American Legion job fair offers 'face-to-face' experience
(Photo by Lucas Carter)

American Legion job fair offers 'face-to-face' experience

After serving in the U.S. Army from 1986-1998, Reginald Thomas eventually went to work for himself. But when he wanted a change, he found Wawa four years ago. It was the start of a strong relationship.

Thomas is now the general manager of a Wawa in Brandywine, Md., one of the more than 800 convenience retail stores owned by the corporation in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C.

Thomas was on hand at The American Legion-Hiring Our Heroes Hiring Fair Feb. 22 at the Washington Hilton in Washington, D.C. He was there to both recruit talent to his employer and offer advice to those looking for a job at the fair.

When he started looking for a new job, Thomas said he was “looking for a company that took care of people. I’m from the military, and the military always took care of people. I wanted to be a part of that. When I came here, as a vet it was the best thing I could have ever done: coming back from the structure of the military, it’s the same structure Wawa has. That’s what I think is our biggest selling point.”

His advice to those at the job fair who were in a similar situation as he was four years ago: “Look for something that you’re passionate about,” he said. “Look for something that you want to be a part of and grow with. That’s the biggest thing. You’ve got to find something that you really want to do and find something with structure.”

Wawa was one of more than 50 employers – private corporations and businesses, federal and state agencies and service organizations – available to talk with the 350-plus job-seekers who attended the hiring fair. Of those, more than 50 active-duty military, veterans and military spouses attended at least one of The American Legion’s employment and financial workshops, and working lunch that morning.

Other businesses and organizations at the job fair included Southwest Airlines, Aflac, IBM, New York Life., U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, and the Red Cross.

For Wawa Regional Recruiter Paul Rementer, coming to job fairs like the one sponsored by The American Legion and Hiring Our Heroes is just good business.

“We participated in this last year. We participate in something like (this) in all of our markets,” Rementer said. “A substantial percentage of our work force is military veterans. We’ve found they’ve been very successful, like Reggie here. When you’ve found the goal, keep mining it. That’s the best way I can put it.”

Mark Toal, National Veterans Employment manager for the Department of Labor’s Veterans’ Employment and Training Service, helped kick off the event with a similar sentiment. “The research shows it’s a good business decision to hire veterans and what they bring to the workplace,” he said. “That’s why the employers are here. Make a good business decision today. Find a reason to hire a veteran today.”

American Legion Veterans Employment and Education Commission Chairman James Troilola said employers know what they’re getting when they hire a veteran. “The CEOs and management at companies recognize the value veterans bring to the table,” he said. “Veterans add essential technical and interpersonal skills, discipline, leadership, loyalty and many other attributes to a company’s workforce – all of which improve the organization and profitability.”

Also representing The American Legion at the hiring fair was immediate Past National Commander Denise Rohan, who thanked the employers in attendance “for understanding the quality that hire a veteran brings to your organization.”

She also urged prospective employees “to stop at every employers’ booth to talk to them. You may or may not know what job they are trying to fill. Stop and talk to everyone you possibly can.”

Being able to do just that is what appealed to Stephanie Oliver, who served in the U.S. Army from 2000-2008 and now lives in Virginia. “It’s nice to be face-to-face,” she said. “When you send your résumé out you don’t know if anybody’s ever going to look at it. You don’t know if it’s just sitting there. It’s nice to get a face-to-face interaction and human connection. Communication with people.”

Ryan Rowley served in U.S. Army from 2013-2016 and had a position lined up and was waiting for security clearance from the U.S. Office of Personnel Management when the government shutdown took place. As a result, he won’t be starting that position until “April or May.” He wants to find a job between now and when he can start his new one.

Like Oliver, he appreciated the ability to talk to prospective employers that The American Legion’s job fair provided. “With the person-to-person communication … you get a feel for the culture (of the business),” he said. “You get a little more insight. Not every job is posted online or is completely visible. If you are a vet looking to find out what your job transitions to, you get a little more insight because you get that one-on-one advice. You don’t get that when you apply online.”