Large companies like IBM, PwC, and Lockheed Martin increasingly are turning to veterans to fill cybersecurity roles—and for good reason. Studies have shown that veterans are more productive and have higher retention rates than other employees. And many actually develop cybersecurity fundamentals while on active duty.
Like me. I spent four years in the Navy and served on a destroyer. Not everyone realizes that every naval combat vessel has an IT department. Some even have cybersecurity or cryptology units. And the other military branches have their own cybersecurity divisions.
As a veteran with cybersecurity exposure, I’d like to share some personal experiences that could help you land a cybersecurity position. First, I’ll explain how members of the military are gaining hands-on cybersecurity experience while serving. Then, I’ll discuss how servicemen and servicewomen can make the transition from the military to a civilian cybersecurity job. Finally, I’ll make clear why cybersecurity careers for veterans make so much sense.
Landing a Cybersecurity Position in the Military
Have you ever seen a posting for an entry-level job that requires a few years of experience? In the military, you actually can get a cybersecurity job without prior experience. You learn the skills needed to do your military job in a classroom setting soon after joining.
Taking a step back, there are two ways to join the military: you either enlist or become a commissioned officer. To enlist, you need a high school diploma or GED and you take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery test, which determines the type of jobs you’re eligible for.
There are different cybersecurity job titles depending on the military branch:
- Navy: Cryptologic technicians – networks conduct exploitation analysis, digital forensics analysis, and defensive cyber operations.
- Army: Cyber operations specialists provide cyber incident response, conduct surveillance operations on networks, and maintain routers, firewalls, and other network defense tools.
- Marines: Cybersecurity technicians implement network security measures and intrusion detection tools in addition to conducting computer forensics.
- Air Force: Cyber warfare operations specialists support information warfare operations, install network servers, and install defensive network tools.
- Coast Guard: Information systems technicians maintain digital voice systems and computer networks and provide incident response.
When you enlist in the military, you first go through basic training, otherwise known as boot camp. Upon completion, you go to a temporary training command. This is where you get classroom and hands-on cybersecurity training. Finally, you go to your permanent duty station.
You would enter the military as an officer from a different path. The major difference is that you need to be a college graduate; however, you can apply to be an officer while you are still in college. As a cybersecurity officer, you would be an expert in the field and also lead a cybersecurity division.
If you don’t enter the military with a cybersecurity-focused job in hand, you sometimes can transition into one. In the Navy, changing your rating—the Navy word for “job title”—is referred to as cross-rating. In other military branches, switching jobs is called reclassification or change of MOS (military occupational specialty).
While these types of job shifts are possible, they aren’t guaranteed. While I was on active duty, we had a saying: “needs of the Navy.” That means you’ll be put where you’re needed. If they need you to stay in your current position, you’ll likely be there until the end of your service. If they need more cybersecurity professionals, though, a transition typically is easy.
Obtaining a Cybersecurity Job After Military Service
An estimated 250,000 to 300,000 veterans transition out of the military every year. It’s not always an easy decision. Leaving the military can be scary. You wonder if you’re making the right decision, if there’s a place for you in the civilian world, if you have the skills required to land a great job. After all, just about everything in the military is given to you. Networking and interviewing skills aren’t really required!
You might even get offered a reenlistment bonus to sign on for another four to six years. I didn’t (“needs of the Navy”); however, I knew many people who reenlisted for a handsome amount of money. For example, a shipmate of mine who was an engineer earned $70,000 a year for another six years. And that money was tax-free because we were in a combat zone at the time.
But if you do decide to leave, cybersecurity is a field worth considering—whether that was your vocational focus while in the military or not.
The cybersecurity industry is a rapidly expanding one with a constant need to fill vacancies thanks to a never-ending stream of increasingly complex cyber threats. The U.K. Department of Business, Innovation & Skills 2015 Security Survey found that 90 percent of large enterprises and 74 percent of small organizations suffered from security breaches of different types. And while estimates of the shortfall in qualified cybersecurity professionals vary, the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology predicts that by 2020 there will be a 1.5 to 1.8 million global talent gap.
