The Hiring our Heroes program led former combat engineer Dan Eckstein to a new career in recruiting.
The Hiring our Heroes program led former combat engineer Dan Eckstein to a new career in recruiting.

Dan Eckstein’s first major career transition came when he left his job at Aaron’s Sales & Lease to become an Army combat engineer. For his second, he turned to the Hiring Our Heroes Corporate Fellowship Program.

Through hands-on corporate training, mentoring and educational sessions, the 12-week fellowship program gives service members who are transitioning out of the military the skills they need to succeed in mid-level management in the civilian workforce.

In a typical class, 15-30 active duty service members — all in their last six months of service — are interviewed and matched with host companies. One week of corporate training is followed by 11 weeks of on-the-job training with a host company.

According to Program Manager Lindsay Teplesky, the program has a national placement rate of 80 percent, and the national average for salaries is $70,000.

Eckstein heard about the program as he was starting his transition out of the Army last January.

He began to focus on a career as a recruiter, and — unlike most service members, who are matched with firms already participating — he ultimately recruited his preferred host company to the program.

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“I started doing my research on recruiting agencies, staffing agencies, and Aerotek is the No. 1 company that comes up,” Eckstein recalled. “The culture in this company is top notch so I knew that I wanted to be a part of it. … I asked them if they’d have me for the duration of the fellowship and they agreed.”

Aerotek Account Manager Gentry Mercer said getting involved was “a great experience.

“It brought a fantastic candidate to the table for us and while it gave him an opportunity to judge our business, it also gave us the opportunity to see how he would fit within our culture and what he would bring … as an internal employee,” he said. “We’ll look to continue to partner with the organization not only to help benefit our organization but to help benefit the folks who have served our country and are getting out, and give them the opportunity to get out there and see what we’re about.”

A native of Addison, N.Y., Eckstein earned a degree in sport management before enlisting and serving seven years in the Army. He was stationed at Fort Carson right out of basic training and, apart from deploying twice to Afghanistan, he never left.

Eckstein’s time with Aerotek was critical to his success after leaving the Army — not least of all because the company hired him.

“From the start the [fellowship] program director, Lindsay Teplesky, says that full-time employment is not guaranteed in this program,” Eckstein said. “What is guaranteed is you’re going to be partnered with a company, you’re going to gain valuable real-life experience outside of the military — and that’s what it’s all about.

“[When] you’re in the military you’re used to a certain way of life, and it’s an eye-opener to how things work outside of the military if you’ve been doing this for a long time … you get used to doing the same thing over and over again.

“It’s nice to find that there’s other things that you’re good at and you can succeed outside of the military.”

Aerotek made Eckstein a full-time job offer Nov. 9, the day his fellowship ended. He is now a recruiter for the firm.

Kaitlin Brinker is embarking on the same journey, as she separates from the Army after eight years.

A military intelligence officer, Brinker will start the fellowship program Jan. 22, working at Springs-based aerospace and tech solutions firm Rim Technologies four days a week.

“It’s so daunting transitioning from the military,” Brinker said, because military intelligence doesn’t translate in an obvious way to any career that will fit her family life — she has an 11-month-old son and her husband is still in the military.

“I’m looking for something with a little bit more stability. For me it’s ‘Oh my gosh, the whole world is out here!’ and it’s almost like starting anew,” she said. “I went to West Point, so ever since I was 18, there’s never really been a question of what I was going to do … this is the first time where it’s really, ‘All right, pick your flavor.’”

Through the program, participants learn about negotiating salary and benefits, professional certifications, and how to be resilient in the job-seeking process.

According to Hiring Our Heroes, fellowship graduates go on to positions typically requiring a bachelor’s degree, including IT and cyber, business development, talent management, program management, project engineering, data analysis and financial analysis.

Brinker doesn’t yet know what she wants to do after leaving the Army, but she’s confident the fellowship will help her find a path.

“As I’m heading into this, I know it’s such a unique opportunity and I’ve met so many employers who say, ‘I wish this was around when I was transitioning out of the military’ — so I’m really grateful for the opportunity to build a safety net for myself,” she said. “It’s such a tremendous program and I hope it continues to grow across the country.”

Fort Carson is one of 12 military installations nationwide participating in the program, managed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.