Preparing for success; Hiring Our Heroes readies service members for civilian careers

Hiring Our Heroes participants have the opportunity to attend corporate leadership and development trainings during the 12-week program. (Photo courtesy of Hiring Our Heroes)

After 20 years in the Army, Maj. Jason Zeruto of the 780th Military Intelligence Brigade is narrowing the number of civilian career options as he prepares to transition out of the military.

In an effort to solidify job prospects after he goes on transition leave May 1, Zeruto is participating in the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program.

The 12-week program “provides transitioning service members and military spouses with management training and hands-on experience in the civilian workforce,” according to the program’s website.

Each year, three cohorts of 30 service members participate as fellows.

“Eighty percent of fellows receive and accept job offers by their host or other companies,” said Crystal Cochran, the Hiring Our Heroes program manager.

Hiring Our Heroes is a vetted Career Skills Program, which falls under the Army Education Center, and is the Army component of the Department of Defense SkillsBridge program, said Cindy Borges-Suarez, Career Skills Program administrator at Fort Meade.

The fellowship is part of Fort Belvoir’s Career Skills Program in Virginia. Since Fort Meade is within a 50-mile radius, transitioning service members and military spouses are eligible to participate.

Civilian Job Experience

Zeruto is completing his fellowship at Amazon in the Business Development department.

“What I found is that [Amazon’s] leadership principals very much align with the military,” he said. “… That’s kind of nice because coming from the military, it’s much easier to follow that kind of structure.”

During a weeklong Soldier For Life-Transition Assistance Program course, Zeruto learned about about the Hiring Our Heroes program.

To apply, candidates must fill out an online questionnaire, submit a letter of intent and a civilian resume, and obtain their commander’s approval.

They also must agree to remain in the area after separation.

“They don’t want to accept somebody that’s going to go back to their home or go to another state,” Zeruto said. “You’re going to do a fellowship with a company here, and the intent is for you to get that job.”

After submitting his application, Zeruto was contacted for an in-person interview with Cochran.

He had to answer questions about why he wanted to participate in the program and what his desired salary would be. A week later, Zeruto was notified that he had been accepted into the program.

“From start to finish, they really set you up for success,” he said.

Hiring Our Heroes provides its fellows with resume consulting, LinkedIn networking tips and interview practice with human resources representatives from civilian businesses.

“The [Hiring Our Heroes] program has really assisted me in the interviewing process and understanding how to communicate my value to the commercial or private sector,” Zeruto said. “That’s been invaluable. It gives me more confidence going into an interview.

“The program itself, beyond just the fellowship piece of it, gets you out one day a week to other companies as part of its corporate leadership training.”

The program farms out participants’ resumes to its partner businesses. The business representatives review the resumes and identify those individuals they’d be interested in interviewing.

After the interviews, both the participant and the company representative rate each other. If there’s a match, the Hiring Our Heroes program manager pairs them up.

“We focus on placing fellows into fellowships that are the right fit for each individual,” Cochran said. “The goal of the program is to build bridges around each fellow during their transition to assure that they have great opportunities as they emerge into the civilian sector.”

Zeruto feels his placement at Amazon was a perfect fit.

“That’s the piece that the Hiring Our Heroes program does a very good job at,” Zeruto said. “They do a really good job at identifying the candidate’s skill sets and evaluating them from a personality perspective.

“They really try to plug certain individuals into companies they think is probably going to be a good fit.”

A Career Match

Zeruto is in his seventh week as a fellow at Amazon and has fully embraced the experience.

“They have high standards,” he said. “… I like that environment; it’s very competitive. I couldn’t have asked for a better match.”

Without Hiring Our Heroes, Zeruto doesn’t know how far he would have made it through Amazon’s hiring process.

“I do not know that I would have made it through the initial screening process had it not been for the opportunity through Hiring Our Heroes,” he said. “I think service members bring incredible value. How they communicate that value is really how they’re going to get that first opportunity at an interview.

“Hiring Our Heroes allows there to be a bridge created that really assists [service members] getting that opportunity to just get to the table and talk.”

‘A Tremendous Benefit’

Another benefit to being a Hiring Our Heroes fellow is the opportunity for service members to build their professional network.

“Being service members, our circles are oftentimes other service members,” Zeruto said. “My network is not as powerful as somebody who has been working in the commercial sector for the past 20 years.

“Going into the fellowship allows service members to rapidly expand their network outside of the military.”

While a job offer after the fellowship isn’t guaranteed, participants have the opportunity to interview for a vacant position within the company.

“Through this [fellowship] process, multiple companies have reached out to me to see if I was interested in applying for positions,” Zeruto said. “That’s the additional value of the program. Even if I don’t go to Amazon, I feel more secure in finding employment elsewhere.”

As a member of the 780th MI, Zeruto is bringing his civilian career experience back to the force.

“I’ve already set up a Leaders Professional Development session [for the 780th MI],” he said. “Amazon solutions architects are going to come talk about cloud computing and how the architecture works.

“There’s tremendous benefit to the force, there’s tremendous benefit to the veterans. Educating commanders and really informing service members of the opportunities and the process [is really important].”

Editor’s note: The deadline to apply for the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program fall cohort is June 23. Apply online.

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