Hiring Our Heroes: A Win-Win for Veterans and Organizations
Connor Walraven served in the U.S. Army for nearly nine years. His service took him to Afghanistan and across the U.S. But when he was ready to get married and start a family, he began to want more stability than his high-paced unit could provide. As he prepared to transition to civilian work, he realized he was ready for an entirely new career direction.
“I wanted to try something outside my wheelhouse. Pursing a new challenge was a huge motivational factor for me," he says. But changing career paths can be challenging for anyone, especially veterans who are already facing the transition out of military service and into the civilian workforce.
Kevin Betts, a Leidos host manager for the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program, explains that while military service members learn tremendous skills in the field, it's often unclear how their experience matches up to corporate roles.
“Hiring Our Heroes helps them facilitate their transition, teaching them how to use their skills in a corporate setting," he explains. Connor notes that his Hiring Our Heroes fellowship with Leidos not only provided an opportunity for him to use his degree but also to learn an entirely new skillset.
As part of Operation MVP, Leidos has participated in Hiring Our Heroes since 2019. During that time, we've hosted 31 active-duty corporate fellows, many of whom we've hired post-fellowship. For example, Mark Johnson, a 26-year Navy veteran and current Director of Quality for the Leidos Health Group, has hosted nine of those fellows, four of which were later hired, including Connor.
"When I retired from the Navy in 2012, I didn't find the type of help offered through Hiring Our Heroes," he says. "It took me four months to find my first job, and I treated that search like a full-time job. I'm glad to help lower that burden for people currently making the same transition." He notes that the fellows coming through Hiring Our Heroes have a lot to offer.
"Hiring great people is challenging, but hosting fellows from Hiring Our Heroes makes it a lot easier," Mark says. "I look for discipline, motivation and leadership. Almost anyone who comes out of the military has those attributes. Plus, these people are motivated by a strong desire to continue progressing in their careers."
Kevin agrees that corporate partners like Leidos can benefit greatly from programs like Hiring Our Heroes.
“Veterans have a unique operational understanding of how tech is used in the field that we otherwise wouldn't have. My group develops solutions for the warfighter, but a majority of our engineers haven't served. We can't fully understand the challenges military members face in the field or how our products fit into their experience," Kevin says. “Veterans are an ideal bridge, bringing valuable perspectives and hands-on experience that improve how we design and develop our technology to best support soldiers in an extreme, high-pressure environment."
With a brother and several friends who've served, Kevin also appreciates how participating in this program allows him to support military members by helping them make a successful transition after their service.
“I have immense respect for their service to our country. I feel I owe it to them to help with their transition," he says.
How Hiring Our Heroes Helps Veterans Overcome Challenges While Transitioning to Civilian Work
Military resumés don't always translate to civilian jobs. And, even when military members have skills that easily transfer, they might feel rusty.
“It could be many years since they've put those skills to use, so they need to dust them off and even learn updated versions to stay relevant," Kevin says. A corporate fellowship through Hiring Our Heroes offers a low-pressure environment to learn new skills and brush up on old ones.
Connor joined the Leidos Health Group as one of Mark's corporate fellows in the summer of 2022. During his fellowship, every Friday was reserved for Hiring Our Heroes career briefings on topics such as resumé tailoring, salary negotiations and online job search tools. Connor spent the other four workdays at Leidos.
“Mark created an entire training program for us," Connor says. “I learned a completely new skill set in quality assurance through hands-on experiences, received well-rounded development opportunities like human dynamics, and got to see a sample of career paths at Leidos."
By the time Connor was hired as a full-time employee in the Leidos Intelligence Group, he'd met several Leidos mentors during his fellowship, including fellow Army veteran Stepan Provorov.
“Stepan was a helpful outlet while I worked through common frustrations related to transitioning out of the military. Plus, he wrote me an amazing letter of recommendation," Connor says, noting that he also got to meet directors and executives who, veterans themselves, could relate to what he was going through. “Mark also sat down with each Hiring Our Heroes fellow to learn what we were interested in and then made internal introductions to help us pursue our interests."
He says this consistent, open communication with Leidos leadership and their actionable support motivated him to pursue a career at Leidos.
“I'm still getting help," Connor says. “My boss is constantly giving me varied experiences and helping to upskill me." Thanks to Mark's successful training program with Hiring Our Heroes, even more Leidos teams are planning to host fellows.
"Recently I got to share information about our fellowship. After that call, I got 75 emails from people who are interested," Mark says. "I'm happy that more people at Leidos are starting to engage so we can take on even more fellows from Hiring Our Heroes."
For his part, Kevin also plans to continue hosting fellows.
“It's the perfect chance for both sides to assess fit," he says. “And, even if fellows don't end up working for Leidos long term, they gain skills and experience to set them up for success as they move forward in their civilian career."