Editor’s note: This content was contributed by Student Veterans of America to supplement Military Times’ coverage of the group’s National Conference. See all our coverage of NatCon2018 here, and learn more through SVA.

Military service members and veterans probably have a love/hate relationship with their recruiters. They were the people who first drew us in to amazing opportunities of service, met our call to serve with enthusiasm, exposed us to our respective branches of service, told us about the bonuses and opportunities available, and much, much more. They were also the people who introduced us to military bureaucracy, to selection by examinations and aptitudes, to paperwork to join the military, to medical tests, and on and on! Uniformly, they were there to do one thing: get us into the military if we were qualified. And if we were qualified, the military would do the rest to get you ready for service.

Corporate recruiters are different

The job of corporate recruiters is to get the company they work for, the hiring managers in particular, the best candidates to consider – the best candidates – and to screen out any who don’t have the potential to be seen as the best candidates for roles in their companies. They aren’t there to sell you on the company. They’re there to see if you are interested, if you fit, if you are among the best potential candidates, and then, if so, to advocate for you, to help you navigate the hiring process and to fill the specific roles they’re recruiting for every day. They want you to succeed if you’re a great candidate. (And, most of them will point you to other recruiters if you aren’t a fit, but are a great potential candidate for someone else they know who recruits great candidates.) They talk to you to size you up, to see if you fit their needs, and to get you into their talent pipeline if you do.

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So, why does this matter to you as a student veteran? Because you are going to be meeting recruiters at the Student Veterans of America National Convention. And they are there for two reasons:

  • To support transitioning service members and veterans who have served our nation, by supporting Student Veterans of America, and
  • To find great candidates.

Leadership means service to others

As an SVA leader (you are there representing your chapter, your campus student veterans and family members, and student veterans broadly, right?) you have to be sure to demonstrate to corporate recruiters that student veterans are great candidates, the best candidates! Not just you, but all of your colleagues! So, how do you do this?

1) Do your homework

First, if you’re searching for a career role for yourself,

  • know the companies there
  • what they do
  • what kinds of roles they are searching for (don’t just assume they are there to tell you all the great things about their company).

All of our exhibitors and corporate sponsors are listed here. This recent Forbes article hits this nail on the head: “Employers want to hire candidates who take initiative, so do some background research on the company beforehand, and be prepared to rattle off a few facts, beyond the high-level information that comes up in the first few lines of a Google search. Look for unique details or information that relates directly to the type of position you’re applying for.” So, take a deep dive, and learn what you can before you talk to them about your career goals.

2) Add value to those in your network

Second, if it is a company you’re not interested in, change your approach, but talk to every company on our corporate campus. Tell them you’re interested in learning more about where they hire, who they hire, and how to connect others on your campus to them. Then do that – make the connections to others at the conference with you, or to those who couldn’t be there. This is one of the most important components of networking, adding value to those in the network, and this is a fantastic opportunity to do that for those seeking roles and those seeking great candidates. Find out if they are hiring full time students, part time students, interns, or only for roles after graduation for those student veterans with a degree in hand, and then share that information!

3) Always Be Professional

Third, and this isn’t always intuitive, always be professional. This means shaking their hands, speaking to them professionally (yes, many of them are veterans, too, but they’re filling specific roles at NatCon), dressing professionally, and appearing as the student leader you are. Professional conferences (and NatCon may be your first professional conference) are places to put your best foot forward. They aren’t a party (yes, there are some of those after hours, have fun!), they are places to learn, to share, to network, to interview, to connect to future career opportunities, whether for yourself, your campus SVA chapter, the others on your campus who aren’t yet part of SVA, and for student veterans and alumni broadly.

4) Remember that you represent all student veterans through SVA

Finally, remember that you are representing SVA nationally. SVA is a national organization of over 1,450 chapter around the country. Everything you do reflects on the image of SVA, our chapters, our members, and student veterans across the nation and nationally. Engaging with these corporate recruiters, meeting them where they are, will pay it forward to every student veteran who follows you when they search for career roles. Student veterans have an incredible story of success to tell, and it’s amplified by each interaction you have with a corporate recruiter. Go out there and keep wowing them!

James Schmeling is Student Veterans of America’s executive vice president for strategic engagement.