Cover: Leveraging Big Data Analytics to Improve Military Recruiting

Leveraging Big Data Analytics to Improve Military Recruiting

Published Oct 22, 2019

by Nelson Lim, Bruce R. Orvis, Kimberly Curry Hall


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Research Questions

  1. What are the services and the Joint Advertising Market Research & Studies program currently doing in their recruiting efforts, particularly in using data-enabled outreach and recruiting practices that might be adopted more widely?
  2. How do organizations outside DoD use big data and analytics for recruiting?
  3. What additional data-enabled outreach and recruiting practices do the services and DoD want to adopt to build on those currently in use and to leverage approaches used in the private sector?
  4. What are the barriers to adopting such practices?
  5. What actions could be taken to facilitate data-enabled outreach and recruitment in the services and DoD?

The authors identified ways that the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the services might be able to further deploy data-driven outreach and recruiting strategies in their outreach and recruiting processes. Their report summarizes information collected from stakeholders, subject-matter experts (SMEs), and the literature. The authors convened an advisory group of representatives from the services' recruiting operations divisions and marketing programs. The advisory group shared information on strategies, practices, policies, databases, algorithms, and tools. The authors also identified and convened a group of DoD Privacy Program and personally identifiable information SMEs to discuss the DoD Privacy Program, including related restrictions on data-enabled outreach and recruiting. Additionally, they conducted focus groups with military recruiters concerning recruiting practices and challenges at the local level and reviewed business and academic literature describing use of data-enabled practices in marketing and recruiting. The authors discuss barriers that must be overcome and provide actions that DoD can take toward enhancing use of data-enabled recruiting practices; these include evaluating the efficacy and efficiency of such practices.

Key Findings

The services' current recruiting operations focus on the national and local levels

  • The national level focuses on outreach to attract prospective recruits through service websites, advertisements, educational tours, chat rooms, direct mail, call centers, and tours and events.
  • At the local level, recruiters conduct high school, cadet, community college, and other community programs or events and interview prospective recruits.
  • All services reported combining primary data collection with third-party data to help target recruiting activities.
  • The services would like to be able to use niche targeting and customized one-on-one messaging.
  • Recruiters indicated their desire for more-modern systems that could improve the efficiency of their work.

DoD faces several challenges related to data-enabled outreach and recruiting practices

  • DoD must protect personally identifiable information according to the Privacy Act of 1974 and related implementation guidance.
  • The services have limited use of third-party data, including opt-in requirements.
  • Many data sets are disconnected from each other.
  • Recruiters reported lacking advanced analytical tools. They indicated that available tools focused on tracking leads or applicants through the recruiting process and did not prioritize individuals, leads, activities, or events based on their potential return on investment.
  • The lack of feedback on the success of outreach and recruiting operations constrains the services' ability to improve recruiting processes.


  • Continue to share information across the services, DoD, and marketing agencies about their data-enabled outreach and recruiting practices to broaden their use.
  • Improve the interconnectivity of information technology systems, recruiting databases, and tools.
  • Increase feedback within the outreach and recruiting processes.
  • Introduce greater flexibility into the System of Records Notice development process.
  • Target impediments to using third-party data and personally identifiable information in marketing and recruiting.
  • Routinely evaluate the effectiveness, efficiency, and acceptance of data-enabled outreach and recruiting practices in military recruiting.

This research was sponsored by the Office of Accession Policy within the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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