Startup Educates Vets for Jobs in Tech

After transitioning out of the U.S. Navy in 2012, Justin Ossola (GRD ’13) knew his next step. He dreamed of going into high-tech sales and working for technology giants such as Google, Microsoft Corp. and Oracle Corp. Right out of the Navy, Ossola thought his experience and determination would be enough for him to find placement within the competitive industry.

“You build a pretty strong skill set in communications, relationship-building and teamwork [in the Navy], so I saw sales as a path for me to get into corporate leadership,” Ossola said.

Although he set his sights on the tech sales industry, Ossola encountered a reality he could not accept. Employers constantly told him that his lack of overall experience made him a less-than-ideal candidate for work in sales. With such barriers to opportunity, Ossola found himself confused and frustrated with the way that transitioning veterans could not find jobs in this particular industry.

“I encountered a question that I believe our company now addresses,” Ossola said. “Is high-tech sales an industry that is completely blocked off from transitioning military veterans? The answer was a resounding ‘yes.’”

His struggles with finding employment within the tech sales industry as a veteran pushed Ossola to co-found the startup Tech Qualled alongside several of his other academic and military colleagues.

TQ’s mission is to create a pipeline to help transitioning veterans find their way into the technology industry. However, Ossola distinguishes TQ from larger recruiting companies that, he said, hardly do any good for the sake of veterans.

“It’s a really watered-down business,” Ossola said. “[Other firms] operate on volume, trying to get as many people hired a year, and they’re no value, no training. They just take your resume and throw it into a pool for poor quality jobs. … That is the industry we are aiming to disrupt.”

Ossola said what allows TQ to distinguish itself from other firms is its niche size and its ability to provide the attention and training veterans need to find their way into sales.

Because of TQ’s size, prospective veteran applicants go through three interviews before being approved by a special committee. The program only accepts about 15 to 20 candidates every three months, and is currently interviewing a total of 250 candidates for the first ever session.

The program lasts 10 weeks, during which veterans learn virtually for six weeks and in-person for four weeks. Active duty soldiers can also participate in the full program through video-calling software. The final weeks of the program take place in Texas, where the veterans go through final training sessions and exercises to prepare them for future careers. All of the training services are offered free of charge thanks to TQ’s partner institutions.

For Lauren Burnell, a deployed veteran enrolled in the program, TQ’s greatest strength lies in the way the TQ teams treat every individual enrollee.

“[The TQ team] is so invested in each and every TQ veteran and dedicated to our learning and success,” Burnell wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This is not just a placement and sourcing firm; they are mentoring and shaping candidates to have upward mobility in the high-tech sales industry for the long haul.”

At the completion of the program, several different companies approach the veterans for actual jobs in sales, meaning that they can find assurance and security in future careers.

“It’s really designed so that the veteran, who was deployed maybe only a few months ago, can be standing in front of any CEO and deliver a successful pitch,” Ossola said. “But we don’t consider ourselves a recruiting company. Our focus always has been and will be on training and education.”

While the startup is in its first year, TQ’s biggest challenge has been changing the mindset of employers. According to Ossola, veteran recruitment must become more creative.

“The biggest challenge is trying to convince people that their current options of where they hire talent is not good enough,” Ossola said. “There are norms that need to be overcome, so when we come in, it can be challenging to help them think differently.”

For veteran Brian Papke (GRD ’17), a company like TQ is another bridge for transitioning veterans into greater private-sector roles.

“I am not someone thinking about sales myself, but I recognize the value of such a company immediately,” Papke said. “It seems more about the actual process of taking the time to help veterans find the careers they are looking for rather than mindlessly shifting their resumes from firm to firm.”

Going forward, Ossola believes that TQ’s future lies in its status as a niche program to serve transitioning veterans as best as possible.

“It’s a career path that was previously too narrow for veterans to move through,” Ossola said. “Right now, we’re small, we’re niche. … We’re just focused on unlocking that career path for our veterans.”

Despite its limited scope, Burnell wrote in his email that TQ is producing tangible change in the veteran community.

“High tech sales is a field that’s near impossible to break into without on-the-job industry experience … which none of us have when we transition from active duty,” Burnell wrote. “Tech Qualled is not only bridging that gap, they are genuinely passionate about helping veterans succeed.”

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