After meeting up with Charles Thamm, FedEx Office's Senior Corporate Recruiter (who also leads Veteran Hiring initiatives), I became immediately captivated with his story. From being homeless, to joining the Army, to now leading efforts for one of the top programs in the nation, Charles is a success story to never forget. I was grateful that his executive leadership and communications department gave me the opportunity to interview him.
Liz: Why did you join the military?
Charles: At the time, I was a mechanic for a Firestone Complete Auto Care store in Austin Texas. I didn’t feel like I had a sense of fulfillment in my life, but I felt like I was not smart enough to do anything else since I was a high school dropout.
I was in a bad relationship at the time as well and a friend who had always been interested in the military called me and said, “Dude, just get out of there. Come join the Army with me and start a new life. If you don’t like it after three years just get out.” That was enough to convince me, so I signed up.
What was your story prior to the military?
I was homeless by the age of 16. For a while, I was staying in people’s barns, under porches and sometimes behind the grocery store in town. Since it was a small town, people would buy pre-made food from the grocery store and eat it outside at tables; so, it was easy to get food there sometimes.
A guy I knew from school said I could stay with him in a trailer that only had three walls. The fourth wall was just plastic where the other piece of the double wide should’ve connected. I finally got a job at Taco Bell and started getting back on my feet. Slowly, after a couple of years, I became interested in mechanics, thanks to my grandpa, who helped me go to mechanic school at a local community college. I was too scared to actually go to degree level college classes because I thought I was not smart enough.
What did you do in the service? How long did you serve?
My position in the Army was an 11B Infantryman. I barely made the score to get into the Army due to my education level at the time, so there were not a lot of options for me. I served roughly ten and a half years, most of which was in Germany. I did three tours in Iraq with my unit out of Baumholder, Germany, before moving on. I spent my last three and a half years on recruiting duty which really helped kick-start my path.
Why did you get out of the service?
I left the military because my wife was pregnant with our daughter. She is our only child right now. I remember so many times my friends with kids would come home from duty and their children would not know who they were. They would be uncomfortable. They would miss so much of their children’s life. I have a lot of respect for the men, women and their families who can endure that and make it work because it is not easy. For me personally, I gave 10-plus years and I knew continuing to deploy every other year as an infantryman was not for me. I wanted to watch my daughter grow every single day.
What happened when you exited service?
I spent six months prior to my exit connecting with other professionals in the civilian recruiting sector. I was sending emails asking for advice to recruiters all over the nation. I spent most of that time asking for training and advice, rather than asking for a job. A man named Michael invested quite a bit of time in my professional development. He had roughly 20 years of recruiting experience, so he had a world of knowledge to share with me. Once I got closer to my service expiration, or ETS, I started revisiting my connections and seeing if they could introduce me to the right people. At that time, I had not completed my degree and the companies in the civilian sector did not feel my experience was relevant enough to the field. I ended up taking a position that only paid me half of what I was used to.
I ultimately had to sell my house and cars, all while my daughter was on the way. After six months at my first job, I finally made my way into my first corporate recruiting gig at a small corporation, but the pay was still very low. Finances were tight and my wife and I found an in-home daycare through Facebook because we couldn’t afford anything else. It was very scary going through all of this with my first child. Luckily, the daycare owner was a fantastic woman with a degree in child development.
Although I worked with some fantastic people in my immediate group at work, I was extremely unhappy with the company as a whole because it didn’t really align with my beliefs from a cultural and integrity standpoint. After one year with this particular organization, I was fired right before my daughter’s first Christmas. I knew I had to keep pushing so I could provide my family with a good Christmas. I had not completed my degree yet, so I was running into a lot of the same road blocks with limited experience and no degree. Finally, an old LinkedIn connection contacted me and said she had a three-month contract, but the job came with a long commute. I almost didn’t take it, but I knew I had to in order to take care of my family. Plus, I saw it as an opportunity to increase my skill sets. Little did I know, until I accepted, the position was with FedEx Office. I felt like I hit the jackpot.
Working at FedEx Office, allowed me to have a big corporation on my resume and learn the ins and outs of how a well-known, respectable company operates. When I started, I found out the position I was filling in for was vacant and needed to be filled. It only took a matter of weeks to realize this position was everything I dreamed about. My management team was fantastic. The expectation was to always work and hire ethically. They were helping people and doing amazing things in the communities. I worked my butt off to try and show them that although I had not completed my degree, I could bring value to their team.
At the completion of my contract, the management team made me a full-time offer and it has been life-changing for my family and me. I have now been with the company more than two years and I will likely be here as long as they will have me. I always tell everyone, I feel like I owe the company everything I can give because they initially believed in me and gave me a shot.
What would you say has contributed to your success story?
I really feel the biggest factor in obtaining my success is putting in the hard work and never quitting. No matter how bad things got I just pushed harder. If I had to give up sleep, I gave up sleep. I gave up visiting friends, hobbies and spare time activities. I learned to set goals and let nothing stand in the way of achieving them. If I see a peer working hard, I work even harder. I want to be the best and I will work as hard as I need to in order to be the best. Failure is just not an option in my mind anymore. Once I got into my course studies, I told myself making A’s were the only acceptable grades. I graduated with a 3.76 GPA, summa cum laude and added President’s List honors with my bachelor’s degree.
When I graduated, I decided I wanted to get special certification through my company. Once I obtained that, I decided I would get my Master’s degree, which I am currently pursuing, while maintaining a 3.98 GPA. I’ve learned you have to have passion for what you are doing. I am passionate about my company, about helping and putting people to work and most of all, I am passionate about providing a good life for my family. My wife and daughter deserve the best.
My wife was [also] a huge factor in my success. Obviously, while making my stride for success, it made it difficult to find time for our newborn who is now 3-years-old. My wife takes the majority of our home life on her shoulders and works just as hard, with just as much passion as I do, while still being a full-time office manager at another company.
What would you say to other military members when they are faced with adversity?
Charles: Don’t give up. Never accept defeat. Don’t just wander aimlessly when it comes to your career. Make strategic career and professional development goals and do not waiver from them. Find your passion and put everything you have into it. Get on LinkedIn and start connecting with other professionals in your field who have climbed the ladder of success and pick their brains. Surround yourself with good people and always try to do the right thing. Don’t job hop too often because recruiters look at that. Pick a company and stick with it. Be realistic and understand you may have to take a step back and move laterally to reestablish yourself. Don’t close doors to opportunities.
Lastly, no matter what, do not sacrifice your integrity. It is a quality few and far between nowadays. Hold it close and do the right thing and it will set you apart.
How do you pay it forward now?
I pay it forward by spending quite a bit of my personal time looking at other military members’ resumes, giving advice and sharing my story. I am limited on time due to pursuing personal goals I am working on, but I always make time to take on a few people to mentor. I actively participate in military job fairs and attend military best practices events. I also do public speaking when the opportunity arises to try and make an impact on those who need support. I never thought I would amount to anything in my life and I know there are many others out there who feel the same way, like they are not good enough, smart enough, or do not have the right connections. I take every chance I can to let those people know they can do it, but it just takes hard work and dedication. It doesn’t always come easy.