U.S. Army Recruiting Needs Your Help!

After analyzing the U.S. Army's approach to recruiting, I have some suggestions for action steps that it could take to improve their efforts. Maybe the ideas presented below will trigger some ideas of your own. Certainly many of them could also be used to improve recruiting at your own organization.

  • Take advantage of referrals. Referrals are always the foundation for great recruiting results, but unfortunately the Army seems to under-utilize them. Current members of the military should be routinely approached and asked to provide names of relatives and friends who would make good soldiers. They should be encouraged to go through their address books for potential prospects. In addition, unit managers should be given targets for the number of referrals from their units. The commander, the unit, and the referring individuals should get some recognition and rewards for successful referrals. Even civilians and veterans should be rewarded for making successful referrals. New recruits in particular should be asked on their first day to provide the names of others. During the recruiting process, even individuals who are currently being considered for enlistment should be asked for additional names during the interview process. Also, soldiers and recent recruits themselves should be encouraged to help "sell" candidates on the benefits of joining.
  • Focus on parents. The current effort should be increased so that information is provided to parents with children of military age. It's always important to identify those individuals who influence and encourage the career plans of others. Parents, mentors, and counselors should be provided with a list of the benefits and frequently asked questions so that they can better guide someone into or away from a military career.
  • Form an advisory committee. Directors of military recruiting should build relationships with local recruiters. They should form an advisory groups of local recruiters in order to get the best advice on how to design their programs. In addition, military recruiters should sponsor quarterly "recruiting roundtables" where recruiters can learn from each other and provide advice to the military. Because becoming a recruiter in the military isn't a long-term position for most soldiers, individuals in these positions could always use some guidance on the latest tools and technology. Most management of the skills and experience possessed by most military recruiters is less than adequate. Separate advisory groups can be helpful when you are attempting to attract immigrants, re-enlistees, and diverse individuals.
  • Advertise in movie theaters. Corporations have been advertising at the movies for years, and the Army should learn a lesson from them. These ads would be particularly effective right before action movies, which draw the type of people that army recruiters are trying to enlist. The same approach might work at movie rental outlets and services.
  • Hire contract recruiters. Rather than relying exclusively on military personnel, the services should consider using more temporary contract recruiting professionals to supplement their team until quota levels are reached.
  • Start earlier. Recruiters would have a better chance of convincing individuals who are currently in school to join if they started earlier in their academic career. By starting on students in their sophomore or junior years in either high school or college, recruiters will have more time to sell the candidate on the benefits of joining the military upon graduation.
  • Identify college dropouts. One of the best sources of recruits for the military can be college dropouts. Individuals who have failed to achieve their college goals are likely to be willing to consider a career in the military. The key is to identify them precisely when they're dropping out and before they have found a civilian job. By working with universities and student loan lending institutions, recruiters might be able to convince them to supply recruiting materials and information directly to these dropouts. In some cases, it might be possible to get their contact information so that recruiters could contact them directly.
  • Drop the recruiting center name. Continue the process of changing the names of your recruiting centers located in malls and shopping centers to career centers. Also, begin to offer a wider range of services. By providing a wider range of career services, the military will attract some individuals who might not have even considered the military. The centers could offer resume help, assistance in getting into college, as well as advice on a military career.
  • Deemphasize sign-on bonuses. The current approach of offering bonuses of up to $40,000 is expensive — and it's the wrong way to attract the best people. Bonuses can backfire and actually cause people to delay joining until they think the bonuses have reached their maximum. Instead, focus on the benefits of working for the military.
  • Focus on employment branding. The military has done a horrible job in branding itself as an excellent place to work. A major effort should be undertaken to demonstrate the great management and business processes within the military, as well as how the benefits compare to private, award-winning firms. Officers need to be encouraged to speak and write so that parents and potential recruits know about the great managers and management practices in the military. In addition to winning awards as a best place to work, the military should also be known as a place where individuals can acquire up-to-date skills and a knowledge of technology.
  • Better sourcing. It is critical that the military reintegrate its sourcing metrics in order to identify which recruiting sources produce the most and the highest quality candidates. By refining its sources, the military can save wasted resources and time.
  • CEO testimonials on "how it really helped me." Have high-level, successful businesspeople like CEOs provide testimonials on how the military helped prepare them for an executive career and how their companies target ex-military professionals for hiring. Well-known diverse individuals can also be utilized to give testimonials, and having sexy Hollywood types say how "sexy" soldiers look in uniform will certainly get a lot of press attention.
  • Shared services. For some reason, most intra- and inter-service recruiting offices run independently from, and sometimes in competition with, each other. Instead, the military needs to develop a "what's works" sharing program that encourages the rapid sharing of problems and best practices within and between the services. The services should also benchmark the best recruiting practices of other countries.
  • Web pages. The military needs to make its websites more attractive and compelling. The current website has many flaws, the least of which is that it does not provide any "wows" to excite potential applicants. A great website should be able to morph (change) so that it provides information that is relevant to the candidate viewing it. In addition, recruiters need to actively identify and participate in chat rooms and list servers that people of military age utilize. Major corporations and job boards should be encouraged to directly link their career sites to military recruiting sites.
  • Boomerangs. Develop a "revisit team" that specifically targets people who dropped out at the last step. In addition, just as corporations have boomerang program to recruit former employees, the military should reinvigorate its efforts to reenlist individuals who have been out of the military for one to five years.

Other miscellaneous suggestions include:

  • Concentrate your recruiters in areas with the highest success rates.
  • Develop and utilize a professional "closing team" with experts on closing the deal with reluctant recruits.
  • Ask new recruits on the first day which recruiting practices and approaches worked and which didn't.
  • Encourage recruiters to take sales and closing courses.
  • Place ads in newspaper sports sections and other areas that teens read.
  • Give every recruiter a subscription to ERE.
  • Involve military suppliers and contractors in the recruiting process.
  • Recruit at flight schools and gun clubs.
  • Recruit sports teams to join together.
  • Utilize video games as recruiting tools. Encourage companies to place reminders in their war and action games.
  • Provide a video streaming "day in the life" of a soldier on the website in order to show what an average day looks like.
  • Reward candidates for attending an interview and change interview times and locations to better fit their needs.
  • Encourage ministers to help refer members.

Recruiting for the military is one of the toughest jobs around. But there's a lot the military can learn about recruiting from the private sector — and if you're a recruiter in the private sector, I encourage you to share this expertise with — and contribute some of your own ideas to — your local military recruiting center.

About Dr John Sullivan

Dr John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions to large corporations.

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