U.S. Army Recruiting Needs Your Help!

In case you are unaware, the U.S. military in general ó and the Army in particular ó is having a great deal of difficulty in meeting its recruiting quotas. No matter what your position is on the issue of the military, I think we can all agree that a severe shortage in any one branch is certainly not good for the security of the country. And that brings out the primary reason for this article. I believe, as professional recruiters, there is a role that we can play in helping the Army and the military better learn the latest recruiting strategies and tools. After reviewing their approach, their website and their strategy, it is clear to me that they could use some professional recruiting device. So I’m calling on both corporate and third-party recruiters to contact their local recruiting center (they’re listed in the yellow pages) or the Army recruiting command (its leaders can be found at this website) and offer your ideas and support. 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 ó 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:

Article Continues Below
  • 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 ó and if you’re a recruiter in the private sector, I encourage you to share this expertise with ó and contribute some of your own ideas to ó your local military recruiting center.

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



16 Comments on “U.S. Army Recruiting Needs Your Help!

  1. As a former Army Recruiter (1990-1993) I think that there is one point that that was not discussed. Most military recruiters are ‘Selected’ by their respective Military Departments, what this means is that they are yanked out of their career field and required to accept a three tour of duty as a recruiter. While these men and women are some of the best in their respective fields, being a stellar Infantryman or Aviator does not mean that they will be an outstanding recruiter. Only about 10% of recruiters actually volunteer for this difficult position, the rest get colunteered. While some of them excel at the position, many are just biding their time and view their current position as a necessary evil to get back to the mainstream military and doing what they love to do. The military does have a core professional recruiting force, people who stay in recruiting for the remainder of thei military careers, these are far outweighed by the folks who just want to go back to the ‘real’ Military.

    The military could benefit from spending more time recruiting from within the people that will eventually be representing them on the street as Recruiters. By finding and focusing in on which people become the best recruiters and redoubling their efforts on finding volunteers fromt the best performing groups, I think that many of the problems would be solved. People who love what they do, do it better.

  2. Truly outstanding post by Dr Sullivan. Having spent 13 successful years in Air Force recruiting including four years recuiting in NYC during vietnam (CMSgt, USAF, ret) as well as the last 20 plus years as a headhunter, I fully endorse his ideas. Military recruiting would benefit tremendously from Dr Sullivan’s inputs.

    I hope he ‘CC’ Secretary Rumsfeld!

  3. I didn’t realize that we are part of the political and military process. I could swear that we work for companies and not the government. Since when did we also swear allegiance to helping the military do their job? I had no idea it was an inherent allegiance. I guess I missed that part of the contract.

    Amazing. Perhaps there’s a reason they cannot fill their quota.

  4. http://martinirepublic.com/

    Much of what’s wrong with the military is to be found in the upper ranks. And I mean the upper upper ranks. The one in charge. Know what I mean?

    Fun facts about roman soldiers from a 4th grader’s online report/maybe there are lessons in these?

    The Roman soldier was a professional soldier. This means that he joined the army for 25 years and would be paid a salary.

    A part of his wages was paid in salt, hence the saying ‘being worth your salt’ — (a good worker).

    The Roman Army was successful because it was better equipped and organised than any army had been before.

    The Romans were so good at inventing things that they made the first machine gun – which could fire many bolts a minute. No-one invented another machine gun for over 1900 years!

    As a professional soldier, he spent most of the time training and kept his uniform clean and smart. As well as being first class fighters, the legionaries were good engineers and craftsmen.

    Interesting study:

  5. As a former Marine (is there such a thing?), wanted to point out that many of your suggestions are already in place in the Marine Corps Recruiting Command.

    The Marines have (yet again) met their recruiting goals for the year, and the Army came up short. Why? You touched on it in your article – branding. They do it better than anyone (including many civilian companies).

    Think of the memorable campaigns over the last 30 years (since the introduction of the all volunteer force): ‘We’re Looking for a Few Good Men’; ‘We Didn’t Promise You A Rose Garden’; ‘The Marine Corps Builds Men’ and ‘The Few. The Proud. The Marines’. The MC has spent a larger percentage of it’s operating budget on MARCOM than any other service — consistently — for the last three decades to ‘throw the gauntlet down’ to young men and women aged 16-30, asking the question ‘are you good enough?’. This transcends economic boundaries, eclipses career goals — it’s become a litmus test for manhood. (My apologies to the women in our group – not trying to be chauvanistic, merely stating fact).

