Wall Street offers veterans a foot in the door

Angela Johnson, Special to CNBC
People browse booths at a military veterans' job fair in Carson, Calif., October 3, 2014.
Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

Chris Phillips' enthusiasm was hard to miss. With a broad smile and a firm handshake, she made sure each veteran waiting to speak with her received her complete time and attention.

Phillips, a military recruiter, talent management specialist for PNC Bank and Marine Corps veteran, is part of a contingent of Veterans on Wall Street (VOWS). The group, which held a conference at Goldman Sachs' headquarters in New York City last week, aims to help former service members land jobs in the rough and tumble world of finance.

The fourth annual "Veteran Employment Symposium and Resource Fair" is an added bonus for an industry that is often viewed with deep scorn by the public, especially after the financial crisis of 2008. Those problems, however, don't deter people like Phillips, who called the veterans who come out looking for employment "the best of the best."

She added: "These candidates come here ready to work." Out of the stack of resumes she accumulated, Phillips said she would move forward with about 10 candidates.

VOWS is backed by some of the biggest names in the financial world such as Deutsche Bank, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs. In 2012, JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon bragged that his bank —Wall Street's biggest—hired the equivalent of 10 veterans per day. The bank also provides perks such as premium checking accounts to former service members.

Most of the recruiters at the conference had effusive praise for former servicemen and women. Still, Wall Street's efforts have yet to put a dent in veteran's unemployment, which stands at 7.2 percent—well above the national rate of 5.8 percent.

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Both the U.S. Defense and Labor secretaries have recently encouraged private sector employers to hire more veterans. Still, trying to absorb the more than 200,000 service members that exit the U.S. armed forces each year can be a challenge, especially for the veterans themselves.

Levi Howze, 27, a Detroit native and former captain in the U.S. Army could not help but be slightly intimidated by the range of businesses and banks at the VOWS conference.

"Coming out of the Army the financial services industry can be intimidating," Howze said. "But there are people here that are clearly interested in hiring. They don't want to offer veterans jobs, they want to offer veterans careers."

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According to a spokesperson for Goldman Sachs, last week's event drew a record 728 attendees. Many of those were males, a fact that Julian Leone, vice president of private wealth management at Goldman Sachs, acknowledged to CNBC.

"The veteran population is a small subset of the overall population, but female veterans are an even smaller subset of the veteran population," said Leone, himself a veteran. However, "we want them here; we want them at events like this," he added.

Neva Jones, from Woodside, New York, was one of the female veterans seeking a job. She recently retired from the Navy after 20 years of service as an aviation administrator.

"I didn't think New York was vet friendly, but this event put a smile on my face," Jones said. "I have been overwhelmed by the transition, and it was nice to see people really willing to help."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified one of the banks sponsoring Veterans on Wall Street.