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This Is How We Do It

March 11th, 2019 | 6 min. read

First Command Director of Recruiting Julie Barnes reveals the surprising skill set her team looks for in job candidates and what drives her to find top talent.

To say that Julie Barnes has a full plate would be a bit of an understatement. For over five years, Barnes has led the First Command Advisor recruiting team, which includes 10 recruiters and a program manager. As an active participant in the Veteran Employment Advisory Council through Hiring Our Heroes, she works to advance the recruitment and retention of military veterans and military spouses. And at home, she takes care of three young children and the everyday challenges that motherhood brings.

Take a peek inside the recruiting initiative at First Command, the motivation behind it and what makes Barnes tick.

How did you get interested in recruiting?

While in college, I worked my way into a management role at a children’s fitness organization. I was responsible for hiring, training and employee relations, and I discovered that I had a real passion for finding out what is important to individuals and matching them with appropriate career opportunities. 

What led you to First Command?

I was first drawn to the mission and vision of the organization. My grandfather was a World War II U.S. Army veteran, and the idea of serving military families got me really excited. 

I started out as a field recruiter, where I helped local offices make connections in the community. I got to see firsthand what we do for military families and for American families in general, and I immediately felt like I had found a home and a calling.

How did this influence your career aspirations?

Early in my career with First Command, I served in a variety of recruiting roles in the field that gave me a front-row seat to how advisors impact the lives of their clients. I saw how our Advisors instill confidence in the families they work with by providing them with a roadmap to retirement, or funding a child’s education, or whatever their goals are. And these aren’t just words—we back them up by offering complimentary financial planning to all active duty military. Being a part of something so meaningful and rewarding has steered me ever since.

What is your team’s recruiting philosophy?

Unlike other organizations that may cast a wide net, we are extremely targeted in our recruiting efforts. We’ve found that the best cultural and career fit often comes from the military community, so this is where the bulk of our resources and budget is directed. Military candidates on the whole are mission-focused, and so is our organization. In addition, they are self-motivated, goal-oriented and have high-level leadership skills. 

Military spouses have proven to be an excellent candidate pool for many of the same reasons. In our experience, they are adaptable, knowledgeable and ambitious. Unemployment and underemployment are common in the military spouse population, yet here is a career that allows them to control their own income and time. It gives them flexibility to care for their families, career portability in the event of relocation and the chance to connect with other military families in a meaningful way.

Eight out of 10 of our advisors have either served or are military spouses. They understand the challenges and opportunities associated with the military lifestyle and they’re familiar with military benefits. We believe these are the right individuals for our advisor positions.

Do you consider candidates outside of the military community?

Yes. We have a number of Advisors who did not serve, but they have a strong affinity for the military, and the mission of our organization resonates with them. One of my favorite examples is a nontraditional hire that I made over seven years ago. She was right out of college, and she has excelled. Every time I see her, she tells me that I changed her life by giving her this opportunity. 

What qualifications do candidates need to have?

We get asked all the time if you need to have a background in finance—the answer is “no.” Obviously, you need to have some interest in finance, but it’s really about whether you enjoy building relationships. More than anything, we’re interested in soft skills like leadership, coachability, interpersonal communication and a desire to give back. Our training program can take it from there. 

How does your team identify potential candidates?

We’re structured a bit differently than other organizations because our Advisor recruiting team is separate from our corporate recruiting function. We promote community engagement through our local offices, including connecting with people through Transition Assistance Programs, at installations or at military spouse events. Our ongoing partnerships with Recruit Military, Hiring Our Heroes and the Service Academy Career Conference (SACC) have resulted in excellent, high-caliber hires as well. Last, we use online resources and job boards to promote open positions and attract quality applicants.

What do you consider a successful hire?

We are 100 percent committed to every person that we sign a training agreement with. Our goal is to see every new hire successfully complete the licensing requirements, excel in the training program and thrive in their new role.

For us, it’s not just about recruiting—it’s about supporting individuals in the military whether they’re a good fit for First Command as an employer or not. It’s about helping them to self-discover and realize what options are available to them. 

What role does recruiting play in First Command’s overall strategic plan?

As an organization, we aspire to helping our nation’s military families in their pursuit of financial security, and we take our part in that very seriously. We need to have Advisors in the right places to fully serve both new families and those that are separating. Our differentiator is face-to-face service, so we need to be where our clients are.

What does the future look like for recruitment?

We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. My team believes the financial planning career opportunity opens up endless potential for someone who decides this is right for them. It’s one of the most rewarding jobs out there, because you have an opportunity to make a real difference in people’s lives.

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