Recruiters' Best Practices

Elizabeth Stetler is associate editor and production/circulation manager of Search & Employ® and a veteran of the United States Army. Contact her at estetler@recruitmilitary.com.


DAV/RecruitMilitary job fairs have a different dynamic than most. Recruiters have found that candidates at our events are highly qualified and eager to begin their civilian careers. But many of the candidates do not know how their skills and experiences apply to civilian jobs. Good recruiters are highly adept at engaging with candidates and determining quickly whether they might fit in at their companies.

I traveled to our job fair in Indianapolis on December 10 to ask a handful of recruiters how they work our events. I wanted to discover their best practices. I think I succeeded.

I asked the recruiters how they break the ice with candidates, how they determine whether a candidate would be a good fit, how they handle resumes, whether they interview at the job fairs, and how a recruiter can help a candidate get in touch after an event. I also asked them to describe their hiring processes, and to tell me what is the most important thing to remember when working with job-seeking veterans.

The GEO Group

My first stop was The GEO Group’s booth, where I met Kathi Hagmeier and Lieutenant Laura Hollinger, from the company’s Heritage Trail Correctional Facility. I was lucky to talk with them before the job fair started because, once the event was underway, they were engaged with candidates the entire time.

The GEO Group provides of private corrections services and facilities, including prisons, detention facilities, and community reentry facilities. The company has been attending our job fairs since 2013.

ES: How do you break the ice with a candidate who seems interested but hesitant to talk or approach the booth?

KH: I introduce myself first. Then I will ask them what they are looking for, what their career aspirations are, and if they have ever considered corrections as a career choice, before. Then I will go into what the company has to offer.

ES: What kinds of questions do you ask to quickly determine whether or not a candidate would be a good fit for your company?

KH: I will go through the minimum qualifications for our company, like our education requirements, and make sure they know they need to have a valid driver’s license. Also, they have to be at least 21 years old to work at our facility.

LH: I make sure to let them know that they do not need prior experience to work in corrections. I try to make sure they know what we’re about before I ask them too many questions so that we don’t waste anyone’s time.

ES: When a candidate approaches with resume in hand, is it better to skim or to read it all the way through before asking questions?

KH: I will do a brief skim of their previous employment. Then I look at their education. Usually, I am looking for a background in criminal justice or public safety.

LH: I look through the whole thing – I like to read it all the way through before I start asking too many questions.

ES: Do you conduct interviews at the job fair?

KH: We usually schedule them for later on because of how much traffic there is at these job fairs. But I take their resume so that when and if they apply online, I will recognize their name and remember that I met them at the job fair, and that we have talked.

ES: What can recruiters do to make it easier for candidates to get in touch after the job fair?

KH: The contact information for the human resources department is on all of our flyers, which we give to the candidates who stop by the booth. We also hand out business cards, and we return every phone call and every email.

ES: What is your process from meeting a candidate at the job fair to hiring that candidate?

KH: If they are interested, we have them apply online. I check our job bank every day, and I contact people almost right away if I can. I reach out to every qualified candidate. Then they will come in for an interview with me, my chief of security, or Lieutenant Hollinger. Then, depending on the position we are hiring for, we will do a second interview. Usually the whole thing, from start to finish, is a week-long process. The candidates are kept current on their standing through the entire process as well.

ES: What is the most important thing to remember when working with job-seeking veterans?

KH: Try to understand their time and skills in the military. They all have different levels of experience. For example, a candidate might have had an active custody role while they served, but another might have been more administrative. We keep an open mind because people from all kinds of backgrounds can fill all kinds of positions.

LH: Additionally, servicemembers seem to have an easier time with training, because they already understand the concept of the chain of command. Our structure at GEO is something they are already familiar with. Their spouses are familiar with it, too, so that helps. If there is a problem or an emergency or they have to stay later, they have been through all of that. Having their spouse understand that and be supportive can be really helpful.

Osmose Utility Services

Next, I spoke with Amanda Hughes, a corporate recruiter for Osmose Utility Services. I circled around the event center several times, waiting for my turn to talk with her. Her professional yet warm demeanor seemed to make the candidates feel comfortable approaching her booth. When there was finally a small break, I joined her at the table to ask my questions. Even then, we had to pause quite a few times so that she could speak with candidates.

