"It was frustrating," he says. "I wanted to earn my merits based on my resume and being able to interview and selling myself. I didn't want to call somebody to help me get a job, but networking is what it is."
Without a financial services background, wealth management was not top of mind. It was not immediately clear how what he learned in combat or how any amount of muscle memory he had would help him remember everything he need to know for a test like the Series 7.
A fellow Marine, Kyle Robichaux, regional leader for military recruiting at Edward Jones, first put the idea of being an advisor in Smith's head, and Smith's wife, Emily, finally convinced him. She had heard from Robichaux's wife during dinner that advisors' hours were more conducive to family life and lightened after about the first two years. Since the couple had spent more than half of their 13 years of marriage apart, they liked the idea of something that would allow them to remain in one place together.
"My wife was pushing me into it more than I was at first," Smith remembers. "My wife understands that I might have a Saturday meeting every now and then when I get longer in the tooth, but I might not work as many total hours in the day, so I'm looking forward to that."
Many of those returning, especially younger generations from recent conflicts, face a similar challenge. As of October of 2012, one in ten Gulf War era II (post-9/11) veterans was unemployed according to the Department of Labor, and that number is as high as 23.8% for those age 20 to 24. That compares with a little over 7% of the general population.
Linking Two Unrelated Fields
Over drinks with colleagues at other large firms in New York, Runnion of Bank of America Merrill Lynch decided it was his mission to find ways to bring veterans to Wall Street. As a result, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs pooled their resources and co-founded Veterans On Wall Street in 2011 to help with the mission "to honor and employ" former military personnel by hosting annual conferences and career fairs.
"Whether it's giving them roles inside the bank or giving them direction or other career opportunities, we have a debt as veterans," Runnion says. "And that debt is to protect those who came before us and gave us this opportunity and educate those who came after us."
Sometimes the connection between the two industries is not clear for recruiters, however. Veterans can look very different from a stereotypical career changer, especially on paper, according to Eberlin. He and other members of the talent acquisition team at Edward Jones studied their existing pool of 1,300 veterans and consulted with military employment agencies to come up with a rubric for identifying veteran talent.
"The way you translate a military veteran's experience and track record of success compared to a career changer that's nonmilitary is competencies," Eberlin explains. "We believe one of the most important competencies is the ability to build relationships. We know this is a people business."
Smith did not have a masters or financial services degree, but he had spent the last 16 years dealing with sensitive information, protecting Marine troops and building relationships with sources on the ground in places like Fallujah, Iraq. At the least, it gave Smith some added confidence when he went into the "Know Your Customer" classes to practice conversations with a prospective client.
"I've been role playing forever in the Marine Corps," Smith explains, careful to draw the line between the two fields. "I'm talking body language and stuff like that when dealing with a client. I do not interrogate clients."
In addition to metrics such as rank, qualifications like a security clearance, for example, can reveal a level of trustworthiness, James Schmeling managing director and co-founder of the Institute for Veterans and Military Families, a nonprofit partnered with JP Morgan and Syracuse University, says. In many cases, firms can also be confident that the veteran will not have any criminality, because that would have led to a dishonorable discharge.
"If you think about characteristics and traits of military members you can go immediately to trust and integrity," he says.
As an added benefit of their discipline and ability to adhere to structures, veterans are quick to adapt to the regulatory environment as well, according to Schmeling.
"The ability to follow rules and regulations laid out is a very important thing veterans bring to the table in this industry," Schmeling says.