Hiring Veterans with Greenlight Connections Founder Chip Mardis

Chip MardisGreenlight Connections Founder

The veteran community holds an incredible pool of highly educated and experienced talent, and yet they remain marginalized and underutilized when it comes to corporate employment. Joining us today on Talk Talent to Me is Chip Mardis, partner at Greenlight Connections, a veteran-owned, full-service talent acquisition and staff augmentation company that specializes in sourcing top talent from the military community.

Episode Transcript





[0:00:06.1] RS: Welcome to Talk Talent to Me. A podcast featuring the most elite talent leaders on the frontlines of modern recruitment.


[0:00:12.8] FEMALE: We actually want to understand the themes of someone’s life, we want to understand how they make decisions. Where are they willing to take risks and what it looks like when they fail.


[0:00:22.7] RS: No holds barred, completely off the cuff interviews with directors of recruitment, VPs of global talent, CHROs and everyone in between.


[0:00:31.1] FEMALE: Once I went through the classes and the trainings got the certifications through diversity and inclusion, I still felt like something was missing.


[0:00:39.7] MALE: Talent acquisition, it’s a fantastic career, you are trusted by the organization, you get to work with the C-Suite and the security at the front desk and everybody in between and everybody knows you.


[0:00:53.0] RS: I’m your host, Rob Stevenson and you’re about to hear the best in the biz, Talk Talent to Me.




[0:01:00.1] RS: Joining me today on Talk Talent to Me is an individual with a storied background that I can’t wait to get into. Currently, he is working at Greenlight Connections, a firm which helps place veterans where he is a partner. Chip Mardis, welcome to the podcast, how are you today?


[0:01:14.4] CM: Hey, terrific, thanks for having me, I’m really excited to be here.


[0:01:17.5] RS: Thrilled to have you, how’s your week going? You said it was kind of hectic, kind of interesting, what’s the state of things over there for you?


[0:01:23.1] CM: As a relatively new entrepreneur, we are aggressively chasing business and building great relationships, cashing in on a lot of experiences for my previous corporate life and just really enjoying being able to offer this opportunity to corporations that are dying for great talent.


[0:01:43.0] RS: Yeah, makes sense. All that goes along with it, right? All of the headaches, eye twitches but it’s fun, right? Being an early stage founder, you’re chasing this business down. You have an awesome offering that I think, recruiting organizations really need to hear about and prioritize, it’s an essential part of a DENI hiring strategy is the inclusion of veterans.


We’ll get into all that, first though, Chip, just to set some context, would you mind sharing a little bit about your background, your experience and kind of what led you to see this need in the market place and found this company?


[0:02:11.9] CM: Yeah, terrific, I sure will. Rob, I’m a career human resources and operations leader. I’ve been blessed with having some – being able to work in some terrific space primarily in the retail world. I work with companies such as the former May Department Stores Company, the Limited with several of their divisions in both turnaround corporations as well as upstarts and then, I was with Designer Shoe Warehouse and then finally, with Catherine/Lane Bryan at the nCino Corporation.


My background that made me, or that provided me these opportunities was in fact my previous military experience. I graduated from college in the mid-80s and I put myself through, with an ROTC scholarship and by taking the government money back then, you were able to repay Uncle Sam by spending four years on active duty and I did so. I did so with the transportation corps and I had a really wonderful experience. 


The decision to get out of the military was one of the most painful and agonizing one that I ever made and I took the leap into corporate America based on the fact that I had a wonderful battalion commander who said, “Chip, if you find that you don’t like it out there, I will make sure that I will get you back on board.” So with that courage, I jumped in.


My career took me into retail operations so I started out in the distribution center and logistics and then found myself into labor relations as well into the recruiting world. And I spent heavy recruiting – everything from soup to nuts, from entry level executive trainings for college recruiting through mid-level and senior level management, all the way to hiring presidents and general merchandise managers, you name it.


