Arash Asady left the U.S. Marine Corps. in 2011 after a little more than four years of service.
Despite his training, experience, and dedication to the Armed Forces, his outlook was bleak thanks to a rough job market.
After submitting his application and resume for more than 40 positions, he searched for other, less traditional ways to do what he loved.
That’s when he found the NYSE Euronext (NYX) Veterans Associate Program: A 10-week internship for America’s bravest that aims to give them skills essential to pursue a career on Wall Street.
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You have the best and brightest in the country who truly believe in what we’ve done and will support us. People who believe we have the skills and the integrity to work in this environment.
“Before joining the program here, the economy, the way it was, it was challenging to find a job,” Asady said. “It’s programs like these that allow veterans to really enter into the corporate world and bring the skills they have from the military and show everyone what we really have to offer.”
Brothers in Arms: From Battlefield to Wall Street
Mark Otto is managing director at J. Streicher & Co – he’s worked on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for more than 20 years. And like Asady, he’s a Marine Corp. veteran, serving also as the co-chairman of the NYSE Euronext Veterans ERG.
Otto said he was home on leave, in his third year as a Marine, when he met his friend's boss, who just so happened to work on the trading floor. Like Otto now, the former Marine worked at NYSE for more than 25 years and was looking for a way to give back.
“He asked me what I was going to do when I got out – I had one year left – I was fifth in my family to serve in the military and serve in war. However, I knew I wanted to do my four years and then get out. So he got me my first entry-level position with Spear, Leads, & Kellogg. Back then it was the largest firm on the floor.”
Slideshow: Brothers in Arms Aid in Transition to Civilian Life
Otto said there are an array of skills veterans bring with them to the floor of the exchange, and he’s honored to take part in helping people like himself transition from a career of service to one in the civilian world.
“Mental toughness is what’s going to get you through,” he said. “I think that’s an advantage (the program participants) have over civilians that are in tough situations (on the floor). They’ve stuck it out. They’ve been through war. They know what toughness is.”
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In that regard, he compares life in the Marines to a career on the Street.
“It’s a whole lot different being behind en enemy lines on a small scout team during a war, than being here,” he said. “However, there are similarities. The ultimate risk is human life. So, when you’re out there, making decisions on a battlefield, that impacts the people on your team, who you’re responsible for bringing back to friendly lines. It’s a much greater risk than numbers. Numbers can’t kill you. But the risk is great down here. It’s a pressure cooker environment.”
For many veterans, transitioning from a military life to one in the civilian world can be the hardest part of leaving the armed forces. But for young veterans, another major hurdle to overcome is unemployment.
The national unemployment rate sits at 7.4%, but the rate for veterans 18 and older creeps behind at 6.4%, according to the Labor Department.
Grant Borgelt is an associate at NYSE in the Veterans Associate Program. He spent four years in the Marine Corps, capped off with an 8-1/2 month tour in Afghanistan.
“It was definitely an eye-opening experience,” he said. “The time I spent in Afghanistan, I (only) saw a paved road twice. I was with a good unit, but seeing the contrast between that and what you see every day in New York – it’s a very rural, agriculture-based society and a lot of poverty – something that’s very different.”
After leaving the military in the spring of 2010, he moved home to San Francisco before going back overseas, this time for a degree in international relations at the London School of Economics. But, even with two degrees and four years of military service under his belt, Borgelt still didn’t know what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.
He said before he found the Veterans Associate Program, he was shot down for job, after job, after job.
“I’m 27 years old. I’m older than the average person looking for an entry-level job because I don’t have industry experience,” he said. “Twenty-two year olds have more experience than I do.”
He said the hardest part about the job search for veterans is it’s difficult to accurately communicate how the responsibilities and tasks they had in the military translate to careers in the corporate space.