Osmose, is an 80-year-old company that provides a wide variety of inspection, maintenance and rehabilitation services and products to electric and telecommunications utilities. Osmose has been coming to our job fairs since 2015.

ES: How do you break the ice with a candidate who seems interested but hesitant to talk or approach the booth?

AH: Usually I will ask if they know about us. That is a great way to see if they have done their research on us. I will ask them which branch of the military they served in to help break the ice. I will also ask about their past experience and what they are looking for in their career going forward.

ES: What kinds of questions do you ask to quickly determine whether or not a candidate would be a good fit for your company?

AH: Travel, for us, is a big part of the job, so I will ask them if they are willing to travel for work. If they are not willing to travel, I know right away that they won’t be a good fit for us.

ES: When a candidate approaches with resume in hand, is it better to skim or to read it all the way through before asking questions?

AH: At the events, I want to talk to people and engage them, so I skim to look at their experiences to see if anything catches my eye. For example, if I see that a candidate was in the infantry, I know that they are used to physical work and our line of work might appeal to them. Or maybe they painted houses for a living. That tells me that they worked outdoors, and they might be interested in what we do.

ES: Do you conduct interviews at the job fair?

AH: I schedule interviews offsite for a later time. At Osmose, we have a process we have to follow. Candidates have to apply and then pass an assessment. Both of those have to happen before we interview them.

ES: What can recruiters do to make it easier for candidates to get in touch after the job fair?

AH: We give them our information to take with them, but we go a bit beyond that when it comes to keeping in touch with candidates. We also collect their email address at the events, and later we send them email reminders about meeting with us and ask them to send in their resume if they’re still interested. That way, if something happens or if they lose our contact information, we won’t lose a good candidate.

Another way we make it convenient for candidates is by having a tablet set up at our booth where they can enter basic information, like their name, email address, and work interests. We have an applicant tracking system so we send emails and updates to those in our system when something in their interest field opens up.

ES: What is your process from meeting a candidate at the job fair to hiring that candidate?

AH: As I mentioned, we have them apply first. Then they have to do the online assessment, which helps us gauge whether they would be a good fit for the company or not. Depending on the results of the assessment, we will conduct a phone-screen interview. Then they will meet with a supervisor for an interview.

If it is a corporate position, they interview in one of our corporate offices. If it is a field position, they go to one of our worksites for a realistic job preview of what they’d be doing in that position. They can talk to the supervisor and we can get a feel for the applicant based on how they interact with the crew.

After that, the supervisors will let us know if they want to hire that person. If the candidate is hired, they will start in our training program.

ES: What is the most important thing to remember when working with job-seeking veterans?

AH: Sometimes, they do not know their own skills or how those skills are applicable in the civilian sector. Find out what their skills are, what their experiences were, and how that would relate to the positions available.

AXA Advisors

One thing our RecruitMilitary travelers do at our job fairs is help candidates who look lost or overwhelmed. The traveler will ask a candidate a couple of questions and then, depending on the answers, send him or her to a specific booth.

So imagine my delight when I saw Tina Booze, a recruiter for AXA Advisors, stop a candidate and help him find a booth that offered jobs matching his interests. This told me that she would be a good recruiter to talk to. She did not simply sit behind the table and wait for candidates. She was right out front, not only bringing in candidates for her company, but also looking out for those who might be a good fit elsewhere.

AXA Advisors provides life insurance, retirement plans, and other financial services to the public. The company has been attending our job fairs since 2012.

ES: How do you break the ice with a candidate who seems interested but hesitant to talk or approach the booth?

TB: I get them to talk about what is important to them. I want them to know that I care about them being here. So I approach people and, because we are advisors at AXA, if we do not have anything for that candidate, I am happy to try to match them to another company who is hiring in their preferred field.

ES: What kinds of questions do you ask to quickly determine whether or not a candidate would be a good fit for your company?

TB: I ask them “what are some of the things that you like to do?” So for example, if they say that they like to work in a warehouse, you know that they tend to like to work more by themselves. And if they say they have an IT background, then you know they like to work with computers.

But you have to ask follow-up questions. If someone says they did security, it could mean a couple of things. Was it the kind of security where they were helping protect a company or something where they helped protect people’s safety? Or maybe they did IT security, which is completely different than physical security.

I ask a few questions because that blanket answer that the candidates may give is not always the best way to tell if they would be a good fit.

