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.