It Didn’t Take Going to War or Landing in Prison to Understand Why I Love Recruiting

While I Can’t Say I Love Recruiting More Than Any Other Recruiter – I Can Categorically Say That...

…I’ve learned to love recruiting from very diverse operational vantage points. In fact, one was extreme enough it’s a wonder I survived it—as in, if I didn’t die in the process it could only make me stronger.  The prison experience was described earlier on this Forum (in my contest entry for the best RBC Recruitment related Horror Story).  It tested me on many levels and was dangerous beyond my full realization of how much in harm’s way I actually put myself in--but it was only one of four of my challenging exposures that put me in recruitment roles over the past forty-one years working in the discipline.  I promise I won’t bore you with all four.  I’ll touch on just two here.


My first experience in formal recruiting came about in the Army.  Not as a recruiter of candidates for induction into the military, but as a recruiter of civilian staff to work in positions reporting to hiring managers who happened to be military officers in the Officer Personnel Directorate (OPD) assigned across fourteen Pentagon level Army Branches, e.g., Adjutant General, Finance, Infantry, Quartermaster, Aviation, Air Defense, Military Intelligence, Signal, Military Police, Logistics, etc.  The role of the OPD was to identify, select and appoint officers, of all ranks, to assignments worldwide—many of whom were in combat zones.


Upon graduating from college in 1971 I enlisted in the Army.  Vietnam was still hot with no end in sight.  So, like my father, uncles and brothers, before me—in time of war--we all volunteered to get into the fight (Korea for my father; WWII for my five uncles; and Vietnam for me and my three brothers).  BTW my mom was part of the war effort herself—working in the war factories in the ‘40s when her brothers went to war.


After graduating from Army Boot Camp and Advanced Infantry Training (AIT), I was set to get orders to go directly into combat in Vietnam--as did all graduating AIT classes did from Fort Polk, La--for the previous six years.  However, as fate would have it--that order never came down.  Instead, I was sent directly to Washington D.C. for assignment to the Presidential Traveling Team (the advance team that arrives ahead of the President’s arrival anyplace in the world to secure his safe arrival and departure).  Due to my VOLAR (volunteer) status in a time of war; my recent college degree, high test scores and strong performance evaluations the Deputy Commander for the Officer Personnel Directorate (OPD) pulled my file and requested that I be reassigned directly to the Pentagon to the OPD Administrative office to take over Civilian Staffing; the Army Suggestion Program; and Special Projects. 



The Colonel who assigned me, back in 1971, to my first recruiting role had a civilian GS 13 level employee retiring and felt I could handle an Action Officer’s Desk—which I did…well.  Facilitating the recruitment, promotions and transfers of key civilian talent that worked in support, and in liaison roles, with military staff and leadership during the Vietnam War was an honor, a privilege and a duty for me at that time.  In war time, or staying in conflict readiness, when I think of how all the roles in an Army depend on each other to bring forth successful missions I truly appreciated how important the role of a recruiter is for mission success, particularly when life, death and safety issues hang in the balance.  That three year experience cemented my love for recruiting and launched me into what I do today—recruiting.


Entering the Danger Zone:


When the Vietnam War ended in 1973, and the military build-up was now downsizing--I was recommend for Officer Candidate School (OCS) but elected to leave the Army when my enlistment commitment was up the following year.  It turned out to be bad timing because the stock market crashed and with the ongoing effects of the 1973 Oil Embargo added to the misery of a great recession.  Jobs were scarce so I worked in temp jobs until my Uncle alerted me to a Grant Project that was failing in the California Department of Corrections. The Cooperative Training and Employment Project (CTEP) was a Federal & State funded project administered by a minority not-for-profit community based organization called the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF). CTEP was designed to stem the high recidivism rate for minority inmates in particular—but was open to all inmates interested in participating. 


Unfortunately, CTEP was set to be defunded due to the failure of two previous Directors and high staff turnover.  Working in prison with a no-hostage policy clause (see my horror story) for all who enter there; and working for a not-for-profit (very low pay) did little to attract job applicants--so there it was.  And there I was—at the time with my college degree, great Army/Pentagon level experience and high recommendations—pumping gas at gas station in La Jolla, CA.  I was rooming with my brother in San Diego—both of us doing casual labor jobs until the recession showed signs of recovery.  So on my uncle’s recommendation I applied and landed the job.


Landing in prison, as it were--by choice, however was a decision that bothered my family and friends for obvious reasons—and was unsettling for me at first because my life was threatened on the very first day I was “in prison” addressing the inmate leaders (see RBC horror story) regarding the rehab program.  Nevertheless, I volunteered to do the job and to this day I’ll tell anyone—I’d still be there if it wasn’t for Prop 13 which was the California Tax Revolt that defunded CTEP and other social services programs at the time in California. 


