One Veteran’s Job Hunt Story

I wasn’t going to be like the others. I had everything planned out. I began job searching six months before I graduated with a degree in finance, I was in a professional business fraternity on campus for two years that practiced interviews and writing resumes every semester, I was a writer for our school paper, and for two semesters, I was part of the Student Managed Investment Fund which was in charge of taking care of $280,000 of university endowment money.  I was going to prove that if you just tried hard enough, it would be easy for a veteran to find a job. I was a nine-year Marine Corps veteran with five personal awards and a few deployments under my belt, I got out as a sergeant, and to top it all off, I met the criteria for a $9,600 tax rebate to the company that hired me. It was going to be easy – I had everything and done everything right. Yet from start to finish, it was about a year before I had gainful employment.

Chronologically, I began my job search January of last year. As I had always been told, one should begin looking for employment six months before you graduate from college. I took this advice to heart and began by job search in the San Antonio/Austin area in central Texas. I began working my contacts through my business fraternity with no success. I also dropped Officer Candidate School packages with the Army and Air Force, but with the economy in a rough patch, more officers were staying in and selection rate percentages for non-ROTC applicants was in the low teens. Therefore, I was not selected.

I began getting a little more desperate after I graduated, but didn’t panic. I widened my search to the entire state of Texas at this point, mainly looking on online websites and calling companies. I had interviews here and there, but I usually got the feeling that I wasn’t being seriously considered. I did have a spot of luck in that I got a private contracting job as a financial analyst at a startup company, which was outstanding experience, but for the hours I worked, I was paid less than minimum wage. An unfortunate reality, and one that I know I’m not alone in experiencing.

It was at this point in the August time period, that one job interview sticks out in my mind. I feel that several interviews had the similar outcomes, but this is the best clear-cut example. I was going after a job as a financial analyst at a company corporate headquarters. I had three friends that I had known for a few years working there, one of which was a financial analyst himself. I did a total of three interviews and knocked them all out of the park. I know this because my analyst friend spoke with the interviews and then gave him glowing reviews. In the end, it was down to two people, myself and one other person. This other person was a sales person at the company, but didn’t have a degree in finance and had zero experience with anything that had to do with personal finance (as my analyst friend confirmed). It’s not too difficult to guess who got the job, though – the other person. As I said, this is but one example, but there were many others that left me equally frustrated and confused.

At this point, I began looking nationally. I also began using LinkedIn heavily. I also started becoming desperate. Every day, I would apply to around a dozen jobs. I began looking at the top veteran friendly companies, and applied for entry-level positions. I even began applying to department stores to help to supplement my dwindling savings account. By late fall, I began looking for employment anywhere in the world. I applied to jobs in Mumbai, Singapore, and at private companies doing work in combat zones. Rejection after rejection after rejection came. I began self-medicating with alcohol to help with my anxiety levels, and also cried for the first time in six years. My other college graduates could get jobs, why couldn’t I? Next to my deployment to Fallujah in 2004, this was one of the darkest times of my life.

Luckily, the light at the end of the tunnel came very quickly. In late November, two companies in Denver wanted to fly me up for interviews. A few weeks later, I had job offers, and by the beginning of January I was gainfully employed. In the end I had applied to over 350 jobs.

Hindsight is always 20/20, and I am my own harshest critic when it comes to mistakes. My fight is now over, but looking back, I still firmly believe that I did everything right. If someone with my amount of experience and hiring perks has to go through the tribunals listed above, something is fundamentally wrong with our system, and I worry how vets less fortunate than myself are handling the environment.

One thing that I heard in almost every interview I went to was “Thank you for your service”, and I am sure that this is the case for most veterans. “Thank you for your service,” while Post-9/11 veteran’s unemployment is significantly higher than our civilian counterparts at over 12 percent for 2011. “Thank you for your service,” while we are so shunned that we need tax breaks from our government to companies that hire us. “Thank you for your service,” while we are constantly passed over for less qualified individuals. My fellow Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen, my brothers and sisters, the fact the matter is that we are passionate, hardworking individuals whose fellow countrymen can’t seem to figure out what to do with. But one thing seems to be universally agreed upon, they don’t want us working for them.

