Training Your Recruiting Personnel to Avoid Veteran, Disability Bias and Stereotypes

Avoid Veteran Disability Bias and Stereotypes

The job of an employment recruiter often proves mission critical to a business as its primary responsibility is to maintain an invaluable gateway and pipeline that constantly identifies, distinguishes, attracts, cultivates and secures new and diverse talent. These everyday endeavors of the recruiter, helps to ensure the essential 'life blood' of an organization and in many ways help it to adjust to the varying needs of diverse consumers, adapt to changing market trends and fortify its capability to compete in a given industry. The recruiters impact towards these endeavors also represents the initial face, culture, professionalism and brand of the organization. The recruiter essentially provides an immediate first impression of the organization's values, standards and mission to the potential candidate.

To meet the ever-changing demands of a diverse society and workforce, it is imperative that the recruiter cast a substantially wide net for its talent resources. This broad scope talent search, often requires a more intuitive feel and unique ability to see beyond the more traditional and conventional "status-quo" sources for quality and qualified candidates. It often requires a special understanding of the intrinsic values of people that may represent diverse backgrounds and communication skills, special abilities and other demographics. It also demands the appropriate methodologies for translating those assets, abilities and skills-sets toward the organization's mission for future return on investment (ROI.)

To be very effective, each recruiter must (sometimes counter-intuitively) overcome any forms of ingrained negative ideas, conceptual bias, stereotypes or other preconceived notions regarding unconventional candidates to discover their various (sometimes hidden) endowments that can ultimately benefit the organization. To date, there are many studies and statistical data that supports the business case for recruiting and hiring diverse candidates in all facets of employment - particularly those with disabilities and transitioning veterans. Conversely, negative and insensitive actions, poor disability etiquette, bias and other forms of 'closed-minded' thinking towards various diverse candidates (including those with special challenges) could spell disaster for an organization. The situation can sometimes become even more complex when recruiting people with hidden disabilities and conditions such as: Asperger syndrome, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury (TBI), anxiety, Parkinson's disease, diabetes, depression and other complications due to military sexual trauma.

Recruiting modern-day transitioning veterans and people with disabilities

Many would testify that returning veterans and people with disabilities personify the height of modern-day challenges facing corporate recruiters. These distinctive and deserving candidates are not only unique in their appearance, qualifications and backgrounds, but their special credentials (in some cases) requires an exceptional ability to translate and strategically apply their particular experiences to more conventional employment positions.

Previously, many of these jobs represented by recruiters, have traditionally attracted and required candidates from more pragmatic, common and comparable background occupations, where candidates often have had to possess demonstrated experience with more traditional skill-sets. The previous job criteria associated with past recruiting practices, had also relied on using certain 'key-words' within the résumé and applications as a prelude qualifier search criteria, that would help weed and identify certain candidates from others seeking a similar position.

Today, the nation is faced with a flood of millions of deserving transitioning military job seekers where a military rate (US Navy occupation) or M.O.S. (Military Occupation Specialty) such as a former "Gunner's Mate," may not necessarily reflect the ideal background or typical skill-sets associated for a "Special Inventory Manager" position, but may not completely eliminate the potential candidate from consideration for the job either. The recruiter professional must now pay close attention to the individual's special tangible and intangible qualities, such as security clearances, special dedication to duty in the face of imminent danger, loyalty and other military/combat-related factors and experiences, that can translate into the high-degree of integrity, attention to detail and dependability that will ensure future success and establish the person as an ideal candidate for the job.

In the modern-day workforce, the returning veteran may not necessarily possess any special credentials beyond a high school diploma or special military-centric trade skill for a job. This could be mostly due to a person enlisting into the military straight out of high school. However, in certain scenarios, the experience and valuable exposure towards successfully fulfilling their duties in various foreign cultures and assignments located in different (sometimes hostile) countries around the world, is definitely a huge qualifying distinction from an entry-level college grad with little or no practical experience in navigating their way outside of familiar and comfortable social environments. Situations like these can sometimes make the difference with certain candidates.

The recruiter must also be adapt at understanding various résumé nuances and translating certain military acronyms that are often presented to describe a veteran candidate's background, ability, skills and experience.

This may be particularly challenging for some recruiter professionals that may be unfamiliar with certain military-centric terms or more accustomed to discriminate against candidates for using particular fonts, paper quality or enhanced résumé formats.

A recruiter must also eliminate the sometimes innate and natural reaction to squeamishly shirk, react or appear uncomfortable regarding interviewing diverse candidates with certain disabilities or conditions related to graphic (and sometimes horrific) combat-related incidents - this includes candidate with facial, hand and leg burns, skin-graphs, small-arms and blast injuries, TBI deformities, amputations and other visible shrapnel injuries. The natural compulsion to sometimes stare and/or resist asking prying and other invasive personal questions must also apply to: candidates with glaring or subtle physical impairments and others with special ergonomic needs, speech impediments, hearing and memory challenges, people with certain anxieties and other personal and medical-related discomforts. As a general rule, all veteran candidates must be universally appreciated for their military service and regardless of the 'disability status' and/or physical stature of all candidates, every person should be afforded basic common respect, the courtesy of patience and special accommodations upon request.

People with disabilities must legally be informed of their 'rights of choice' to not officially disclose their particular challenge(s) or official disability status. However, in a climate where the numbers of people with disabilities to actively disclose their conditions are important for the organization, a subtle and respectful informal invitation for all employee candidates to disclose their status can be encouraged.

Many factors may play a vital role in increasing a person's level of comfort to officially determine their disability status, this includes the cultural climate of the organization and possible toxic stigma. It is critical for a recruitment representative to emphasize their organization as a "disability friendly" workplace environment. This is reinforced by mentioning available support and employee resource groups (ERG), courteous practices, along with an organization's on-going efforts to provide and reinforce diversity and disability awareness training (including all enforced "no-tolerance" policies towards disrespect in any form.) This is further reinforced with positive disability, USERRA and EEO compliance records and marketing materials, clothing and manikins with disabilities (for retail establishments), annual reports and social media with representation of people with disabilities.

Finally, active recruiting and placement efforts of people with disabilities should apply to all rank and file, executive and Board positions throughout the organization. Common accommodations for people with disabilities such as wide doors, water fountains, ramps and elevators should be standard. All testimonials of customers, employees and vendors should include those with disabilities, be positive and available upon request.

All well established employees that reflect intolerance (of any form) should be discouraged to do so and officially advised to adhere to the new diversity standards that represent the changing way of business in the 21st century. Workplace environments should be assessed for removal of potential PTSD trigger materials ( including offensive sights, smells, sounds and other sensitive items and practices.) Recruiters should be incentivized and applauded for continuing to push for increasing diversity awareness and recruiter representation goals and efforts that help to modernize and enhance the new and more competitive workforce.


Ed Crenshaw is a US Navy veteran, diversity practitioner, disability subject matter expert and creator of the innovative “Preparing Employers to Reintegrate Combat Exposed Veterans with Disabilities” (P.E.R.C.E.V.D.) diversity training program. He is also the author of the books, “The P.E.R.C.E.V.D. Principles” and “The Employers Guide to Understanding Hidden Conditions Related to Suicide.” As a well-renown professional speaker, Ed is a passionate champion and respected advocate for people with disabilities.