Today, Dan Berschinski is a happily engaged senior consultant at IBM, but in 2009 he was serving as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, leading a 35-soldier infantry platoon through an area of Afghanistan that was home to the Taliban – until an explosion robbed him not only of his legs but also of his lifelong goal of being an army officer.
After medically retiring from the military, Berschinski’s primary focus was on recovery. “I found a lot of strength in my background,” he says. “As odd as it may sound, one of the great things that the military does, especially for its leaders, is it trains you in and acclimates you to dealing with ambiguity and adversity – especially at the same time.”
Despite his veteran status, Dan sees himself first and foremost as a person with a disability. “The veteran aspect doesn’t really come into play in my daily work life; what does is being disabled,” Berschinski says. “I look different. I’m going to roll up in a wheelchair – they’re not expecting that. So the disability has a larger impact on my life than the veteran status does.”
Fortunately, Berschinski’s military experience qualified him for the Veteran Readiness and Employment program (formerly known as Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment) through the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, which helps with job training, education, and employment accommodations.
In Berschinski’s case, the program would cover the cost of his continued studies should he decide to further his education. As a graduate of West Point, Berschinski applied to some of the nation’s top business programs and was accepted into Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.
However, Berschinski soon realized that entrepreneurship was not the right career for him. “I really wanted to rewind time and say, ‘Alright, what else could I have done right after graduation?’” he recalls. “I had always been interested in consulting, but I didn’t know how to break into it.”
“BreakLine was recommended to me by several veteran friends,” Berschinski says. “They offer advice and preparation, but primarily they offer staffing resources.” Those resources led Berschinski to IBM, where he now does strategy consulting through the Enterprise Strategy group.
Putting Your Strongest Skills to Work for Yourself
BreakLine Education is an organization focused on helping high-performing veterans, women, and people of color pivot into top tech companies. “What we believe here at BreakLine is that excellence is transferable,” says Caroline Beaudoin, BreakLine’s director of customer success.
Beaudoin says that while Berschinski’s story may be unique, his transition into a role at a tech company is pretty standard for applicants regardless of their educational background or military rank. “The majority of BreakLiners that come to us for the veteran vertical are like Dan,” Beaudoin affirms.
“[They’re] saying, ‘I have no idea what I’m going to do next. However, I know a network of people that transitioned through BreakLine. I’m open to your coaching and feedback – where do I go from here?”
BreakLine’s process involves identifying participants’ strongest skill sets and pairing them with jobs in the tech space where they most directly apply, whether they be in sales, finance, or another area altogether.
“We have an entire methodology that we developed that revolves around breaking down what are their core skill sets and how do those align with all the available functional areas that roles fall under,” she explains. “We essentially map their skills that they currently have or that they want to be using to the skills that are required for different roles.”
In Berschinski’s case, the hustle, grit, and drive he demonstrated on the battlefield and throughout his rehabilitation made him better suited for a role in sales than one that would have required tech skills, which he lacked. When it comes to veteran jobseekers as a cohort, translating combat experience into language that an employer would both comprehend and see as relevant is paramount to successfully transitioning into a civilian sector job.
“A lot of it is giving them a language to be able to share their experiences in a way that is relevant and compelling to hiring managers and recruiters,” says Beaudoin. “It’s just a matter of bridging the gap of where you came from and where you want to go.”
That bridging of the gap takes place in BreakLine’s courses, where each participant goes through 40 to 60 hours of high touch, hands-on training. “Everyone gets assigned a coach where they practice telling their story time and time again until they’re deemed ready to start interviewing,” explains Beaudoin. BreakLine’s programs also include company and functional area specific content, where participants who do not come from a tech background can get a lay of the land.
“It’s hard to see this upfront when you’re working with BreakLine, but what we’ve seen is that BreakLiners are getting promoted faster than average. They’re jumping into leadership positions way faster than the average candidate,” Beaudoin reports. “And then from the partner perspective, they’re getting highly qualified, highly vetted candidates in front of them.”
BreakLine counts tech giants such as Adobe, Amazon, Google, Lyft, Meta, Microsoft, and PayPal amongst its list of partners in the tech space, which continues to grow as employers awaken to the benefits of having a diverse workforce. “Diversity drives business outcomes,” says Beaudoin. “The more diverse the talent and thought that you have in a company, the better business you will build, and the stronger the results will be.”
As an increasing number of companies are tracking their numbers for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives, there is no consensus as to whether or not veteran status qualifies as diverse, leaving it up to each company to decide what statistics they would like to track and how they define diversity. Regardless of what metrics are being recorded and reported, BreakLine is seeing a promising trend in the industry: veterans recruiting veterans.
“The whole premise is that we’re extending our network for people who don’t have access to these opportunities and it’s all contingent on the person that came before them. And that’s what I love the most about the veterans specifically, is that they take that to heart more than anyone I know,” she says. “And then they’re also the first people to turn around and say, ‘How can I help the next person after they get hired?’ And that is just so special and it starts this virtuous cycle of helping more and more veterans.”