Job Fair Special Report: Recruiters Advice for Veteran Job Seekers

When it comes to putting on high-quality military-to-civilian job fairs, RecruitMilitary has little competition. We have been doing this since 2006, and we have become known as the premium brand in this recruitment niche.

We owe much of our success to being good listeners and good advisers. We listen to what recruiters at our events tell us about scheduling, choice of venues, and other production details.

We also listen to what they tell us about the job seekers at our events – known as “candidates” in the human resources trade. Many of the recruiters have well-thought-out ideas about what candidates should do at the events. We combine these ideas with some thoughts of our own, and advise candidates accordingly. See, for example, the article “How to Work a RecruitMilitary Opportunity Expo” in Search & Employ®; that article also contains a schedule of upcoming events.

Much of what we have learned from job-fair recruiters has been more or less anecdotal. All of this information is valid but, to reinforce it, I decided to ask several recruiters directly and specifically how they would advise candidates to work our events – then to pass along their recommendations to the readers of Search & Employ®.

To interview recruiters, I flew to San Antonio for our DAV / RecruitMilitary All Veterans Job Fair on May 19. I arrived early at the venue, Norris Conference Centers, primed with questions and ready to go.

But the elements were not cooperating. Rain was coming down heavily, and the area was under a flood watch. I was worried that many recruiters and candidates would sit this one out.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the venue filled up with cheerful, optimistic recruiters. A total of 67 employers, franchisors, and educational institutions set up booths.

The recruiters chatted with me and with one another while we waited for the event to start. How many candidates would show up? Would it be a hit or a miss?

When the appointed hour arrived – 11:00 a.m. – a huge wave of candidates poured into the exhibit area. And immediately, I understood the optimism of the recruiters. This was a sharp-looking group of men and women who were dedicated enough to brave the rain in order to network, find opportunities, and advance their careers. By the time the event ended, 450 candidates had attended. It was a hit, a major hit.

I asked recruiters from six companies the following questions:

  • What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?
  • What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?
  • How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?
  • What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?
  • What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?
  • What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?
  • What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores

First, I talked with Eric Morrison of Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, a family-owned and -operated company headquartered in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Morrison has been recruiting at job fairs for about eight years. He told me that one aspect of his job that he really enjoys is the chance to see how each candidate would fit into a role at Love’s.

Love’s has more than 380 locations in 40 states. Love’s provides professional truck drivers and motorists with 24-hour access to clean and safe places to purchase gasoline, diesel fuel, travel items, electronics, snacks, and more, as well as a selection of restaurant offerings. On-site Love’s Truck Tire Care centers offer roadside assistance, tire care and light mechanical services for professional truck drivers. Showers, CAT scales, and other services for professional truck drivers are also available. And Love’s continues to grow with plans to open more than 40 new stores in 2016. Forbes magazine has listed Love’s as a “Top Privately Owned Company in the United States.”

ES: What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?

EM: I think it is important to have something prepared. A 30-to-45-second pitch or presentation lets the recruiter know who you are, what you have done in the past, and what position best applies to you. With military-to-civilian transition, this is really helpful. It helps us, the recruiters, get a better grasp of what you have to offer, which we might not have fully understood without your explanation because of the military terms and jargon. Having an elevator pitch means that you can translate your military skills into civilian ones.

ES: What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?

EM: Part of the purpose of a job fair is to network. As recruiters, we often know many of the other company representatives. If I come across a great candidate, but I don’t have a spot for them, I will tell them who they should talk to. Also, I always refer candidates to our job and career website, because we can send them emails with status updates on jobs they are interested in. We might not have something right away, but there is almost certainly a position that could open up in the future which would fit their capabilities and background.

ES: How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?

EM: You only get one chance to make a first impression. If you look the part, in addition to having a pitch prepared, you will seem ready to begin your career in the civilian world. That is really appealing for a recruiter.

ES: What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?

EM: For our company, a resume should be 1 or 2 pages in length. I’ve noticed that with many military resumes, there are a lot of transitions and different job assignments. I like to see those career progressions. The stepping stones from where they started to where they are now show loyalty and dedication.

ES: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?

EM: Some candidates are not as open-minded to companies because they think they know what those companies are. For example, some don’t realize that we are more than a gas station. At our travel stop facilities, we have six different businesses, and we are adding more. Candidates don’t realize we offer careers in hospitality for our Love’s-operated hotels, we are searching for mechanics for our tire care facilities, we have restaurant opportunities, and plenty more.

There are a lot of different companies that are this way, as well. On the outside, it may look like something obvious. Or even the opposite – you might not know for sure what they are.

I recommend talking to the representative and asking open-ended questions about the future of the company. You can learn a lot about an organization that way.

