by: Chris Cortez, Vice President of Military Affairs at Microsoft
Nearly 200,000 military members transition out of service each year, and their experiences make them a tremendous talent pool for corporate America. But hiring veterans is still viewed as “a box to check” by too many companies. To see a real difference in how veterans are integrated into their workforce, companies must go beyond the so-called “veteran-friendly” trend to create a truly veteran-ready business. I hope sharing some of my experience around this will help lay out how this can work for other companies looking to thrive.
First off, the nuance between veteran-friendly and veteran-ready is important.
I recently had the opportunity to speak about this philosophy during the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) Inclusion 2020 conference. I shared how at Microsoft, we’ve been on this path for years and it’s demanded determination, honesty, and open-mindedness from everyone involved. I’m proud to say that through trial and error, we’ve learned a few steps that any company can take to become veteran-ready:
- Recognize the value veterans bring to your business.
- Assess where your veteran retention strategies are falling short.
- Invest in your veteran community‘s strong bonds.
Each step is critical for civilian leaders and organizations to reframe their approach to attracting and retaining America’s military service members and reap the benefits of what these highly skilled men and women have to offer. It’s especially pertinent to begin evaluating these steps now, as many of our organizations begin to shift from navigating pandemic-driven hiring slowdowns or freezes to planning for future business needs.
Getting started: Recognize the value veterans bring to your business
The expertise and strengths veterans gain through service often align with what private companies are commonly recruiting for: Logistics. Operations. Finance. Human Resources. There’s a close connection between military background and industry need.
Especially in tech, veterans are uniquely qualified for some of the most in-demand and underfilled roles—and often have the security clearances companies need and want.
Beyond this, service members are trained in nontraditional settings that hone their ability to handle situations under pressure. That experience fosters and refines traits such as loyalty, a focus on mission over self, and a drive to support one’s team—desirable traits in every industry.
Taking stock: Assess where your veteran retention strategies are falling short
It is important to remember that simply recruiting veterans to generic roles not only does a disservice to them, but also to your company. Not only does their military experience add key qualifications and unique perspectives that benefit diverse corporate cultures, but veterans are more likely to stay in role in places where they feel valued for those very perspectives and qualifications.
For example, one study found that among service members who transitioned to civilian careers, nearly half left their initial job within a year, and more than 65% left within two years.
To avoid such turnover, a better strategy is to align veterans’ individual experiences with your particular business needs. It seems deceptively simple, but it’s far from standard practice. From our experience at Microsoft, retention rates are directly and positively impacted when veterans have the opportunity to use their acquired skills and abilities. The same study found that 90% of veterans surveyed said opportunity is one of the most important aspects of civilian employment.
So to set up veterans for success, you must take an honest look at how your company approaches hiring them. There is no one-size-fits-all approach, but certain questions can be explored to help start the conversation:
- How do current employees who are veterans feel about our culture?
- How do we welcome people of diverse backgrounds and experiences into our company?
- What types of roles are we recruiting veterans to fill and why?
These conversations can bring up sensitive topics, but respectful exploration of these themes is crucial for leaders to make informed, strategic decisions about building a more inclusive workplace—and to help transitioning service members feel valued within their new civilian organization from the beginning.
Reaping what you sow: Invest in your veteran community’s strong bonds
Those shifting out of military service are often overwhelmed when seeking civilian employment. It’s not always clear to them that their skills and experiences align with what the private sector seeks. Connecting with other former service members who’ve successfully navigated the transition to a civilian career can make all the difference.
It was this realization that led us to create Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA), a program designed to help veterans and service members prepare for careers in the tech industry.
MSSA has been a game changer for our graduates, who often credit the bonds they form with their fellow classmates and mentors for the confidence they bring to forging a new career path.
The power of that camaraderie cannot be understated. That’s why, even beyond MSSA, all new Microsoft hires who are veterans are paired with a mentor to help them onboard to their role, their team and the company. We’ve learned that being veteran-ready means being ready to support the individuals and the community as a whole.
The payoff to this approach has been incredibly rewarding: Among MSSA graduates who get hired at Microsoft, nearly 80% are still with us after their first two years. We’re proud of that number. And that success has paid further dividends—beyond our own culture—through the Hiring Partner Program, which helps other companies recruit skilled veteran talent in a similar way.
Build your veteran-ready workplace
Everyone wins once service members are hired by truly veteran-ready companies—with vibrant, connected communities, who are set up for success, and contribute to an inclusive culture.
Visit military.microsoft.com to learn more about our programs that support transitioning service members and their families, as well as hiring partners on their journey to becoming veteran-ready.
Are you interested in a career with near boundless reach and global impact? Explore career opportunities at Microsoft.