“When you enter an occupation, you need to develop confidence, understand fundamentals of the business, then take on more responsibilities. I have that appreciation – but when you talk to hiring managers, if there’s not some accommodation (for veterans), or appreciation that someone who spends for or six years (in the military) they’ll need a different channel to enter into the corporate world than the average person who finished college. In a sense, it’s frustrating because trying to get your first break is very difficult.”
Noelle Cherubim participated in the program this year, working in information technology in the human resources department at NYSE. She served eight years in the Army and completed her service last year. She experienced the same kind of difficulty during her transition back into civilian life.
“When I got out of the military, it was overwhelming,” she said. “You leave a sense of stability and comfort, and at that time, I had no idea what I was going to do.”
Thanks to her desire to keep busy, while she continued to look for professional careers, she started her own non-profit called Les Artistes de Cherubim, which forges lines of communication between an array of cultures.
Now, she balances her work at the non-profit with her internship at NYSE. But she said it’s the military that’s given her a sense of dedication and an ability to take pride in the things to which you commit. She says her experience with the veterans program means “absolutely everything” to her.
“You have the best and brightest in the country who truly believe in what we’ve done and will support us. People who believe we have the skills and the integrity to work in this environment,” she said. “They expect us to be great at it, with the right support and the majority of us are, and I’m very proud of us…we’re proving that we are happy to be here, grateful that we can do this work, and we’ll go above and beyond to meet what has been assigned to us.”
Borgelt said the NYSE program was the first real opportunity he’s had to get into the financial services space – and the only equalizer he’s found to help him, and other veterans, transition into the civilian corporate world.
Not only has the program provided him with experience -- it’s also given him more marketable attributes that make him more desirable to future employers.
“As I interview, I’m much more confident, and sometimes, I’m interviewing outside the capital markets, but I’m able to talk about industry experience that companies find valuable. For many people, military experience is hard to relate to, so when you talk about something everyone knows, it starts a conversation,” he said.
As his internship ends, Borgelt says he’s looking for a job with a management consulting firm, but ultimately, he’d love to start and run a non-profit organization similar to the Rockefeller Foundation. For him, the ultimate goal is about giving back to society and making an impact on the lives of others.
Cherubim’s goal is to continue working with her non-profit, but pursue a career in the financial industry.
Geared-Up with Street Smarts
The NYSE Euronext Veterans Associate Program, the brainchild of CEO Duncan Niederauer, has now put the wraps on its second year.
Out of the 15 veterans who participated in the program last year, six were hired by the exchange, four received jobs externally, and the rest went back to school. It’s not clear yet how many of the 28 veterans who participated in this year’s 10-week internship will receive jobs with NYSE or its exchange partners.
“This is a great stepping stone,” Ed Hunter, executive vice president of human resources for NYSE Euroxnext said. “We can’t guarantee a job for these folks, but we can certainly give them the experience over 10 weeks here that they can put on their resume.”
Otto reinforces that point, saying the experience they gain working at NYSE is unlike anything else these veterans will find.
Otto’s best piece of advice to those who intend to pursue a career on the street is simple: Persevere through any challenge and stick it out until the end.
He said the group of veterans in the program this year represents every branch of the armed forces. And coming from very diverse military backgrounds, like special operations or intelligence, all bring something different to the table.
“They’re all really embracing being here, getting the exposure to the floor environment, seeing what it’s like to actually be a trader down here and being able to tap somebody on the shoulder that’s actually worn a uniform before that people are comfortable with, “ Otto said.
Asady agrees. He said despite the learning curve, he’s learned a lot this summer, and wants to pursue a degree in finance. In the short term, he’d like to finish-up his master’s degree at Columbia University in New York City. But long-term, he’s eyeing a position as a head trader at a hedge fund.
“This program means a lot to me,” he said. “It’s been a great learning experience. I’ve gotten to meet a lot of professionals on Wall Street, and when I look back 10 to 15 years from now, then I’ll definitely know this was the place where I started my career, and I’ll hopefully can come back and thank everyone here.”