Matthew Eller received his degree in finance in 2011 from Texas State University and is currently Manager of Military Fiscal Operations at Colorado State University – Global Campus. A former Marine sergeant, he has served five years on active duty and four years as a reservist, deploying twice to Iraq. He is a spokesman for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

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16 Comments to “One Veteran’s Job Hunt Story”

  1. Kent Hammond says:

    Those who have not served are reluctant to hire veterans. Often they bellieve the press regarding our training is killing people or that vets were substandard when they enlisted. I have seen electronic technicians, IT Specialist, Nuclear Reactor Operators and others turned down. If they do hire they hire people leaving after their first enlistment assuming they have ot been to tarnished and are recoverable. One item I beleive is that a patriotic professional veteran is not apt to turning a blind eye to safety, unethical behaivor, or illegal actions. Veterans focus has been in the interest of the country not just stock holders, especially the 1% stock holders. We Vietnam Era veterans saw this and now the newest veterans see it. The jobs our congress and business leaders believe we are qualified for are entry level only. they don’t know an E7 from an E1, or beleive that a mid level officers or enlisted are suited for wrench turner position rather than for the mid level managerial positions they have been perfroming well on for a decade or longer. Stand by later they will be some who resent your disabilty check, access to veterans benefits, etc. Of course some of them took our student loans they have not paid back. Vietnam vets hid or downplayed their experience and shadow boxes, it worked which is a shame. Good luck veterans, I made it from an E6, to a entry lab instructor and finally rose to Director. Just remember the best tool in your bag is tenacity and preservance.

  2. Tighe Reardon says:

    Matthew, thanks for writing about your experience. I am a Vietnam veteran and we were shunned to. I got out of the service in 1969, and graduated from college in 1978 (GI bill helped). I thought people cared, but found out they were more intimidated by us (veterans). The public looks at us differently, because they dont understand us. I took off my military service on my resume, but included it when I was completing the job application. Glad to see you showed your initiative to find a job, it shows a lot of charactor, some people would give up. You are going to do well.
    Always look ahead, never back.
    Have a great life.

  3. Kobie Stroman says:

    Hello,
    I have to say I felt like I was looking in a mirror!!! I retired in 2009 from the US Navy and went back to school to get my real estate license, nothing came from that 6 month endeavor. I then went for and completed my MBA graduating may of last year, all this time with no job!!! I finally got called for a 100% commission sales position and feel everyday that a 20 year military professional with aviation, recruiting and training experience that this job is beneath me!! I don’t believe I did all that to drive 75 miles round trip to convince someone to buy an extra keypad, really!!!!! I totally agree Matthew they don’t know what to do with us and we aren’t respected at all.

  4. Scott Glazener Sr says:

    Well all I have to say is the hell with anyone who is in a position and who does not hire a vet…………especially one who has served in combat and one who is a beloved Marine Brother or Sister.
    I know you had it rough Sgt., but I feel especially bad for ALL SERVICE men and women who are about to get kicked out of all branches when this ASSHOLE “commander-in-chief”……….what a laugh that title is for this idiot………..downsizes our military. Where are all of these vets going to find a job. OMGosh, bless them and their families.

