If you think it’s hard to convey to candidates how they might feel after a stressful day as a nurse, law enforcement officer, or air traffic controller, imagine trying to describe what it’s like to fly an F-22A Raptor or carry an M-16 rifle in the Iraqi desert. The U.S. military (whose recruiting tactics are explored in more depth in the March Journal of Corporate Recruiting Leadership) uses a blend of artificial intelligence and human intelligence to provide prospects with realistic combat previews, so they can make informed choices.
On the U.S. Army Web site, prospects can access podcasts, participate in discussion boards, chat online with active duty soldiers and recruiters, and watch videos which depict various Army careers and combat training. But the Army also gives candidates access to free war games, so they can virtually experience combat situations and assess their skills. The games resonate with millennial prospects, who average 17 to 24 years of age, and who are quite comfortable having a joystick in one hand and a mouse in the other.
“We use photos, tell stories, and recruits hear soldiers talk about combat in experience centers set-up all across the country,” says Lt. Col. John E. (Ed) Box, battalion commander, Chicago Recruiting Battalion, U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “In the experience centers, soldiers returning from combat relay their personal stories to recruits. We also provide virtual combat experience through the America’s Army website, which features free war game downloads for computers and the Xbox 360.”
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The use of simulated training environments has grown in a number of industries for good reason; virtual training has proven to be effective and trainees are free to make mistakes, without creating dire consequences. Airline pilots have trained in-flight simulators for years and surgeons practice new medical procedures through a combination of hands-on and simulated experience. The military is highly advanced in its use of simulated training; applying the technology to the recruiting and screening process is a logical way to immerse candidates into stressful situations, so they can experience the environment and the emotions it evokes.
In the “See What It’s Like” section of the U.S. Air Force Web site, candidates can test their ability to refuel jets at 22,000 feet or fly with the Thunderbirds. The interactive tools comprise just a small portion of the tactics employed by military recruiters to achieve the increasing annual goals for new signees. Despite the obstacles of lengthy deployments and ongoing war, recruiters from the U.S. Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps are achieving their annual recruiting mission by bonding with prospects, using carefully crafted messages and being brutally honest about military life.