Building a Nationally Recognized Military Recruitment Program

We recently interviewed Joseph Pennington, National Military Program Manager, and Dan Green, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, at Combined Insurance Company of America to learn more about their successful and award-winning military veteran recruitment program.

Combined Insurance, a leading provider of individual supplemental accident, disability, health and life insurance products, has a field sales force and corporate staff in excess of 5,000 people worldwide. To help meet their aggressive hiring goals, the company hired Joseph Pennington, a former Navy recruiter, in 2010 to develop a process to attract, hire, on-board and retain ex-military employees. In the interview below, Joseph and his colleague Dan Green discuss this innovative program which was most recently named first in the country on the Top 100 Military Friendly® Employer list out of 5,000 companies by G.I Jobs magazine.

TalentRISE:  Historically how did this program for military recruiting come to fruition?

Pennington:  Back in 2010 when I was hired, the unemployment rate overall was high but it was much higher among veterans. The impetus here at Combined Insurance was to help alleviate that problem while also building the ranks of our sales force with new talent. So, back in August 2010, we started researching the feasibility of this initiative within our field sale force. The thinking was that the sales position could have interest among military veterans and that they, in turn, could be very successful in those roles. We spent a lot of time investigating the opportunity and that led us to a much better understanding of what would work. For instance, we realized that every new manager we recruited would need in-depth, in-class training. While that’s open to our entire sales force, we’ve determined that individuals we recruit from the military find this especially valuable as they started their civilian careers.

TalentRISE: What investments have you made in the program since that time?

Pennington:  Our company made a significant investment in building the program from the ground up because the whole framework had to be in place before we launched. This involved hiring dedicated staff, such as a military liaison, establishing an onboarding structure and so on. Simply put, we focused on getting everything in place first.  We also needed to educate all of our recruitment and field managers on how to reach and interview military talent. Added to that, as the program has evolved, we’re constantly attending job fairs, held almost weekly specifically to attract veterans. We also work with databases dedicated to military recruitment and do quite a bit of advertising in publications and on websites that reach our target audience.

Green: Perhaps our most innovative program yet is a Veteran’s Affinity Program we are just rolling out. At its core, it’s a mentorship program for all of our ex-military employees, conducted through a social media application called It offers our military hires and even their spouses a way to communicate with each other in a comfortable environment about workplace-related issues. In contrast to face-to-face meetings, conference calls, or webinars, our team can access the Affinity Program when they need it and when it’s most convenient for them as, typically, our sales people spend a significant amount of time in their customers’ offices. This will allow, for example, a new agent to bounce ideas or ask questions of their fellow colleagues with similar experiences.

Pennington: Through the Affinity Program, we are essentially easing the way for our people transitioning out of the military to ask questions that they may otherwise feel awkward asking. It could, for example, be something as simple as asking, “is it okay to walk while talking on a cell phone?”. That’s not allowed in the military but it’s certainly quite common in civilian workplaces. The men and women we are hiring out of the military may have worked in a quite different environment for 10-20 years. They may feel awkward asking someone questions that sound “goofy” related to simple “rules of the road” or they may want to share their experiences in sales jobs, which as we all know, involve highs and lows. Our plan for the program is to encourage sharing, which will make the transition much smoother.

TalentRISE: What priorities related to military recruitment do you plan to address in 2016?

Pennington: By 2017, our goal is to employ 2,800 military veterans and those with a military background as we’re looking to expand markets across the country. In addition to providing meaningful employment, we also give back to several veteran charities in both time and resources—including Luke’s Wings, the Fisher House Foundation, Snowball Express, and the Wounded Warriors in Action Foundation. In the next year, we will expand the program and partner with and/or sponsor external organizations such as the USO and the Jason McKie foundation, founded by the former pro football player, which raises awareness of the issues military families face.

TalentRISE: What other advice do you have for businesses who may be embarking on a military recruitment program?  

Pennington: Spend time educating hiring managers. They need to understand that there is far more to a veteran’s resume than initially meets the eye. For example, a gunner’s mate position involves more than handling weapons. People with that skill and background will have led teams and often have extremely strong leadership skills. So education of hiring managers is key, especially to help them look beyond the resume.

TalentRISE is ready for employers looking to improve their veteran talent pipeline, or seek to optimize their veteran recruiting strategies and practices to ensure OFCCP compliance and veteran hiring goals are met. We provide expert on-demand military recruiting and consulting solutions tailored to address your unique needs and challenges. We even have military veterans on staff to leverage their subject matter expertise. Learn more here.