ES: What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?

EM: We try to keep our booth staffed all the time, but the best time to come talk to us is when we are already talking to someone. A lot of people would not think that, but it allows us to give a group presentation.
Don’t think you’re interrupting if I am talking to someone already. Join the conversation. In fact, you may find out things that you wouldn’t otherwise, because if you’re part of a group conversation, someone might ask a question that you hadn’t thought to ask or were too nervous to ask. The group dynamic can be a really great way to get information and talk to recruiters.

ES: What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

EM: We like people who are open minded and looking ahead. We want someone who will progress within our organization. Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores is growing and maturing as a company. When we see candidates who want growth and maturity in their careers, we’re impressed.


Farmers Insurance

Next, I spoke with Abigail Hernandez, representing Farmers Insurance. Abigail is the operations manager at the District #44 Office, located in San Antonio.

Farmers is one of the country's largest insurers of vehicles, homes, and small businesses; and the company also provides a wide range of other insurance and financial services products. Farmers is looking for entrepreneurs, self-starters, and leaders to join their team of direct employees or to become owners of agencies.

ES: What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?

AH: Every conversation should be different – don’t say the same thing to every recruiter. But you should come prepared knowing what you want to do. It’s also important to know what you like to do. And finally, if you are open to change, make sure to express your interest in doing new things. Recruiters like to see that flexibility.

ES: What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?

AH: I always take their name and phone number and get their resume, no matter what. If they are a shining star at that career fair, I certainly don’t want to lose them. Many times, our agents will see something on a resume I’ve brought back that interests them and they will follow up with that candidate later on.

ES: How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?

AH: Business professional and military uniform are both completely acceptable.

I think it’s important for candidates to remember that the person they talk to at the job fair could be the one who hires them, or even their future boss. So take the time and look for something that looks well-groomed yet comfortable.

ES: What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?

AH: I like to see a summary at the beginning, rather than an objective. I want to be able to get a very good insight of what they have to offer by looking at their resume. Use your resume to sell yourself. That’s what it is for.

Two pages is the max length for a resume. More than that and it’s too much.

ES: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?

AH: Not being open to different possibilities and being reserved with giving their information out. if a candidate thinks we don’t have the role they’re looking for, they don’t want to talk to me. But I may know somebody who does have that role for them. I can’t help them if they never gave me their contact information or their resume.

I think, too, that it’s a mistake to not dress professionally. You should come to the job fair dressed like you’re ready to start working right away.

ES: What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?

AH: Anytime is a good time. Even if I am already talking to people, please approach and listen in. I am happy to have a conversation with more than one person at a time. That kind of group interaction creates a synergy effect and a welcoming atmosphere. When I am talking to someone, I always acknowledge people who show up and invite them into the conversation.

ES: What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

AH: Take initiative. If you find a position you are absolutely set on getting, ask for an appointment. Don’t wait for us to call you. Ask us to set up a time and day right there. That lets us know that you are serious about the role, and that you’re ready to go right then and there.


Goodwill Industries International, Inc.

My next stop was the Goodwill Industries booth, where I talked with talent acquisition manager, Isabella Panek, and her colleague, James Hughes, who is a contracts manager for Goodwill and a veteran.

Many people think of Goodwill as a brick-and-mortar store where you donate your gently-used items for retail and resale purposes. But the company also offers veteran services, career centers and careers academies.

In addition, Goodwill has a contract services division that offers employment opportunities in document management/conversion; administrative services; grounds maintenance; heating; ventilation; and air conditioning (HVAC); and janitorial services.

ES: What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?

J: Speak up, because it’s always loud at the job fair. A smile and a handshake are great ice-breakers. We want to hear about your work interests and your skills.

IP: Tell us what you are looking for. We are happy to tell you about different jobs, but they might not be applicable to your skill set. So tell us about your skills and interests, and we can go from there.

ES: What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?

IP: The company is growing, and our jobs are always changing. I always tell candidates that we may not have that job today, but look at our job board and go to our career centers and look at the careers online. Tomorrow or next week or next month, the available jobs might change.

I also tell them to look at the different job descriptions as well, because that job may not be what you think it is. You might already possess the skills needed for a job, but you don’t know that until you’ve read the job descriptions.

ES: How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?

J: Business casual is appropriate for this kind of event. A shirt with a tie – you don’t have to wear a suit jacket or anything. And for women, a blouse and a pair of pants. But it can get warm so you don’t want to be dressed to the nines. Dress for the job that you want.

IP: We just talked to someone who was sharply dressed, and it really does make an impression. Being dressed professionally tells recruiters that you mean business.

ES: What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?

