If you’ve ever talked to a military recruiter, you may have noticed they all use similar tactics. Especially during times when the economy offers a multitude of jobs for high school and college graduates, the military can have a tough time recruiting young people to join up. Here are some of the secret tricks military recruiters use.
Strict standards actually rule out many recruits
“We don’t really use tricks. The best message to get through to somebody is harsh reality,” said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Morrison. Maj Gen. Allen Batschelet, head of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, said that they do not just try to get anyone to join. He explained that physical, mental, and moral standards exclude about 70% of potential recruits. In addition, low unemployment rates add to private-sector competition. Teens and recruits can talk to each other more readily than before, so any shady practices get exposed right away. In the age of social media, honesty really is the best policy.
Next: Many recruiters head to these locations to get the job done.
They hit up high schools to find recruits
“The first thing we do before the school year starts, we get to faculty and staff. We tackle teacher institute days, teacher development days,” said Sgt. 1st Class Duggan Myron. He runs a recruiting center in Columbia, South Carolina, after previously recruiting in his native Chicago. Military recruiters try to get in good with teachers, so they can get access to students. If the faculty does not like them, they may never meet a future recruit.
Next: The army does not condone bribery, but this lower-level tactic seems OK.
Sometimes, they even bring donuts
Sgt. 1st Class Duggan Myron said recruiters sometimes bring coffee and donuts along with business cards, to get faculty and staff on their side. Not all teachers are created equal, either. They try to stay open and candid about why they chose to visit, too. Guidance counselors in particular offer inherent value to military recruiters. They can help direct recruiters to students who might make good recruits because they need direction in life or have already demonstrated interest.
Next: This relationship can provide a gateway.
Recruiters reach out to parents
“If you can convince a parent that this is the best move for their child, they will be your biggest motivator,” said Myron. As a rule, he does not like to interview high school students without at least one parent or guardian present. Myron said he once spoke with a high school senior whose stepfather loved the idea, but a mother who “wanted better” for her son. She worried for his safety, Myron reported. The recruiter said that happens a lot, so he has to bring them around.
Sometimes, parents also seem more gung-ho than their kids. “Dad’s reliving his glory days but junior isn’t interested,” Morrison said. “You’ve kind of got to peel back the onion on that, and ask ‘what do you really want to do.'”
Next: Meeting students where they live makes a big difference, too.
Social media can serve as an important key
Sgt. First Class Dana Rothstein, who now works for Recruit the Recruiter, said social media can make a big difference. Online connectivity offers students a chance to reach out without talking to a military recruiter in person. She said some young people she meets at events do not seem interested at first, or at least, not in front of their friends. They later get in touch on Twitter, Instagram, or even Facebook. Using those tools brings military recruitment strategies to where the kids understand it best — online.
Next: The way recruiters think about their mission also matters.
They think of themselves as counselors, not salespeople
Joining the military marks a big life decision, and some recruiters say thinking of themselves as counselors can help. Myron said he consequently designs his pitch to direct kids to a future life goal. The Army is just the “how” to get there. “I tell kids ‘Listen, is this what you want to do for the rest of your life?’ Looking around, I say ‘that’s you in five, 10 years; is that what you want?'” the recruiter said. “Find out what makes these kids tick and you tailor what you say to that.”
Next: By becoming a part of something, recruiters accomplish the following goal.
Recruiters become part of the community
“Those who serve as the Army’s ambassador to the community and set a positive example, they aren’t even looking at the enlistments,” Morrison said. “They’re looking at how they can help their communities and their high schools and project a positive image of the Army.” Getting involved in the grassroots level makes recruiters seem human, and that does actually help boost numbers.
“They have to see you as human, not just some robotic person out there for a number,” Rothstein said. Sgt. 1st Class Justin Austin will talk to people about the army pretty much anywhere. He explained that he does not always even tell people what he does at first, and just strikes up a conversation. The recruiter works at projecting a positive image, not selling a product.
Next: At the end of the day, recruiters do work toward one simple goal.
Recruitment all comes down to the numbers
It’s a numbers game, pure and simple. A military recruiter must find qualified candidates, and if they do not do that, that means they didn’t do their jobs. Recruiters also get judged by their superiors by the number of recruits they get to sign up. Large numbers mean you do well, smaller ones mean you don’t. That means some recruiters, unfortunately, can resort to less-than-ethical practices. It also means a lot of the work they do to bond with recruits, engage in the community, and butter up faculty, does not actually “count” for their workload.
Next: Luckily for them, this entertainment does some of the work for them.
Games like Call of Duty recruit players to the military
In the U.S. and other countries, first player shooter games like Call of Duty can give kids the idea to join the military. Some recruiters even use them directly, and not just in the U.S. Documentary maker Tonje Hessen Schei says she has witnessed military recruiters attending large LAN events and speaking to children as young as 12. They recruit gamers largely for drone pilot positions, since those jobs also look the most similar to the game experience.
She explained that the military actually consults with the gaming industry on designing the user interface for drones. They do that to ensure the drone pilot’s job feels comfortable and familiar to gamers. PlayStation and Xbox controllers have been used to create interfaces, blurring the line between fiction and the real world.
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