We owe a lot to veterans for their dedicated services to our nation. Their sacrifices and dedication to protecting our freedom are something that can never be repaid.
Yet as a veteran, I know the skills and knowledge obtained while serving our country don’t always translate well on a commercial resume, especially if you’re applying for a cyber security position. Regardless of what you were told in your military transition program, your resume shouldn’t include how well you did on your final PT test or range qualification. And listing the equipment you were responsible for likely won’t hold much weight either.
I know, I’ve been there.
I was excited to list the 300s on my PT test, and that I was a shooting expert. However, I quickly learned that most employers have no idea what any of that means, and most people don’t care (unless they’re veterans, too).
I’ve worked with hundreds of troops and veterans transitioning out of the military and trying to get into cyber security careers. And while I have seen some amazing successes, I’ve also seen the same mistakes made again and again.
If you’re planning to leave active duty, there are several things you need to do now — before your departure — that can improve your chances of landing a career in cyber security.
- Build your network and resume. Set up a LinkedIn account and build your resume online. Add any relevant skills, knowledge, and areas of expertise. Connect with people you know, including family, friends, classmates, current and former colleagues, and anyone else you know. Your network is more important than anything else. It will help you get your foot into the door and find positions that might not be listed on company websites.
- Find a mentor. You need a trusted advisor in cyber security or privacy to give you tips and guidance on how to best prepare for the field. Believe it or not, finding a mentor isn’t that difficult – oftentimes all you need to do is ask. Many great former military cyber security leaders, myself included, love helping military members and veterans, or can put you in touch with someone who can help.
- Take every cyber security class and earn every certification possible. The military has some of the most extensive online cyber training available, and it doesn’t cost you a cent. If you’re lucky, you can sign up for hands-on cyber security classes paid for by your military command. Push your command to send you to training while you are still in. There is no excuse for not taking advantage of this opportunity.
- Volunteer for cyber security and privacy projects. Many veterans have some of the most sought-after certifications and training, but they still can’t land a cyber security career. Most of the time, it’s because of a lack of experience. I know you’re probably already working three jobs, but make your extra duties count. Cyber security touches every single facet of the military, and it’s critical that you get some experience before you leave.
- Volunteer with other organizations. Nonprofits, small businesses, and many other organizations need help with their cyber security programs, but they might not have the money to fund them. If you need to get some commercial experience under your belt, offer to help free of charge. Even if you can only work a few hours each week, volunteering can give you the hands-on experience you need.
- Use keywords in your resume. Recruiters often have no Idea what they’re looking for when they search for cyber security candidates. They have a requisition and a bunch of keywords they can search for. For your resume to even make the cut, you need to have the keywords that count. Be specific about the exact technologies and processes you know. List your certifications and training. You can even include your cyber security mentors/advisors as references.
- Take advantage of mock interviews. I’ve seen too many highly qualified candidates lose out on a great career because of a horrible interview. You’re rusty. Maybe you never had to interview for any position while in the military. Regardless of your situation, commercial careers don’t give you orders to your next duty station. You need to interview and beat someone else for the position. Have your friend, spouse, or even kids ask you questions about your work experience. You need to be able to speak intelligently about each assignment, and explain how your experience can bring value to the company you’re interviewing with.
- Intern. Whether it’s a paid or unpaid, full-time or part-time position, interning — even after a long career in the military — is not a step down. Trained cyber security and privacy professionals are highly sought after and well paid once they have the right skills. So you may need to be patient and intern for a while, but your patience should pay off.
- Brag a little. I know this goes against every single thing you’ve learned in the military. But if you recently learned a new technology or process, tell the person you are interviewing with. You don’t need to be overly boastful, but giving yourself a little credit won’t hurt.
- Never stop learning. Cyber security and privacy skills can expire as fast as milk in the fridge. Our field is an exciting, challenging, and well-compensated one, but it also requires an “all-in” mentality. As the field continues to grow, you need to grow with it.
If you’re a military member or veteran who’s considering the cyber security or privacy field, you can have the successful career you deserve. Click here to learn more about taking your skills to a new battlefield with the Warrior to Cyber Warrior program.