IP: At a job fair, just bring a one- or two-page resume. A lot of people who were in the military have longer resumes because of all the different things they were tasked to do and different assignments. But for the job fair, keep it simple.

J: When you come in for an interview, it’s okay to bring a longer resume. The hiring managers want to see everything you’ve done.

Also, it is a little extra work but tailor your resume for different positions. It can be a few minor tweaks here and there, but it really pays off if you hit the keywords and skills a hiring manager is looking for.

IP: But definitely keep the position in mind when it comes to resume length. If you’re applying for an entry level position, you don’t need six pages.

ES: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?

IP: Sometimes candidates are vague and unenthusiastic. At these job fairs, you could very easily be talking to your next boss. You need to act like it’s a presentation. Don’t be hesitant and vague. Be enthusiastic.

Every company won’t be a perfect fit for every candidate. But you should never ever discount the power of networking. If we’re impressed with you, we are happy to recommend you to someone who might have the right position for you. But if you are vague and unenthusiastic, you haven’t really sold yourself to us, and we don’t know much about you.

J: I think that having preconceived notions on what they believe a company has to offer is a mistake as well. Stop at every table, and learn about what each company has to offer. I know that when people get out of the military, they want to go make the big bucks, so they only go to the big names at the job fair. But if you don’t talk to everyone, you might never find out about the smaller companies there that also have big bucks to offer.

ES: What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?

IP: For us, any time is the best time. We are there to meet you.

ES: What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

IP: Be enthusiastic. Also, if you are flexible and ready to work, we’re impressed by that as well.

J: Make sure we get your resume. We meet a lot of people throughout the day, and having your resume will help us remember who you are and what you have to offer.


Provenir

Dana Pape, who was on hand at the Provenir booth, recently retired from the Air Force – and she has already found that being a recruiter who is also a veteran gives her special ways to connect to candidates.

“I can relate to them,” she told me. “I was there not long ago, myself. So when they seem nervous, I tell them ‘hey, don’t worry, I speak your language.’” Provenir is a recruiting and staffing company that works with the healthcare community. The company staffs and recruits for a wide variety of positions including nurses, medical assistants, doctors, and high-level executives serving in the highest, most strategic roles in organizations. It also helps smaller medical startups staff for maintenance techs, electrical engineers, and executive assistants.

ES: What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?

DP: Make eye contact. Be assertive. Shake my hand, and tell me who you are. Just don’t be robotic.

ES: What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?

DP: I think they should keep an open mind. In my own case, I thought I knew exactly what I wanted to do when I retired. I thought I wanted to go into medical or pharmaceutical sales. I found Provenir, and after talking to the CEO for a while, she asked “Have you ever considered recruiting?” I hadn’t. And now I love my job.

So take the blinders off. Be open to more than just your specialty, because there are so many opportunities out there.

ES: How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?

DP: I like to see a clean, polished appearance. Come dressed to impress, but you should also feel good. You won’t put your best self out there if you are uncomfortable.

ES: What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?

DP: I’ve seen anything from one to four pages. But really, less than two full pages is ideal. I think the most important thing is to make sure you are able to explain what it is that you do (or did) for the military in a way that translates to the civilian world.

I’ve worked with a lot of the transition organizations, so I know what a good resume looks like. There are all kinds of resources out there for veterans to use that help translate military jargon into corporate speak.

ES: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?

DP: Some people just walk by because they are unfamiliar with us. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What do you do?” The company name might not tell you anything about the company, so take the initiative and find out.

ES: What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?

DP: Anytime is fine. If I’m already in a conversation, please stand by or circle back. I really do want to talk to the candidates.

ES: What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

DP: A solid handshake and a smile go a long way. And always follow up after the event.


Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas

Next, I spoke with Albert Escamilla, who recruits for Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, which produces Tacomas and Tundras. Escamilla has been recruiting at job fairs for Toyota for more than seven years.

ES: What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?

AE: It’s important to know about the company you’re talking to. For example, we are often mistaken for a dealership, so if someone comes to us with an elevator pitch and they are a salesperson, it doesn’t really apply. RecruitMilitary posts an exhibitor list on their event sites, so there is really no reason to not do a little research beforehand. The elevator pitch is great as long as you know who you are pitching to.

ES: What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?

AE: If we don’t have something right then, I recommend creating a profile on our website. That way, when something they’re interested in becomes available, they will be notified.

ES: How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?

AE: First impressions are important but do not show up wearing flip-flops and shorts. But I really don’t notice someone’s attire unless if they are dressed less than business casual.

ES: What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?

AE: One page is the ideal length. Once again, we like to see that someone has done their homework. If you know what positions we are looking to fill, make sure that your qualifications for that position are highlighted.

