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Hiring a veteran is no charity act

Despite the lingering perception in 2015 that military veterans face an unemployment crisis, the unemployment rate for veterans has actually been steadily declining as the economy recovers. With the overall veteran unemployment rate hovering around 5 percent, and the post-Sept. 11 veteran unemployment rate now consistently below seven percent, an estimated 500,000 to 550,000 veterans are actively seeking work across the U.S.

While the various philanthropic organizations that have been helping veterans find employment can now breathe a sigh of relief, American employers cannot. In fact, with the economic outlook for hiring looking brighter, employers now need to commit more resources and work harder than ever to recruit, hire and retain high quality veteran talent.

Military Salute American flag
Jorge Villalba | Getty Images

Why do employers need to work harder than ever to hire veterans? Because hiring former service members is a smart business decision. Veterans are some of the most highly competent, entrepreneurial and technically trained people in the United States. Despite the ubiquity of philanthropic efforts to "help veterans get jobs," hiring veterans is not a charity act; hiring veterans is good for business.

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Companies who want to tap this elite talent pool must hone their efforts on not only recruiting and hiring, but also retention of veteran employees to limit turnover once they find the right individuals. If we look at the companies at the top of this year's MilitaryTimes' Best for Vets: Employers rankings, like USAA, Capital One, Bank of America and Lockheed Martin, we see that they are leading the pack by utilizing best practices in this area. They have clearly prioritized efforts to employ veterans, starting with a mandate from the executive leadership that flows seamlessly through the company and heavily influences human resources decisions.

Companies earn the label "Best for Vets" because they understand that there is no one-size-fits all method for recruiting veterans. Eighty percent of this year's Best for Vets businesses employ at least one staffer who spends a significant amount of time recruiting only veterans and military spouses. These companies also reported spending about 20 percent of their entire recruiting budgets on finding veterans. Some of these employers also leverage relationships with the Defense Department's Transition Assistance Program and work with professional military associations and veteran service organizations to actively engage in outreach.

Ninety-eight percent of the Best for Vets companies work to close the recruiting gap by attending military-specific job fairs. On average, they had a presence at 39 such events last year. These companies find value in attending veteran job fairs because they can interact face-to-face with veterans on a level-playing field of mutual understanding and respect.

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RecruitMilitary has learned from more than 600 job fairs that employers are always seeking to offer veterans meaningful employment. For companies that are not already attuned to the Best for Vets mindset, hiring veterans and ramping up related initiatives is simple in concept but requires skill to execute well. Many companies will face challenges as they redouble their focus on veteran hiring. Employers and managers, while supportive of the military, are often inexperienced in interpreting the importance of military culture, rank structure, the military promotion process, and prestigious military awards. But this inexperience can be overcome when employers recognize this challenge and pursue internal education to remove these biases.

On the flip side, some veterans lack the understanding of the civilian sector required to conduct an open-ended job search. This can cause them to shy away from applications because they don't see the description as inviting to military experience. By making small changes, like listing a job as requiring "5 years of industry experience or 3-5 years of military service," employers can combat that perception and help veterans see that they are fit for the job.

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When employers show veteran employees that they appreciate and value their skills and achievements and lay out a clear path for advancement, the return on investment regularly proves to be substantial for both the employer and the veteran. As the veteran unemployment rate continues to decrease and talk of an unemployment crisis subsides, employers must double down on their investments to successfully recruit, hire and retain our nation's best talent – its veterans.

Commentary by Peter Gudmundsson, a former Marine Corps officer who is the CEO of RecruitMilitary, the nation's leading veteran hiring company. Follow him on Twitter @PAGudmundsson