After four years of active duty in the U.S. Navy, former Petty Officer Second Class Sabrina Lynn moved home in 2014 to Staten Island, New York, looking for a job.
Encouraged by her aunt to find a company known for helping military veterans transition to the civilian workforce, Lynn came across a posting at financial services firm JPMorgan Chase & Co. for a job as an anti-money-laundering analyst in Delaware.
She applied, interviewed, and got the job that March. What was most surprising to Lynn wasn’t the ease with which she was able to find a company supportive of hiring veterans, but the way JPMorgan went about helping her adjust into her new role once she began working there — especially considering her desire to remain active in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
“I knew they were supportive, but not to the extent that I’ve experienced,” said Lynn, 32, now a petty officer first class, who has worked with the firm now for more than a year. “Once I started working here, I’ve experienced support of my reserves duty and also respect for my active duty service.”
Many companies run public campaigns supporting the hiring of military veterans, but few seem to go as far as JPMorgan does in helping them transition to civilian and corporate life. Since 2010, when the bank’s Chairman, President and CEO Jamie Dimon first instituted an integral committee at the firm to discover ways to support veterans and military families, JPMorgan says it has hired more than 9,400 veterans.
Through the development of its Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, started in 2011, JPMorgan has specialized the way veterans are brought into its workforce by helping them not only find jobs with the company but also housing and continuing education.
‘Hiring veterans: It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s the right thing for business.’
— Jim O’Donnell,head of military and veteran recruiting, JPMorgan Chase & Co.
Additionally, the New York-based bank, which has roughly $2.6 trillion in assets, conducts learning and development programming for both nonmilitary managers and its new veterans hires. It has also orchestrated an external coalition to encourage other organizations to hire and support transitioning veterans, with the aim of hiring 300,000 veterans by 2020.
What’s more, the company’s veteran assistance efforts extend beyond the U.S., with efforts in the United Kingdom providing employment for former military personnel, their spouses and partners.
JPMorgan’s internal veterans hiring effort has required the company to take expanded steps outside of its normal talent management practices that executives say are paying dividends — although the company says it has yet to compile enough data to tabulate a formal return on investment.
“Hiring veterans: It’s not just the right thing to do — it’s the right thing for business,” said Jim O’Donnell, JPMorgan’s head of military and veteran recruiting.
History of Support
Corporate institutional support for hiring military veterans has been fairly common throughout U.S. history, according to Bryan Zawikowski, a vice president and general manager of the military transition division of Lucas Group, a staffing and recruiting firm based in Atlanta.
After World War II, hiring veterans was considered the “patriotic thing to do,” Zawikowski said. Most men were drafted into the military straight out of high school, meaning most of the men looking for a job at war’s end held military backgrounds with no corporate experience.
“Back then, if you didn’t have military service, you had to explain why you didn’t,” Zawikowski said.
It wasn’t until the 1960s during the Vietnam War that companies began putting together hiring conferences for officers who were transitioning out of the military, Zawikowski said. He said this was despite the fact that the tension around the country’s military involvement in the region dampened many Americans’ view of the military.
Such conferences included military recruiters who would spend time withveteran job candidates to help them identify their skills and potential career interests, Zawikowski said. Since then, companies’ efforts to recruit former military members has only expanded, thanks in part to the rise of the Internet, email and, more recently, social media.
In 2014, the unemployment rate for U.S. military veterans was 5.2 percent for males and 6 percent for females, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Still, many veterans struggle to transition out of the norms of the military into corporate life, even though they bring many skills and experiences valuable to private employers.
“What I’ve seen is that military people that go into an unstructured situation can oftentimes create structure in it and create efficiencies because that’s what they’re used to doing — going into a chaotic situation and making sense of it all,” Zawikowski said.
When JPMorgan’s most recent push to hire transitioning veterans first began in 2011, the company decided to conceptualize the mission into three areas: employment, housing, and education and training.
