Recruiting Recruiters: The First Step

So, in a stroke of genius, you figure out that you need people to maintain a squadron. You run to your squadron commander with this unearthly insight of wisdom, and luckily for you, they see the wisdom that has been forming itself deep inside your thoughts and dreams. Even more luckily, you will be having a local air show in a couple of weeks that you just could get a booth for. Air show, air planes, Civil Air Patrol, what could work better?

So what will you need? Well, you have plenty of pamphlets, a billboard sign, and a nifty pop-up canopy. If you’re lucky, maybe the powers that be at the senior level can snag the -172 to park on the tarmac next to the set-up. Now, all you have to worry about is staff, but never fear! You have plenty of cadets just jumping up and down for activities, along with a few seniors that said that’d be available. This could work out beautifully!

Now, it’s time to think a little deeper. I can only speak from personal experience, but I remember the first time I ever listened to a cadet try to “snag” someone into coming to a meeting. It wasn’t pretty. There was a lot of stuttering, some/lots of inaccurate information, but some well-meant enthusiasm. Hope is not lost for your recruiting events though, if you take the time to recruit the recruiters.

This isn’t to discount the efforts of these cadets (and some seniors, too). Yet, one must realize that recruiting starts before you put the pamphlets out. The ability to sell your organization isn’t a “You got it or you don’t” deal, although a bit of natural salesmanship does separate the good recruiters from the great ones. Some rudimentary education and practice can do wonders. So what am I talking about? Well, I’m glad you asked!

Know your assets. Everybody knows those in their unit that have the ability to draw people in and keep their attention. On the flip side, everyone knows those who don’t have that particular strength: both are useful for your tasks, and times like these recruiting events can help build some experience. Times like this upcoming air show is really when you need to put yourself out there, and the more personable your recruiters are, the better.

Make sure your people know what they are talking about. In CAP, we have two extremes: Rambos and Craft Groupies. Your Rambo will sell us as elite special forces of the Air Force, quick reaction forces for search and rescue any time any where blah blah blah. Can we say false advertisement? We do have a bit of a military feel to us, but we’re NOT the military. On the other hand, the Craft Groupies exists. They feel that what we do is get together once a week, wear snazzy clothes, and build models of airplanes and rockets as a happy little group. They don’t mention that while we aren’t the military, we are patterned after the Air Force. Obviously, we’re in the middle somewhere depending on what unit you’re in. Make sure your people know just what you are, making note of both the Air Force Auxiliary and the civilian Civil Air Patrol.

Next, be sure you can tell people what we do. I have a bit of a mean streak when I see CAP recruiting going on when I’m in civvies… I’ll grill ’em good and see how much they know. More often or not, the recruiter is privy to one or two aspects of CAP, but leave out big parts. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to a cadet and they don’t mention that we fly, or that there’s a cadet program involvement for seniors who would like that. Some don’t even know the emergency services exits, or a senior won’t mention what we have to offer for young people. How can we address this? Well, that comes from general knowledge and education of your organization. Make sure your people know all three missions, what they do and don’t involve, and how a possible member can be involved in them. Don’t forget the big things that really sell, like national activates, we fly (a common thing left out) as well as other aerospace activities, our operational aspects, and what CAP can offer you. On the same note, don’t over hype. Don’t talk just of national activities, coming to the rescue, and full military parades in “Class A’s”. Be sure there’s a balance between what you can offer and what you typically do.

Cadets recruiting cadets isn’t so hard, you have a common bond of age going on; seniors have the same deal, and can even pull off the knowledgeable, mentor-like image. But cadets recruiting seniors? Now there’s a challenge to the common cadet! Make sure your people know both the cadet and senior program’s overviews, including what extra measures seniors must go through to join and what their roles are in the organization. To be fair, I’ve met more than my share of seniors who can’t tell you what a cadet does besides fill a spot in the radio room of a mission base. Again, know the entire organization, not just the part you spend most of your time in.

This is all find and dandy, knowing that you’re trying to sell. How about selling it? This is where the rubber hits the road. Take some time out of a meeting or two and run mock trials with people who might be recruiting and a few members. Have the “possible member” play complete ignorance of the organization unless the individual practicing is having trouble, so they can help prompt. Practicing can help reduce anxiety before you hit the street in so much that you know what you’ll be talking about and how to present it. Prepare a little checklist of your major selling points. In fact, make a few checklists and learn them so you can adapt to the person your particular audience.

Lastly, the military has battle buddies, and you can have recruiting partner. Try to pair up your people in a way that a lesser experienced recruiter has someone to help them out but not take away the experience. Part of a leadership program is learning to speak in public and communicate effectively. Obviously, trying to get someone to join an organization most have never heard of is a great test of those skills. Take care not to make someone feel like they’re getting paired because they’re incompetent, but are instead being given a backup and a mentor. Also make sure that the more experienced member takes a step back and allows the newer person to make some headway and gain some confidence.

So, you’re at your air show, the expensive billboard is out next to the even more expensive airplane, your cadets are in their sharpest blues, and you’re ready to hit the tarmac to reel in those possible recruits. Cadet Airmen Snuffy and Lieutenant Chuckles are ready with pamphlets in hand and well-shined shoes on their feet. Make sure to smile and shake hands, and … well, that’s a different story for a different day.

Everyone has heard of the 6 P’s: Prior Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance and recruiting is no different. A half hour with review and practice can make or break the recruiting (and retention!!) efforts of a unit. Good luck!

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