ES: When a candidate approaches with resume in hand, is it better to skim or to read it all the way through before asking questions?

TB: We accept the resumes here, but when we go back to the office, we look through them more thoroughly.

At AXA Advisors, we don’t necessarily require experience in this field. We sit down with everyone who is interested in working here. We do not discount them because they have never worked in this business. We can train people, so just because a candidate does not have experience, it does not mean they wouldn’t be a good person to work for us.

ES: Do you conduct interviews at the job fair?

TB: A lot of times in this type of environment, the candidates don’t want to stop for too long because they want to make sure they get around to everybody. So instead, we ask a few brief questions and share with them about why our company is a good place to work. Our brand is not known to everybody, so we often have to explain a little about ourselves and our company.

ES: What can recruiters do to make it easier for candidates to get in touch after the job fair?

TB: We give them our cards, but then we also tell them about our website because on our site there are pictures of all of us and our phone numbers. When you are looking for a company to work for, you want to know what kind of people you will be working with. We all have LinkedIn profiles, as well, so applicants can learn about us and what we do and what we have done in the past. We always encourage them to check us out.

ES: What is your process from meeting a candidate at the job fair to hiring that candidate?

TB: First we want them to learn about us, so we will send links to our website and ask the candidates to do a little research on us. Then we have them come in for their first interview. In this interview, they will mostly learn what the company is all about and how it works and we learn about the candidate.

After that, if they are interested, we set up the second interview, where we talk about what we can provide for them, like training and helping them get licensed.

In the third interview, we get everything settled. Together, we decide which path they will take with the different products and services that we offer to our clients. We see them all the way through the process of licensing. We help them every step of the way.

Finally, even before they are technically employed with us, we invite them to training meetings and lunches. That way, they can get a feel for our environment.

ES: What is the most important thing to remember when working with job-seeking veterans?

TB: Be interactive with them. You have to be able to have a conversation in order to interpret their skills. If they just tell you their MOS, you may need to ask questions to make sure you understand what that means and what their duties were.

Like I said before, you also have to ask what is important to them. Try to help them connect with somebody, even if your company is not the right fit for them. Make sure to show that you care. Never just sit behind the table. Go out and shake hands, and let them know that you care.

First Command

The four representatives at the First Command booth were lively and busy interacting with the candidates. With the additional coverage, I was able to interview Ashley Henderson, a recruiting specialist. She told me that one of the main missions at First Command is to give back to those who have served by providing financial services, from budgeting and saving to planning retirement, to educating them on what it means to be financially secure.

First Command has been attending our job fairs since 2011.

ES: How do you break the ice with a candidate who seems interested but hesitant to talk or approach the booth?

AH: Approach them. Make them feel welcome. If they are standing back, observing, walk up to them and ask them if there is anything in particular they are looking for, or if they have heard of the company.

ES: What kinds of questions do you ask to quickly determine whether or not a candidate would be a good fit for your company?

AH: The biggest thing is to determine what they are looking for. It is good to know about their past experience and what they have done. From that, you may be able to find out what they have enjoyed so far, and what they think might be next for them.

In our company, there are a lot of sales and networking involved, so if they tell me they loved working in the back-end of the office, I know that a position with heavy interaction with the public might not be the best fit for them.

I actually think it’s best to let people explain themselves. Sometimes by just talking about it, people self-discover what they want to do.

ES: When a candidate approaches with resume in hand, is it better to skim or to read it all the way through before asking questions?

AH: I will skim through first, looking for titles and companies, to see if there is anything I recognize. That can provide talking points as well as information on their background. I may say something like, “I’ve heard of this company. What did you enjoy about working there?” I look for education as well. It tells me a lot about their stage in their career.

I like to let them elaborate. In a resume, everything is condensed down and turned into bullet points. Things can be misinterpreted.

ES: Do you conduct interviews at the job fair?

AH: If someone is very eager and this is specifically what they’re looking for, we will take them aside and talk to them more in-depth. If someone is hesitant or unsure, we schedule it for later on so they have enough time to think about it and talk to their spouse, if necessary.

ES: What can recruiters do to make it easier for candidates to get in touch after the job fair?

AH: We give them a card with the information of a specific hiring manager, who we usually make sure is in attendance at the career fair that day. When they send their resume in, they are sending it to a local hiring manager, and he or she will reach out to the candidate after receiving their information.

