From Cabs to Hotels: Veterans as a Talent Pool

By Susan Tinnish Senior Strategist, Minding Your Business | April 05, 2015

Many companies are promoted in ads, articles or reports discussing their focus on hiring veterans. For example, a new program is helping veterans find jobs as taxi drivers in New York City. Vets Drive Yellow NYC connects taxi garage owners with veterans. The seven taxi garages that are affiliated with the program help vets by paying for their hack license (Santia, 2015).

It is innovative programs like this that help drive down the high unemployment rates among veterans and assist veterans transitioning into civilian life. Yet still the unemployment rate for Gulf War II veterans—defined as those who served after Sept. 11, 2001 stands at 7.2 percent in 2014 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as reported on March 18, 2015 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). In 2014, the entire US veteran population numbered 21.2 million men and women, or 9 percent of the population age 18 and over.

This article will help hoteliers understand how and why veterans are well-suited for the hospitality industry. The article will explore how hotel companies are or can support veteran hiring. Finally, the article offers tips to expanding hiring of veterans —especially at an individual property.

One reason for higher veteran unemployment figures is that veterans have difficulty translating their military skills to civilian jobs. This is a multi-faceted challenge. First, veterans typically have less civilian work experience which naturally makes them appear more risky than a civilian applicant (Plumer, 2013; Sumser, 2012). Second, veterans speak a “dialect” of English specific to military life and may have difficulty translating their experience into civilian life (Sumser, 2012). Third, veterans may not interview as well as non-veterans. Derek Bennett, chief of staff for the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America references job interview difficulties, “You have to talk about yourself and for some vets, that’s tough to do. For years they were worried about the team, not the individual” (Watson, 2014). Veterans have a different standard for "professional presentation." Thus certain elements of their interviewing style like eye contact (eyes forward), language (“yes, sir” or “yes, ma’am”) or a lack of smiling may be different from the way civilians interview. In an industry where interpersonal skills are paramount, a veteran may be perceived as cold, distant, unapproachable or lacking social skills because of their typical military demeanor (White House Business Council, 2012, p. 8).

Yet, our nation’s veterans bring an extraordinary array of skills and training to any position. They possess general employability attributes like attention to detail, the ability to follow through and meet deadlines, and the capability to work under pressure. Veterans are comfortable with the complexities of decision making in a high stress, high data, and highly ambiguous environment (Sumser, 2012; US Department of Veterans Affairs, n.d.).

Some specific military skills that will help veterans succeed in hotel management include a service mentality, leadership, and the ability to think on their feet, ability to deal with interpersonal issues and the ability to put in emotional labor (Stone, 2014). The latter skill is a requirement that employees display specific outwardly emotions toward customers. In the military, people are trained to operate at their best level despite how they may be feeling on any given day. Military veterans often have experienced exceptional levels of accountability. Shouldering the responsibility for the lives and safety of peers provides a special level of maturity (Sumser, 2012). La Quinta's President and CEO, Wayne Goldberg summarizes the attractiveness of veterans, “At La Quinta, we want to hire veterans and military spouses because they have demonstrated leadership qualities of discipline, training and a passion for service. They are quick learners who work well as part of a team" (Franchising.com, n.d.).

Coming up in February 2018...

Social Media: Engagement is Key

There are currently 2.3 billion active users of social media networks and savvy hotel operators have incorporated social media into their marketing mix. There are a few Goliath channels on which one must have a presence (Facebook & Twitter) but there are also several newer upstart channels (Instagram, Snapchat &WeChat, for example) that merit consideration. With its 1.86 billion users, Facebook is a dominant platform where operators can drive brand awareness, facilitate bookings, offer incentives and collect sought-after reviews. Twitter's 284 million users generate 500 million tweets per day, and operators can use its platform for lead generation, building loyalty, and guest interaction. Instagram was originally a small photo-sharing site but it has blown up into a massive photo and video channel. The site can be used to post photos of the hotel property, as well as creating Instagram Stories - personal videos that disappear from the channel after 24 hours. In this regard, Instagram and Snapchat are now in direct competition. WeChat is a Chinese company whose aim is to be the App for Everything - instant messaging, social media, shopping and payment services - all in a single platform. In addition to these channels, blogging continues to be a popular method to establish leadership, enhance reputations, and engage with customers in a direct and personal way. The key to effective use of all social media is to find out where your customers are and then, to the fullest extent possible, engage with them on a personal level. This engagement is what creates a personal connection and sustains brand loyalty. The February Hotel Business Review will explore these issues and examine how some hotels are successfully integrating social media into their operations.