    Marines volunteer and must qualify to be selected for recruiting duty. Once selected they go through an exhaustive training regimen, attending sales courses (as you suggested) at the Xerox facility in Northern Virginia (and return there annually for refresher training)

    Another reviewer brought up the challenge of attracting new recruits in light of the injuries and deaths resulting from the war. As to how to deal with the spectre of death or injury — that has actually been one of the most alluring parts of military service – for reasons unknown, 18 year olds new to manhood believe themselves to be invicible and indestructable – I know I did (learning since that time I’m neither) – and welcome the opportunity to prove it to themselves, their friends and family. Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘Soldiers will fight long and hard for a bit of colored ribbon.’ The Army tried to capitalize on this when Pat Tillman, a former NFL player who quit football to join the Army in the wake of 9-11, was killed in Afghanistan. Initial reports of Tillman’s heroics proved too good to be true when the Army reported that he’d actually been killed by friendly fire. Adding insult to injury, the Army admitted they knew about this from the outset, sitting back idly while the media churned out Audie Murphy-like stories of sacrifice, patriotism and service (and the Army profited in the form of an increased number of new recruits inspired by Tillman’s sacrifice.)
    Partly due to this, the Army’s credibility was dealt a serious blow.

    Could the military benefit from the private sector providing subject matter expertise on recruiting? Perhaps in the form of an advisory panel to provide recommendations on best practice sharing among services, training/education, and branding.

    We’ll be in the Middle East region for some time to come, and I don’t see how the Army will be able to fill the pipeline with enough new recruits to meet the demand, efforts of private sector SMEs notwithstanding. Am sure the DoD brass in the Pentagon realize this — could reinstatement of the draft be far away?

  6. Dr. Sullivan proposes that the army implement some of the best practices utilized by corporate recruiters.

    OK, suppose that I am the VP of Human Resources for XYZ Corporation, a very high profile, but not necessarily very highly respected company. Let’s imagine that XYZ has received a LOT of negative press lately and that even in the best of times, XYZ offers salaries that are well below competitive and that their safety record is not too good either.

    Well, I can’t dispute Dr. Sullivan’s premise that a better referral program, advertising in movie theaters and quadrupling my number of recruiters would inevitably lead to a few more hires…but as the VP of HR, my advice to my CEO/Commander in Chief would be to save that money and take a closer look at the reasons nobody wants to work for us anymore.

  7. One suggestion I might make concerning John’s recommendations.

    Asking for a referral on the first day.

    In my Army career, I commanded a reception company — the first place a soldier goes after signing up where it’s really the Army. New soldiers get yelled at by drill sergeants, they stand in lines and wait, they fill out forms again and again, they get horrendous haircuts, they wear funny clothes, they get confused by the terminology and they get homesick. Unlike people starting a new job, soldiers are very scared, very frustrated and most would go home if given the chance. In other words, they are not at their shining best.

    Ask for referrals when they are at a peak and proud of what they have accomplished and proud of their service. Examples might be when they complete basic training or advanced training. You have weeded out the low performers and now have people who are able to give a true impression of what they accomplished.

    Of course, if you send them home and let them help in the recruiting process (an extension of the Hometown Recruiter Assistance Program), they can really add value (though at a cost).

  8. Dr. Sullivan many of your ideas are sound good on paper, however until the military truly realizes that recruiting is a sales job and treats it as such they will continue to have the same challenges year over year.

    One of the major challenges is good sales people want to be rewarded for their efforts that’s why sales jobs are so leveraged. (i.e 50% base 50% commision) The incentive for a military recruiter is if they make quota they do not have to work on Saturday or get couple of pieces of wood at that end of the year. Really motivating huh!!

    Yes, you are sent to intense sales training, but sells requires a attitude and personility that the military can not teach. When the economy is bad and we are in peace you can get the average GI Joe or GI Jane to process candidates but now is the time your most seasoned recruiter will rise to the top. Oops the good ones have left the military for betting paying corporate or headhunting roles.

