Yes, You Can Recruit Like the Army

Back in early Spring, I was approached by a local HR organization to present at its local symposium with regard to an article that I wrote for ERE several months ago — “What Corporate Recruiting Can Learn from the U.S. Military.” Apparently the article struck a chord with the program manager, and he reached out to me and asked me if I could deliver a presentation based on the theme of the article. I obliged.

For those who perhaps missed the article when it ran, the main idea revolved around the high recruiting demands of the U.S. Military (in particular the U.S. Army); and how year after year the Army not only meets, but exceeds, its recruiting goals. An interesting fact to note: in one particular year, the Army needed to recruit 75,000 individuals into its ranks. The question I investigated was how a business (the Army in this case) could successfully recruit several thousand individuals year after year while companies in corporate America fail to reach recruiting goals that are nowhere close to the numbers the Army needs to obtain.

Through my research and personal experience, I drilled down on this concept and arrived at a simple conclusion: for the better part of Corporate America, recruiting is a broken concept. Our recruiting mindsets are broken. For further proof of this conclusion, unknowingly to me, I was later sent the anonymous survey results from the crowd that attended my presentation. While the majority of the feedback was very positive, some of the feedback and comments really surprised me, as in my experience — HR symposiums, conferences, conventions, etc. always serve as great meeting grounds for positive thinking, the sharing of successful practices, networking, and in helping each other build for success.

Below are several of the successful activities I found the Army engaging in through my research for the presentation I delivered:

  • Testing of candidates for aptitude and career field placement accordingly
  • Selling to the decision-maker
  • Identifying and meeting needs of the candidate
  • Selling excitement
  • Promoting strong set of core values
  • Providing training, advancement, and education
  • Stating points around benefits

Secondly, I compared the activities of the Army to some further research I located on the Internet about the way interviews are conducted in corporate America. The research was all readily available information and centered mostly on some ridiculous questions posed in interviews such as the following:

  • “How many balloons would fit in this room?”
  • “If you were shrunk to the size of a pencil and put in a blender, how would you get out?”
  • “How do you weigh an elephant without using a scale?”

I could go on forever, but I am sure you get the point.

Article Continues Below

The bottom line is that a decade ago the military’s efforts to use tools in the marketing/branding recruiting tool box were far behind corporate efforts. These days, its marketing efforts put most corporations to shame — and the numbers prove it. The main idea of this article is not to elevate the recruitment efforts of the military; rather, to help change the recruiting mindset in Corporate America.  The core functions that you can take away from Army recruiting and apply to your desk are the following: maintain high recruiting activities, keep an upbeat and positive attitude, use basic human touch techniques such as phone calls and face-to-face meetings, and sell opportunity.

I bet you are still wondering about the comments I received. Here they are, so you can see for yourself:

  • “Not all companies can recruit that way …”
  • “Did not appreciate insulting comments on other companies’ interview questions …”
  • “No relevant examples …”
  • “I don’t understand how aptitude factors into hiring decisions …”

Conclusion: the world has changed, human resources has changed, and last but not least, talent acquisition has changed. It’s a competitive labor landscape with a high demand of skilled and talented workers. If you want your organization to be competitive in its hiring objectives, then get with the program and drop the negativity and the “we can’t recruit like that” attitude and start thinking about what you can do. Lastly, if you are a CEO or any C-level executive for that matter and talent acquisition keeps you up at night, then maybe it’s time to get the right people on your bus.

Morgan Hoogvelt currently serves as director, global talent acquisition for ESAB, a leading engineering company. Drawing on his expertise in human capital strategy, executive search, RPO, essential hiring practices, candidate sourcing, Internet recruiting, and social networking, he provides organizations targeted, best-of-class solutions, and employment branding strategies that help his clients meet the challenges of recruiting, technology, and retaining and rewarding top talent. He is also passionate about delivering excellent customer service and building positive, productive relationships. He can be contacted at


13 Comments on “Yes, You Can Recruit Like the Army

  1. Morgan – Your article really resonates with me.
    My recruiting began in the Navy at the beginning of the all volunteer force. It was fun, exciting, demanding, and you knew your work was of real value.
    Opportunity, training, core values, and an enhanced future were key aspects in SELLING to prospects you mined. Another factor was the make-up of the recruiting force – motivated to deliver!
    Yes, corporate America misses the mark in most cases, but it can be fixed and must.

  2. Hi Morgan- I recently had the experience of watching my 14 yr old son go through the military recruiting tent at the NYS Fair. While my heart was in my throat as a mom, I was very impressed with the engagement and CRM. He was asked to provide basic information (Talent Network Tool) in order to receive his badge that he used to log in and play video games (aptitude testing). The recruiters were upbeat and engaging. I even watched this self-proclaimed non-athlete pump out push ups with pride. The literature has already started arriving in our mailbox. It certainly reinforced my commitment to pushing corporate clients to stretch their comfort level in these activities.

