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Insider Advice From Veterans That Made the Transition

Posted by Ashley Preuss
Military Transition Tips

We had the pleasure to attend virtual talks at ShellCon, presented by two veterans working in InfoSec. Christopher Elliot, U.S. Army Veteran, is Senior Manager, Security Operations for Hulu. Paul Navarro, retired United States Marine, is a Cyber Security Consultant at Microsoft. Here are some key military transition insights from these veterans’ talks.

Transitioning from the military can be exciting, but it can also be a real challenge. For instance, Paul Navarro listed a number of negative thoughts that can enter the mind during transition, such as:

  • I’m not technical enough
  • I don’t have a degree so I’m not marketable
  • My skills don’t translate to civilian jobs

As Navarro stated, and which bears repeating—change your mindset, because it’s simply not true. Thoughts like that are imposter syndrome talking. We all face it at some point, but know that you’re not alone. Navarro says, “If you want be in the InfoSec community, it CAN be done after 4, 8, 12, 20 or 30 years of military service.”

So how do you make that transition? Start planning early. “Preparing for your transition and being your own advocate is not only essential, but common sense,” suggests Christopher Elliot. Let’s take a look at some of the steps you can take to transition into the civilian market.

Network

Elliot shared that when you get to that transition point, your military role may be the only job you know how to do. But you have to figure out what you’re going to do, where you’re going to do it, and how to succeed. One of the biggest factors in job search success is networking. In fact, Elliot stated he’s gotten jobs from simply talking to people, and given them that way too.

Start building your network by attending job fairs, conferences, and meetups, especially once you’ve determined the industry or location you want to work in. Navarro admits he’s not the most social person, but he goes to conferences, introduces himself, talks to people, and asks questions. If there’s an opportunity to network, do it!

When you do form those connections, stay in touch. People move to new companies and change roles. Elliot urges that you stay connected to your network and keep an eye out for that next opportunity. Someone in your network may know someone at a company you’re interested in, and can provide an introduction.

Continue Learning

Continuous learning is essential in many professions, but since information security changes extremely quickly, it’s especially important if you want to work in security. Navarro explains the dynamic in the military can make it challenging to maintain hands-on skills, as you start off very technical but progress to leadership roles mid career. But don’t discount time spent in less hands-on capacities. In Navarro’s third IT tour, he served as a combat operations watch officer. It was less technical than his previous roles, but he learned to listen and identify high value assets. He uses those same skills at Microsoft to understand what is high value for his customers. Navarro emphasizes that everyone’s career has learning moments.

So don’t be discouraged. Identify your transferable skills and fill in the gaps where necessary. As Navarro said, old dogs can learn new tricks. If you want to learn how to program, go for it. But it’s up to you to step up to the plate. Similarly, Elliot urges you to do research outside of work, as not everything happens from 9-5.

Once you land that role outside of the military, continue to learn. Read blogs, stay up to date on the latest security trends, and understand the why and how when you do things. If you have a solid foundation, you can adapt as tools change. So take the initiative to continue learning to support your personal and professional development.

Seeking a mentor, or multiple mentors, is another way to aid continued learning. Navarro says to ask them specific questions to pull that knowledge out. If you keep seeking that knowledge, you will grow.

Improve Your Resume

When you prepare your first resume as you transition out of the military, have someone else take a look at it. Elliot’s resume made sense to him, but not to his wife. Instead of using bullets out of your evaluation report, speak the language of the industry you’re entering. Use their vocab. For example, if it was about logistics, Elliot talked instead about transportation. De-militarize your language and learn to speak civilian, because you can’t assume everyone you’re talking to understands military jargon or acronyms.

Write a targeted resume that demonstrates your value for that specific role. You can use the job description to help you write it. The key is to tailor your resume. Elliot says some resumes are great, but not for the specific job you’re looking at. So keep a couple different resumes on file and tailor them to the position.

And as stated before, have someone look at your resume. It never hurts to get another set of eyes on your resume to make sure it’s strong and free of military jargon. Elliot adds they might circulate it with people they know, or even have a job for you!

Ace Your Interviews

Once you’ve made it to the interview stage, be sure to research both the company and the people you’ll be interviewing with. Elliot shares, if your interviewer is a Dodgers fan, don’t talk about the Giants. Use open source intelligence to your advantage. The more you know about the company and the folks you’re interviewing with, the better you’ll perform in the interview. You can also check your networks to see if you already have a contact at the company, to help you uncover critical details about the position and department that are not on the job posting.

You can also use your network to help you determine your value. Elliot admits he didn’t know what he was worth, because everyone makes the same amount based on rank in the military. Talk to your network to gauge salary and compensation norms in the specific area you’re looking to work in. And when it comes to the interview question, what are you making now, Elliot recommends you instead answer, this is what I expect to make or this is what I think I’m worth. He urges that you not answer that question because with all the benefits in the military, civilian compensation is very different.

At the end of the day, we know military transition isn’t easy, but veterans before you have done it and more will follow after you. Navarro reminds us that experiencing challenges isn’t a sign of weakness. Seek whatever you want and don’t let negative thoughts stop you. He urges you to trust and believe you belong. And as you do make that transition and enter the civilian workforce, be an advocate for other veterans and exemplify what a veteran is. You’re setting an example. As Elliot remarked, the road you’re on was paved by other veterans, so help others get to where you are.

This entry was posted on Thursday, October 15, 2020 7:08 pm

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