The short version of this experience is that—yes, it’s not for everybody.  Most say prisons are for punishment and I agree.  But I also feel that the majority of people in lockup today will be getting out at some point down the road.  And if they are only going to be part of the revolving door process—how does that help them, their families; future victims and society at large?  My decision to go there was based on the simple grasp of the situation--to be part of the solution.  Bottom line, who wants to be a future victim, directly or indirectly?  I felt here was a unique opportunity to attempt to make a difference and to stem predictable outcomes.  Yes, my staff and I were in considerable danger—but that’s partly what won us respect on the yard—the fact that we would risk our safety for their benefit because we were there to help them help themselves through training, counseling and job placement.  Yes, recruiting candidates from the general population didn’t sit well with inmates who were rejected.  And some were happy to express their unhappiness with our decision.  We were briefed and given assurances that help was available but “you enter this prison at your own risk” was clearly understood—and it all worked out.


Our work on behalf of inmates who wanted to better themselves also won respect from correctional staff and administrators…and employers because we were job placing parolees who were doing well enough on the job that employers came back for more candidates.  Without getting into too much detail the training and rehab program was a remarkable success over a three year period given the negative statistics that haunt corrections in any state with high recidivism rates (50%-70% in some places) and the high costs for incarceration.  Our job placement rate was in the low 92% range with a 9% recidivism rate compared to California’s 50%-60% return rate. 


White/Black & Hispanic inmates participated and those who survived the prison experience and benefited from our program eventually paroled and were placed in viable jobs across the State of California w/IBM, XEROX, Hewlett Packard, JC Penney, etc.  The results were getting positive press and we were ramping up to expand the program but unfortunately ran into the famous, or infamous, depending on your stance on such matters—Proposition 13 (the Tax Payers Revolt in California).  Prop 13 cancelled funds for many social services programs like CTEP.

Yes, I love recruiting and my military and prison experiences enhanced my ability to make a positive impact in corporate America as a recruiter and Staffing Manager.  And now, as an independent Recruitment Consultant, I continue to make a difference  for candidates and clients who go on to make their mark as well.

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@Valentino - thank you for your military service!

There has to be so many people from the prison program that truly had their lives touched and changed by your work there. I'ts amazing to think about all the branches of those particpants' families, friends, communities, and public at large that benefitted from the chance they were given to go down a different path.

Thanks, Amber--

You’ve clearly touched on the positive ramifications when inmates become ex-felons and are taken out of the mix of being a threat and burden to society.  Starting at the micro level--within their immediate family; extended family; neighborhood; community--on up to the macro level of funding the huge overhang of the prison—industrial complex which is blossoming into something analogous to the military-industrial complex.  Just add the Justice System; Health and Welfare, Construction, Labor, and so on.  It's growth potential is such that it is becoming a positive negative which is a contradiction terms similar to the phenomena of a "Black Hole" that swallows light.

The CTEP program was designed by four-time losers, a term referring to inmates and ex-felons who have gone back to prison so many times—they had a sense of the obstacles, both personal and general, that contributed to their return to incarceration.  CTEP addressed removing or minimizing those obstacles starting with our selection process--we had to ferret out those who wanted out of a life of crime and would work hard toward that end vs. those who wanted to game the system…to get over one more time on something that may have legal and illegal benefits.  

CTEP made a significant difference with broad ramifications that in the end were stopped short based on other overriding concerns that had the political clout that won the day but left the problem of how do you stem the growth of the prison-industrial complex.  I lecture on the matter when I’m invited and share that it always comes down to where the pendulum swings.  The politics of the matter always relates to where the pendulum swings.  Is it toward punishment or rehabilitation?  Prop 13 wiped out CTEP and other social service programs that weren't given a chance to make their case a a value added approach to a problem that is now far worse today than it was in the early '80s...the overcrowding of prisons and the growth of the prison-industrial complex.

On that note I have to say that the happenstance of my "landing in prison" with others to serve in a role that actually helped many escape that revolving door should not be taken as missing the reality check of the value and absolute necessity for prisons in the first place. Having worked on “the inside” for four years I can emphatically state here that there are human beings who have evolved into a predator state of being.  I dealt with them with great caution because they have proven without a doubt that rules do not apply to them and that’s how they roll.  I have the greatest respect for the correctional and law enforcement professionals who “protect and serve” on the frontline.  Those careers have the highest propensity for loss of life and limb; worker’s comp claims and disability status.

Through CTEP our good fortune was to recruit away those individuals who simply saw a helping hand that delivered on its promise.  It took a well thought out collaborative effort to make it happen.  Whether that dynamic can be recreated once again--I have my doubts.  The politics, players and special interests have to be aligned in such a unique way to make it work...or it all falls down.



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