I had a wonderful experience of working for several retail corporations that were a turnaround scenario and it challenged and leveraged all of my skillsets in my previous world to be able to do that. Most recently, the retail world is a bit of a challenge, if anybody who is listening to this and they’re well aware of it, my very good friend, lifelong friend and colleague who in fact placed me out of the military into retail, Andy Todesco and I, we decided that it was probably at the point in our careers that we could give back to our roots and serve the demographic that means so much to us, both a military veteran and the spouses. That’s why we launched this company.


[0:04:35.9] RS: Why is it that there is this gap, why is it that veterans have trouble transitioning to the corporate world?


[0:04:44.1] CM: The military demographic as a talent source is a mystery on both sides of the isle. The candidates, either the veterans as well as the military spouses that are leading are somewhat unsure are unclear how to go ahead and pursue a career strategy and job search strategy. I do believe that the military is full of great intentions and they put a lot of effort in supporting them to have a successful transition but it often falls short.


On the flip side of it, I think as a country, we do a great job of recognizing and supporting our troops with public recognition but I think corporations today you see it on TV, all the time, they boast that hiring vets has made a priority or were a veteran supported organization.


I think the harsh reality is that, people in our country just don’t understand what military veterans can bring to the businesses. The reality is, there’s less than 1% of all Americans have ever spent any time on active duty and as a result, transitioning military vets have not been prepared adequately to interact with those folks.


I think it’s two sides, I don’t think the hiring forum understands the incredible value that a military veteran or a spouse can bring to the program. And there’s this huge gap that our veterans really don’t know how to conduct job searches and how to go ahead and adequately prepare. I see it every day in this particular arena.


[0:06:16.1] RS: Yeah, it’s – when you frame it as a diversity hiring issue, it starts to come into focus a little bit because even in the event where a veteran you placed is a straight white male, their veteran status can be qualified them as diverse candidate and the reason is because they have suffered from the same thing that every other minority group has, which is that an under-investment on the part of hiring organizations to make an effort to find these individuals and hire them and sort of a lack of understanding on the part of the candidate and how to go out and get that job and just the knowledge and confidence that they can get a specific job or that they can go and look for a kind of role. 


Is that second part of it an issue for veterans when you speak to candidates and you reflect on your own experience even transitioning from active duty, which is a very unique lifestyle, right? Into the corporate world, what are some of he challenges individuals face when they start to put on the cities and go fill a job application?


[0:07:17.9] CM: It can be absolutely overwhelming and candidly quite frightening. I got out as a – we call them JMOs, junior military officers, so I had advanced to the tender rank of captain, army captain and I came out feeling very confident that I was going to hit the ground running. I had all the support of a guy like in Andy Todesco who actually started recruiting for them that focus 100% on hiring junior military officers. Back in the late 80s, early 90s, a corporation similar to day, we’re able to tap into that market place and they discovered that there was this great forum of – a great bank of talent out there.


I think we’re starting to see that again if history repeats itself but you have to go ahead and re-educate corporate America on it but I was very motivated to get out, but I didn’t know what I necessarily was going to be good at. I was just so focused on making a successful transition, I was willing to do just about anything and with that type of an attitude and candidly, I was a – I thought I was a pretty successful officer, I stubbed my toe coming out, took a job that I was absolutely miserable at. I learned a very valuable lesson as a future HR executive to be incredibly truthful and transparent with talent coming in. And six months into it, I set up the white flag and said, “I’m not happy doing this, I in fact, need to go ahead and reposition my career search.”


With all that and with my experience, I stubbed my toe too. I could absolutely relate to both lower and listed coming out, mid-level NCOs, non-commission officers commission officers coming out, as well as my peers in the officer corp. Absolutely can understand it and I can see why it is so frightening to so many people.


[0:09:05.3] RS: Yeah, it’s telling you yourself, college-educated, officer and a gentleman, right? Seems like the kind of individual you’d say, you will take this experience, I’m sure as a captain, you’re way up the chain of command, right? You’re an officer, you have a lot of people you’re responsible for, you’d think those skills would transition seamlessly and maybe once you’re in a job, they do. It’s just an interesting thing, the process of securing a job and the process of doing a job are often different skillsets. I guess, I would love to hear from you, what should recruiting organizations know when they’re interacting with veterans.


