Recruiting veterans is becoming a priority HR initiative for many organizations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there were 21.2 million veterans in the U.S. in 2015, approximately 9 percent of the population. According to IndustryWeek, an unprecedented 1.5 million veterans are expected to enter the civilian workforce in the next three to five years.

For HR leaders, veterans represent an untapped talent pool with sophisticated skill sets including leadership, self-awareness, adaptability and succeeding under pressure. Business Insider notes that hiring a veteran ensures organizations will have employees who can improve on the job through continuing education — because the government provides them with financial assistance. And according to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), "veteran employees perform at a level that is, on average, 4 percent higher than nonveterans, and the turnover rates of veterans are approximately 3 percent lower than nonveterans."

Here are 5 ways HR leaders can prepare to hire veterans.

1. Start With Commitment From the Top

SHRM reports that successful programs to hire veterans often start with support from top executives. HR leadership can set the tone by articulating the case for hiring veterans and getting approval across the C-suite. Identifying internal champions can help veteran hiring initiatives gain traction and remain a sustainable part of the recruitment process.

2. Invest in Educating Recruiters About Military Culture

Veterans face unique challenges entering the workplace. For example, military language is different from business language, and veterans may not know how to express their experiences in a way that's applicable, says an SHRM report on military hiring.

"Consider military talent applicants — who have been trained not to boast about 'just doing their job' — suddenly finding themselves face-to-face with an interviewer who expects them to speak up and elaborate on their skills and successes," the SHRM report notes. Help recruiters understand military culture, job titles and communication styles. Familiarize them with tools such as O*Net OnLine — which provides a database that will clarify roles and responsibilities for any military title listed on a resume. And arm recruiters with practical skills for writing job descriptions, evaluating resumes and interacting with candidates in a way that's military friendly.

3. Develop an Effective Sourcing Pipeline

For businesses hiring veterans, sourcing plays an important role in reaching the right audience. Yet many hiring managers may be concerned that hiring veterans requires funds for placement firms or niche job sites. Employers interested in recruiting veterans can look to local universities and colleges, as many service members use educational benefits and utilize the Yellow Ribbon Program (a post-9/11 educational benefits offering), according to the Department of Veteran Affairs. Other options include participating in virtual military job fairs and partnering with organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

4. Prepare for Interviews

Start the conversation by thanking the candidate for their service. Ask open-ended questions that invite veterans to share their strengths and experiences. Get specific details on what their role entailed — what sounds simple may involve advanced skills. Look for transferable skills as well as character traits candidates may be less likely to verbalize. Finally, clarify what the interview process will look like including follow-up communication — and ensure you deliver.

5. Prepare an Onboarding Process

Onboarding veterans who are transitioning from military service is an important part of successful hiring and retention. Anticipate that many veterans are coming from an environment with strong structure and leadership, as well as community ties. Consider assigning a mentor to help new hires settle in. Be clear about expectations and schedule regular check-ins to answer questions, address concerns and give feedback. Incorporate team meetings and gatherings to help the transitioning veteran feel like they're part of the organization's broader community.

Investing in hiring veterans is an important recruitment strategy for many businesses. While becoming a prepared employer requires initial investments, it's likely to yield a high ROI. From getting senior executives on board to evaluating how to make your hiring process more veteran-friendly, take the time to discover how veterans can become a productive part of your workforce and how hiring veterans can help you in turn give back to service members.

Tags: Recruiting talent