A reader recently sent me this anguished email:
“I am a retired Marine Corps veteran and have built my résumé up considerably since I retired and also recently received two college degrees. I have a profile on LinkedIn. I have been applying for jobs for two years now and have officially quit!
“The nail that closed the coffin shut is when I applied for 25 jobs in the [northern Virginia/Washington, D.C.] area on USAJobs.com, and was denied on all of them. I am physically and mentally worn [out] from applying. In some ways it has made me feel like I’m nothing but a loser and a failure.”
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for veterans to face a situation such as this retiree is going through. When you send out numerous applications to companies and agencies and don’t hear back, it can shred your confidence and self-esteem.
In this specific case, serving for over 20 years and earning two degrees should make for a great candidate for employment. A few observations on things that may be holding him back from getting the response he’s looking for:
Ageism: Sadly, it exists — and it’s something many older veterans are finding difficult to overcome. You won’t be required to give your age when filling out an application for a job. But you will have to provide dates of prior employment and education, from which a hiring manager could deduce your age range. Could this cause a problem? Yes, but there’s not much you can do except be sure to highlight your strong points and hope honesty and fairness will prevail over discrimination.
Location: Although northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., are known for being the main hub of federal employment openings, you could be passing up many opportunities elsewhere. By focusing on only one specific location, you’re limiting your options. If possible, expand the distance on your job search. For example, if was doing a job search and extended it out to 50 miles from where I live, I would find a plethora of job opportunities in New York City that are within easy commuting distance by train.
College education: Having experience and a college education should help in so many ways. But you could be overlooked if you’re missing a certification or license that is required in the civilian sector. Make sure your degree will equip you with the appropriate accreditation that will be accepted by the companies and agencies you’re looking to work for, and make sure you have the right certifications and licenses.
Military experience: Is your military service related to the civilian occupation you’re seeking? If not, this could be a factor that contributes to you not getting a callback. I was in Air Force security forces; would I be a better candidate for a maritime security position compared to someone who served in Navy security forces? Probably not, simply because of the different duties and training required.
Competition: Being a veteran certainly can give you a leg up in the job market. Many vets will be eligible for 5- or 10-point veterans’ preference for federal jobs, for example. But keep in mind that competition is stiff. Even when applying for federal jobs, you’ll still be competing not only with civilians, but potentially thousands of others veterans who could be applying for the same jobs.
It might sound like cold comfort, but there’s no upside to throwing in the towel. Make sure your resume is wired tight, try to gradually expand the geographic area(s) in which you’re job-searching, and keep plugging away.