Almost 80 percent of CEOs are concerned that the ongoing skills shortage will adversely impact their businesses’ ability to grow. As such, a growing number of employers are turning to veteran job fairs in order to recruit former service members with in-demand skills. Unfortunately, employers’ investments in these events does not always yield the desired ROI. An inability to find candidates with the right skills, a highly competitive environment, and imperfect communication between veterans and civilian recruiters all contribute to this lack of returns. Employers that want to capitalize on veteran job fairs need to create strategies that ensure a good understanding of the veteran candidate persona, the ability to interpret military résumés and recognize transferable skills, and clear communication about all aspects of their available jobs and their organizations. In addition, these strategies should enable employers to position themselves as attractive, veteran-friendly employers and provide a means to get the best candidates into the hiring process onsite. By creating effective recruiting strategies for veteran job fairs, employers can take advantage of the scope of these events while simultaneously ensuring they attract candidates that possess the right skills and the potential to be successful in their organizations.
Recent research shows that 77 percent of CEOs are concerned that their companies’ growth will be adversely impacted by the ongoing shortage of key skills such as leadership skills, adaptability, and problem solving abilities. In addition, U.S. employers are reporting difficulty hiring skilled trades people, technicians, engineers, and medical talent, amongst others. At the same time, the number of veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces participating in the civilian labor force is expected to rise to 12.1 million by 2021. Many of these former service members possess the in-demand soft and technical skills civilian employers are looking for. In order to recruit the talent they need, a growing number of employers participate in veteran job fairs and similar hiring events that offer opportunities to connect with veterans on a relatively large scale and in a relatively short period of time. Yet unfortunately, this doesn’t always yield the expected ROI—even when companies find talent with the right skills and experience. In this white paper, we’ll discuss some of the challenges employers encounter when recruiting veterans at hiring events and examine how employers can maximize their ROI when using veteran job fairs as a recruitment vehicle.
Challenges of Recruiting at Job Fairs
Employers that recruit at veteran job fairs often invest a considerable amount of time and resources in this endeavor. While some of these events are free, the costs of creating and printing booth materials and informational brochures, as well as the expenses associated with sending hiring managers and other recruitment personnel can all add up—especially for small businesses.
However, simply attending veteran job fairs does not ensure that a company will be able to recruit the talent it requires. In some cases, it proves impossible to find candidates with the specific skill sets and experience needed. While this can be caused by the ongoing skills shortage, it can also be a consequence of veterans not knowing how to communicate their skills to civilians and employers not knowing how to interpret military résumés. In other instances, candidates are more interested in competing employers because they offer higher pay, more extensive benefits packages, more challenging work, better career paths, or some other advantage.
Even when employers find likely candidates and eventually hire them, it doesn’t guarantee a good ROI. A 2014 survey showed that almost half of all veterans left their first civilian position after their discharge within one year of being hired. Some of the main reasons for this attrition included a lack of career advancement opportunities, unchallenging work, positions that did not match skills or education, and dissatisfaction with company culture—issues that could in many instances have been prevented with better communication regarding candidates’ abilities and expectations, as well as more comprehensive information about job requirements, organizational culture, and career development. Of course, regardless of the reason for separation, losing a new hire is expensive, since employers incur the costs of recruiting, hiring, and possibly training replacements. In addition, they suffer productivity losses until replacements are fully trained—and these productivity losses can impact companies’ competitive positioning.
Effective Recruiting at Veteran Job Fairs
For employers that want to capitalize on the scope of recruiting potential offered by veteran job fairs, it’s critical to prepare an effective recruiting strategy. This involves several key components.
First and foremost, there must be an in-depth understanding of the veteran candidate persona. There are several organizations that provide training focused on creating veteran-friendly workplaces. This type of training can help educate recruiters and hiring managers about veterans’ backgrounds and military culture, as well as provide insights into various challenges veterans face in the civilian workplace. Being aware of these types of issues can help employers establish a rapport with candidates and begin meaningful conversations at the first point of contact: the job fair.
Second, it involves the ability to interpret military résumés and recognize transferable skills. Many veterans have highly specialized résumés that aren’t easily understood by civilian recruiters due to a lack of familiarity with military terminology and/or context. Consequently, veterans’ skills and experience are frequently underestimated or misinterpreted. For this reason, it’s advisable to include a recruiter with experience in placing veterans as a part of the recruitment team.
Third, employers must ensure clear communication. They should provide comprehensive information about available positions, job requirements, company culture, training, advancement opportunities, and anything else candidates need to form an accurate impression of the opportunities offered. They should also encourage candidates to ask questions in the event something isn’t clear or they want more detailed information.
Fourth, employers should position themselves attractively to stand out in an environment where multiple companies might be competing for the same candidates. They can do this by providing information about their salaries, benefits packages, and perks. Moreover, they should tailor their messaging to veterans and demonstrate that their workplaces are veteran-friendly by highlighting things like employee support programs that also extend to veterans’ families and company-wide observances of days that are important to the military. Even smaller companies that are in competition with larger corporations can enhance their appeal by showing they invest in the wellbeing and success of veterans in their organizations.
Finally, it’s important to provide the opportunity to fill out job applications onsite. This prevents promising, skilled candidates from leaving the job fair without submitting an application. By having computers onsite, as well as recruiters who can assist applicants in the event they have questions or concerns, recruiters can build on the rapport they establish and get the best candidates into the hiring process as soon as possible.
Creating a strategy for veteran job fairs has several valuable business benefits. It ensures employers possess the insights necessary for effective interaction with veterans, as well as the ability to accurately assess their skills. It facilitates clear communication between candidates and employers, which in turn can prevent misunderstandings that can lead to costly attrition. It prepares companies to position themselves as veteran-friendly employers that offer competitive employment arrangements. Most importantly, it allows companies to maximize their ROI by ensuring that every investment they make in veteran job fairs is designed to find, attract, and recruit candidates with the right skills and mindset to be successful in their organizations.
Having an effective recruiting strategy for veteran job fairs allows employers to interact successfully with a large pool of interested candidates at single-day events. When compared to conventional recruiting methods, this saves considerable time and effort while simultaneously enhancing the chances of attracting skilled, experienced, and high-potential candidates who will stay with their companies for the long term.
 PWC 20th CEO Survey: 20 years inside the mind of the CEO… What’s next?
 ManpowerGroup 2016/2017 U.S. Talent Shortage Survey
 Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families & VetAdvisor: Veteran Job Retention Survey Summary