    Scott SGT. USMC 1973-77

  5. Jim Tapp says:

    My story is simiar in some ways. My big Blow came when I made a transfer from Portsmoth Naval Shipyard to Bremerton Naval Shipyard. What a mistake that move was. I have 15 years working at Mare Island Shipyard, and never got promoted to Journeyman status. So what looked like an opportunity after 15 years as a limited Machinist to become a Journeyman, I made a tranfer to Bremerton. I thought I was on my way to a bright future in their Nuclear Department. But, just one day before entering the program, Bremerton discharged me (For reasons unknown) I thought that being a ten point Veteran, this couldn’t happen. Wrong. They would not give the permission to discuss this with the Head of the shop. They all turned my back on me, including making inquiries to why this happend. After 15 years as a limited machinist, I finally thought making Journeyman status was justified. Wrong again. (Only if I would have entered into the 4 year Apprenticeship at the very beginning i would of become a Journeyman) Short and simple, I was railroaded out. And from that moment on, Iwent straight down hill, hitting rock bottom. From a 18.00 an hour to a minimum wage as a changer at a Casino in Reno. Then to folding sheets for Motel 6, Dishwasher at a retirement home, and finally as a Janitor for 15 years. I just don’t know how I made it through those times.

  6. Taylor Seo says:

    I am glad that you were able to find work. As I was reading your post I thought you were going to say that you couldn’t find employment but am delighted to see that you have.

    It is true though that unfortunately there is a negative stigma attached to those that have served. Despite the many skills that one acquires through service, often this is overshadowed by the negative image of that portrayed in the media, movies etc.

    Hopefully this changes soon and perhaps there will be more done to help our veterans when it comes to job hunting as they are some of the most hard working, talented, and dedicated individuals that any company can hire.

  7. Steve says:

    Nice to hear it worked out in the end for you Matt. I just retired and am experiencing the same thing. I think I am on resume number 12 now, and am doing about 3 per week. My latest house appraisal puts me $40K under water, so I am almost scared to apply in different parts of the country knowing I would take a huge punch in the gut on the house (even if I did manage to sell it.) I will also be completing my degree in August, but we shall see what the future holds.

    Good luck,

    Steve

  8. Hi,

    350 applications. Yep, I was at 430. In hindsight much of that was quantity, not quality. Being that I had not searched for a job since high school, much of the effort was learning what works and what does not. I think it is important to use every resource we have to learn the best approaches. I have been working on a series on the other blog at http://www.blogs.va.gov/VAcareers. I hope it is useful to fellow Veterans and would love to hear success stories for inclusion on it.

    I still have all the read receipts from those applications in a folder in my e-mail inbox. I like to review them to keep me focused. You did good Marine, thanks for passing it on!

    Darren Sherrard

  9. Mike says:

    I haven’t seen your resume, nor do I know your competence. But what you wrote indicated you were preparing to be a cog in the machine, not an asset to the company. It’s not about you. It’s never about you. It’s all about whether the company gets more value out of you than they pay for you. Writing for the school paper says you’re training to be a journalist. “Helping” manage a low-risk fund of 1% of the total endowment is not a glowing endorsement – did your picks increase the value? did you identify a risk to be negated? If you had one, how well did your practice portfolio do? Begin a veteran says you bring discipline and leadership to the workplace, but those are in the ‘other duties’ category and are not key to the job description. Every resume point must include YOUR actions to solve a problem, and the measured result. A sniper’s round is more valuable than random fire in the air.

  10. Adam says:

    I am a civilian, but not a hiring employer. Were I one I would hire a soldier with preference. The fact is that everyone knows our soldiers are especially disciplined and understand what is a good work ethic.

    I have been searching for work for 6 months after an impressive Fellowship position working with the state on a Federal contract. I haven’t been able to find a job and have been looking for 6 months. Hopefully that will change. What’s worse is that I was CONTRACTED for my fellowship work since the fed and the state are required to continue to employ their “employees”. That’s why they wouldn’t give “employee” status and why I’m unemployed, with no qualification for unemployment benefits and with no sort of help whatsoever. Had I been a soldier I would at least have the safety net and assistance programs. I did manage to get into a Masters program and that provides some sort of community support. I don’t know what I would do without it.

    The employment situation in our nation is bad for those who don’t have work, and it seems to me like those that are networked in are the ones getting the jobs. That was the case with the under-qualified sales guy who beat you out of that job, and although it seems completely unfair, that is the reality. Companies are trying to take care of their own and there isn’t enough work to go around.

