“Hiring fairs make me want to gouge my eyes out,” a transitioning O-6 client told me when called to find out how the hiring event went. Any normal career coach would have patiently dug in to explore his experience and find out how he might have improved his performance. Not me. I think in a lot of ways, my client is right about hiring events for senior military.
While the good intentions of veteran service organizations and employers is very much in evidence at hiring fairs, and hiring events do work for young enlisted, junior officers, spouses and midlevel pros, the reality of a hiring fair is different than senior military may expect.
You probably expect these things to be logical.
At a hiring event, you expect people to get hired. You expect companies to do the hiring. You expect people at a hiring fair to be interested in someone with a lot of experience. Fair enough.
But those expectations are not always true during a hiring fair. Here are five myths about hiring events that senior military need to think about:
MYTH 1: Hiring managers come to hiring events to hire.
At a large company, hiring managers are usually not the people who are sent to veteran hiring events. Big surprise, huh? Hiring managers are the people who have decision-making authority over who gets hired. They are often the senior manager of a team, and hiring people may not be their everyday job.
Consequently, it makes no sense for them to take the time to attend a hiring event. You will get a better result if you expect that the person who gets sent to the hiring fair to be the director of the company’s veteran program, a recruiter or another talent acquisitions professional.
MYTH 2: Recruiters at a hiring fair are looking for the most experienced workers.
Recruiters are not necessarily looking for the most experienced person in attendance. Most senior leaders find their jobs through an internal referral. The recruiter’s job at a hiring fair is to seek out workers who have high demand/low supply skills (IT, nurses, cyber guys, and nukes, I’m talking to you). The recruiter’s success is measured by their ability to find candidates for those hard-to-fill positions.
MYTH 3: A recruiter can help you identify where you fit in that company.
Naturally, no one who has served for 20-plus years in the military really knows what is out there in the civilian world. It isn’t the recruiter’s job to sort through your accomplishments and figure it out for you, though.
The people who are most motivated to help you are already in your existing network. Friends, former work colleagues, neighbors and siblings are expecting you to reach out to them as you approach your retirement date. You also can start to figure out where you might belong by reading company websites, job listings and LinkedIn for your initial research. You often can check your findings against what you learn at a hiring event.
MYTH 4: The recruiter is there to answer my questions.
Recruiters are usually people-oriented professionals who attend hiring events expecting to answer questions from participants. They have great tips about their own company’s policies, practices and timelines. They can flesh out the way their company’s military program really works.
As a rule, recruiters do not have a lot of info about a particular job unless they are recruiting for that job. Even then, they may have only a checklist of skills they are supposed to find, not a complete understanding of what every job skill at their company means and how that translates for the military.
MYTH 5: If the hiring managers would meet me, they would know I could do the job.
Yes, you definitely want to talk to hiring managers. Yes, an in-person meeting means more than an email from a stranger. However, seeing you at a hiring fair and thinking you “could” do the job and then hiring you for a management role is not a thing.
You and I both know you “could” do the job. We assign military people to jobs all the time and expect them to get up to speed quickly — even at the senior level. In the civilian world, this isn’t how it works, though. Know that the hiring manager is looking for someone who already has done the job. You need to think through your past accomplishments to come up with examples of how you have done a job exactly like that before. This is a time to prepare your proofs — before you find yourself in front of a hiring manager.
Learning how hiring fairs really work is a transition skill for all military. If you choose to take part in a hiring fair with more understanding of how these events work, not only will you use them to achieve your objectives, but you may leave feeling pretty good about the event. It is up to you.
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Jacey Eckhart is the transition master for Military.com’s Veteran Talent Pool. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and founder of seniormilitarytransition.com who is known for her engaging workshops, insightful articles, and her ability to pinpoint solutions for individuals in transition.
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