SAVANNAH, Ga. – A highly competitive recruiter with the Georgia Air National Guard has reinvented himself during the COVID-19 pandemic and set some modern-day accession records in the process.
It all started with a question at a training conference in 2019. Tech. Sgt. Reza Whitehead, a rookie recruiter at the time, asked Senior Master Sgt. Jose Padilla, the state recruiting production superintendent, what the state record was for accessions in a month.
“I am a very goal-oriented person and I love a challenge, so I went out of my way to ask him if there was a state record,” Reza said. “He told me that he held the record and it had stood for more than seven years. I told him, ‘Awesome. I’m going to beat that.’ He smirked and said, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good goal to have.’ His tone was like, ‘You’ve got a lot of fire, rookie. Keep at it, but it’s not going to happen overnight.’”
Padilla said he could tell Whitehead was a competitive and passionate recruiter and was pleased with his enthusiasm.
“After speaking with him during our annual state training conference in 2019, I had no doubt in my mind he would be successful,” Padilla said. “During my early years as a recruiter in Georgia, I placed 11 new accessions in one month. It took a lot of coordination and long hours, but I was not surprised that someday we would have other recruiter from Georgia exceed that number because we have an outstanding team.”
With Padilla’s record in his sights, Whitehead went to work.
“I love challenges, especially crazy, big ones,” he said. “I set my target and I was able to beat his record about three months after our initial conversation.”
When Whitehead broke this modern-day record in July of 2019, he did it the old-fashioned way, by attending events in person.
“My main way of obtaining leads and gaining enlistments was by attending as many live events as possible – career fairs, high school football games, Junior ROTC drill meets, toy drives, lunch room visits, etc…,” he said. “Any event, local or far way, I hit the pavement and got after it. I knew for every 100 people I met, I could probably get one qualified; so it was a numbers game at that point. When I enlisted the 12th person, I felt amazing. I was on cloud nine. Knowing I set a goal and pushed to make it happen truly inspired me to push further in my recruiting career.”
Whitehead held the record for less than a year before another hard-charging recruiter recorded 13 accessions in April 2020.
“When my record was beat earlier this year, it hurt. I’m not going to lie,” Whitehead said. “I thought I’d hold it for a while. But losing the record encouraged me to push harder – not just to regain my title but to push through all the challenges the pandemic had created.”
As COVID-19 restrictions set it, Whitehead knew he couldn’t depend on his preferred method of attending live events for recruiting.
“I had to re-evaluate how I would recruit from the ground up,” he said. “I not only needed a new way of gaining leads, but my current way needed to be even more seamless so I could better assist each and every new lead.
“I had to go digital. It was the only way to get my message out. I took social media marketing as my main approach, so I ate, drank and slept social media,” Whitehead said. “I didn’t have a big following within my state and on my own pages, so I had to organically create a following and learn what it means to be a content creator. My background is in radar systems, computers, networks. The only social media I cared about was sharing pictures of my family with other family members abroad.”
Whitehead took classes, hit up other successful social media-centric recruiters and even paid out of pocket for advertising and software.
“I did everything a content creator would do and I came out on the other end pretty successful,” he said.
With his emphasis now on social media, Whitehead set a new record with 14 enlistees in July 2020.
“I was on cloud nine again knowing I was able to push harder than ever” he said.
Padilla said how his recruiters continued to grind during COVID-19 tells him a lot about his team.
“COVID presented a lot of challenges for recruiting, but it created opportunities for us to become more innovative and creative,” he said. “Using social media platforms and things like Zoom have allowed recruiters to overcome some of the early roadblocks. Seeing recruiters like Tech. Sgt. Whitehead think outside the box during these challenging times, while focused on mission accomplishment, means the world to me. I really appreciate his efforts and all of our current recruiting and retention team members in Georgia. We have a diverse, fresh and motivated team.
“Our current recruiting and retention team in Georgia is phenomenal, and I am blessed to be part of it. Our collective team approach to recruiting is to treat our applicants with the utmost respect and professionalism so they are happy and proud of joining our Air National Guard family. When you combine this approach with a motivated and competitive recruiter like Tech. Sgt. Whitehead, you get results. We are not only bringing in the numbers, but we are staying focused on placing the right people in the right career fields.”