Knowing that maybe they’re not as disposed to put together a job search as other candidates, is there coaching you’d recommend, how can recruiters can put their selves in the shoes of talent to kind of understand their background a little better and start thinking of them meaningfully and how they might contribute in an organization?


[0:09:56.8] CM: Absolutely. I feel I can answer this form a position of knowledge and strength and having the wonderful experience of literally hiring hundreds of veterans and junior officers throughout my retail career and operations career, where I have had to take hiring managers, not to the woodshed but to challenge them to say, “Would you, for just once please take off your myopic view of what your perception of the military veteran is, and let’s open our eyes and recalibrate our looks.” The first thing I would say is, set aside your preconceived notions and biases at the door.


All right, can you imagine the challenges that our veterans – in the last 15 years, so many of them have been in warzones, not once but twice, three times. The things that they have experienced, with bullets going down range, people firing back at them, being deployed for months and months and months in a warzone, away from their families. You tell me what other corporate opportunity out there would ever prepare you to that, okay? 


You need to calibrate that these are incredibly successfully challenge people that have stood by our country and not to wave the flag but candidly, they have and have just worked their tail off to be in this position. So, can we? I think it’s an honor to talk to a veteran, I’ve always felt that way. 


Second of all, just because you’re hiring a veteran doesn’t mean that everyone is a super star. It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to be the most qualified candidate but I do believe as a hiring manager, you need to give them the benefit of the doubt, all right? 


If somebody for example, if you are hiring a junior military officer who had been an infantry leader, quite possibly, in the communications world, if we were recruiting that person to come in to the IT world or data processing, chances are his skillset, his knowledge and his ability after all the training and hands on experience that he has had, he’s probably going to be equipped to be able to make a successful transition into the corporate world.


Military veterans and their spouses, they’re a very highly motivated group, they want to be successful, okay? I think another thing that you need to understand is that military veterans, their families are all in, okay? When they come forward and they’re making a successful transition, the military spouse has been left at home to raise the children, to go ahead and to contribute to that family, to be able to go ahead and raise those kids without dad or conversely, mom or in some cases, both are gone.


The military family, the success for that spouse to be and the veteran to be transitioned is just as important as well so it’s just really important. Finally, I think you have to understand and look past the technical skillset and look at the intangibles of what military leaders, military veterans bring. You can’t put a price on being able to bring somebody into your organization that is challenging and needs great team people. 


Our military veterans get things done, all right? They’ve accomplished things on timely basis, they’ve been aggressive when required, they know how to get stuff done, they exploit opportunities, they are fearless. Many times, when they transition to corporations, they will be incredibly professional, they’ll be incredibly supportive but they’re not going to be timid or shy or to build collaborative relationships across the isle or maybe somebody who has grown up in corporate America.


Finally, they’re great teammates, they’re just incredible teammates, I have yet to work in an environment where I have ever come close to replicating the kind of camaraderie I did in my five years active military and they bring that kind of camaraderie to corporate America and it’s an incredibly beautiful thing to see when it happens. Those are some of my brief thoughts as I bramble on here for a minute.


[0:13:55.1] RS: Yeah, I’m glad you mentioned military spouses, I feel like they are also left behind in a lot of ways, maybe even more so because while veterans might get their shoutout in a holistic diversity hiring strategy, military spouses certainly don’t. As you say, they are forced to be single parents or at relocated however many times, dozens of times, I don’t know.


How do you develop a meaningful skillset and a career when you have to uproot your life every couple of years to keep moving between military bases, right? Also, do you put military spouse on a resume? How do you even identify yourself as that kind of individual so that a hiring organization can find you? I don’t think that exists.


[0:14:35.1] CM: Well, that sad truth to it, the sad state of affair is that, and again, I know this for a fact is that a military spouses, unfortunately in many cases, they are not transparent. They do not share with the employees or employers that they are military spouses because there’s a built in bias against it.


