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The Skinny on Hiring Conferences

Bob Berkholz is a former Marine Corps officer and is currently a senior partner at Orion International, which helps place talented officers and enlisted technicians in jobs with major corporations. We asked Mr. Berkholz for some insights on hiring conferences and how veterans can best present themselves.

Tell us what a hiring conference is all about.

A hiring conference is a pre-designed event where we select corporations that have a need for military talent. It could be a need for project managers, or officers coming out that have engineering disciplines, or careers for technicians that are making the transition out of active duty. What we do is identify those corporations and try to support the veteran by the region he or she is interested in. For example, I work out of Austin, Texas, and we'll run hiring events in Dallas and Houston, which support corporations in the south-central part of the US.

The biggest distinction between a hiring conference and a career fair is that at most career fairs you see people lined up around the block to visit and drop resumes off, while the hiring conferences that we run are by invitation, where we match up the right kind of candidates with the right kind of companies. People are coming in for pre-designed interviews, and that's why they're so effective. To give you some statistics, for officers that attend a hiring conference, out of 50 officers that may attend, with 25 companies in attendance, at least 80 to 85 percent of those who attend have follow-up interviews coming out of the event.

The reason the hit ratio is that high is that prior to a hiring conference the recruiters in our agency will do a lot of preparation work, whether that's coaching candidates on how to handle the different aspects of the interview, or making sure their resume effectively represents them to the type of company they interview with. Essentially, the people we bring into the hiring conference have effectively gotten past the first round of interviews through the experienced recruiters here, so the corporations coming in are just validating what we already know.

I would say probably 20 percent of the Hiring Managers attending these events are prior Orion placements that have successfully promoted within their companies and are now coming back to hire additional veterans. So it's powerful information for these veterans to know that Orion has been around for 20 years and many of the managers that are out in corporate America attend these events, so they understand the type of person that they're interviewing.

Tell us what the typical schedule is for a hiring conference.

A hiring conference typically is a two-day event. The first day is dedicated 100 percent to interview prep. Orion coaches the candidate how to interview based specifically on who they're going to be interviewing with at the event. A lot of times corporations come in and give presentations in the evening. The following day is formal interviews, with veterans in suit and tie. Each interview lasts 45 minutes, and you can expect anywhere from four to six interviews throughout the day, depending on the candidate's qualifications. What's unique about hiring conferences is that corporations already have follow-up final interviews game-planned coming out of the hiring event, so that if they see the right talent, they plan to have new hires on site very quickly, less than two weeks from initial interview to offer.

A hiring conference has Fortune 500 companies from a wide spectrum of industries – it can be oil and gas, it can be semiconductor, it can be manufacturing, alternative energy, so we'll bring in all types of top 100 Fortune 500 firms large and small. Some have management openings, some have technician openings -- some examples would be Honeywell, Siemens, GE, BP, Samsung, to name a few.

How should someone coming out of the military prepare for a hiring conference?

Someone who's spent maybe the last three or four years on active duty hasn't really had a need to look to the corporate sector. If a servicemember is within a year of transitioning out, and needs to get an understanding of what a hiring conference is, he or she can get a consultant – a recruiter like myself or someone within our agency – to help them understand what they're qualified for, and make the right matches. We can then bring them in and introduce them to those corporations, and set them up for success in their future career.

When we coach a candidate, I usually ask them when they begin their terminal leave, as opposed to when their last day of active duty pay is, and when I have their day of terminal leave I back that up by about 90 days. That's the window where I want to get them into a hiring conference. Most corporations will want to hire somebody within 60-90 days of availability, so somebody needs to be preparing themselves to be interviewed with six months of their terminal leave date, and working with a consultant to find what conference is the best fit for them.

What are the other advantages of a hiring conference?

Being in the job market, pushing out hundreds of resumes and being lucky if you get one or two responses can be very frustrating, but when you come into a hiring conference, where you're interviewing with five or six companies, it almost becomes a feeding frenzy for that candidate and for the corporations that are attending. It's such a unique niche to find strong leaders with a great work ethic and technical skills in a job market that's at 9.1 percent unemployment, where the candidates are excited and the corporations are very happy with the talent they're able to bring on board. It's a major step as each company helps rebuild the economy, one candidate at a time, and we're doing a good job of it.

Orion is well entrenched right now, with so much military talent being introduced over the past 20 years, that a lot of these corporations understand what a veteran can do, but if they don't, we help coach the corporation – the HR manager, the plant manager – on the talents a veteran can transition over, and I can tell you that corporations have been very receptive to supporting our veterans.

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