Iraq War Veteran Finds that the
Highly Qualified Need Not Apply

A former Air Force officer looks for work in a recovering economy that doesn’t value skills, experience or sacrifice.

So here was this kid, a recent graduate from a fancy college, telling me, “Thanks for your interest in volunteering with us, but we don’t have any volunteer roles that fit your experience at this time.”

“Wait… what?” I quickly shot back. “Wait a minute. I thought I just clearly related to you how my skills and experience would be a great match for these projects… and you still think my skills aren’t a match? Is there something I’m missing here?”

Christian Knierim, author of this personal story of looking for work as an unemployed veteran.
Photo: Cliff Parker/New America Media

The author in San Francisco.

I would never have expected someone with my life experience and skills to be rejected for a volunteer position at a non-profit. I mean, doesn’t “volunteer” mean you work for free? Who turns down free stuff, especially if it’s work? Would you turn down someone if they offered to wash your car for free?

During my eight years as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, I had taken on a wide variety of roles around the world, operating in very fast-paced, multi-task environments. I had led teams of highly trained technicians, and had been involved in both developing and directly employing some very sophisticated and exciting technology. I had deployed with special operations forces in Iraq as an intelligence analyst hunting down international terrorists, and I had spent a year in South Korea as an expert on North Korea’s military capabilities.

But today, I was just looking to offer my expertise and experience in the hope of making some new networking contacts. The job search situation has been brutal for me during this great economic recession. I thought that, if anything, volunteering at a non-profit would let me add some civilian work experience to my résumé. More importantly, I believed that volunteering would get me engaged in a productive routine again, because the longer this job search lasts, the harder it is for me to stay motivated as my appetite for job hunting rapidly wanes.

I had been looking for a job for months, and I was very eager to break out of a demoralizing routine that begins every day as I struggle to get myself out of bed. Every morning, I lay awake in bed, mentally reviewing the previous day’s rejections and non-responses to job inquiries, and racking my brains to re-strategize my job search. I stare at the walls and ceiling, stare out the window, stare at the stuff in my room, agonizing over how to re-plan the rest of my life.