O’Donnell, as JPMorgan’s head of military recruiting, oversees a recruiting team focused on veteran hiring. In addition to managing the veteran recruiting process at the bank, O’Donnell said he acts as an advocate for veteran workers entering JPMorgan by personally answering their questions and concerns as well as communicating their skills to hiring managers.
The recruiting process starts off with veteran candidates first indicating where they want to live and their career preferences. O’Donnell’s team of 16 then looks at the veteran’s experience and long-term goals to see if available jobs with the company are in that market. Given JPMorgan’s size, at roughly 237,459 employees, the bank offers plenty of jobs across the country.
“We’ll call that recruiter and say, ‘I’ve just made your job a little bit easier. I’ve screened these three or four veteran applicants for you, and here’s why we think it makes sense for you, as well as the hiring manager, to interview them,’ ” O’Donnell said.
Additionally, O’Donnell or a member of his team will discuss the veteran’s top skills to remind the recruiter and hiring manager about why this candidate would be the best fit for a given position.
Members of the company’s veterans recruiting team are dispersed around the country, but O’Donnell said the team also uses virtual communication tools to interact with candidates. The team also holds networking events throughout the year as well as outings where pre-screened candidates interview with the bank’s military recruiters.
In 2014, O’Donnell’s team held nearly 140 military networking events and almost 60 pre-screened interview events. What’s more, between 60 and 80 percent of the candidates interviewed at these events are ultimately offered positions with the bank. “Consistently, both recruiters and managers leave our events, and they’re just wowed,” O’Donnell said.
Once JPMorgan hires a military veteran and places that person in a job comes the challenges of helping the employee transition to a new environment.
Military service members enter the civilian workforce with many transferable technical skills, O’Donnell said, but they also bring skills around leadership, teamwork, integrity, working under pressure and timeliness. “When I run my recruiting events, the veteran population traditionally is not late,” O’Donnell said. “If we say we have a 4 o’clock start, we know that they are there starting at 3:30.”
The trouble in many cases, however, is helping them adjust to corporate culture.
According to Zawikowski, the military recruiter from Lucas Group, most veterans prior to entering the workforce have known only military life. “Being in the military you have a strong sense of community and camaraderie,” Zawikowski said. “It’s sometimes tough to find that in the corporate world.”
As a result, Zawikowski said many transitioning veterans tend to act like they’re still in the military when establishing camaraderie among co-workers, which, depending on the company, is much more formal.
Such was the case with former Navy service member Lynn. She said that when she first joined, she was told her relaxed attitude with co-workers wasn’t appropriate for her civilian role. “In the military, it’s less formal,” Lynn said. “You can be more laid back.”
Lynn also said she first struggled to shake a lot of the jargon used in the military. “Speaking to somebody in the civilian sector, and you’re using military jargon, you have to stop and say, ‘OK, I have to say exactly what this is and not an abbreviation,” she said.
To account for these cultural differences, JPMorgan offers two courses to help both transitioning services members and nonmilitary veteran recruiters and hiring managers. It also offers mentorships to help connect veteran hires with current managers and employees to personalize the transition.
Military 101 is designed for employees, like those on O’Donnell’s veteran recruiting team, to better understand the military and to help them communicate with veterans. This course, which consists of a 30-page handout on jobsmission.com, highlights how military services train people. A map of U.S. military bases is also provided, along with rank and military specialties, compensation and differences between service tracks. There’s no test component for this course.
An “important part of making sure we’re getting the right fit when hiring veterans is that our recruiters and hiring managers understand what experience these service members have coming out, [and] that they understand a little of bit the basics about the military so they can make informed hiring decisions,” said Tony Odierno, a former executive director of JPMorgan’s Military and Veteran Affairs team.
Body Armor to Business Suits aims to help veteran employees understand the cultural differences between the military and private sector. Once veterans accept a job, they receive a welcome letter that outlines programs and resources that could be helpful during their career at JPMorgan, including access to the transition course. Topics and tools highlighted include counseling, stress management, coping with change, communication strategies and emotional intelligence.
