More than 700 servicemembers and veterans, and 160 companies and organizations, gathered in Louisville on Feb. 27 and in Detroit on March 1 with one collective mission: to provide meaningful employment opportunities to local military men and women.
As part of the Hiring Our Heroes initiative – sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The American Legion and other organizations – employers from both the public and private sectors congregated in Louisville at the University of Phoenix campus for a career fair and job skills workshop. Employers spread their booths out among numerous classrooms, accepting résumés from attendees, networking, and even interviewing and hiring on the spot.
The group included national employers like Eli Lilly, Verizon Wireless, AutoZone and Game Stop, and several companies that are local to the area.
Companies, like Verizon Wireless, were looking to fill positions in many of their departments and divisions. Rhonda Foster, a recruiter for Verizon's Talent Acquisition Team, says military hiring fairs are perfect opportunities for her company to evaluate talent because the event brings out candidates who have diverse backgrounds and skill sets, thanks to the wide variety of training and specialties that the military offers.
"Being a recruiter in the military is like a sales position. That person could go into outside sales," Foster said. "If they have a technical background, maybe they could go into our IT department. If they were an accountant in the military, maybe they could take a financial position. There are so many different areas that would be a fit for them."
Frank Tate, a Navy veteran from nearby Owensboro, K.Y., was at the fair looking for a job that suits his military experience. Tate left the service in May and took a job upon discharge, but decided he'd like to pursue a career that makes better use of the skills he learned as a naval investigator.
"Right now I am basically looking for securities and investigations (jobs) in the banking industry or railroad industry, something along those lines," he said.
Johnny Woods, an Army veteran from Crestwood, K.Y., who left the service in December, was there looking for a leadership position. After 22 years in the military, Woods said he planned on taking a year off but got restless and decided he needed to head back to the work.
He says he's not looking "for any job, but the right job" – preferably a supervisory or leadership position.
"Leadership is inherent in the military," he says. "I think the rank is the equivalent to show that you obtained a certain ranking and can lead."
Officials from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were also on hand, including Hiring Our Heroes' Executive Director Eric Eversole. Eversole said he was pleased with the event, and that he thought the classroom layout – which grouped about 10 employers to a room – created a more intimate setting for recruiters to interact with attendees.
"There seems to be a lot of excitement in the rooms with the employers and servicemembers and a lot of great interactions," Eversole said. "I'm very excited that we had a lot of the local community show up as well and veterans service organizations."
Eversole said support from the Legion was key not only to the Louisville career fair, but all Hiring Our Heroes events.
"Legion's support is critical," he said. "The Legion has a tremendous grassroots network throughout the country. They are in local communities throughout our country. They have their thumb on the pulse of that veteran community through the country."
The same sentiment was shared by a Hiring Our Heroes representative at the John D. Dingell VA Medical Center in Detroit on March 1, where more than 420 veterans, servicemembers and their spouses pre-registered to network with 82 companies and organizations represented at the fair.
"I'm in Washington (D.C.), so I don't know the employment needs in Detroit," said Kathryn Poynton, director of hiring fairs for Hiring Our Heroes. "But The American Legion does. You guys know the local employers. You know the veterans in your communities, what they want and who is hiring. That's why our relationship with The American Legion is so important. You are our representatives in the local community."
Companies and organizations at the Detroit hiring fair were organized within the VAMC by specific fields: automotive, banks and technology, education, security, border protection and health care, retail and financial jobs, city and state jobs, and staffing agencies and insurance.
Companies and organizations represented included Ford, Fifth Third, PNC, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Lowe's, Wal-Mart, McDonald's and Quicken Loans.
"We look at this career fairs as an opportunity for us to provide opportunities for veterans," said Lena Barkley, an area Workforce Initiatives manager for CVS Caremark, who was manning a table in Detroit. "We recognize the talent they bring to the job, along with the leadership skills and values they have. After the sacrifices they've made, we want to make sure they have opportunities available to them."
For 32-year-old Jesse Siordia, who spent 1999-2007 in the Navy and has been a Naval Reservist since 2007, the hiring fair was a chance to look at better career options. Siordia currently is employed full-time – and is majoring in general business at Baker College – but was seeking something "a little better" in Detroit.
"This makes it a lot easier because these employers are looking for veterans," Siordia said. "My employer doesn't employ many veterans and doesn't know the discipline and qualities specific to veterans. These companies here do. I think that really helps, and that helps give you an edge when you're trying for a job."
The Legion provides comprehensive coverage of Hiring Our Heroes career fairs and all things job-search related through its Career Center Newsletter . Subscribe through Legion.org's newsletter hub  to receive updates on career fairs coming to your area, job-search tips and advice from hiring experts.