5 Tips for Veterans Finding Jobs in a New Field

(U.S. Navy/James Foehl)

Question: In the Army, I worked as a small arms repairer, mostly fixing field artillery. My separation date is approaching, and I’m interested in working in the information technology field. How can I start a career in IT when my experience isn’t related?

Answer: For many of you exiting the military, your jobs while in uniform will not transfer directly to civilian careers. What’s most important for you if you’ll be making a shift in focus and work is to show how your past relates to your present and offers future potential.

Here are the steps to consider:

1. List out the requirements for the career you’re pursuing.

For example, someone pursuing information technology (IT) likely would need to know certain systems and software/hardware and have certifications and credentials, depending on the specific area in which they are interested.

In less tangible terms, they will need to demonstrate various soft skills (i.e., patience, attention to detail, self-starter and so on) and have experience working in a technical environment. While you may not have many of these attributes (yet), it’s important to understand what your competition will be bringing.

2. Look over your previous work experience

Find any and all exportable skills, experiences or traits that could be transferable to this new career. For example, as an artillery repair person in the Army, you likely work well under pressure, can serve multiple constituents, have skills for working well under pressure, understand how systems interconnect to make something function well and so on.

The goal here is to extract the skills you developed and relate those to what will, or could be, needed in the next career.

3. Conduct informational interviews

Informational interviews are paramount when making a career change. Seek out people to talk to who are in the industry you’ll be pursuing and ask how they entered the industry. Did they have experience, certifications or training that got them started? Did they learn on their own? What helped them become successful? Let their experience give you insights for how you might transition to this new field, as well.

Also, ask for their guidance about how you might start off in the IT industry. They may encourage you to get additional certification and training before you begin applying for jobs. Or they may recommend you take an entry level position in a large tech company and work your way up. Listen and learn from people you trust who are further along in their career.

4. Clarify your “why”

Spend time thinking through why you want to move into this new field. Be specific about the aspects of the work, the problems you’d like to solve, and the companies and people you’d like to work with.

As you introduce yourself to others, you’ll want to communicate clearly why this transition and change are meaningful to you and how you’ll serve your employer in the future.

5. Be open-minded.

You may learn from your research and conversations that you have more work to do before diving into this new career path. Perhaps additional schooling or training will be required. Maybe you’ll need to improve your network of contacts that can lead you into opportunities. You may find that taking a different role in a company can provide an entree into the tech sector more quickly. Or you may need to do other work while you teach yourself systems and processes at night until you’re ready to position yourself in the tech sector.

As best you can, realize that you’re making a significant career pivot (not only from the military to the civilian sector) and backing up a bit might help you move forward more swiftly. Stay open to opportunities and advice.

Many transitioning service members find themselves doing very different work after the military. Being clear, confident and focused on what you want (and why) and how you’ll add value to your employer is the best way to get an employer to take a chance on you and help you accelerate.

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