Additionally, JPMorgan uses mentoring to help new veteran employees transition. In 2013, the firm launched Pathfinder, which has included about 500 participants. This service allows for volunteered mentors to be matched with a protégé, based on what each of them hopes to achieve from the relationship.
JPMorgan’s effort to hire veterans doesn’t stop with the company’s own needs. In 2011, the company also launched a lofty initiative to form a coalition of organizations with the aim of hiring 100,000 military veterans by 2020.
This 100,000 Jobs Mission, however, met its original goal in the first quarter of 2014, so it has expanded its goal to 300,000. The mission started with a coalition of 11 companies in 2011 and has since grown to 208 companies, which have collectively hired 267,522 veterans as of June 2015.
“Another very important part about the 100,000 Jobs Mission is that we get together throughout the year as a group to discuss best practices,” Odierno said.
These best practices are a collection of lessons learned by the coalition posted on jobsmission.com and updated periodically. Odierno said these best practices and group meetings provide an opportunity to connect companies with key stakeholders within the veteran hiring community, such as military services, government agencies and nonprofits.
To join the coalition, participating companies must have 10,000 employees or more. However, Odierno said that JPMorgan is looking into ways to incorporate small and midsize businesses into its external veterans hiring push.
In another external effort, JPMorgan has partnered with Syracuse University and six other colleges and universities to educate veterans outside of the firm on transitioning to corporate life.
Mike Haynie, executive director of The Institute for Veterans and Military Families , or IVMF, and vice chancellor of veterans and military affairs at Syracuse, said he saw an opportunity for the school to use its influence to empower other veterans and found JPMorgan an appropriate partner.
Through the institute, the Veteran Career Transition Program aims to helps veterans gain civilian-sector licenses and credentials that can assist them in remaining competitive during job searches. JPMorgan funds the program, which has three pathways providing a total of 36 skills tracks, each of which result in credentials, certifications or licenses.
All courses, which are offered online, are covered by grants with no cost to the veteran or military spouse. As of August, these programs have provided 2,232 veterans and military spouses with 3,084 certificates.
“The leadership at JPMorgan Chase was beyond supportive” in getting the IVMF program up and running, Haynie said.
Despite its massive veteran hiring and transition effort, JPMorgan’s military affairs team says it has just started measuring its impact, with veteran employee retention the main focus. Current success of veteran programs is only anecdotal, with exit surveys and management information tracked. Return on investment and retention, however, have yet to be tracked, company executives said.
“As far as actual numbers, that’s something that we’ve just started to do,” Odierno said. “But we do have, based on feedback that we get from managers, it’s extremely positive, the impact that [veterans are] having on the business.”
Lynn said she remains pleasantly surprised by the ways she has been able to adjust to her role at the bank, especially as she continues her service in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
“When I have to do my two weeks, they’re like, ‘OK, great. Just let us know when it is,’ ” Lynn said. She adds that many of her peers in the reserve service have expressed frustration that their companies won’t allow them time off to participate in drills that help them meet their service requirements. JPMorgan employees who are in reserve forces receive flexible work schedules and paid leave.
Such military-supportive perks are just one of many others that round out JPMorgan’s veteran-centric offerings, including veteran-focused employee groups.
Lynn said she takes advantage of the veteran-focused business resource group at JPMorgan, “Voices for Employees That Serve,” or VETS. Lynn said the group helps run events and fundraisers that support military efforts, such as the USO. Lynn and other VETS members will also soon help build a house for a disabled veteran through Habitat for Humanity.
There are 19 VETS chapters in the U.S. that provide more than 3,000 veterans and nonveterans opportunities to network and help with military efforts. Along with VETS, Lynn said she has been able to connect with other veterans at her office, as there are about 15 veterans among the total 200 or so employees. Having peers to relate to in her office makes the transition that much easier.
“I knew there was a big incentive to hire military,” Lynn said. “But when I got here, and I met so many people, it was a little shocking.”