    Yes, this is a difficult time for recruiters and a tough sell, but in many respects the higher ups have no clue what is going on in the streets. The military must look at fixing recruiting for the long term not just a bandaid, I mean signing bonus.

    I could go on and on but this is just the 2 cents for a former Air Force Recruiter.

    Dr Sullivan if you get an invite from the military please let me know I would love to tag along.

  9. Before posting, I took a good look at the previous reviews, and was very pleased to see that many former Armed Services recruiters had joined the discussion. Listen to what they have to say.

    And for those who are unfamiliar with Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force and Coast Guard recruiting practices, please do not assume that they lack sophistication. My review of those practices, while pitching a consulting engagement for those overseeing recruiting at the Pentagon, led me to believe that there are very few modern recruiting approaches that have not been tried by the Armed Services.

    Nevertheless, the Army is in trouble. They are not meeting their recruiting goals, and it is doubtful that they will given the current situation:

    First, there is the war in Iraq, which is perhaps the most immediately public conflict that we’ve ever been involved in. And it hasn’t been pretty. While there are many heroic stories that will never wind up on the news, we are disappointed daily with the stories concerning how an NFL volunteer (a hero the day he made his decision to go) really died, or tales of prison abuse.

    Second, there are the widely publicized missteps by recruiters who let quotas get the best of them (sounds like some CEO’s we know whose need to report glowing financial results also went awry).

    Third, there is the mixed message sent to our men and women in uniform who see ‘merc’ pay for similar jobs at multiples of what they are earning. No one wants to be taken for a sucker.

    Given all this, it would be simple to sit back and just admire the problem. But that is not what John Sullivan is suggesting – he’s asking that we help out when our country really needs it. But let’s do so with respect for what those engaged in Army recruiting today know, the skills that they have and the difficulty of the task they face. And while you’re at it John, let’s ask for some help from our friends in the PR profession, as well. It’s going to take all of us to turn this situation around.

  10. John-

    Having blogged about this very topic several months back, let me tell you about my experiences. BTW, before one comments on this article, I’d suggest first paying a visit to a local recruiting center and talk to the recruiters. Incidentally, even if you’re against the military, rather than get all bent out of shape, why not view it as an intellectual challenge. Think it’s that much different for a person who’s Mom died from lung cancer after smoking for 50 years? Folks are still being recruited to tobacco companies. Substitute ‘alcohol’, etc. for tobacco and think about it. Military is for some, not for others. Move on.

    After spending time with the local Army recruiter and seeing how their recruiting organization works and is lead, I realize that culturally there are things that can and cannot be easily done. It was easy to get the recruiters to sign on to ERE – articles like this will reinforce the fact that they have a difficult job to do (and they’ll learn from reading the articles and interacting with the crew). The chain of command relies on ‘tried and true’ methods – some of which are incredibly archaic (again, don’t take my word for it – visit a recruiting center for a chat). I’ll add one to your list that you incredibly skipped over. There’s a small school called West Point whose alumni are peppered throughout companies in America – many grads are now your neighbors. Use these people as influencers (BTW, the Army has a group called COI- Core of Influence – of which I now find myself part of; the COIs are invited to events where they can interact with other COIs and members of the Army’s recruiting intelligencia). In fact, all honorables can be used to find the next great recruit. Another tip I gave them was to look at the local newspapers in the Spring and Fall for the local area’s All-County Athletic Teams. For instance, Newsday published the boys and girls all and second, third and fourth teams for all sports on Long Island. The recruiters see sport, some physical dimensions, and class. Not a bad place to start when networking (‘I hear you’re an All-County LAX player – so was I…’)

    And hey, you may even learn something about persistence…

  11. As an ex-Army recruiter some of your ideas are on point, and some are way off. Here is a little insight to how the Army recruiting command thinks.

    Let’s say Congress figures out that the country needs 100,000 people in boots. That is in Basic Training.

    The number is given to the Recruting Command and the ‘beef’ up that number to 150,000 (due to attrition, people refusing to go to basic, Losses etc…).

    That 150,000 is then pushed down to the Recruiters in the field and on the streets.

    Recruiters are graded on what joins and the Recruting Command is graded on what shows up to basic training.

    We use to pull people forward to leave for basic or push them back at the end of September based on where we were with our overall quota. SInce Oct 1 is the Govt. Fiscal year.

