(Photo by Eldon Lindsay)

Hiring Our Heroes hits Indianapolis

Around 250 veterans and active-duty military convened at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Sept. 18 for a Hiring Our Heroes career fair, sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and The American Legion. Attendees had the opportunity to apply for jobs, receive employment information and network with around 25 employers who had booths at the event.

Employers in attendance included Speedway, Aaron’s Rental, PNC Bank and State Farm. All of them came with the intent of hiring veterans and putting a deeper dent in the veterans unemployment numbers, which hit their lowest point in three years at 6.9 percent this summer.

Companies there weren’t just courting veterans as a patriotic duty or as a way of giving back to those who have served. Many of them throughout their participation in Hiring Our Heroes and other military hiring initiatives have found that veterans have qualities that make them a perfect fit for the positions they are hiring.

In particular, State Farm is targeting veterans for agent jobs, which are leadership-intensive and stress teamwork skills. As recruiters from the insurance company have found, the military hones these characteristics. One of the company’s most successful agents served 20 years in the Army before becoming a top-tier agent in Tennessee, said Scott Savage, an agency recruiter for State Farm.

"(Veterans) bring leadership," said Eileen McMillan, who was representing State Farm at the fair. "That’s important because as a State Farm agent you are responsible for running your own business. You are responsible for hiring and firing your own team. You manage your own team. You need to work together to accomplish your own goals."

This year, Hiring Our Heroes has been a resounding success. Around 250 hiring fairs have produced about 10,500 jobs for veterans.

The fairs perform an important function in bridging the gap between employers who often don’t understand military speak and can’t recognize valuable service skills when they see them on a paper résumé. Veterans can meet their potential employers face-to-face at the career fairs and speak with representatives from the company who have a military background or experience hiring veterans. Many companies send military consultants to the fairs along with their recruiters to help translate what veterans are saying into "civilianese."

Jason Chapman, a 26-year-old veteran who left the Army last month, has found that speaking to potential employers directly is the most effective way to get an interview from them. Still, his job search hasn’t produced many results — mostly because he says the companies that are offering jobs require him to apply electronically.

"The majority of employment is done online, so you can’t really interact with people face-to-face," he said. "So employers can look at your résumé, toss it away and never have to answer for it."

Other attendees were using the event as an opportunity to branch out from their current fields and take advantage of skills they learned in the military to help them find work. Jennifer Steager, an Air Force veteran from Anderson, Ind., is hoping to find a job that is more stable than the education field she recently worked in.

"I’m a certified teacher, but because of the budget cut issue I kept getting those pink slips every May from the school districts," she said. "So I’m looking to branch out and hopefully not end up with a pink slip again."

Even though the veterans unemployment numbers have dropped, there is still plenty of cause for concern — particularly among younger veterans like Staeger and Chapman, who have had a tough go of it in their job search. Researchers have found that the unemployment rate for veterans of the current conflicts, age 18 to 24, is at 19.9 percent. And for veterans between 25 and 34, the number only drops to 12.4 percent, well above the national unemployment rate of 8.3 percent.

Event organizer Shaun Carter, from the U.S. Chamber, said the key to fixing the unemployment problem is bringing attention to it and reaching out to veterans who are out of work.

"We just need to keep ringing the bell as a whole – The American Legion, U.S. Chamber and Hiring Our Heroes," he said. "One million unemployed veterans is one million too many. As long as we keep bringing awareness, I think we can definitely continue to keep bringing those numbers down."

For a full listing of similar career fairs, click here.