Bill Lawrence, who spent 20 years as a combat fighter pilot in the U.S. Navy, relishes the “new car smell” of stepping into the cockpit of a brand-new jet. Like many veterans, Lawrence, who is now a chief information security officer at a cybersecurity firm called SecurityGate, witnessed rapid technological changes firsthand, from flying fighter jets with analog “steam gauges” to using modern helmet-mounted cueing systems—a modular display that attaches to the pilot’s helmet, enabling the pilot to cue onboard weapons and sensors against enemy planes without needing to turn the aircraft.
“There’s not a lot of exposure in some markets to people who have been in the military beyond the images they see on TV or in the movies, which aren’t always that flattering,” said Lawrence.
However, veterans like him come with the soft skills employers value most, and many have backgrounds in technology, making them appealing to tech companies. Ex-military people are typically forward-thinking and resilient, agile, good at teamwork and problem-solving.
Veterans are also more likely to remain loyal to their employer, remaining with their initial company 8.3% longer than nonveterans, according to the LinkedIn Veteran Opportunity Report. They are also 39% more likely to be promoted earlier than nonveterans. However, the report finds that veterans are also more likely to be underemployed—meaning they are doing work that does not make full use of their skills and abilities.
“I get the sense that a lot of veterans kind of poo-poo their skills and their experiences, which shouldn’t be the case,” said Kevin Nguyen, director of product at Springboard and a US Army veteran. “You’ve learned a lot, you’ve experienced a lot, and you have really valuable skills.”
Top tech jobs for veterans:
- Program manager
- IT consultant
- Business development manager
- Systems analyst
- Systems engineer
- IT network engineer
- Field service engineer
- Technical writer
- Network administrator
- HVAC service technicians
How to Get Hired: 6 Tips for Veterans
After discharging, veterans often struggle to frame their skillset in the context of a civilian job. As TEDx speaker Lida Citroen put it in a recent article, they “tend to market themselves as Swiss Army knives, when the marketplace today needs scalpels.”
While veterans may have experience working with complex intelligence-gathering and surveillance systems, civilian technology stacks are a little different. Taking apprenticeships, enrolling in a bootcamp and gaining certifications are just a few ways veterans can add to their already robust skillset in preparation for launching a civilian career in the tech industry.
1. Know your benefits
GI Bill benefits help veterans cover the cost of college, graduate school, and qualifying training programs for up to 36 months after discharge. Thanks to lobbying efforts by organizations like Operation Code, the Forever GI Bill was enacted in 2017, allowing vets to use their benefits for coding bootcamps and other non-traditional education pathways. Currently, there are 30 coding bootcamps that accept the GI Bill. If the bootcamp you’re eyeing isn’t covered by the GI Bill, you have another option: the Veterans Employment Through Technology Education Courses (VET TEC) program, which pairs veterans with industry-leading training providers to help them acquire new skills.
Training providers are paid $10,000 by the VA at no cost to the veteran, although tuition is paid in stages. Find out which coding bootcamps are preferred and non-preferred partners here. A bootcamp is “preferred” if they agree to refund tuition and fees to the VA if the student completes the program and does not find meaningful employment within 180 days. Best of all, VET TEC funds are separate from your GI Bill benefits, so you can use both if needed. What’s more, VET TEC provides a monthly housing stipend to students in the program.
If you already applied for the post-9/11 GI Bill education benefits, check your GI Bill Statement of Benefits to find out how much financial assistance you qualify for. Your benefits are commensurate with your length of service. Veterans with 90 days of active service qualify for 40% of the maximum amount, while three years of service nets you the full amount.
2. Take stock of your skills (and make a plan)
Take inventory of what skills you already have, and those you’re missing. Every service member receives an Enlisted Record Brief (ERB) or Officer Record Brief (ORB), which serves as proof of service but also doubles as a progress report listing your assignments, awards, promotion information, evaluations, and other types of personnel information.
“I think a lot of the bullet points in a veteran’s record briefs can be very quickly translated onto a resume,” says Nguyen. “My advice is to take a look at your record and find a way to reframe your experience.”
Transitioning out of the armed forces can bring on reverse culture shock, not to mention the financial strain of walking away from a stable income—particularly for those who don’t already have a job lined up at discharge. For this reason, veterans tend to accept the first job offer they receive, or they’ll take the “safe” route and apply for an MBA at a top business school, even if they aren’t passionate about finance or business administration, said Nguyen.
“I find that a lot of soldiers, including myself, are looking for other defined paths to follow because that’s what we’re used to,” he continued. “My recommendation for vets is to really think about what matters to them most.”
After being discharged from the US Army, Alejandra Hanks, a recruiter at Springboard, took her time to find her next role. She took courses on LinkedIn Learning that were specifically designed to help veterans transition into civilian careers. LinkedIn offers eligible U.S. military veterans one year of free access to LinkedIn Premium. She also sought out mentorship from fellow veterans, which is especially helpful for those who are struggling with the transition.
“I spoke to veterans who had been out of the military for a few years and had successful careers to get their insight on my resume and how I could translate these skills into a civilian career,” said Hanks. “But I also benefited from hearing about the challenges they faced while transitioning and how they were able to combat those challenges.”
Programs like the ACP Women’s Veteran Mentoring Program and Veterati pair transitioning service members with successful veterans for career coaching and mentorship—often at little to no cost. Apprenticeships, bootcamps, returnships, and other forms of job training can be a great way for veterans to discover new career paths and receive mentorship while building in-demand skills.
