Recruitment Battle Plan

By Dr. Sullivan

May. 19, 2008

It’s unusual for corporations to benchmark against the best HR practices of government agencies, which are often risk averse and extremely conservative. But there is one glaring exception to that rule: the U.S. armed forces. Every corporation, from Google on down, can learn a lesson from the comprehensive and bold recruiting practices currently in use by the military. Regardless of your personal opinions about the military, you would be hurting your organization if you didn’t at least look at some of the things that they’re doing.

    Use of technology: The U.S. armed forces utilize recruiting technologies that most corporations have never even attempted. The most widely known and perhaps most successful of all has been the Army’s use of a video game as a primary recruiting channel. “America’s Army,” an interactive video war game, has been downloaded by 9 million people. Its most unusual feature is a “virtual” recruiting station that allows the gamer to enlist in the Army. The game will soon be on mobile phones and in video arcades—where primary recruiting targets hang out.

    Spreading the brand message isn’t done solely through video games. The military was one of the first to post live-action videos on sites like YouTube. The National Guard shows music video ads in movie theaters.

    The military also excels at using simulations to engage potential recruits. At public events, the Army offers a virtual ride in a Humvee, which is armed with lifelike machine guns that shake as would-be recruits fight an explosion-filled simulated battle. The Army has virtual helicopter rides. The Marines have a kiosk simulation known as “Strategic Corporal,” which allows players to test their ability to make tactical decisions. Not to be left out, the U.S. Navy has a motion simulator that excites and entertains by simulating a flight with the Blue Angels.

    The U.S. Navy is also leading the wave in using technology behind the scenes. It has implemented Siebel CRM, a customer relationship management tool, to help keep in touch with potential applicants and prospects stored in the Department of Defense’s controversial Joint Advertising, Marketing Research and Studies database, which contains demographic information on high school- and college-age youth who meet minimum military requirements. Data mining tools will help them identify and communicate with the most likely prospects.

    The Internet: Everyone knows that young adults are avid users of the Internet, so the military can be found on almost every plot of virtual real estate available. An excellent example is the Web site. It contains features that many corporate Web sites don’t have, including downloadable podcasts, interactive forums and lots of video. Perhaps the most innovative feature is a virtual-reality soldier (Sgt. Star) that uses artificial intelligence software to instantly answer almost any question in a conversational format (example: “Is the Army a good place to meet girls?). The Army also utilizes blogs, social networks like MySpace and Facebook, and text messaging to personalize its communications with potential recruits.

    Referrals, bonuses and events: The military knows how effective referral programs are. The Army pays bonuses of up to $2,000 and leverages referrals by spouses, children and parents. The slogan “Every soldier a recruiter” shows that the Army understands the need for everyone to be involved in recruiting. The National Guard even has a G-RAP program designed to supplement full-time recruiters with thousands of volunteer soldier “talent scouts” making referrals.

    The military far surpasses any corporation in the use of sign-on bonuses. The amount can be up to $40,000 for recruits with just a high school education. That amount changes, based on the length of service and job applied for. The Army also uses highly effective “exploding bonuses,” which decrease in amount the longer a recruit delays entry into the service.

    The military takes its message to where its prospects are, recruiting at rodeos, NASCAR events, shopping malls and skydiving events. The Navy is even attracting college students on the beach in Florida during spring break with various strength challenges.

    And while you might not have a Humvee or a virtual Blue Angels team to attract candidates’ attention, you can still adapt some of the military’s approaches to help you build your own army of talent.

Workforce Management, May 19, 2008, p. 50Subscribe Now!

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