How Agencies Can Appeal to and Retain Veteran Employees

There’s often a disconnect in marketing

Agencies should be more mindful about being veteran-friendly. Getty Images
Headshot of Ryan Loya

Each year roughly 250,000 veterans leave active duty to join the civilian workforce. Companies across industries actively recruit veterans for their unique skill sets, including work ethic, integrity, leadership, team building and diversity. Yet veterans remain a tough target for recruiters.

Active duty service members and their families live on 280-plus installations globally and are spread across the U.S. between five branches of service. The veteran status includes active duty service members and those that are out. It includes four-year junior enlisted, individuals who stay in 30 years to rise to top ranks and everyone in between.

Transitioning service members are often unaware of opportunities and industries available to them. Advertising is one. When I left the Marine Corps, I only stumbled across advertising through networking. I have since discovered my work in account management draws many parallels to my leadership positions as military squad leader, platoon sergeant and drill instructor.

Veterans and hiring managers face language barriers. Hiring veterans means syncing terminology. Civilians do not speak military language, and fewer people understand the Marine infantry jargon I became accustomed to. Compounding the issue, veteran experiences and accolades on a resume look and sound vastly different than those earned within the civilian sector, which means veterans can be overlooked or mismatched with a position in a company.

Agencies don’t speak “military language” and veterans don’t speak “agency language,” which may result in veterans leaving in pursuit of a stronger work unit and more satisfying career.

In 2017, 370,000 Veterans were unemployed, and for those who were employed, two-thirds did not use three or more military skill sets applicable to their civilian job. Furthermore, 44 percent of veterans left their first post-military job within one year.

In short, agencies don’t speak “military language” and veterans don’t speak “agency language,” which may result in veterans leaving in pursuit of a stronger work unit and more satisfying career. So how exactly can we in advertising jump these hurdles?

Veteran talents leaving the ranks of the military have fresh perspective and are hungry to get in the door. Not because of starting pay or watching too many episodes of Mad Men, either. Veterans strive to feel a part of something again and contribute more than hours on a time card. We spend our military careers in service to each other, our institution and our country. This sense of belonging is essential to feeling successful and serves as our career roadmap.

Having veterans already in the industry “leading the charge” allows agencies to look inward and leverage networks of veterans they already employ. These employees can help translate veteran resumes and mentor new veteran hires, offering tips to learn the industry and trade.

Agencies can deepen impact by developing veteran Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), which simultaneously increase veteran retention and recruitment while building military-friendly cultures. Military-specific ERGs provide instant connections between those who served, offers support for issues like adjusting to post-military life and links members with volunteer opportunities.

Don’t stop there. Be a veteran-friendly company by creating veteran-specific messaging and collateral. Project your company culture as inclusive of veterans. Show these men and women how they are still in service in a new way. Once word gets out, this tight-knit network will spread the message organically and the veterans you onboard will network to bring in more.

Social media should be a primary tool for agencies seeking veteran hires. We use this to keep track of each other and for sharing work opportunities. Whether spread out globally or returning home post-service, this remains our primary mode of communication. Once a few know of a solid opportunity within your agency, veterans will get the word out faster than your PR or HR recruiting team.

If there are personnel barriers to actively recruiting veterans, veteran service organizations and military recruiting companies exist to feed potential candidates to a human resources department. Government programs and agencies, like the U.S. Chamber’s Hiring Our Heroes program, aid in veteran placement. American Corporate Partners (ACP) pairs corporate mentors with veteran protégés who make viable candidates.

Getting on military installations, attending military career fairs or recruiting within a military Transition Assistance Program (TAP) is one of the hardest challenges to adding active duty service members to an agency workforce. Recruiters and HR departments will want to start with installations in their area and contact TAP offices on that base. Installations have individual policies regarding corporate involvement in base career fairs and seminars, so you will need to find the right person, create a partnership and illustrate how your agency is benefiting service members and families beyond simply offering a job.

While veterans remain a tough target for recruiters, who better than an advertising agency to creatively connect with this demographic. Employing these tactics means more veterans will pursue a career in advertising and more agencies will recognize the incredible return on investment. I encourage agencies to take initiative in exploring and creating impactful hiring and immersion practices.


Ryan Loya is senior account executive at FCB Health, New York.
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