One of the first three companies to partner with the White House's Joining Forces project, Sears Holdings plans to hire 3,500 military veterans, reservists and military spouses this year, up from 1,800 last year. So far the company has made 1,994 military hires.
The retail chain values military folks for their ability to efficiently run supply chains and operations, said Christina Dibble, Sears' head of military recruiting. Sears' former head of supply chain operations, William Gus Pagonis, had served as the Army's director of logistics during the first Gulf War, for instance. Pagonis retired in 2004.
Open positions that make a good fit for those with military experience include store operations, supply chain management and logistics and loss prevention and inventory management, Dibble said.
FINS spoke with Dibble and Tom Aiello, a divisional vice president of marketing at Sears who runs the company's Heroes at Home initiative, about career opportunities for vets at Sears. Dibble, who joined the retailer in October 2010, served in the Army National Guard. Aiello, who joined the retailer in August 2008, was a captain in the Army.
Damian Ghigliotty: Why do you hire such a large number of military candidates?
Christina Dibble: For their intangible skills, such as their leadership abilities. Many of these employees possess skills that you can't teach which they receive through their military training, such as the ability to multitask and adapt to rapid-pace environments. This is a top-down initiative that is supported by our chief executive, Louis D'Ambrosio. He's frequently said that "Hiring military is not an act of charity. It's an act of good business," so that's been really great for us at Sears.
Tom Aiello: Our company has been an avid employer of military talent tracing back to World War I. What you're seeing now is not a come-lately HR strategy. It's part of a long-term initiative that has been of a part of the fabric of Sears for a long time.
DG: What makes Sears an attractive option for people with military experience?
TA: For the military folks we hire, including veterans, we offer a range of opportunities. Many of our military hires have risen up through the ranks of our organization and when that happens, those employees often look for other veterans to come in and fill their previous roles. That's a key attribute of a successful veteran hiring program. It also helps break down the barriers you often see between employers and military personnel.
CD: Additionally, for reservists and guardsmen one of the attractive things is our compensation packages. We have a five-year window where we will offer a pay differential to reservists and guardsmen to supplement their incomes while they're away on duty.
For military spouses, we offer career portability, which enables them to keep their jobs and relocate within the company should their spouse get a permanent change of station. That alleviates the burden of them having to seek employment once they get to their new home.
DG: How do you determine if a candidate's military experience fits a particular job at Sears?
CD: We've created internal tool kits for our recruiting team that help them do a resume translation. A lot of the resumes that we see are still very military centric with language that's very specific to combat operations and situations, so we use our tool kits to train our recruiters on the best ways to look at a resume and do an accurate assessment of what the applicable skill sets are. That allows our recruiters to go into an interview with a military candidate and keep pace with what they are talking about. We also have military occupational skill conversions that we use.
In addition to those tools, we've partnered with veteran services organizations to help them better assistant veterans in translating their military experiences to various lines of work.
DG: What kinds of military hires make a good fit for store operations?
CD: The available positions in store operations are a good fit for anyone who has taken on a leadership role in the military. That's because we rely on their ability to oversee large groups of people, solve problems and remain adaptable when it comes to taking on different shifts. A lot of our military hires also have an analytical edge that's necessary when it comes to store operations.
DG: What about supply-chain management and logistics?
TA: The available opportunities at our distribution centers are a good fit for those who worked as supply clerks or supply officers in the military. Those folks are accustomed to transporting bundles of food, bullets and repair parts to the right locations. That's very comparable to taking the products that get delivered en mass to Sears and breaking those out to distribute to stores in a way that saves time and money.
Also, there are built-in rotational programs in our distributions centers and veterans are accustomed to those kinds of rotations, which makes them a great match for those kinds of opportunities in supply-chain operations and logistics. We have a divisional director named Ricky James who has a Navy background and handled supply operations during his military service. He started out in one of our distribution centers and worked his way into a role at our corporate headquarters.
DG: What about loss prevention and inventory management?
CD: Those who have worked in supply operations in the military are used to managing $70 million supply rooms and accounting for that inventory. That's a natural fit for us in the loss prevention side of our business. In that case we might look at someone who has a quartermaster background and a military police background.
DG: Are their certain regions where opportunities for military hires are more abundant?
CD: There are definitely priority markets. Many of them are in communities that are close to military bases. We have 3,900 stores and 40 distribution centers throughout the U.S., so there is usually a Sears close to those bases.
TA: I read a recent survey that said 71% of veterans are going to move to where the job opportunities are when they leave the military. The minority of veterans will stay at their final duty station or go back to their home town if there are few job opportunities there. The military pays for your last move, so if Christina recruits a marine leaving Camp Pendleton in California and she wants to put that person in a store manager training program in Michigan, there's no extra cost. That means there is no real barrier to recruiting veterans to work anywhere in the U.S.
DG: What do you do to retain your military hires?
TA: A lot of times these folks are going from one very military world to one very corporate world and that transition can be a challenge, so we offer mentorships through our veteran alumni group. Those mentorships really help people succeed and thrive. It's not the same exact camaraderie that you would experience in the military, but we are involved in several community projects around the country including raising money to assist military families and rebuilding the homes of wounded warriors. Those efforts help build a sense of teamwork among our military hires.
Write to Damian Ghigliotty at Damian.Ghigliotty@dowjones.com