by Claudia Bustamante

More than 200 veterans attended a University of Southern California career event May 29, where 45 Los Angeles companies were looking to hire former service members.

The second annual “Serving Those Who Have Served” Veterans Career Event included representatives from Amazon, Coca-Cola, JP Morgan Chase, Kaiser Permanente, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Starbucks, Sysco and Teledyne, among others.

As the largest private employer in Los Angeles, USC also highlighted some of its job openings, including within Keck Medicine of USC, Information Technology Services, the Institute for Creative Technologies, USC Marshall School of Business, USC Price School of Public Policy and USC Viterbi School of Engineering.

The goal of the day was to create an event that differed from typical job fairs where applicants would leave having made little connections and with slim possibilities of employment.

“The main complaint among veterans about hiring events is that they’re just flag-waving opportunities for employers,” said David Brown of USC Talent Management. “Employers also complained that they would love to hire veterans, but they show up unprepared.”

“If it’s about hiring veterans, let’s figure out a way to have that happen.”

Navigating the Job Market

One piece put in place to help achieve this was a navigator program, which paired professional volunteers with transitioning veterans and service members to help them throughout the job-hunting process.

The Los Angeles Veterans Collaborative, a network of more than 250 organizations and stakeholders administered by the USC Center for Innovation and Research on Veterans & Military Families (CIR), helped provide more than 50 human resource professionals that were assigned to veterans who registered for the career event. The navigators reviewed resumes, helped veterans apply online for job openings prior to the event and prepared them for day-of interviews.

More than that, navigators developed a connection with their veterans; provided opportunities to discuss career goals and discouraged many veterans from taking a limited view in the types of jobs they think they’re qualified for.

“Some veterans have misconceptions about the civilian world and their own skill level,” said Laurie Geoffroy, a leadership development coach with Net Force Coaching and personal navigator to three veterans.

“I don’t care if you’re a machine gunner. I want to know what made you a great machine gunner. That’s what we’re marketing,” she said.

Geoffroy met a handful of times with each of her veterans before the event, including a final check-in the day before. Many of them had already applied online for job openings and had game plans for which employers to network with at the event and remind them of their interest in the positions.

Educating Employers

Equally important to preparing veterans for jobs outside the military is educating civilian employers about the strengths and challenges facing veteran workers.

CIR created an online training course for employers to help debunk some of the myths of veterans in the workplace and to highlight the military skills veterans possess that can provide far-reaching benefits to employers.

The course, “Why and How to Hire Veterans,” also provided employers and hiring managers with best practices and information about military culture, which can offer them insight into the transitional challenges experienced by some veterans.

Even as an Army veteran, Stephen Bettini, a nurse recruitment consultant with Kaiser Permanente, said the course was helpful to him and that he would recommend it for all his colleagues since the hospital is currently undergoing a veteran outreach program.

“To do that, recruiters need to know what to look for, and not all service members know how best to put across their skills,” Bettini said.

By teaching recruiters about military culture, Bettini said it can help them better understand veteran candidates and see how their military skills align to civilian jobs.

One of the biggest hurdles among veterans searching for civilian jobs is a reluctance to pitch themselves and their skills.

“As veterans, we always focus on others. It’s time to focus on yourselves,” CIR Director Anthony Hassan told the assembled veterans. “Today is not a day to be modest.”

The event was a partnership between the USC Office of the President, USC School of Social Work, CIR, USC Marshall School of Business Master of Business for Veterans, USC Government and Civic Engagement and USC Talent Management.

Related: View photos from the event.

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