Every year, 200,000 service people leave the U.S. military. Upon their return to civilian life, they typically don’t stay in their first job for very long: within a year, 47% have moved on.
Siemens has bucked that trend, thanks to a conscientious hiring and onboarding plan for veterans that includes help from an outside agency to prepare veterans for interviews and what to expect on the job, and a peer mentorship program.
The approach has succeeded: 92% of Siemens’ veterans hires are still on the job two years later. Some of the most veteran-friendly positions at Siemens include building controls technician, manufacturing technician, wind turbine technician, cybersecurity technician and engineer, as well as jobs in sales, sourcing and procurement.
Mike Brown, vice president, talent acquisition for Siemens, and Mike Starich, CEO of Orion Talent, the recruiting firm that works with Siemens on military hiring, shared their best practices for bringing veterans into the workplace—in Siemens’ case, in large numbers.
“We’ve tried to identify military talent wherever we feel like there would be a good fit,” says Brown, who came to Siemens to centralize its talent acquisition and formalize the military hiring program. “We don’t have five job titles we’re focused on. Because the business adapts and changes, we’re always looking at each division to see where military talent might fit.”
Train your hiring managers to interpret military resumes.
“To have a successful military program, you need to have high level buy-in,” says Starich. “The typical candidates departing the service, their resumes don’t speak to HVAC controls technicians. They’re different. And so a hiring manager who doesn’t know anything about military, they’ll look at the resume and say ‘Forget it, I’m going to pass.’ And so unfortunately those managers, if they don’t have somebody pushing them to learn about [veterans]—and a corporate structure behind it—they will overlook some jewels.
Orion, which vets Siemens’ military candidates, familiarizes its recruiters with military-ese “so they understand a machinist mate, an avionics technician, or a fire control tech can become an HVAC technician,” says Starich. “A fire control technician from the Navy, for instance, is someone who can program the system, take the signals from a radar and tie it into a gun or a missile system. So they have to be very adept at that in terms of the control systems, from electronic to electromechanical, and [able] to operate mechanical machinery based on electronic signals.
“The training is very sophisticated in the Navy and very specific, but that mindset makes learning building controls easy for those individuals.”
Consider the intangibles.
“You think about the job environment you’re working in [in the military],” says Starich. “They’re often in small teams or by themselves,” learning initiative, good judgment and customer service—skills that will help them shine in civilian roles.
Be willing to do some handholding
“We often have to coach veterans on how to interview,” says Starich. “And how to present themselves to the hiring managers—what things they can and can’t say. And through that process, you’re coaching them on their transition, migrating from a military culture to a corporate culture and a Siemens culture.”
A military recruit might say, “‘I’m an FCT from the Navy. My MOS is a 32 charlie,’” says Starich. “That means something to some people, but most people they go, ‘Thank you very much.’ So teaching how to dress and how to speak; the military can have colorful language at times that has to be toned down.”
Empathy is important, adds Siemens’ Brown. “We want the managers to be diligent in assessing against the criteria for the job. But we also want them to remember that for many of these people, this is literally the first interview they’ve ever had. Maybe they went into the military right after high school and worked and didn’t really have to ever interview. So we’ve gotten our people to be more understanding and helpful in the interview by asking some more probing questions if they don’t understand what somebody is saying.
“We tell our people, ‘Don’t shut down. Ask questions.’”
Team up new hires with peer mentors who are also veterans.
“If the hiring manager is former military, it’s extremely helpful,” says Starich. “They can basically big-brother them. Group them with somebody and show them the ropes: How does this work? How do I communicate via email or texting?”
Siemens has a military peer mentorship program, says Brown. “When other military come in now, they get paired up. And I think that really helps with their transition.”
Remember that “military” doesn’t mean “can’t think independently.”
“A stereotype is that military people need someone to tell them what to do,” says Brown. “That they’re going to wait for an order. What we have found is in these times, the military is as empowered and decisive and taking initiative as anybody in a corporate setting would be. There are some governance standards, but active duty military are making all kinds of decisions every day that are not coming directly from a supervisor or officer. So one of the things that we try to coach our people about is these people are going to not stand at the customer site and call you and wait for you to give an answer—they’re going to do something. And that’s where that sense of mission and duty and responsibility that’s part of the veterans’ DNA really comes through. Because we need people who can make decisions on their own and feel good about that and confident about that.”