How to Find Military Veterans for Sourcing & Recruiting

Military Veteran Hiring Career FairIn a similar vein to my recent diversity sourcing article, I wanted to create a resource for people looking to effectively search for and identify military veterans for recruiting.

While this posts focuses on the U.S. armed forces, I encourage folks from other countries to create and distribute similar searches to identify their own military veterans.

If you’re interested in all of the great things you can do for employer branding and talent attraction strategies for hiring veterans – you won’t find it here, because this post strictly focuses on the proactive online sourcing and identification of people who are either currently serving in or are veterans of the U.S. armed forces.

Read on to review:

  • An extensive military/veteran Boolean search I’ve constructed for use on LinkedIn, Monster, CareerBuilder, Dice, Indeed, your ATS, etc.
  • Veteran population information and resources

Veteran Sourcing Boolean Search String

(Army OR USAR OR “U.S.A.R.” OR “Army Reserve” OR “Army Reserves” OR Navy OR USN OR USNR OR “U.S.N.” OR “U.S.N.R.” OR “Naval Reserves” OR “Naval Reserve” OR “Air Force” OR USAF OR “U.S.A.F.” OR USFAR OR “U.S.A.F.R.” OR “Force Reserve” OR “Force Reserves” OR “Forces Reserve” OR “Forces Reserves” OR Marines OR “Marine Corp” OR “Marine Corps” OR USMC OR “U.S.M.C.” OR USMCR OR “U.S.M.C.R.” OR MARFORRES OR “Marine Expeditionary Force” OR MEF OR “Coast Guard” OR USCG OR “U.S.C.G.” OR USCGR OR “National Guard” OR Veteran OR “honorable discharge” OR “honorably discharged”)

Example Results

Search Notes

  • The search is 570 characters, including spaces
  • Watch your quotation marks!
  • This search will find folks who are currently in the military as well as veterans, but for many of you who focus on hiring veterans, you know this can be of value in terms of building a talent community, pipelining potential talent, and of course for referral opportunities
  • Don’t forget to search outside of the U.S. if your opportunities enable you to do so
    • You may want to consider adding something like (“US” OR “U.S.” OR “United States”) to your search in other countries to decrease the amount of non-U.S. armed forces false positives
  • You will encounter false positives
    • For example, this search will return results of recruiters who are not veterans but mention the fact that they recruit veterans from the various U.S. armed forces, as well as people who say “veteran” in a non-armed forces reference, etc. You can try to eliminate the false positives, but I strongly caution you against it, as you will also exclude actual veterans (e.g., veterans who have been recruiters, people who say “Gulf War Veteran” but don’t mention any branch of the armed forces on their LinkedIn profiles, etc.). Always remember – false positives are normal, understandable and acceptable in appropriate proportions (small percentages)
  • You may be tempted to enter the armed forces terminology in the “company” field (current and/or past) of sites such as LinkedIn, but I have found people whose only reference to their veteran status was in their summary and/or in their honors & awards sections – you would be excluding those people
  • All of the various “Forces Reserve” variants work for Naval, Air Force, and Marine Corps
  • I did not get any results for “U.S.C.G.R.” that did not also mention “Coast Guard” so I did not include it. Feel free to.
  • Marine Forces Reserve can also be abbreviated MFR/”M.F.R.”, but I found that returned an unacceptably high percentage of false positives
  • This search is not, nor will it ever be “complete” – it can and should be continuously improved! If you have suggestions, let me know – I will be happy to update!

The Story Behind the Search

If you’re still reading this, I am hoping you’re curious to learn more about how I came up with some of the terms to use in the above search.

Although I have many veterans in my family, I am not a veteran myself, nor am I any sort of an expert in the U.S. armed forces.  However, I don’t need to be in order to create a comprehensive and inclusive search for veterans.

I simply used the Agile Sourcing Methodology (of which I am the creator) – starting with a relatively simple initial query and then analyzing results, specifically looking beyond my highlighted terms to identify patterns of related and relevant terminology to incorporate into successive search iterations for increased inclusion and thus a higher quantity of relevant results.

It also helps to have an appreciation for the limitations of text retrieval, specifically with regard to human capital. While many people don’t really think too much about their search terms, I approach every search with a healthy respect for the fact that there are many ways that people can mention anything – a company, a technology, a title, and of course their armed forces experience.