3. Join a bootcamp
Veterans with families and other financial responsibilities may be anxious to reenter the job market as quickly as possible. Bootcamps can help vets learn a new skill faster than getting a four-year degree or graduate school. Stats show that after completing a boot camp, veterans see their salaries go from $38,000 before the boot camp to $76,500 after (an increase of 102%). In fact, veterans’ earnings are even higher than the average post-boot camp salary for non-veterans ($66,500).
In the service, attention to detail can mean the difference between life or death. Before going on patrol, squad leaders conduct detailed pre-combat inspections of every soldier in their unit. Every item checked is critical to the mission and if they are not present, someone’s life could be in jeopardy. This meticulousness is what helps veterans excel in coding bootcamps.
“I think military people tend to have a unique ability to just put on blinders so they can focus on a task and execute it very efficiently,” said Nguyen.
VET TEC funds cover coding bootcamps and similar programs in information science, computer programming, computer software, and data processing.
While some bootcamps are offered in-person with a set class schedule, others are designed for self-paced remote learning, which suits the roving military lifestyle. The career tracks at Springboard can be completed in 6-9 months, and come with 1:1 mentorship, unlimited career services, and a job guarantee.
Kendall Hearn, a mentor for Springboard’s Cyber Security Career Track and an Air Force veteran, says he loves helping students from non-technical backgrounds acquire new skills from scratch.
“The two mentees I’m working with now had no experience in cybersecurity and came from completely different career paths,” said Hearn. “Watching them learn, and ask me questions, and seeing the work that they do on their projects has really, really impressed me.”
4. Get an industry certification
Google, Apple, and IBM are just a few of the tech companies that have eliminated college degree requirements. In fields like cybersecurity and cloud computing, IT certifications like CISM, AWS Certified Developer, and CISSP often have more clout than a bachelor’s degree. According to the Global Knowledge 2019 IT Skills and Salary Report, 85% of IT professionals possess at least one certification.
Choosing the right IT certification isn’t easy. Should you choose a more generalized, vendor-agnostic certification, like the CompTIA Security+, or a vendor-specific one like the Oracle Cloud Infrastructure certification? Lawrence suggests focusing on a discipline adjacent to your area of concentration during active duty. While transitioning out, he obtained a Project Management Professional certification to complement the cybersecurity training (more on what a cybersecurity analyst does here) he’d acquired at the US Naval Academy.
“Just about everything we do in the military involves project management,” said Lawrence. “But taking the PMP certification gave me the lexicon to translate my capabilities in terms of civilian skills.”
However, you don’t necessarily have to stick with what you already know. Some entry-level IT certifications don’t require any prior technical experience, with exam prep and learning materials provided via online, self-paced courses. The Cisco Certified Network Associate certification validates your knowledge of network fundamentals, network access, IP connectivity, IP services, and security fundamentals. Meanwhile, the CompTIA Security+ certification, offered as part of the Cyber Security Career Track at Springboard, helps prepare you for a career as a network, system and security administrator. Earning a Security+ certification shows employers you have the skills to install and configure systems to keep applications, networks, and devices secure.
“I do see military members having the knowledge base and the tenacity to drive towards those higher-level certifications, like the Certified Information System Security Professional (CISSP),” said Lawrence. “That’s a pretty high mark in the IT security realm.”
5. Find a technical apprenticeship
Apprenticeships help veterans return to the workforce faster than a college degree or bootcamp. An example is Apprenti, a program where veterans take a free online assessment that tests their math abilities and leadership skills. The top one-third of candidates will be offered interviews at tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon for a chance at a one-year apprenticeship with a median salary of $51,000. If all goes well, they will be offered a permanent job upon graduation. Government-run databases like Apprenticeship.gov help connect vets with VA-approved apprenticeship opportunities. You’ll receive an industry-recognized credential while earning a guaranteed wage as you build a new skill. Apprenticeships are available in the fields of engineering, business analytics, data science, software engineering, and more.
Some apprenticeships lead to IT certifications you can use in the field right away. For example, the AWS Military Apprenticeship is a paid training course in cloud computing, allowing vets to choose from eight career paths including software development engineer and solutions architect.
Companies like Boeing, Microsoft, Salesforce, Cisco and Dell offer training programs specifically for veterans and military spouses, which culminate in an industry-recognized certification. See this article for more information.
6. Take advantage of veterans transition programs/job support
If you’re having trouble finding the right resources or need a little bit of guidance to find your next career path, take advantage of veteran transition and job support programs. There are a range of nonprofits that help transitioning veterans, some of which specialize in placing veterans within specific industries.
For example, Feds Hire Vets helps transitioning service members find federal jobs, which may offer more stability than jobs with private companies. For many veterans, pursuing opportunities in the Federal Civil Service is a natural extension of their service. Workforce Opportunity Services partners with major companies that are dedicated to diversifying their workforce, such as Prudential, General Electric, and HBO. WOS then recruits, trains, and places high-potential candidates with leading organizations around the world. To date, WOS has served 6,000+ individuals through partnerships with corporations in 60+ locations worldwide. Veteran Jobs Mission is another transition assistance program that works with major tech companies including Amazon, AT&T, Deloitte, Verizon, JP Morgan Chase, and more.
VetJobs is the leading military job board with over three million job postings, which also offers personalized 1:1 job placement support, career exploration, and employment training at no cost to job applicants. For vets who are still on active duty, the USO Pathfinder Transition Program offers professional development services for the duration of your military career by providing advice on employment, education, and financial readiness, while also helping with the transition back to civilian life for up to six months after discharge.
“My advice is to find the right balance between knowing what skills you already have, and what skills you need,” said Nguyen. “Recognize that you bring a lot to the table, but also know that there are skills you need to acquire to be an effective contributor to any organization.”
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