After six years analyzing intelligence for the U.S. Navy and another four years studying finance, Lars Nielson wants a job valuing companies.
He's 30 years old and just received a bachelors degree from Oregon State University, not Wharton or Columbia. In other words, Nielson doesn't fit neatly into the standard Wall Street recruiting channels.
"It's virtually impossible being out in Oregon," he said while attending a job fair in New York on Wednesday. "I've probably spent $5,000 at this point trying to get a job."
He spent $1,000 of that sum this week, flying from Oregon to New York to attend a career fair for military veterans hosted by the government and five Wall Street banks. The event, at the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier, was the latest initiative by banks and brokerages to find and hire former soldiers and sailors.
The unemployment rate for veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan was 12.6% in May, versus 9.1% for all Americans. Thousands more will join those ranks as troops are drawn down from Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama announced Wednesday that he will withdraw 10,000 U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of this year and the remaining 23,000 "surge" troops by the end of next summer.
Wall Street firms are widening and shifting their recruiting tactics to capture the veteran candidates, who are typically older, more geographically widespread and have different skill-sets, than the Ivy Leaguers they usually hire. The federal government and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have been urging the banks to hire vets as more return home.
Deutsche Bank, for example, is intensifying its efforts at colleges that have a high proportion of students on the G.I. Bill, according to Ellen Gardner, a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and a director in the bank's credit structuring department. It is also looking for candidates via Milicruit, a series of online hiring fairs for veterans.
Chris Kelley, who served eight years in the Army Reserve and did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, was optimistic about the 15 resumes he circulated at the Manhattan event.
"At most career fairs, they kind of block you out, but they really seem to get it here," Kelley said, referring to how recruiters treat veterans at hiring events.
Still, a number of veterans said they have had trouble getting on the radar of bank recruiters. And Wall Street firms do not have an accurate measure of success to date. Because veterans aren't required to identify themselves as such, Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and other big banks have no idea how many veterans they have on payroll.
Those firms and about 86 other employers had a crack at about 1,000 former soldiers and sailors at Wednesday's event. In addition to gathering resumes, banks and brokerages doled out advice in a conference that functioned as a sort of Wall Street career boot camp.
Edith Hunt, global head of talent management at Goldman Sachs, spoke to about 110 veterans on the history of Wall Street and industry lingo, such as the difference between the sell-side and buy-side.
She urged attendees to consider positions in technology, operations and other back-office roles, which typically comprise about two-thirds of any finance workforce.
Panels of Wall Street workers who came from the Armed Forces gave tips on how to make the jump from the military to finance. Joe Femenia, a Navy SEAL turned Goldman trader, urged candidates not to chase the hottest products and services.
"If you want to pick an area that's going to see trouble down the road, go where all the other interns want to go," he said.
Meanwhile, Todd Haskins, a vice president in investment banking at Goldman, advised attendees to understand what exactly they would like to do before approaching bank recruiters.
Haskins, like Nielson, has a bit of an atypical background for a Wall Street dealmaker: six years in the Marines and an MBA from the University of Texas.
He went through 109 informational interviews before landing a job.
"If you're coming from a non-core school, you really, really have to work the network," he said.
Write to Kyle Stock