In yesterday’s New York Times, columnist Bob Herbert writes a compelling thought piece that takes the United States military recruiting policies and practices to task by asking “Should people who are being recruited into the armed forces be told the truth about the risks they are likely to face if they agree to sign up and put on a uniform?”
Although I believe that Herbert’s words can be juxtaposed onto any recruiting scenario – military, executive, high-volume, etc. – as a “professional” recruiter (meaning, yes, there are many amateurs out there) and as someone who supports the allied troops (notice that I did not say the President), Mr. Herbert proffers some strong words in defense of his premise one that sadly can be extended to the professional side of recruiting.
To his point, the glorification of life in the armed forces during the recruiting process is quite different than life on the battlefield; we’ve all heard the joke of the Devil and the deceased Executive ending with ?Well, before we were recruiting you; now you?re staff.? (if you haven?t, email me and I?ll post it as a new thread). Imagine the response rate if bloody pictures of battle were part of armed forces ad campaigns?
Along with $30,000 for college – upon an honorable discharge after your six year tour is over – we?ll it may not really be over then because we reserve the right to auto-enlist you for as many two year tours as we see fit – you?ll also receive a coupon for a free prosthetic limb (or two) of your choice! And if you?re really unfortunate, there?s a flag-draped casket with your name on it.
Then again, when we look for hard-to-find candidates with specific skill sets, we don?t exactly tell them that their boss is a raging psychopath with a turnover rate of 137% or that the company is under SEC investigation. Oh, did I also bother to mention that we relocated this candidate from Oshkosh, WI to New York City upon which they sold all their worldly possessions to afford a 500 SF studio?
Fact is all recruiters stretch the truth of the assignment to some extent. We all perfume-the-pig at some point during the process. Herbert believes that ?potential recruits should be told the truth about what is expected of them, and what the risks are. And they should be told why it’s a good idea for them to take those risks.? Unless you?ve been living on the most remote island in the Pacific, you know that if you join the military during war time there?s a good chance you?ll end up on the battlefield. If you end up on the battlefield in Iraq or Afghanistan, there?s a lesser albeit real chance you?ll be wounded or killed. There?s no escaping the fact here in the States that over 2,000 soldiers have been killed; every morning I awake hoping that today?s a day when the number doesn?t rise. But no one joins up without knowing that a battlefield assignment might end in death.
What about our side? Some of us try to do this and lay out the benefits and risks of taking a new job – sometimes more effectively than others. Yet there are countless unknowns built into the process that recruiters are not privy to. Recruiters are often too low on the corporate totem pole to be aware of short and long term business decisions that affect employees (perhaps you?ve heard of the phrase ?mass layoff??). Yet we break out the perfume bottle and go to work. Moreover, candidates “know” that business decisions can result in job changes yet they too elect to move to a new city for a new job, new place, new risks.
In the end, whether right or wrong, all recruiters – professional and military – tell candidates what they want to hear unless the candidates demand more information. Herbert suggests that ?the military and its harried recruiters are preying more and more on youngsters who are especially vulnerable and impressionable, and they’re doing it by creating a patently false impression of what life in the wartime military is like.? Are we as non-military recruiters really any different?
Some people just take more risks than others. I?m one of those people. I prefer start-ups and turnarounds to more mature organizations with established employment brands, impeccable goodwill, and large recruiting budgets. These are my professional endorphins. As far as military service, I?d sign up for the Navy?s SEAL program in a heartbeat yet I?m told that at 46, I?m too old. About all I can do unless someone finds a way around the stupid age limit is to help train local SEALs and work with military recruiters to develop new ways of recruiting.
In the end, war is a short and ugly word and there’s no way to make it pretty; there’s no way to perfume-the-pig; and no Leo Burnett led ad campaign is going to reattach blown off limbs, fill a family void, or truly convince parents that their child will be better off in uniform. For some, change is always about risks and for most a simple chance is often the only thing to count on.
That is, unless someone is willing to be completely honest from the get-go…