They wrote the book on how to hire veterans — literally

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Shrewd federal contractors and other companies like to hire military veterans who bring valuable skills. Now two veterans have written a how-to book that seeks to teach hiring managers what they call a data-driven approach to hiring and retaining veterans. Authors Kristin Saboe and Nathan Ainspan talked about the issues on Federal Drive with Tom Temin.

Interview transcript:

Tom Temin: And let’s begin with what this book is all about and who it’s aimed at, data-driven management sounds like a very narrow cast book.

Nathan Ainspan: Thank you, it’s a wider audience that it might sound. The book is for hiring managers, business leaders, the C-suite CEOs, senior leaders of organizations, private-public companies, even governments who want to hire and retain military veterans in their civilian organizations. And what the different tact that we’ve taken from many of the books that are out there is this data-driven approach. The authors, Kristen and I are both industrial organizational psychologists. And we’re psychologists with Ph.D.s who focused on psychology in the workplace: What motivates people, what drives people, how do you attract people, what are the things that really get people going and want to go to work in the morning? And we assembled a group of IO psychologists, many of them are also veterans, and each chapter in the book tackles a different area of the hiring, recruiting and retention that occurs in the company. And we use the science and the applied literature to answer the questions about how you hire and retain veterans. So rather than using the case studies that you might see in other places, or descriptions, what other companies do, we talk about the science of motivation, of competencies, and then what the science says and what you can learn from the science to be able to do your hiring and retention of veterans better.

Tom Temin: And what is the big major difference or major differences in hiring veterans versus hiring anybody else?

Kristin Saboe: Yeah, when we look at the veteran population – and I want to actually broaden that to be our military community more broadly, to include military spouses, and military caregivers, because we see that they have heightened unemployment and underemployment compared to the general population as well. And so when we’re looking at employing our military community members, we want to be particularly sensitive to one, it is a category that would be queued up as a diverse category. But they’re diverse due to their employment, which makes them a bit different from some other groups that would be falling under an EEO, say legislation or discrimination umbrella. And so when we look at hiring, we actually want to look at finding the best fit. It’s not just about hiring, but really retention, to what Nate was just hitting on in terms of best practices for ensuring you’re creating an environment that maximizes their skill sets. Some of the unique experiences and the competencies that come from those experiences with service. And then also making sure you’re helping to bridge what we call the civilian military divide, which is really a cultural divide between two communities. It tends to persist simply due to coming from an organization or an environment where there’s a really strong culture. And in strong cultures, a lot of those norms and experiences are dictated, may not be as explicitly known to you, you leave that culture, you enter a new culture, and suddenly you have to make a transition that can be quite significant for many people. And so helping in that transition is really critical, too, as the employer needs to meet the veteran or the military spouse halfway. And the veteran and military spouse has to meet the employer halfway.

Tom Temin: So in other words, the man-bunned, bearded, tech startup guy has to have some understanding of the button-down, sharp, military woman, and they have to meet somehow in the middle, you might say?

Kristin Saboe: Absolutely. And sometimes you might be surprised that that military veteran is more likely to fit into that tech startup than anyone would ever imagine. Because they’re highly entrepreneurial, they have that agility, and so it’s really about finding that individual fit. Once you’ve met a veteran, you met a single veteran. They’re all individuals coming from a single source employer, if you will.

Tom Temin: Sure. And I guess it sounds like what you’re saying it might be wise to approach this and I’ll make an analogy. If you have a diversity and inclusion program – and companies are taking programmatic approaches to that now – you should probably have a program for veterans to make sure that you get the best results.

Nathan Ainspan: It is coming up under the diversity and inclusion initiatives, and the companies that have done the D&I well tend to do veterans well. To underline, as the military would say “the foot stomp,” it’s got to be not just the diversity initiatives but also inclusions. Because what they’re finding is you can bring in the people and say you’ve hit your diversity marks, but do you really integrate the people? Do you really accept the different cultures and honor them, and bring them in and integrate them so they can work together and really maximize whatever everybody brings to the table? To what you said about the the techie person versus the buttoned up, that’s one of the things that we saw inn the signs in the book is that veterans can represent a range of interests and can fit in with different companies. It seems almost contradictory that many large bureaucratic organizations, government agencies like to hire veterans because they can exist and thrive in bureaucracies and know the chain of command, know to report to. But then we do see the startups that like veterans because they also find that veterans and military families are very entrepreneurial, which seems contradictory. But we’ve seen that the service members learn to be entrepreneurial in the bureaucracy. So depending on what your company’s focus is, how you – what your company values, and the corporate culture, your appeal, your interest in the veterans would vary. And that’s part of what we describe is really understand that your company, your goals, your mission, and how to appeal and find and recruit the veterans based on that mission.

