John Gonzales speaks a different language than many of his peers in the recruiting and Human Resources (HR) sectors. It’s not as if the U.S. Air Force recruiter and University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) student is speaking French or Italian while everyone else is speaking English. Rather, it’s that the words he uses in his day-to-day workflow have different meanings outside of the Armed Forces.

“For instance, in a corporate environment, you’ll refer to those under you as ‘direct reports,’ and in the Air Force, they’re called ‘your troop,’” John explains. “Billet is another one. It means your position, your job design – we call it your billet.

“The military has a lot of jargon and lingo, but it’s all the exact same thing as the civilian sector; we just call it something different.”

While this back-and-forth wordplay is amusing on the surface, it truly speaks to the level of commitment John is making as a recruiter, with greater career ambitions in the Air Force and beyond. His current role involves recruiting health care professionals to work in the service, which means he must be fully knowledgeable on multiple fronts – from the intricacies of the position to the inner workings of his corporate competitors and the specific companies that are also trying to bring top talent on board. 

Much of his time with candidates is spent explaining the differences between a corporate position and a role in the military. The Air Force, for example, carries more “stringent” requirements for age and physical ability, John notes, and though the lifestyle change can bring about culture shock at first, many of the same roles and responsibilities are similar outside of the military. 

“Candidates ask a lot of the same things, so I have to dig deep into the private, civilian sector and ask, ‘What do they actually have here? What’s the compensation, etc.?’ and compare it to the Air Force,” he says. “In order for me to be successful, I need to know both.”

Finding His Passion

John didn’t grow up with dreams of becoming an HR leader, or even becoming a member of the military. But living in Los Angeles as a child in a small apartment with six other family members made him long for a greater purpose.

“I was sleeping on the floor because there was no space,” he says. “I was like, ‘I need to do something,’ and I didn’t want to put my mom in a bind, so I said, ‘I’m going to join the Air Force.’”

After enlisting in 2011, John spent his early years serving as a logistician, but he developed an interest in recruitment and made a transition that would change his life. 

“What interested me was talking to people,” he reflects.

As a recruiter, John is trained to think about opportunities for his clients. Every time he’s met and interacted with someone over the years, he’s focused on presenting them all of the opportunities that come with a career in the Air Force. Among the most notable opportunities of them all: education.

At UAGC, John was able to use military education benefits to fund his own education. It was a game changer for him as he began to grow into a more seasoned recruiter. Many of his initial day-to-day interactions were with young people – high school and junior college students who had not yet begun their careers. In order to reach a level that would allow him to effectively communicate and recruit more experienced professionals from the healthcare industry, he would need the business acumen that comes with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Resources Management.

“Looking at the civilian sector, it better prepares me to understand what people are going through and how my ‘company’ – the Air Force – ranks in comparison,” John explains. “It’s made me very targeted, so I don’t waste my time. I’m there when we’re represented at events, and we blast out emails, but I’m looking for a certain type of individual – in recruiting, we call it ‘positioning’ – so I’m able to position myself where my leads are, and I’m not shooting in the dark.”

A Life That’s Going Places

In medical recruiting, location matters, John explains, and he’s often looking to recruit health care workers in the San Francisco Bay Area – the region he’s called home for the past two and a half years.

Moving around is part of the job when you’re in the Armed Forces, John acknowledges. After spending several years in Texas and San Diego, he settled in the Northern California city of Vacaville. John’s wife Christine is a Canadian citizen living in Calgary, and the couple maintains a long-distance relationship as she works through the often lengthy visa and citizenship process.

When they’re together, they love spending time outdoors with their two pugs, Bruce and Bart. Having grown up in a sometimes-cramped environment made John an explorer, and the couple loves experiencing the beauty of nature in Northern California. 

John says he credits much of his success in life to his Air Force career.

“I never thought I would achieve goals like owning a house,” he explains. 

He acknowledges he’s got much more to accomplish. His bachelor’s degree, and what follows, will fulfill many of his dreams and the dreams he and his wife share.

“My family motivated me to start my degree,” he says. “I am doing this to develop myself and give my family a better future and I want to finish my degree as my way of thanking them for their sacrifices that they did when I was younger.”

Growing in the HR Field

John’s UAGC education is multi-faceted. He learns from his instructors, he learns from his classmates, and, importantly, he learns from his experience as an officer for the University’s Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) chapter. The largest professional HR membership association in the country, the SHRM serves as an invaluable resource for John and other HR students to stay at the forefront of an evolving industry, participate in virtual leadership events, gain access to mentors and job opportunities, and build a supportive community – especially within the civilian sector – that he can lean on beyond graduation.

The knowledge he’s acquired from all of these sources has allowed John to maximize his educational journey and become a more well-rounded professional. His experience has also triggered a love for lifelong learning, and John wants to pursue a master’s degree and acquire the SHRM certification that will give him a competitive advantage when he graduates in 2024 and ultimately completes his Air Force career.

“I would eventually want to become a regional recruiting manager, either in the military or the private sector, and by the time I get out, I will have about 15 years of recruiting experience in health care,” he says. “My initial Air Force contract was six years, but here I am 12 years later. I’m going to go 20 years because I enjoy it so much.” 


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