    What finally worked for you to get the job? I could sure use any tips, as I think our soldier friends could too.

  11. kevin says:

    I don’t agree that it is a prejudiced against veterans. the old adage “its not what you know but who you know” rings true today. call it good old boys syndrome, if someone is inside, its extremely hard to dislodge that internal candidate. don’t keep a chip, fix it when you can.

  12. Kathleen says:

    Thank you, not only for your service, but also for sharing this story. I think it is so helpful and so healing for others to read about these struggles (especially from such highly qualified veterans). I work with homeless veterans and see the difficulties associated with returning to the civilian world and the disconnect that results from the lack of information/empathy of civilians. I think that your speaking out about this matter will make a great contribution in bridging this gap. I hope that you contiue to speak out, write about this issue, and advocate for your military brothers and sisters. Your bravery on all fronts is much admired and appreciated!

  13. Sharon says:

    This Veteran’s story is mirrored by no doubt a thousand time in the lives of other solidiers who have served our country, and back home, skilled, trained, and with experience and face the layers of frustration, disappointment and as stated in this story frustration. I applaud this man’s courage not to give up. He just kept on pushing through. We must encourage the veterans in our community, those that we know, not to give up. Hope remains with all of us, as long as there is life….hope remains. Never give up…hope fact things are subject to change, with faith in God, support from family and friends, and persistant.

  14. Mom of Marine says:

    I am contantly encouraging all of the Moms, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, etc – buy Veteran made/sold – and make it KNOWN to the businesses that this is what you are looking for. Speak UP! When I bought my last car, I had to call 4 Toyota dealerships before I found a sales person that was a Veteran – but that is what I did – and that is who I bought from. When I bought my home – the same thing. Same with my appliances. When I had my driveway cleaned last week – you guessed it – I hired a Veteran!

    We have to stand together – we have to make it known that this is what attracts us to the business to spend – and we have to be willing to NOT spend if we can’t find the right veteran to sell it to us! Please ask your families and friends to do the same – and to take the few minutes it takes to write the corporations to ASK them for the list of Veteran sales reps, etc that they can buy from. You can’t sway the corporations if you don’t ask them with your wallets!

  15. g0dzf10w3r5 says:

    I am a veteran but don’t think that any veteran should get any sort of preferential treatment. While the veteran unemployment rate may very well be 12% for veterans, the majority of veterans join right out of high school, are given a decent salary for never having to been to college and when they are not working, they are partying. It’s rare to find a young soldier, sailor, or marine who is more interested in what they are going to be doing when they get out than what beach they are going to that weekend. That 12% is skewed.

    The issue is experience. Having been on both sides of the fence, I can say with 100% certainty that things are different in the military. Jobs are different, expectations are different, penalties are different, and the talent is different. The government also has a really bad habit of creating processes to do things that their civilian counterparts have already created and tested processes for. They do the same thing for software. It rarely works. They end up recreating a wheel but it looks more like an oval. When employers have to decide between someone who has had 5 years experience doing exactly what they want or 20 years working on an old, antiquated, propriety government project, they aren’t going to pick the wild card, regardless of their service to the country.

    The bottom line is that its a tough job market everywhere, not just for veterans. Companies, while it may look good for them to hire vets, are more interested in their bottom line. Vets need to get in line with everyone else and realize that there are a lot of qualified people out there who have been given many more opportunities in regards with freedom to think for themselves, experiment with different technologies, and who have a lot of experience interviewing.

    Employers who employ veterans just because they are veterans would fail.

    • Matthew says:

      I appreciate your comment, but one of underlying themes of the article is the fact that I had great civilian qualifications and didn’t try and rely on my military experience to get a job. If you reread the first paragraph, you will see that I had great civilian experience, yet I was passed over for non-veterans that had even less civilian experience that I. The issue here is that we as veterans aren’t treated as equals in the work force, but as individuals to steer clear of, and I honestly felt that during my job search in the “white collar” job market that my military service was a stain on my work record.