Federal Employees News Digest

Hiring Heroes advances opportunities for veterans—and agencies

This week, FEND offers a third in our occasional series of interviews exploring how federal agencies build and enhance their workforces in the face of rising pressures on agency resources. For the series, FEND has spoken with human resources experts whose agencies have produced programs honored with Human Capital Management Government Awards. This week, FEND’s Nathan Abse interviews Karen S. Hannah, who was program manager of the Recruitment Assistance Division, Defense Civilian Personnel Advisory Service (DCPAS). Hannah, now chief of the Recruitment Assistance Division, talks about what her team did to earn an HCMG award—and how those efforts directly aided both the mission of her agency and career development for her colleagues. The Hiring Heroes program won a first place HCMG award for most innovative recruitment program.

Please tell us a bit about yourself.

Hannah: I began my federal career as a GS-2 co-op student through a partnership with NASA and Thomas Nelson Community College. Several years later is when I really began my career in the human resources arena, when I was selected as the Civilian Personnel director’s secretary. As I moved up through the ranks, I became extremely involved in college recruiting and the search for great talent to fill internship (entry-level) positions—resulting in the ability to build a strong pipeline of diverse candidates to fill higher-level positions in the future. In 2005, our team was responsible for college recruitment. As we brainstormed about how to reach well-trained, highly skilled individuals to fill a wide variety of positions throughout DOD, we thought about who needed the most assistance in their job search activities. Total agreement from all was the need to assist severely injured service members in their search for employment—and the need to reach out to them prior to their transition out of the military. We would not only be able to tap into a pipeline of great talent but would also be able to assist wounded warriors during their recovery phase. Knowing there were employers wanting to hire wounded warriors, no matter the injury, would reduce one stress level in their lives and hopefully assist with their healing. This is essentially what led to the creation of the Hiring Heroes Program in 2005.

How does Hiring Heroes work?

Hannah: In April 2005, I developed and implemented the DOD Hiring Heroes Program, which places special emphasis on supporting Wounded Warriors, transitioning service members, veterans and military spouses in their search for employment. Under my leadership, the Hiring Heroes team has conducted 70 Hiring Heroes Career Fairs around the globe, numerous resume writing/employment and PTSD/TBI workshops, military spouse employment information sessions and participated in Transition Assistance Program (TAP) seminars. These events are conducted near military treatment facilities on military installations to reach as many wounded warriors and transitioning service members as possible. The team also provides high-touch, personalized career advisory services through various communication media—toll-free number, dedicated email address and web-based LiveChat—to jobseekers worldwide.

How did your team come to compete for an HCMG award?

Hannah: Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (Civilian Personnel Policy) Paige Hinkle-Bowles approached our office and suggested that we be nominated for this prestigious award. Ms. Hinkle-Bowles is a strong supporter of the Hiring Heroes Program, and our mission to support and assist wounded, ill, injured and transitioning service members—veterans and their spouses and caregivers. She strongly felt that our mission to support those who have served in the military through the innovative recruitment and outreach program that we developed made the program a natural fit for this award.

What aspects of the program do you think contributed to winning the award?

Hannah: The HCMG award recognizes outstanding efforts in advancing and progressing human capital management across the public sector—it recognizes the most innovative programs in attracting top talent, implementing effective recruitment strategies and demonstrating improvements in the hiring process. The Hiring Heroes Program helps the agency also by supporting DOD’s strategic goal of establishing and maintaining a diverse and highly capable civilian workforce—and it provides a vehicle for employers to attract, recruit and employ wounded warriors and veterans, who are our nation’s most motivated and highly skilled candidates. The program also includes attention to hiring well-qualified and dedicated military spouses. This all makes good business sense, as it promotes and sustains a versatile, well-trained and high-performing workforce. More importantly, it is the right thing to do for those who have risked their lives so courageously and honorably to protect the freedom we enjoy every day.

