West Michigan human resources professionals do not appreciate military diversity in their hiring process, especially in their mid- to senior-executive leadership vacancies. This is coming from one of your “own” who is a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and a 2015 GRBJ 40 Under 40 Business Leader. Of course, I am also a veteran who is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserves. For those who do not know that rank and responsibility, think of Hal Moore, Ollie North, George Armstrong Custer and many military commentators on the major news networks — the majority were lieutenant colonels. Not understanding the talent that the military develops is not the job of the veteran, it should be yours, or you will lose out on talent — for all of West Michigan.
I had to start a business to move back to West Michigan, where I wanted to live. I am not the only one. I have met other mid- to senior-level military officers and senior non-commissioned officers that did the same. One friend of mine, an individual with a Ph.D., wanted to live in Holland after he retired from the Navy. An officer who worked in the White House. He is currently looking for jobs but is not getting anywhere. His resume has many high-level things on it that most of you do not understand. He got one call out of all of his resume submissions from someone who wanted him as their security guard — because all military veterans can be security guards, especially ones with Ph.D.s.
After one of my friends, another GRBJ 40 Under 40 recipient, believed that based on his resume, he would get a job, I thought I would try his theory. Since both of us have unique resumes full of awards, it would be worth a try to see what would happen. Over six months (before COVID-19), I applied to around 30 different job postings. I applied for HR positions (after all, I have both an SPHR and an SHRM-SCP — and am a Human Capital Strategist), strategist jobs, program manager jobs, project manager jobs — all of which I am qualified or overqualified. Over this time, I received zero calls, zero interviews, and 13 emails stating that the company appreciated my time applying but pursued others who are a “better fit.” These are the major employers in West Michigan. I even hired a Chicago professional resume writer to re-write my resume and cover letter — because it must be how my resume looks or presents itself. Nevertheless, this did not make any difference.
To give you background, at the age of 22, I was the “director” of a staff of 25 and responsible for $25 million of equipment. At 25, I was the senior HR director for a 1,000-employee company operating in a war zone, rebuilding a nation. At the age of 29, I was a lead logistics and HR support planner for the Army in Southwest Asia. One of my plans is discussed in Robert Gates’ book “Duty.” I became an SPHR and got my MBA when I was 30 years old. I wanted to move back to Michigan but found it challenging. I started a business in Holland so that I could move. I just finished a two-year command in the Army Reserves of a basic training battalion with 1,000 soldiers when fully staffed. That is right; I was the boss of all the drill sergeants. This last year I was accepted into the Army War College, which only a few do — people like Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton went there. With all that background, I cannot understand why I would not even get an interview unless it is because West Michigan HR does not appreciate the diversity of skill sets a veteran brings. Or the recruiters/hiring managers want some specialist who cannot think creatively when chaos comes. Either way, you all need a wake-up call before it is too late, and your talent pool leaves for D.C., California, or some other location that appreciates diverse talent.
There is a considerable opportunity for West Michigan to look deeper at the talent coming out of the military that wants to live in West Michigan. Area HR professionals need to read “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World” — it is relevant to the success of your business and to understand what the majority of us veterans would bring to your team. It seems that you all focus on hiring specialized individuals for your positions at mid-level to senior-level openings. Military veterans know flexibility and outside-the-box thinking because the enemy always has a vote, and we are trained to maintain flexibility through agile decision making. Oh, and we are trained in leadership since our early 20s. The majority of civilians do not even start in those positions until their 40s. Look to hire veterans for every vacancy you have — at least interview them. You will find unicorns. If you all start now, you can become an extremely talented, diverse region that is agile, flexible and can maintain a workforce of loyal, mission-oriented teams.
Jeremy Latchaw is president of Macatawa Unmanned Systems, a leading drone company in the United States. He is a Senior Professional in Human Resources, an adjunct business professor at two West Michigan universities, and a 2015 GRBJ 40 under 40 member.