  3. Great Article! I was a military recruiter during the peak of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and have since transitioned to the civilian world. It was one of the greatest jobs, I have ever had. There are so many things that we can learn from the military recruiting program, but on the flip side of that coin, there are a few roadblocks that we as recruiters in the private sector have to overcome and adapt.

    1. Selling- We aren’t talking to 18-25 year old men and women (for the most part), we are talking to business professionals, tenured IT programmers, government contractors, so on and so forth.

    The Fix- So don’t sell like it, and don’t send the same copied and pasted emails. Start a conversation, not chain mail that gets sent to the trash/blocked folder.

    2.Testing- The ASVAB (Armed Serviced Vocational Aptitude Battery) is the test that every single military service member takes to join. It’s not that hard. If you have a SOLID high-school education you can pass it.

    The fix- Create screening questions that will tel you if you are wasting your time on sending a candidate to testing. I used this question on HS Seniors and graduates. “What kind of grades did you get in Algebra 2?” If the candidate got a B or above, it was smooth sailing. Figure out your own industry questions or screens that will save you time. We get into the habit of over qualifying candidates from time to time so we can make our clients happy.

    3. Selling Excitement- You can get excited about selling a job where you get to go blow up stuff. It’s hard to get excited about filling a corporate role that may seem less glamorous. So don’t sell the job. Sell the company culture or the company itself to the candidate. It’s an easier buy, every time.

    For the average company in America, you are out spent by marketing and advertisement, and you are out numbered because you can stumble upon a recruiting shop walking down the street. Take a little time, use a little finesse, and understand the work ethic is what drive the military recruiting force.

    Again, a great article and thanks for sharing.

  4. @Arron: IMHO, you are/were a REAL recruiter- most of the rest of us (and I include myself) just play at it. Well done, sir….


  5. Morgan, you clearly get it.
    Unfortunately, most public company talent acquisition leaders and their staffs have minimal clue; they think they do, but most are either so incompetent or full of themselves that they couldn’t recruit a dog for a walk.

  6. Morgan-

    There sure are a few process basics that should permeate every recruiting operation, the most important being to sell not the job but the next step of the job; this is what our military recruiters do very, very well.

    As far as testing is concerned, the military has been the greatest testing machine in our country’s history; the reason it works so well is that because the pool of test takers has been in the tens of millions, the results can be used to make far more accurate hiring decisions. Corporate America has a long way to go with assessment particularly if “they” want to rely on a single instrument (which is frankly a silly idea).

    The other testing problem is the belief that many HR types and recruiters (more agency than corporate) – and I might as well include hiring managers too – believe they possess an ESP like ability to sense a good one. Yeah – and have you ever been divorced? How many relationships have you had? What happened to that ESP in those cases? This goes back to the need for testing which still hasn’t gained the toehold needed to be part of a new era of recruiting.

    As far as excitement, if you aren’t selling the problems to be solved then you’re just peddling pink fuzzies and puppy dogs. It’s remarkable how many recruiters sell everything except the actual job (and for all the agency recruiters in this thread, I’m looking at you).

    Core basics notwithstanding, this is where the similarity ends. I’ve been a COI with AREC for about 10 years now and have worked with many recruiting stations talking about all things sourcing and recruiting. What the military has that corporate folks don’t is a candidate community that is so much larger than any non-military entity; I hope I don’t have to spell out what this means.

    Second, the number of recruiting stations and recruiters is huge. For the Army (AREC) alone, “there are approximately 9,500 Soldier and civilian recruiters working out of more than 1,400 recruiting stations across America and overseas” ( So that works out to approximately 8 hires per recruiter per year for the 75K hires (and a few DEP losses, right Arron); what do you think about that Morgan?

    Third, the selling of excitement is a wonderful thing but as Arron can attest AREC has a pretty formidable obstacle that needs to be handled by its recruiters – something no other corporate or agency recruiter has ever had to address…the possibility of being KIA. What the military has that corporation has that I’ve ever seen is an alumni group of successful people at all levels in business.

    The very best AREC recruiters (Arron – the “ring” bearers) (a) address the reality of the job including the fact that a career in the military includes the possibility of death, (b) discuss the potential for those willing to work harder to achieve great things (and they aren’t lying about this), and (c) point out that so many of our country’s great leaders in and out of business served in the military.

    So what are you selling?

  7. Great post! Recruiting and hiring managers can really take a lot of advice from the U.S. Army. They didn’t always have such iconic ads and marketing plans, but they have a strategy that’s evolved with new technologies and new needs. Why shouldn’t we do the same?

    If we’re going to hinder forward-thinking in recruitment, then we will never seen any positive changes. Why not integrate social recruiting and targeting? Your fans are likely already passionate about your brand and thus if you can reach the right ones (by location, education, and ideally skill set), you could attract higher-quality applications.

    You’re right, the world has changed and so has talent acquisition.

  8. @Jim – thanks for your comment and also for your service. And yes, you are 100% right – we must fix it in Corporate America.