What are some specific ways that Hiring Heroes helps not just your agency, but all agencies, to hire more wounded warriors and fulfill their mission?

Hannah: Hiring Heroes Career Fairs provide a gateway for all federal agencies—and private sector companies—to compete for this highly competitive, well-trained and extremely skilled candidate pool. The success of the program is evidenced at the DOD, which is the largest employer of veterans. Since the beginning of the program, DOD’s hiring goals for veterans has increased from 43.05 percent of new hires being veterans in 2005 to 47.74 percent of new hires being veterans in 2014.

Did winning the award help you develop the program in any practical sense—did it help you expand Hiring Heroes?

Hannah: It was a true honor to be awarded first place in the category of “Most Innovative Recruitment Program.” And, [yes], this award helped to recognize the outstanding work that is being accomplished in the recruitment and outreach arena across components: Human capital directors from across the agency were notified of the award, [and winning the award] also expanded the marketing and outreach of the program to hiring managers who may not have known about the program—expanding our base of hiring managers who want to interview and hire candidates who participate in the Hiring Heroes Career Fairs or other program activities.

Could this type of program be applied across a wider workforce—or is that already happening?

Hannah: Before the program’s inception in 2005, this level of specialized employment outreach for the wounded was nonexistent—but, [yes,] thankfully, it’s now being applied across the greater workforce—the program is being emulated by other federal agencies and private companies to meet their recruitment needs.

Do you have adequate support across DOD for the program—and have you added any improvements over time?

Hannah: We have tremendous support from DOD agency recruiters who continually participate in and support our Hiring Heroes Career Fairs, pre-scheduled interview process and the Networking with Industry events. Even if a hiring manager/recruiter cannot participate in a career fair, it is widely known that they can still participate by allowing our office to pre-schedule interviews for them, invite them to speak with jobseekers prior to an event, or allow us to share information about their job vacancies through our personal contact with jobseekers. Improvements added to the program include instituting pre-scheduled interviews, briefings during military formation, spouse information sessions and targeted training to employers on traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Anything else that you have added or done to make working at DOD more attractive to your target prospects?

Hannah: We also have begun partnering with private-sector companies to conduct two-day “boot camps” before the events, discussing resume writing, interviewing skills, and how to present yourself at an interview as well as how to get transition help. We then conduct an informal “Networking with Industry” event, where transitioning service members and employers gather in a casual, non-threatening environment to meet and network.

Do you see examples of growth in your DOD program?  

Hannah: As the program has grown, more and more DOD hiring managers/recruiters (and other federal agency and private-sector employers) are contacting our office to either participate in our events, or with requests that we market/advertise their vacancies to jobseekers at our events and through the Transition Assistance Program Offices worldwide.

How have employees/recruits reacted?

Hannah: Here is an example, from one of the emails we have received: “You provided what me and many of my veteran counterparts do not usually get or expect, a level of compassion—enough to take the time to read my resume and then to enlighten/present possible avenues which may lead to a successful hunt for employment, and I am truly thankful.”

Does the program offer any additional benefits/advantages over other programs or approaches?

Hannah: Our events are purposefully small compared to many other career fairs you may see or read about. We don’t want the events to be overwhelming or too loud for service members who may be struggling to overcome injuries or who may have PTSD or TBI. We make sure we have 10 feet in the aisles between employer tables; we put extra-long straps on our giveaway bags, in case they are hung on the back of a wheelchair or over injuries to limbs; we provide high-touch, specialized one-on-one assistance; and we partner with the DOD Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Labor, and the Office of Personnel Management to offer a variety of assistive technology and other employment/training services.

Any other comments that might help our readers understand challenges veterans face at work?

Hannah: Unemployed veterans—or those soon to be unemployed—face deep personal struggles when searching for employment. These highly skilled, well-trained individuals are not accustomed to searching for a job, being interviewed for a job and do not like to brag about themselves. We get it, and [understand] the need for personalized job search activities.


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