Now, if you logged time as a cryptologic technician or a cyber operations specialist, you’ll obviously be attractive to potential employers looking to fill a security role. But there are other technical job areas in the military besides cybersecurity that equip people with related experience: electronic technology, information technology, and signals intelligence, among others.
And simply having served in the military means you are already programmed with certain translatable skills: attention to detail, teamwork, and problem-solving, for example. These are skills employers look for in job candidates.
Developing your abilities in a stable work environment over a number of years also is attractive to potential employers. The general minimum enlistment is four years. (An exception to this rule is the two-year National Call to Service enlistment).
As with any career move, you’ll want to optimize your resume, network, talk with recruiters, and apply regularly. You might see an area of the job application asking if you’re a protected veteran. A protected veteran is one who served on active duty during a war or in a campaign or expedition for which a campaign badge has been authorized. Companies are encouraged to hire protected veterans, especially if they do business with the federal government.
Speaking of the federal government, many jobs within it require a security clearance. Veterans often have one based on what they did in the military. Comparitech writes about the benefit of a security clearance: “While many cybersecurity jobs are with private companies trying to protect their own assets, a growing number of private companies contract with the federal government to provide these services. And in those cases, a security clearance is required to work on federal contracts. If you already have one, even at a minimum level, you are likely a far more attractive hire.”
Why Veterans Should Choose Cybersecurity
Companies with cybersecurity divisions want veterans. “In addition to understanding and sharing the national security and defense mission, many have worked on or beside our systems and platforms while in the military,” Teri Matzkin, a military relations manager at Lockheed Martin, told Monster about that company’s push for more veteran employees.
PwC has “stepped up recruiting of veterans for its cybersecurity and privacy team after recognizing the looming cyber skills shortage and seeing a surplus of military talent return from the Middle East,” according to a recent CSO Online report.
And it makes sense. The military and the cybersecurity industry have a couple of significant similarities. One is the focus on advancement and learning new skills. Another is performing with precise actions. Let me explain both.
Each branch of the military offers rank, ribbons, pins, and medals to those who earn them. Ribbons and medals are like cybersecurity certifications. For example, to obtain an enlisted surface warfare specialist insignia, a sailor is given a comprehensive exam on different areas and functions of their ship. Likewise, to obtain a cybersecurity certification, you have to pass an exam.
There’s a clear path for ascension in the service. The enlisted class—which ranks from E-1 to E-9—can be further divided into three ranks: beginner, intermediate, and advanced. In the world of cybersecurity, people may start as network defenders, then work their way to ethical hacker roles, and finally become penetration testers.
It’s imperative that both members of the military and cybersecurity professionals work with precision. In the military, there are lives at stake. In the world of cybersecurity, sensitive information and finances are at risk. Being off by one mile during a military strike could cost the lives of innocent people. Putting one character of code in the wrong place could render it useless, even if the code was meant to protect against a severe strain of malware.
The cybersecurity industry is one in which you can prove that you’ve acquired new skills in the concrete form of certifications. Military veterans are driven in part by their desire to excel. Obtaining cybersecurity certifications is one of the ways this drive is manifested. And here’s the best part: the more skilled you are, the more job choices you’ll have.
Unlike in the military, you can rise fairly quickly. In the military, you take exams to achieve a higher rank every six to 12 months. You can obtain cybersecurity certifications as quickly as you want to (within reason), depending on how driven you are. These certifications will translate into you climbing the ladder (as long as you have the job-ready skills to match).
If you’re still serving in the military, you can obtain cybersecurity certifications before you get out, even if have a non-technical job in the military. That will give you an extra bonus when you begin your transition to civilian life.
Luckily, there are companies and organizations out there that help transitioning veterans. Shift is one of these great organizations. In addition to a full fellowship program, they offer a comprehensive online job search guide that explains explain how to write a post-military resume, how to make your LinkedIn profile stand out, and how to crush your interview.
Ready to sharpen your cybersecurity skills? Springboard’s free Software Security Analyst Learning Path will teach you the fundamentals required to become a successful application and software security analyst.