By Kate Young
Many employers strive to hire veterans of the U.S. military. Some do it because they’re required by federal law to account for their affirmative action efforts in employing veterans. Others do it because it’s the right thing to do. Many more see it as good business. Consider the numbers: according to estimates by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, there are currently more than 21 million living American veterans.
That’s a lot of potential employees. And perhaps more importantly, it’s a lot of potential customers who may prefer veteran-friendly businesses.
But here’s the tough part: How do you determine which veteran is the best fit for any given job? And how do you translate military skills and experiences to the world of banking?
We asked the folks at Comerica Bank. For the past several years, their veterans’ recruitment program has been making great inroads in the push for better veteran outreach. Since they began their initiative, veteran hiring has more than doubled at Comerica, with steady incremental increases each year.
Was it simple? No. It’s been a coordinated, long-term effort that cuts across multiple departments and business units, looping in stakeholders at every level, along with external partners. Has it been worthwhile? Yes. And if you’d like to do a better job hiring veterans, here’s what they advise.
1. Build awareness.
Before diving in, Comerica identified one or two business units and specific types of roles to target for veteran hires. Then they engaged senior leadership within those business units for their input. “We got specific feedback on whether they would support a veterans’ hiring effort in their business unit,” said Nathan Bennett, senior vice president, Human Resources talent acquisition and chief diversity officer for Comerica Bank. “They all said, ‘Without a doubt.’”
As those particular business units successfully increased their veteran hires, they became champions for the cause, building awareness for the program.
And as the program grew, the bank added a veteran “human capital goal” to senior officers’ diversity scorecard. That made management accountable for either developing a recruitment outreach program or attending an educational program related to hiring veterans and persons with disabilities. The result? “Cascading down through the ranks,” said Lori Walker, Comerica’s vice president, diversity & inclusion manager, “there’s a growing understanding of the challenges veterans face.”
2. Revise the job qualifications.
The biggest hurdle, according to Bennett, is dealing with the way bank job qualifications are traditionally written. He recommends that specific business units work with senior leadership to reshape the job qualifications to accommodate military experience.
For Comerica, that meant adding “or statements” to the different job requirements. For example, among the qualifications listed for a teller position, you’ll now see:
“6 months of Retail or Financial sales experience OR 2+ years of US Military service.”
In other words, the qualifications now account for military as well as civilian experience.
3. Educate all the stakeholders.
“Education for the recruitment team and the management team within the organization is critical,” Bennett told us. For starters, managers may not be aware of the value of hiring veterans (beyond a vague notion of an abstract good). Comerica has strategic goals for its veterans’ outreach, including the diversification of supplier partners. To support these goals, the staff has to understand them.
For another thing, the military and the banking sector have very different protocols, processes, and even language. As a banker, for example, do you know the difference between an E4 and an O2? Comerica bridges the gap by providing its business units with a “basic training” on how things work in the military. The bank also trains its talent acquisition team on how to ask the right questions to identify whether an individual veteran is a good fit.
4. Support the recruiters.
It can be a challenge for recruitment teams to know how to bring the appropriate level of attention to veteran candidates. If they aren’t able to interpret the significance of a candidate’s military roles and experiences—and how that may translate to the banking world—a strong candidate may be lost in the shuffle. In the early days of Comerica’s veteran recruitment program, talent attraction manager Angela Sessler would proactively partner with the recruiting team to manage veteran candidates through the recruiting process.
On a continuing basis, Comerica recruiters receive a weekly email to keep the program top-of-mind. And to help job applicants draw attention to their military status, Comerica job applications now include an optional question:
Do you currently serve in the military, or have you ever served in the military?
This gives recruiters the opportunity to follow up so that a veteran’s application doesn’t fall through the cracks.
5. Look inward as well as outward.
“We’ve always had a diversity strategy,” Sessler explained. But when they first launched their veterans’ strategy, they relied on veteran-oriented partnerships and events such as career fairs. “Over time,” she added, “we found that we could be more successful by also focusing on internal partners.”
Those internal partners would include Comerica’s collection of 17 distinct employee resource networking groups (ERNGs), which bring together and support the bank’s diverse employees, including women, Hispanics—and yes, veterans, through its Veteran Leadership Network.
Although Comerica continues to work with external partners such as Hire Heroes USA, bank recruiters have found that such partners are best for that first step: bringing them closer to veteran talent. “It’s also important to recruit in person,” Sessler said. That still frequently means job fairs, but this time the ERNGs are helping out. And that can make a big difference. These groups provide a sense of community at the bank. Plus, “our culture of diversity really helps from a recruiting perspective,” Sessler added.
Another ongoing effort is to provide a “champion” to job candidates who come from the military. The idea is to introduce such candidates to a current employee who was also a service member. While this practice is still in its early stages, the bank would like to build the capacity for identifying champions and mentors.
“Now we’re looking inward,” Sessler said, “and working collaboratively within the organization to drive the strategy.”