Tom Temin: Sure, if someone’s main experience was the Defense Logistics Agency, for example, talk about a big bureaucracy where you’re doing a lot of process work – first as a frontline platoon leader, also a veteran – but they have totally different major pieces in their experience. Fair analogy?

Nathan Ainspan: Yes, definitely.

Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Drs. Kristin Saboe and Nathan Ainspan, co-editors of “Military Veteran Employment: A Guide for the Data-Driven Leader.” Alright, so I’m a company, I’m in charge of hiring or I have a specific need. What do I do first here, if I want to get better at hiring veterans?

Kristin Saboe: Yeah, that’s a great question and is always an “it depends” answer when it comes down to it. Ultimately, as a company, you need to know your own company, your own culture and your own value statements. And that’s going to drive the return on investment you’re going to get from any talent you bring in, right? And with veterans and the military community members, that’s no different. So you need to know why you’re bringing individuals in, and then make sure they’re fitting with that why. And be honest and candid in that. With veteran, sometimes it is important to be a bit more transparent in your hiring practices initially, to help them in that negotiation, help them understand job levels, because you’re moving from one system to another just as a federal worker that maybe moves to a corporate sector, it may be less aware of how the corporate sector works, how its functioning. So similarly, with veterans, you do need to help, maybe put out your hand a little bit more and be transparent in that process. And then once you onboard them, you want to make sure you have a strong system in place and policies that are really going to welcome them into the system and help with that transition for them as they’re going not just through the physical transition of a new employer, but also identity shift, in terms of shifting from “I’m a soldier, I’m a sailor,” to “I’m an employee at this company and driving my own career.”

Tom Temin: And where does the data-driven leadership fall in all of this?

Nathan Ainspan: It would be the the leaderships, the CEOs and others who look to the research and the science, on the one hand, to be able to understand what’s going on, to make decisions based on what the research has shown rather than just going on the gut. It also is data driven, and many companies collect extensive data on what the recruiting approaches are like, what works, what doesn’t work. And then also looking at what science is out there, and what we know about psychology and motivation, what we know about retention and what keeps people in place in different jobs and what may cause them to leave. And also – to use the retention as example – understanding your retention data, of looking at why people may leave, when they stay, what works in your organization, and understanding your organization specifically.

Tom Temin: And before we close, we should point out that you both have experience in this whole field, you have been in personnel and HR issues, Nathan in the DoD as a civilian.

Nathan Ainspan: Yes, I worked in the Army civilian personnel office for about four years. And I’m currently with the Transition Assistance Program as the military civilian transition office at the Department of Defense which runs the transition program for all the services. The book I did, on my own time as a side project, I’ve had years looking at the question of how to do the military transition, how it can be done successfully, and also just how companies can benefit? Coming from the industrial psychology perspective I don’t see it as charity or as patriotism, but you look at all the skills and the millions of dollars the government spends on training these people. And DoD has seen that, if these numbers after receiving all these experience, all this taxpayer provided training and experiences if they transition out and don’t use them in a successful way really maximize everything they’ve done, we’re wasting our taxpayers dollars.

Tom Temin: Sure, and Kristen, you were in the Army.

Kristin Saboe: Absolutely. So I actually took a bit of a path less traveled and I finished my Ph.D. in industrial organizational psychology and decided I had a desire to serve and do research as it drives strategy and policy, which is a unique world to be in. So I joined the Army as a research psychologist, had some fantastic experiences, deployed, I can literally say I risked my life for surveys, which very dramatic, but true.

Tom Temin: You could work for the Census Bureau.

Kristin Saboe: There you go – that there’s some truth to that. And then I was a staff officer at the Pentagon, actually, working within the the chief of staff for personnel. And now I in part lead our efforts for veterans and military spouses at Boeing, actually. So I have the unique opportunity to sit on all sides of this picture and have conversations with nonprofit partners, with other corporate entities, really understand how it works and then also have had the experience myself.

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