If we do not have a hiring manager with us that day, we give them informational sheets that will lead the candidates straight to my email and contact information.

ES: What is your process from meeting a candidate at the job fair to hiring that candidate?

AH: We have them apply online, then we meet with them. We actually often meet with the spouse, too, to make sure they are both on-board and that we are all on the same page. Plus, it is built-in support for the candidate if the spouse meets the hiring manager and comes in to see the facilities and is involved with the hiring process.

ES: What is the most important thing to remember when working with job-seeking veterans?

AH: Keep an open mind. Try to get to know the person in front of you and understand what they are about.

Read articles about the transitioning programs in the military. While these programs teach the servicemembers to build a resume and create a profile on LinkedIn, there is not a lot of feedback from the other side.

As a recruiter, sometimes you will be surprised by how someone comes dressed, but you have to remember not to judge them from the outside. Remember that all of this is new to them. They were in a career where they were expected to follow orders. Now they have to figure it all out on their own.

Johnson Controls

My final stop was the Johnson Controls booth, which had lines of candidates waiting to chat with the recruiters. I spoke with Ray Cuttino, military recruitment specialist.

Ray is a former United States Army recruiter. He served in all components of the Army: Reserves, National Guard, and active duty. So when he talks with veterans, he understands them, he knows where they’re coming from, and speaks the same language.

Johnson Controls specializes in building efficiency, battery and energy storage, and automotive seating. The company has been coming to our job fairs since 2013.

ES: How do you break the ice with a candidate who seems interested but hesitant to talk or approach the booth?

RC: I walk up and introduce myself. I ask them what is their motivation is for being here today. I want to help the candidate feel at ease, so I ask things like “How’s it going?” or “What branch of service were you?”

ES: What kinds of questions do you ask to quickly determine whether or not a candidate would be a good fit for your company?

RC: Everyone knows that job seekers should prepare themselves to talk to recruiters. I say that recruiters should prepare themselves to talk to the veterans. Recruiters should be well-versed, not subject-matter experts necessarily, but they need to understand how the skills they are looking for transfer over from the military.

ES: When a candidate approaches with resume in hand, is it better to skim or to read it all the way through before asking questions?

RC: I look at their resume while they tell me about themselves. Then I will ask them some questions about their military experience and job skills. But more importantly, I ask them questions to see if they have done their homework on my company. How do they see themselves transferring those skills into our organization?

ES: Do you conduct interviews at the job fair?

RC: If the hiring manager is there, they might pull the individual to the side for a one-on-one informal interview and then schedule the formal one for a later date.

ES: What can recruiters do to make it easier for candidates to get in touch after the job fair?

RC: If you go to our website from a military-friendly link, there is a pop-up that says “Ask a recruiter,” and that comes directly to me. Because of the different hats I wore in the military as a career counsellor, a recruiter, retention, and as a guidance counsellor, I am willing to do career coaching at the beginning of their career with us or whenever I can. I share my information with anybody for any additional time that we need to get together.

ES: What is your process from meeting a candidate at the job fair to hiring that candidate?

RC: The candidate must apply online. Then they will go through a series of interviews. After the interviews, they are processed in and hired.

ES: What is the most important thing to remember when working with job-seeking veterans?

RC: They are human. Even though they bring the title of “veteran,” and they bring these qualities that we’re looking for, as a recruiter, you should treat them no differently than you would anyone else. The only difference is a line of questioning. Be ready to ask questions if you don’t understand certain terms.

Summing Up

All recruiters I spoke with agreed that, when it comes to talking with veterans about skills and job experience, the military-specific terms used can be challenging. Being willing to ask follow-up questions and even to tell the candidate when a term is confusing is essential. But simply asking questions might not be enough. Recruiters should take the time to educate themselves on MOS’s and the duties these jobs entailed.

In addition to becoming familiar with military-specific terms, recruiters must be willing to take the first step with candidates. Veteran job-seekers are skilled and highly-employable, but sometimes are not as confident in the job market as their civilian peers. Recruiters should engage them and make them feel comfortable. The response and interest of a candidate may depend on how welcome he or she feels at the booth.

By Elizabeth Stetler on Tuesday May 17, 2016

This article appeared in the May-June 2016 issue of Search & Employ Magazine

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May-June 2016