Again, it goes back to the civilian world. Many of these businesses do not have an appreciate for what the American military family’s commitment is, so corporations steer away because, oh my gosh, instead of having three wonderful years of this incredibly highly motivated military spouse, this administrative assistant, you know, if that’s what she was chosen to do instead of having her for three years, we may lose her around the fourth year because her husband I going to be transferred to another military installation. 


It is really kind of sad but 30% of military spouses’ active military today have a bachelor’s degree and 15% have advanced degrees. This is not your grandfather’s military. This is a highly educated motivated cross, a great snapshot of our country and you know, there is wonderful talent group to be tapped into and that’s really a major portion of our business as it continues to grow is to hire the military spouses as well. 


One other thing I just wanted to share with you too, I just thought of it, I am not sure if our audience is completely aware but compensation for our soldiers, well, some may consider it inadequate. I think if you look at it compared to their civilian counterparts is exceptionally low. By hiring a military spouse, in many cases and that’s why we have gotten so much support by our senior military leadership that I’ve built relationships with, by hiring a military spouse that typically we can double the family income and that is incredibly powerful. 


It serves both the Army and the branches it services very well as well as their families, so think about that too, the kind of service that you are giving to the military by hiring military spouse or a veteran. 


[0:16:38.1] RS: Because military spouses don’t self-identify and I can understand why, like you said, they’d rather not talk about it, right? They’d rather don’t have to deal with any inherent bias. It is like if you’re queer individuals who are straight passing, will often just not say anything, right? It is like, “Oh because it’s…” Yeah, if I can pass as a straight person I will because I cannot have to deal with that bias, right? 


I don’t blame anyone for doing that. If you are a hiring organization, now how do you find these people, right? Outside of signing a multiyear contract with agreeing my connections, which I recommend everybody do. What would you do if you are building one of your previous companies and you were like, “Okay, how do I get in touch with military spouses?” That’s an important part of a well-rounded hiring strategy for me. Were would you start? 


[0:17:19.7] CM: First of all, you have to be committed that you are going to go ahead and direct the assets within your HR or your hiring organization, rely on management that you’re committed to actually going out and finding these folks, so it’s a commitment and it is something that it takes some effort and the biggest reason I will say is because this demographic has been marginalized. 


They are very wary of people making promises in commitments and they are very focused on dealing in the world of reality. I will give you a real quick overview, when we went forward and we were supporting the opening of a national credit union, we did a lot of recruiting. We’d set up a number of interviews and we in fact discovered was that a lot of no shows because people felt that it was a scam. 


This was a demographic that have been taken advantage of and we actually had to go ahead and commit to them that “No, this wasn’t too good to be true.” We were going to in fact train you for four to six weeks. You are going to be able to have remote jobs, you are going to be able to learn a skillset that was going to be able to support you later in life within the banking industry but you know again, it’s a demographic that’s been taken advantage of. 


[0:18:33.4] RS: Oh, they thought it was like Cut Co. Knives or like an LML or something like that because they’ve been predated upon before. 


[0:18:40.4] CM: Exactly, they really have been. I had not experienced that up until this last year, a year and a half where I personally dealt with it. You have to have credibility with the demographic. We were able to do so because I made a commitment to hiring HR folks, my recruiters that came out of the military space and I went ahead and I fast tracked them on how to recruit and showed them my methodologies over the years of being successful. But their credibility, having the associations with the military, installations, being able to work closely with the senior leadership on post. 


Having credibility with the outplacement groups on the military post that are supporting the transitioning process, that is all very, very important and that credibility piece, it can be very challenging if you don’t know how to navigate your way with this demographic. 


[0:19:31.8] RS: Right, yeah and in addition, even once you’ve identified, that’s assuming you are able to identify them to begin with, right? 


[0:19:38.5] CM: Absolutely, you know again, you become trained at it. You can see that somebody would in fact not put a military post on there where you would see, you know, Fayetteville, right? North Carolina, okay, well they’re at Fort Brag but they’re not going to put Fort Brag or they’re at Newport News. Okay, well we know that’s Fort Eustis, right? They’re going to put Newport News and you can see by the types of places where they have work, that they are typically a military spouse. 