For example, here is the result I stumbled across where I discovered the Marine Expeditionary Force, of which I had no prior knowledge:

Veteran Sourcing LinkedIn Example 1 MEF Marine Marines

After seeing this result, I added MEF and “Marine Expeditionary Force” to my search to be able to retrieve results of people who have been in the Marine Corps, but do not mention the Marine Corps, USMC, etc.

The majority of the terms that you see in the search beyond the most common and obvious came not from Internet research (I only checked 1 Wikipedia page), but from analyzing LinkedIn profiles and resumes for additional armed forces-related references and variants (e.g., Naval Reserve, MARFORRES), as well as testing educated guesses from patterns I observed (e.g., Force/Forces, Reserve/Reserves, etc.).

All Searches “Work” AND Exclude Viable Results (Real People!)

A simple search such as (Army OR Navy OR “Marine Corps” OR “Air Force”) “works” as any search with proper syntax will, and it returns 2.8M results in the U.S. on LinkedIn.

Most people would be happy with the quantity and the quality of the results they get from such a search.

However, aside from totally missing the United States Coast Guard and various National Guards and Reserves, that simple search excludes over 250,000 people who mention the U.S. armed forces on their LinkedIn profile in a way other than (Army OR Navy OR “Marine Corps” OR “Air Force”)!!!

As proof, here’s how to isolate and find nearly 290,000 of them!!!:

(USAR OR “U.S.A.R.” OR USN OR USNR OR “U.S.N.” OR “U.S.N.R.” OR “Naval Reserves” OR “Naval Reserve” OR USAF OR “U.S.A.F.” OR USFAR OR “U.S.A.F.R.” OR “Force Reserve” OR “Force Reserves” OR “Forces Reserve” OR “Forces Reserves” OR Marines OR “Marine Corp” OR USMC OR “U.S.M.C.” OR USMCR OR “U.S.M.C.R.” OR MARFORRES OR “Marine Expeditionary Force” OR MEF OR “Coast Guard” OR USCG OR “U.S.C.G.” OR USCGR OR “National Guard”) -(Army OR Navy OR “Marine Corps” OR “Air Force”)

Veteran Population Information and Resources

During the course of my research for this post, I came across several valuable resources, including the National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics site, which has a wealth of information on the Veteran population, including reports (e.g. the Women Veteran and Minority Veteran reports) and this interactive map of the Veteran Population:

Veteran Sourcing Population

I also found these resources to be valuable:

  • Great article. I recently started using boolean searches on linkedin. Can you point out other resources online/offline where to find veterans or that help veterans get jobs.

  • Allie LeBlanc

    Officer ranks are another great way to find candidates. Here are the ranks and official abbreviations for each branch. There will, of course, be variations based on how the candidate writes (e.g. spaces, punctuation) but this is a helpful starting point:

    Navy and Coast Guard

    (ensign OR ens OR lieutenant OR ltjg OR lt OR lcdr OR commander OR cdr OR captain OR capt OR admiral OR rdml OR radm OR vadm OR adm OR fadm)

    Marines, Air Force, and Army

    (lieutenant OR “2ndlt” OR “1stlt” OR captain OR capt OR major OR maj OR colonel OR ltcol OR col OR general OR bgen OR majgen OR ltgen OR gen)

  • Allie LeBlanc

    ** Commissioned officers

  • Rick

    Hi, I run a group “Afghanistan War Veterans” on LinkedIn with 5,000 members. All ranks, skills,mailities, and backgrounds. Pls poach our people and help them find civilian employment if they’re transitioning.

  • Rick


  • Alejandro


    The MEF tip is a good one, another term (if you’re looking for Marines or just another good way to find them) is MEU. That stands for Marine Expeditionary Unit which is a bit lower on the food chain organizationally speaking. You will probably get as many hits as with the MEF terminology.

    That being said,for career Marines going out on 6 month forward shipboard deployments (MEU or MEU (SOC)) is a fairly regular thing. I would think more guys mention a MEU than MEF, so if it came down to a one or the other selection I would go MEU over MEF.

    Actually I would just test it by playing with search terms and know for sure.

  • Nice angle Allie, and thanks for sharing!

  • Thanks for commenting and suggesting MEU Alejandro! I know using MEF/MEU won’t net a massive volume of additional folks, but it is critical to include as many people as possible and not unknowingly exclude people you don’t actually want to.

  • Excellent post Glen. i’ll be sharing it tomorrow in my presentation at a non-profit conference on how to attract, hire and retain military veterans

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