A few years ago, many companies viewed veteran hiring essentially as charity — a nice thing to do, a way to chip away at sky-high vet unemployment rates and get some good public relations in the process.
Things have changed.
With the unemployment rate for the latest generation of veterans routinely running below 7 percent, companies across all industries have realized how vets can boost bottom lines — and they're fighting to bring people like you onboard.
"They bring skills and talent that we desperately need," said Teri Matzkin, manager of military relations and strategic sourcing for talent acquisition at Lockheed Martin Corp.
Each year, a team of five veterans, dedicated to recruiting current and former service members for Lockheed jobs, attend more than 200 events for transitioning service members, she said.
"Now the competition is even more intense for this type of talent," Matzkin said. "We must continue to look for every means ... to attract and retain them."
Lockheed took the third spot in our Best for Vets: Employers 2015 rankings. Verizon, USAA, BAE Systems and Charles Schwab & Co. round out the top five.
More companies than ever before responded to this year's survey, which included more than 80 questions and explored, in great detail, each employer's recruiting, culture and policies.
Some results were dramatic.
The efforts start at the top: 97 percent of responding companies reported having a current service member, veteran or military spouse among the top leaders.
Nearly every single responding company — 98 percent — told us they attend military-specific job fairs and went to an average of 39 such events in 2014.
Better than nine in 10 have relationships with the military's transition assistance program, and a similar number work with with both professional military associations and veterans service groups to recruit veterans.
More than eight in 10 have at least one recruiter who spends significant time specifically on recruiting current or former service members or families.
And companies reported spending an average of about one-fifth of their recruiting budgets specifically on attracting veterans.
Efforts don't end at recruiting:
- Nearly eight in 10 companies told us they have at least one employee group for military-connected people.
- About 89 percent do military-related service projects.
- Nearly three-quarters accept military experience instead of some civilian certifications.
- A majority try to accommodate military spouses facing a permanent change-of-station move or service member's deployment, such as flexible scheduling, off-site work or job transfer.
Most importantly, every single company that made this year's list told us they are hiring now.
Verizon, which climbed to the top of our rankings for the first time this year, increased its number of veteran hires by 90 percent from 2013 to 2014, said Evan Guzman, the company's head of military programs.
The company saw the success of its existing veteran employees and made greater recruiting efforts, he said.
A separating service member doesn't even have to be in the country to be recruited by Verizon, which has set up virtual platforms to connect with overseas military talent.
Still, Guzman said, Verizon's goal isn't just to bring in quality veteran talent for itself, but to be a "veteran advocate" for those who will end up with jobs at other companies.
"We want to make sure we at least give them some guidance and support."
That's a common sentiment among the companies taking part in Best for Vets: Employers.
One of the biggest multi-company veteran hiring initiatives is the 100,000 Jobs Mission. That effort pioneered by JPMorgan Chase & Co. started in 2011 as a coalition of 11 companies with a goal of hiring 100,000 vets by 2020. By the end of 2014, it had grown to more than 191 companies that have collectively hired more than 217,000 veterans.
"While we certainly believe that every veteran hire is important, what's more important about the 100,000 Jobs Mission is the organizational forum that's been created" between companies, said Maureen Casey, managing director of the military and veterans affairs program at JPMorgan Chase.
Chris Davison, a military and veteran recruiting manager for BAE Systems, agreed.
"It's really a best-practice-sharing exercise," Davison said. "We learn from them. They learn from us. And it just makes us better as a team of employers."
Just under half of companies responding to our survey told us they are affiliated with the 100,000 Jobs Mission.
Some of the companies that were not part of that effort were part of others, such as the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, the White House Joining Forces initiative or the Hiring Our Heroes job fairs conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.
"As much as we would like to, we cannot hire every veteran out there," said Jackie Purdy, vice president of talent management for San Antonio-based USAA.
The company, also a member of the 100,000 Jobs Mission, has developed unique training programs and jobs catering to veterans and military spouses as part of a wide-ranging recruitment initiative.
But USAA also makes efforts to work with vendors focused on military hiring. In addition, the company offers help and advice to vets both within and outside the company.
Lockheed's Military Connect program is a social media community that connects transitioning service members with the company's vet employees — and not just recruiters.
"It's not a typical talent community where you are just sending them job postings," said Matzin. "This is content. This is information that will provide them lifelong learning."
Pursuing a civilian career related to your military occupational specialty often is an easy and obvious approach — but that doesn't mean it's the right one.
"You definitely have to keep an open mind," said Elizabeth D'Angelo, a former Air Force captain who worked in public affairs while in uniform and is now a USAA software developer. "You can't silo yourself just to the career that you've been doing in the military."
Others offered similar advice, noting that military service typically forces people to quickly adapt to new roles and circumstances.
"Service members have an accelerated learning curve," Verizon's Guzman said.
Thomas Jones, a retired Army first sergeant, said he took a broad view of how the skills and abilities he learned in the military could apply in the civilian world, and that served him well.
Now a Verizon employee, Jones advised his fellow veterans not to be hesitant applying for jobs they think they may not get and not to be shy about highlighting awards, recognitions, certifications and other individual achievements.
"I'm a firm believer in 'If you've got it, flaunt it.' "