[0:20:04.3] RS: What are some giveaways besides location? 


[0:20:06.8] CM: Unfortunately, a lot of job hopping just to be able to put money into the family, you can see that. Interestingly, there is a high level of commitment and success within the medical fields, so nurses and both RNs and licensed partitioning nurses, there is a lot of people in the medical field, or military spouses around this post as well. 


[0:20:28.8] RS: Interesting, are there like other types of, not like part-time jobs or specific things I guess endemic to Fayetteville? And it’s like okay, because you could probably look at a LinkedIn profile and maybe triangulate, “Okay, this person is in Fayetteville. I can make an educated guess that they are military spouse.”


[0:20:46.6] CM: Correct and like all aspects of our society, one of the most expensive or the fastest growing expense is childcare, right? Our poor military spouses and young families, they have to balance, “Okay, if I am getting paid $15 or $16 an hour but I got to go ahead and pay $12 an hour for childcare, does it make sense for me to go to work?” So it is not different than their civilian counterparts unfortunately. 


Being able to find that dedicated childcare either on post on the military base or off, often dictates as well, are they going to have the opportunity to do that. That’s one of the very exciting things that we have been able to do with our new companies to associate with organizations that compensate well, reward them well for the skillset that they bring that it’s worthwhile for them to either have work outside of the home or in fact, be blessed with having a remote opportunity where they can work from their home as well. 


[0:21:43.3] RS: Got it, so if I am listening to this and I’m thinking, okay, I need to make a greater investment on my company’s behalf into bringing more individuals like this into my org, I have checked my bias a little bit, right? I have done that training. I have empathized, I am putting myself in their shoes and trying to understand a very unique life experience, where do I go from there to actually make meaningful change and start placing hires? 


[0:22:06.5] CM: Well, there are numerous organizations that are out there that would be very, very supportive, starting with the VA. The Veterans Administration has been one of my greatest supporters and assets. They have incredible regional network throughout the country, by state, by military posts in many cases, so I would certainly recommend to be able to do that. I would also say there are wonderful groups that are there, Hiring Our Heroes is another one, a privately held organization.


And there are many, many organizations similar to that that give back and successfully help many of our transitioning soldiers and I would also encourage them to build relationships with members of the military community. Tap in, put yourself out there and go visit either a National Guard armory, introduced themselves to the recruiter or the public relations, they call it public affair officer who happens to be supporting that. 


There are also reserve units as well, all major towns have them and we’re talking a lot about the military, the active military but there is also the reserve component and the National Guard as well and these are again, many, many committed people that have joined the service to not only serve their country but also to pay college bills and to have a second income and help them have a great life they are willing to commit so much time to it. 


Then finally, there are the military posts themselves. There are out placement groups on each one of those military installations, Army community service is one of the biggest ones. They certainly could go ahead and reach out to them and they would very happily include them in their various hiring forums that they have. They’ve gotten really pretty sophisticated in a way that they have gone to do that. 


We are finally starting to see today that we are getting back to the old career fairs, where you can actually go on base or it might be a place off-base, where transitioning soldiers, sailors, airmen, coast guard folks are able to go ahead and meet with businesses and business representatives one on one. I think those are all really terrific places where you can focus some of your efforts on but I will say that having the support of an organization and I am just not promoting our organization but having that expertise on your side, to be able to crack into that is really, really important. 


I think that is in a much larger scale particular organizations that are seeking help in a big way, that would probably be a good place to start reaching out to a recruitment organization that focuses on supporting the military that and the spouses would be a really strong way to go. 


[0:24:47.0] RS: Those are all great examples and great advice for folks who want to make this a serious part of their hiring approach. Chip, we are creeping up on optimal podcast length here, so at this point I would just say, thank you so much for coming on the show, for sharing about your work and the experience that these individuals have. I think it is immensely valuable and you are doing great work over there. 


Thanks for being yourself and sharing your expertise with me today, I’ve really loved chatting with you. 


[0:25:09.1] CM: Well, thank you so much for having me. I really, really appreciate the opportunity and just I appreciate all your efforts supporting us. Thank you. 




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