    @Tina – amazing stuff, the key word that I picked out here is “engaging” and it is not hard to do. My best recollection of a recent career fair I went to was the majority of the company recruiters sitting behind their booths playing or talking on their cell phones. And then when prospective seekers approached, they acted like the seekers were bothering them – it was unreal. Your son at age 14 will probably never forget that experience as will a 30’something job seeker who is treated nice, engaged and so forth. For me, it is all about engagement, communication, follow up and thoroughness.

    @Ty – great parallel and right on the mark. Incompetent and don’t get it are the two biggest miscues that I see every day. Thanks for the comment.

  9. @Steve, You always add value to the conversation! To your first point, you MUST sell the organization. If you fail to do that, selling the job will be pointless (unless it’s a dream job), thanks for elaborating on that one for me. You still have to sell the job even if you can sell organization like hotcakes.

    Second, Recruiting and Retention Command will always outnumber any of it’s competitors. More “boots on ground” means more mouth pieces to broadcast, market, brand, and recruit for it’s organization weather you sell on tangible or intangibles. How can recruiters in the corporate world beat that? Create self multipliers like @Jason Webster is hinting at. In regards to DEP losses (aka attrition) I had about 5 losses my entire 4 years and change, while recruiting with the military. If you have a DEP (attrition) loss you didn’t sell the organization AND job/benefit right, or there was a major life change. It happens to the best of us. Attrition management starts with recruiting.

    Your third point, has always been a nightmare for me, only because I fear one of my Soldiers that I brought into that lifestyle won’t make it back. I keep up with almost every Soldier I have ever put in. And I had “the talk” with them before they signed a single document. It’s a tough one, but if you give candidates the information (good and bad) and truly give them the choice, they will surprise you. Treat candidates like adults, not a meal ticket, and you will be surprised what they do when it comes to decision time.

    To answer your final question… Recruiters are selling THEMSELVES. Candidates buy YOU before they buy a single business, job, benefit, or compensation package. Understand this, couple it with impeccable ethics, and you can’t lose. Great conversation!

  10. Thank you for this article and for the thoughtful replies. Though I have never served, over the past couple of years I have been exposed to the military recruiting process via the experiences of a number of recent or potential recruits and one thing is clear to me: the military absolutely delivers on its promise of training which is key to these potential recruits. Regrettably, in corporate America training and development is often one of the first HR functions to be cut back when economic times get tough, which makes it harder for a corporate recruiter to sell that benefit. Among the key reasons I left corporate recruiting was that the function had also become more focused on compliance than selling, with unfortunate consequences. From a recruiter’s perspective, this article and its comments put the focus where it belongs!

  11. Morgan:
    This is a great article as was your first one. You are preaching to the choir. That said, I’m not sure that the Army’s recruiting practices are the best analogy. Plus, has anyone looked at the long term success of recruits?

    As so many people admitted in my session at last Fall’s ERE Expo, they don’t believe that the top people in the organization (CEO, CFO, COO) are willing to make the necessary changes. Change must begin at the top. If the top doesn’t believe the talent strategy buck stops with them nothing will ever change.

    I live this daily and am thrilled when a CEO gets this. I’m currently working with a CEO in the midwest on what a project will look like. He’s a huge advocate of his executive team being aligned in a way that works for the entire company. He’s having huge problems finding and elevating talent and is looking to solve this problem. He took the company over 3 years ago just before it went bankrupt and has been profitable 3 years running. He is committed to keeping the momentum before it breaks in a way that costs millions.

  12. @Carol – thanks for the feedback and comments. I do feel sometimes I am preaching to the choir, but if I was preaching to the choir – I wouldn’t see lots of companies complaining about losing this so called “War for Talent”. I wouldn’t go to a career fair and see a horrendous lack of engagement from recruiters. I wouldn’t hear all the horror stories of how bad some recruiters are nor would I hear comments like I did at the symposium like, “We can’t recruit that way…”

    I do agree that everything should start at the top; and if it did, then this would be a perfect world. The fact of the matter is that obviously there are those who get it. There are plenty of C-level people that don’t value a strong HR organization and then there are those who do. Whether there is value in HR or not, each one of us can still perform at our very best and still do our jobs to the best of our ability; and if you don’t like where you are and if people don’t get it – then leave.

    So many people flock to conferences and seminars to get ideas and brainstorm and look for the next best recruiting solution – when a small behavioral change can be monumental. Recruiting success is not derived from Monster, LinkedIn Talent Finder, Twitter, an ATS, or any other piece of technology. Recruiting success is derived by personal activities and approach and that is how the Army, the Marine Corps., the Navy and the Air Force are all successful in recruiting talent. So if they can do it, why can’t we? The Army’s practices are a great analogy – it is an accomplishment of great success.

    Who else successfully recruits 80,000 people in one year with a possible career ending result being death? And the long term success of recruits is right in front of us – it is built on the longevity and success of the military. Like any company in corporate America, they have succession planning, promotions, leadership, and all the same needs as any company in the country.

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