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Back from war but fighting for a job

Adam Schulz, 28, Chicago

Last Updated: February 3, 2009: 7:49 AM ET

(Fortune Magazine) -- Adam Schulz's online-networking profile says it all: "Combat veteran searching for job in Chicago. Strong background in leadership under pressure in hostile environments." It's a good thing Schulz has this kind of experience, because the streets of the Windy City are feeling almost as mean as those of Baghdad - at least when it comes to finding a project management job in technology or defense.

A 2002 West Point graduate with a 3.47 GPA in information-systems engineering, Schulz, 28, stood out at school and on the battlefield. He did two Iraq tours, one in 2003 and one in 2007, as a platoon leader and an executive officer, respectively. In between he was selected for specialized leadership training and was an aide-de-camp for a one-star general in Germany. In Iraq he helped reduce attacks in his area by some 90% on his first tour and trained a local police battalion in his second.

It was during that tour that one of his best friends from West Point was killed by a sniper. Schulz took a one-month leave and eventually decided to exit the Army in March 2008. Since then his civilian job search has been a nonstop losing battle. "I've gone to multiple interviews where I felt like the next step was going to be an offer; they call and say they love you. And in about a month or two they come back and say they really wanted you, 'but because of current economic situations ...' It's happened about six times now," Schulz says.

A Louisville native who likes snowboarding and watching ultimate fighting, Schulz has connected with search firms that specialize in placing military veterans, like the Lucas Group, and says he has applied for more than 200 jobs on CareerBuilder and Monster in the past year - with, he says, "absolutely no response." Believing that he'd land something quickly with so much real-world experience, he bought an apartment last May. Now struggling to pay the mortgage, he's doing some bartending and temp work and has joined the National Guard. He's also considering going back to school for a joint MBA and master's in engineering management.

Schulz is confused and frustrated by the fact that his accomplishments in Iraq haven't found him a home in the business world. Some companies, like APP Pharmaceuticals, have focused on his lack of industry experience, but he thinks leading a platoon in war gives him a kind of outlook on life that most employees will never know.

"The greatest aspect that leaders bring to the table is the ability to be adaptable," he argues. "You're just given a bunch of people to be in charge of and told to figure it out. That's what I try to express to companies." Most perplexing of all is that Schulz thought he'd done all the right things. "When you're at West Point, everybody tells you that if you do decide to leave, you'll have so many possibilities you won't know what to do with them," he says. They didn't count on an economy like this one.

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