Officers are tasked with leadership, enlisted personnel with mission accomplishment, though again this is a very general statement. A college degree is always required to become an officer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that those on the enlisted side aren’t educated, as many of these individuals also have bachelor’s and even master’s degrees.

Each classification is broken down into pay grades ranging from E-1 to E-9 and O-1 to O-10. Each pay grade also has a corresponding title, depending on branch of service. So even though an E5 in the Navy is called a Petty Officer Second Class and an E5 in the Army is called Sergeant, they are both on the same compensation level.

While the rank is used for pay purposes, each service also breaks down their personnel into job classification codes commonly referred to as MOS, or Military Occupation Specialty. Some services have a different title for these codes, but MOS has become the standard phrase for recruitment purposes. These codes also factor into the promotion system of the services because promotions are based upon future vacancies in the job field. This means that some people will have better opportunities for advancement than others based on factors outside of their personal control.

Understanding military professional development is also key to finding the right personnel. On the officer side it is similar to a management trainee program in a large-scale private organization. Many are hired, not all will succeed, and promotion is based upon performance and future vacancies. Enlisted personnel on the other hand start out as technicians. As they progress up the ranks they tend to move from “doing the business” into more front line leadership positions. This transition from worker to leader on the enlisted side may happen anywhere from the E5 to E7 level, depending on the job field.

Now, back to our 0689 Gunny. The first part of this title is the MOS 0689 which identifies the specific job as Cyber Security Technician. The “Gunny” part is short for Gunnery Sergeant which is an E7.

Enlisted Personnel have degrees too

Here’s where the recruitment process can get off track. Recruiters will often seek out only commissioned officers due to the fact that they all have college degrees, but as we mentioned above, this isn’t always the wisest move. In the case of this particular job description there was no mention of specific education requirements, but even if it did we must remember that a great deal of the enlisted population also have degrees.

Most importantly if you are searching for technicians target the enlisted ranks, particularly the junior to mid-level. It’s worth noting that you can’t actually become an 0689 until you’re already either an E5, or in rare cases, a very highly recommended E4, already serving in a related cyber field. At that point Marines must request to transfer into the cyber security field. So these 0689 folks are not only highly trained, they also have a history of success.

So now that you know these 0689’s exist, the question becomes, “Why aren’t they replying to my job posting?” Well, one big issue you have to face is the competition from their current employer.

There is competition out there

Yes there is a drawdown, but it isn’t affecting everyone equally. Did you know these USMC Cyber Warriors are being offered nearly $60,000 to reenlist? Yep there is real competition for this talent, and it’s not just in the private sector.

So while your organization might be offering the potential for greater income, this individual would have to actually turn down a guaranteed bonus and essentially tender their resignation before even seriously considering a job posting that he or she may or may not even get selected for. That’s quite a gamble, especially for someone who has experienced a great deal of security and stability throughout their career.

It’s not just the Marine Corps, either. Even though actual bonus money may differ slightly by service and by current fiscal year, the push for this cyber talent is there across the DOD. So whether the person is classified as an Air Force 3D072, a Navy 2779, or a new Army 25D, retention is a service priority. These aren’t your typical passive candidates.

Another factor to take into account is that even as veterans research these civilian positions, many do not completely understand your language either. For example service members are often unsure what differentiates a Senior Network Support Specialist from a Junior Specialist. The enlisted technicians often are not used to thinking of themselves as “Senior” anything – that was the officers’ title – despite the fact that they meet the actual qualifications listed, and the officer doesn’t. For these people being unsure of exactly what the job actually is and does only reinforces the feeling that it may be safer to just stay put.

How to tap in to this talent pool

It comes down to taking an agrarian approach, as opposed to the typical recruiter hunter/gatherer behavior. You’ll need to grow your own candidates.

This can be done a number ways, including leveraging your current veteran employees. New hires with a military background will likely still have strong connections within their community for the first two to three years out of the service. Encourage these current employees to reach out to their peers and participate in efforts to market your organization and the specific jobs.

More and more active duty service members are also getting onto social media sites such as LinkedIn. However one of their biggest complaints about this new technology is a feeling that it is only useful for those actively seeking employment. Your organization can offer a solution to this fallacy.

Establishing a company LinkedIn group that encompasses your current veteran employees and is also advertised and open to current service members can be an excellent opportunity to assist military cyber professionals in understanding both the similarities and the differences between their current positions and what they may do in the private sector.

Here’s the best part. By maintaining this group you are also providing your organization with a steady stream of highly trained future candidates, each with positive feelings about your company. This should now be the first pond your recruiters fish in each time you have an opening.

Another possibility to develop relationships is through mentorship opportunities. If your organization plans on attending or hosting any professional events, you can reach out to the local military installations (through their transition readiness office) and offer anything from a “get to know us” networking event to even sponsoring a service member or two at a local conference. Offering to provide payment of entrance fees and assignment of a current veteran employee to accompany the service member is great for both public relations as well as future recruitment.

Ideas like the ones above are relatively simple and are either free or have limited costs associated with them beyond time and effort. The best part is that they work well to bridge the culture gap between the military talent and the private sector.

Organizations that develop the reputation of being a resource for cyber talent while they are still in the service will position themselves to attract the best and the brightest service members once they decide to move on to the private sector. In the end, it’s really a win-win situation.

Bob WheelerBob Wheeler is a Certified Veteran Transition Coach and founder of BW-Personal Career Services in Jacksonville, NC. Follow Bob on Twitter @bwpcs.


This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 1:27 pm

One thought on “Tapping the Veteran IT Talent Pool”

Leave a Reply

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

Notify me of updates to this conversation