Corner Office Q&A: Wells Fargo’s Sean Passmore


Sean Passmore leads the Military Talent Strategic Sourcing team and oversees enterprise military and veteran initiatives at Wells Fargo. As a retired service member, he understands the challenges of transitioning from the military to a second career, and he also appreciates the value of recruiting veterans to contribute to a company’s success.

Here, he talks with Monster about making the jump from military to civilian work, the importance of a veteran recruiting strategy, and why it’s crucial to have veterans on your team.

How did you make a successful transition from the military to a civilian career?

For me, it was really about three things: Starting early, doing a gap analysis, and then closing that gap. When I worked at the White House Communications Agency, which was my last assignment, I knew I’d be retiring in four years, so I really got to work early on this thing I called a gap analysis.

It was about researching the jobs and the companies that I felt like I wanted to work for. What do those people look like who are working in those roles at those companies? I compared myself to those people working in those positions and identified the gap — what do they have that I don’t? Then I really tried to use that time as efficiently as possible while still serving in the military.

To do that, that meant earning a master’s degree. I chose a university with a reputable business school, but also that had a program that was flexible enough for me to continue serving in the military at the White House, which was a very demanding role. I also earned a professional certification: my PMP (Project Management Professional). I continued to network and do informational interviews. Those are the things that led to me eventually landing in a great career with a good company.

What would you say has helped you the most so far in your career?

I think it’s been mostly about just trying to do the absolute best job I could do while serving in the role I was in — not really focusing on ‘How do I get the next promotion,’ not trying to network with people who I thought could help me climb the ladder — just doing the best I could do at what the company asked me to do at the time.

Another thing, I’ve always really tried to add value to other people’s work, which is the best type of networking — focusing on being a good partner, trying to give more in value than I take, and then network through my job performance. I’ve always felt it’s important to treat people well no matter what the role is, and no matter where they fall.

Third, I think it’s always about trying to do what’s best for the larger team over the longer term. Sometimes this has meant not doing what might be best for myself or my team over the short term, but really understanding and supporting the organizations’ greatest business priorities.

What hurdles have you encountered along the way?

A hurdle is an obstacle you can see in front of you. For me, I think the obstacles that I’ve found most challenging were the ones I didn’t see. I’m talking about my blind spot, and all transitioning veterans have these.

I was very often frustrated by what I perceived to be hesitant decision-making by corporate leaders. The military is a culture of action. Leaders are decisive, and the environment really demands that. After leaving the military, solutions to problems seemed so evident to me, and I was very irritated that nobody would just make a decision.

What I wasn’t aware of was that there are so many variables that were being weighed in the decision-making process. It seemed to me to be a very simple decision in one business unit, but it can cause a ripple effect on many more leaders in different business units. I had no awareness and appreciation of the second and third-order effects. But it’s a very common blind spot. The sooner you realize it’s a blind spot, the better off you are.

Another one is really just becoming comfortable with the idea of self-promotion. Generally speaking, military leaders are very quick to pass any and all credit for a job well done to their subordinates and equally as quick to accept blame for anything that wasn’t successful. I learned it’s really important to be able to influence and advocate for yourself, for your ideas, your programs and your own achievements. This places me miles outside my comfort zone, even now, seven years after leaving military service.

Why is it important to develop a veteran hiring recruitment strategy?

We know that veterans bring collaboration, leadership, problem solving, resilience, agility. The list goes on and on for why you want to bring veterans into the workforce. I key in on this idea of developing a strategy.

Veteran recruiting isn’t as easy as it sounds. You don’t just wake up in the morning and decide you want to hire veterans. It’s just like any other business program or initiative — you need to think strategically, develop an operating model. You need to incorporate communications and marketing strategies to create a military-friendly employer brand, and optimize paid media strategy to attract passive military candidates.

Also, it’s critical to engage in and maintain healthy relationships with veteran-serving military bases. This all helps extend your reach into the veteran job community.

What best practices have you learned in terms of veteran recruiting and hiring?

Number one, unquestionably you have to have buy-in from the most senior levels of leadership. Without executive sponsorship, you’re going to feel like you’re pushing a giant rock up a very steep hill and you’re unlikely to be successful.

Two, if you want to hire more veterans, I would encourage people to start in their talent acquisition workforce. Hire veterans and military spouses as recruiters and talent sourcers and it will spread from there.

Three, veterans are notorious disqualifiers. They often can’t or don’t see themselves in our job descriptions or minimum requirements. Companies can increase the number of vet applicants by including veteran-friendly language in job postings and by allowing military service equivalencies in the job requirements: “Three years project manager experience or successful completion of military service.”

I also think it’s a good idea when companies include veterans on the interview panel. That veteran may recognize relevant experience that others don’t, and may be able to ask probing questions that can help the veteran candidate better demonstrate the value of that experience to the other interview panelists.

Have you noticed any measurable impacts from having veterans in the workforce?

We know that veterans bring the ability to learn new things quickly and adapt to new environments. Those things are not measurable, but these traits have become abundantly clear to us.

Boots to Banking is our high-volume veteran hiring program. Since 2018, we’ve hired more than 550 veterans through our Boots to Banking program. We conducted a study recently comparing the work quality of a class of Boots to Banking customer service reps against their civilian service peers. What we found is that the veterans outperformed their civilian peers in five out of six KPIs (key performance indicators). That really just points to their ability to learn new things and adapt to new environments.

And not as quantitative, but no less important, are the character traits veterans bring to our organization. At Wells Fargo, we expect six things from our employees: Embrace candor, learn and grow, be great at execution, champion diversity, equity and inclusion, do what is right, and build high-performing teams. I would argue that there really is nowhere better to find these traits than in the men and women who’ve served our country.

Want to improve your veteran hiring initiatives?

As Sean mentioned, successful veteran hiring programs are made overnight. He shared a number of excellent, actionable strategies and tactics to get started. If you’d like to read about how other companies developed their veteran recruitment programs, download our free veteran hiring guide.