Nearly 350 veterans, servicemembers and their spouses gathered at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston on Aug. 27 for a single purpose: finding a job. The American Legion-sponsored Hiring Our Heroes career fair — hosted during the 95th National Convention — welcomed 80 employers, all of whom were looking to hire.
In less than three years, Hiring Our Heroes — a joint initiative of The American Legion and U.S. Chamber of Commerce — has helped more than 20,000 veterans, servicemembers and military spouses nationwide find jobs. And the Chamber of Commerce has hosted 60 Hiring Our Heroes career fairs at Legion posts and partnered with the Legion on nearly 600 others.
"We have amazing partners in the public, private and non-profit sectors but probably none better than The American Legion," said Ross Cohen, a U.S. Army veteran and the senior director for the U.S. Chamber's Hiring Our Heroes program, to employers and attendees at the career fair.
"The American Legion and the Chamber of Commerce is a great partnership that's focused on getting veterans jobs," said Dale Barnett, chairman of the Legion's National Economic Commission, to attendees at the career fair. "We know your value, we know you're going to get a job, and we have vendors from all over who came here today with the purpose of hiring you - a veteran - because they recognize what you do for America, what you've done and what you can do in the future."
The event featured an assortment of employers from the private and public sectors, including General Electric, Direct Energy, Boeing, Home Depot, Verizon, USAA, Walmart, Waste Management and more. Representatives from the companies accepted résumés, provided career counseling and established networking opportunities.
Jeff Donoughue, manager of the Electrical Power Team Operations and Test International Space Station for Boeing, was on-site to not only represent the multinational aerospace and defense corporation, but also to help attendees tailor their résumé to better match their skills with companies like Boeing.
"I'm here to help veterans get a job somewhere, whether it's with Boeing or another great company," Donoughue said. "I'm focused on how I can help the veterans put their best food forward and help them get that same information from every company they speak to. Everyone I have met today is very eager and willing to adapt to anything with a company like Boeing to get into the workforce. And they are eager to do a good job for anyone who is willing to hire them."
Retired U.S. Navy veteran Lomond Johnson spoke with Donoughue about his résumé and career opportunities. "He told me that my résumé looked really good and showed me Boeing's website and the available jobs that fit my experience," Johnson said. "I'm looking for a job that I can retire from and one that can help me take care of my family. Hopefully, I hear something back from Boeing."
Amanda Coleman, who served eight years in the U.S. Navy and seven in the National Guard, heard about the Hiring Our Heroes fair on the radio and "came with the hopes of finding a job, and now I'm filling out a job application for Triple-S Operations."
Besides networking and applying for jobs with employers, attendees also had the opportunity to conduct interviews on-site and to individually sit down with a professional to create a more effective résumé and participate in a mock interview.
Victoria Woods, who cares for her daughter — a 90-percent disabled retired U.S. Navy veteran — took advantage of the résumé writing tips provided by the professionals.
"They said if someone looks at my résumé, they are going to think I'm desperate," Woods said. "They said I want my résumé to be interesting reading for the employer to say, "Wow, let's get her in to learn more about her.'"
Woods was able to tweak her objective and revise her qualifications on her résumé, and she now has two upcoming interviews with employers at the event.
News about the Legion's Hiring Our Heroes career fair was delivered through many avenues, including radio ads, job-recruiting sites word of mouth and email "blasts" from the Texas Veterans Commission.
Ranked No. 1 in the nation for finding veterans employment, Texas Veterans Commission assists veterans with claims, counseling and employment. Representatives from the commission sent email "blasts" to hundreds of veterans that they provide services to. The Texas Veterans Commission was on-site at the hiring fair to showcase their services and provide support for veteran job seekers.
"It's a lot about networking and working one-on-one with the vets," said Amy Cramer, a veterans employment representative for the Texas Veterans Commission. "A lot of times the younger veterans need to civilianize their résumé, and then sometimes it's a matter of finding veterans a job connection to where they want to work."
Before the career fair occurred, Texas Veterans Commission employment representatives worked with several veterans that they provide services for by matching their résumé qualifications with vacant positions listed by the attending Hiring Our Heroes employees. Once the veteran arrived to the career fair, the Texas Veterans Commission had an interview set up for him or her on-site with the employer.
"I told the veterans that you can go in there (Hiring Our Heroes event), blanket the place with your résumé, but I'm requiring you to target your résumé to at least five companies at the event," Cramer said. "So give them a targeted résumé, get the employee's business card, ask them if it's alright if you follow up with them next week and send a thank you email."
Interview rooms were available for employers and attendees to utilize, as all 80 employers at the event were required to have at least five vacant positions.
"This is not your typical job fair, this is a hiring event," said Shawn Deabay, director of veterans employment for Texas Veterans Commission. "We have employers here, businesses that are not going to hire veterans because of goodwill but because it's good for business."