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Veterans exchanged their military uniforms for dress shirts, ties and other business attire Tuesday in hope of securing a new job.

Dressed sharply in a red shirt and black pants, veteran Paul Zillmer, who served in the U.S. Air Force in 2010, wanted to impress employers and find a job at the third annual “Hiring Our Heroes” veterans job fair at the National Guard Armory in Eau Claire.

“I’ll graduate here in May from (Chippewa Valley Technical College),” said Zillmer, who is studying marketing and business management.

Zillmer said he hopes to put the business skills he learned during his time in the military to good use.

The career fair usually draws between 150 to 250 veterans seeking employment, and this year 65 businesses attended hoping to hire them, said Scott Rogers, Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce governmental affairs and workforce director.

“Employers are recognizing that veterans are great employees,” Rogers said.

A wide range of careers were represented at the event, including those in the financial, manufacturing, medical, communication and transportation fields.

“It’s a lot bigger variety than I was expecting,” said Mike Ovaska, an Eau Claire resident who served in Iraq in 2009.

Ovaska was searching for a job after recently graduating with a degree in information technology and was pleasantly surprised to learn of tech-related positions available at the career fair.

Rogers said many businesses are looking to hire people with “employability skills,” such as teamwork and leadership, which many veterans possess.

“I am hearing employers say we really need people and this is the kind of people that we want,” Rogers said.

However sometimes those skills are not readily apparent on veterans’ job applications and resumes, so career fairs help match employers and veteran job seekers, he said.

Zillmer said the skills he learned during his service, especially leadership and attention to detail, are transferable to the workforce. Donna Christianson, regional direct hire recruiter for Express Employment Professionals, agreed and said her agency is looking to recruit veterans for a number of positions.

“Veterans are reliable, responsible and they have a good background and skills to offer,” Christianson said.

Nestle Nutrition of Eau Claire looks at what applicants did during their military service and how those skills match specific jobs, said the company’s human resource specialist, Heidi Brockner.

“I can take the resumes and get back to candidates in a really short amount of time,” Brockner said, noting that career fairs such as Tuesday’s make the process quick and efficient.

Nestle has hired many veterans in the past few years and won an award from the American Legion for its efforts, Brockner said.

Firefighter Chad Haverly of the St. Paul Fire Department was at the event promoting the department’s May recruitment. Firefighting is essentially a paramilitary organization with similar ranks and rules, Haverly said, noting he and many other former veterans work in fire departments.

“As a disabled veteran, you have a huge advantage (in getting hired),” he said. “You’re halfway through the door already.”

Miels can be reached at 715-833-9214, 800-236-7077 or emily.miels@ecpc.com. ___