We do not need to know things that are unrelated, but we do want to know what roles and responsibilities you had – and we want to know about your accomplishments. Keep it clean and simple. That is the best recipe.

ES: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?

AE: It is a mistake to assume that you will automatically be in management when you start a new job. When transitioning from the military to the civilian workforce, you may have to take a step back. It is great that you already know how to handle the leadership aspect. However, you may have to work your way back up that channel.

It is good to have high expectations, but it is better to show that you are willing to do the work for that responsibility. You have earned your rank in the military, but you have to be willing to earn it again in the civilian world.

ES: What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?

AE: No special time. We are always there and happy to talk to candidates at any time.

ES: What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

AE: Seeing a long work history with the military shows they have dedication and loyalty. The commitment that work history shows says a lot about you, and will always leave a positive impression.


Airstreams Renewables

My last interview was with Grant Johnston, vice president of sales and placement at Airstreams Renewables. He has been recruiting at job fairs for about five years.

Airstreams Renewables is a Marine-founded training group based in California. The company trains and provides certification for soldiers and veterans to work on communication and wind towers. Roughly 80 percent of the graduates from this six-week program get jobs immediately after completing the training.

ES: What is the best approach a candidate can take when it comes to starting a conversation with a recruiter? Should he or she have an “elevator pitch” prepared?

GJ: With us, it is probably best to come up and ask us how to get started in the program. You don’t need to list qualifications, because we will train you. But either way, having good eye contact and being engaged are great ways to show your interest.

ES: What do you recommend for candidates who are looking for a certain type of job that your organization does not currently have?

GJ: Honestly, I know a lot of the other recruiters, and I know what they are recruiting for. So I can point candidates in the right direction if we don’t have anything for them. So I would tell candidates to not be afraid to talk to recruiters even if they aren’t offering what you think you want. There might be other doors that recruiter can open for you.

ES: How do you want to see candidates dressed for this event? What do you learn about a candidate based on his or her attire?

GJ: We are fine with business casual: khakis and a polo shirt. But you don’t need to be really dressed up for us. If I see someone in a suit and tie, I think they might not be the right candidate for us because we do a lot of hands-on work, and that attire makes me think that they are more interested in an office job.

ES: What do you like to see in a resume? What is the ideal length for a resume?

GJ: Your resume should say something like “Veteran seeking employment in ___” in the summary or objective section. For some reason, veterans think they aren’t supposed to put that in there, and I haven’t figured out why.

If your military credentials are at the very bottom, the recruiter might not even see it because they are giving it a quick glance-over at the job fair. Make sure your veteran status is at the top, in that summary or objective portion.

Also, I’ve noticed that more people are doing skills-based resumes, which aren’t sequential, but highlight the skills you’ve picked up along the way. I think those make really good and effective resumes.

ES: What is the biggest mistake you see candidates make at job fairs?

GJ: They don’t stop at each booth and talk to the recruiters. I am always stopping candidates to talk to them as they walk by. It’s good to be focused, but it’s important to be looking at other possibilities, too. You don’t want to miss out on a great opportunity just because you were too fixated on one particular path.

ES: What is the best time for a candidate to approach your booth? And the worst?

GJ: Any time is great, but I have noticed that the very first person and the very last person that come to my booth during the event have seemed to work out.

ES: What can a candidate do to leave a lasting positive impression on you?

GJ: Have a positive attitude. Someone who is low-energy and has a “what can you do for me” attitude is not going to leave a great impression. Someone who comes up and says “this is what I can do for you” is very impressive.


Summing up

The recruiters I interviewed agreed with one another on several points. Because the recruiters are from various industries, and they have varying amounts of recruiting experience, I think that veteran job seekers should pay close attention to these points of agreement.

  • Networking is very important at these events. Speak to as many of the representatives as you can. Put your best foot forward, no matter whom you are talking to. Your next great career opportunity may very well present itself because of a networking effort you made with a company that was not a great fit for you.
  • Dress for the job you want. When you look the part, you make it easier for a recruiter to see you in a particular role. And it follows from this recommendation that you need to know the common mode of dress for your desired job – the standard uniform, in military terms.
  • The summary, or objective, section of your resume is paramount. Recruiters have a limited time to look at your resume during a job fair, so you need to make sure you have something that will grab their attention immediately – and will make them remember you after you walk away.

Thank you for your service, and best of luck to you in your job hunt.

GREAT NEWS! In a recent email correspondence with Albert from Toyota Motor Manufacturing, I found out that they have already extended an offer to one of the candidates (a marine veteran) they met at the San Antonio event. Our job fairs work – come see for yourself!

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

By Elizabeth Stetler on Wednesday June 29, 2016

This article appeared in the July-August 2016 issue of Search & Employ Magazine

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July-August 2016