    Secondly bonuses are there to entice people on the fence to enlist. Most people that join the Army do so because they want to be like their recruiter (the Army has done numerous studies to back this.)

    Third. The Army is actually in most cases harder to get into then most colleges. After the mental tests,physical tests, and background checks it is only then you get the opportunity to serve your country.

    The Army is currently using contractors (mostly ex-recruiters) to help in their recruting needs.

    Now in response to your ‘suggestions’ the Army is actively doing all of the things you are suggesting.

    I will close with this when I was recruiting back in 91 I vividly remember sitting at a prospective candiates house and speaking with his perents ( he was 17 and needed them to sign for him). The rest of the family was in the living room watching CNN, and lo and behold the Scud hit the reserve barracks. Needless to say the whole family ran into the living room and watched the scene. I was left at the dining room table contemplating what was to come next. After a long discussion with the parents and their son, they agreed that the Army was still a good place for him to go.

    The point being that we as a Country must support and defend her at all costs. People may not agree with what is going on in the world, but is a much different place, post 9/11 and will remain that way.

    I encourage all of you that know anyone that is of age to ask them to explore their options in the U.S. Military.

  12. I too enjoyed the article and can only imagine how difficult recruiting must be for the Armed Forces. One keeps reading in the press about constantly increasing sign-on and re-sign bonuses the Pentagon is offering, but nothing about the equivalent of ’employee referral programs’.

    Don’t these exist in the Armed Forces? Referrals are #1 source of hires in general, are they not?

    Hans Gieskes
    CEO & C0-Founder H3.com

  13. You know I read the article and flashed back to ten years ago when I was an army recruiter for my last eight years of service. Six and a half day work weeks, 12 hour days, constant rejection, lived through it all. If you want to become a success as a military recruiter you end up becoming quite creative in finding quality candidates.

    So not to belabor the point but I can only concur with the others who posted a response on this topic. The Army’s recruiting force treats recruiting like any other combat mission and not from a business prespective.

    To bad, with the military’s esprit de corp and financial backing, if they approached it from a business prespective they would be serious competitors in the employment market. Since they don’t is does leave more for the rest of us. It certainly would be an interesting challenge to help them figure it out though.

  14. As someone who’s retired Navy and spent about 16 years in recruiting/career counseling, I’d like to offer just a couple of comments to this post.

    First, if you want a lesson in recruiting try recruiting people into a position where they will be underpaid, under-appreciated (by a large segment of this country), and over worked for a job that quite probably will be life threatening. Not to mention under a contract that says you could be in the position with the organization for life. Trust me, it will teach you a great lesson on how to find value in everything but money!

    Second, when folks say something it shows just how much they don’t know than they do. For instance, to blame the Commander-In-Chief for the Army’s (or any other Branch) recruiting deficiencies show just how little is known about the military and military recruiting. For those who choose to turn their noses up at any mention of helping our military, I can only say that our military is doing their part to serve you and the rest of us, isn’t it too bad that you feel a ‘contract’ is necessary to help them in return?

    Which brings me to my final point and suggestion on how to help our military recruiters the most. How about just showing our military the respect it deserves? How about supporting them all we can and doing so more in deed than just empty rhetoric? Maybe if we supported our servicemen and women today in the same manner that our WW I and WW II folks were, we’d have the same results that they did in their recruiting efforts. At the same time the war was going on, recruiting was still having no problem finding people who wanted to serve. Could it be because they knew they would come home a hero and be treated as such rather than the ‘You mean you were idiotic enough to join the military?’ attitude that is so often rendered today?

    So, let’s help our military recruiters with the benefit of suggestions from our recruiting experience – sure. But let’s also help them even more by showing our support for all our military!

  15. Sounds like you missed not just that part of the contract but the whole boat as well!

    The next time our country is under attack, feel free to call the corporations for whom you work for protection. I am sure they will be more than happy to send out the corporate staff to defend your life and your rights.

    Howard Adamsky
    HR innovators

  16. ‘Out of 75 kids I put in the Marine Corps, 70 of them were fraudulent enlistments.’

    The Recriter’s War by Michael Bronner
    This month Vanity Fair arriving in your mailboxes this week. If you’re not subscribed, make your annual ccheckup with your doctor and read it in the waiting room.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *