Whether leaving the military or simply changing career as a veteran, the process is complex and often overwhelming leaving us unsure about making the move in the first place. I have chosen Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to provide a guide to a successful career transition as the model, initially proposed by Abraham Maslow in his 1943 academic paper, “A Theory of Motivation”. Whilst the work parallelled many other theories of developmental psychology, and includes human curiosity - it also had a focus on human growth.
I have chosen this model because the journey into a new career is certainly one of growth but also has to begin with the baseline needs of the individual. Moreover, the Hierarchy of Needs comprises multiple tiers in which the lowest must be satisfied before progression to the next.
I will cover this in a series of blogs with this one being the DISCOVERY phase, which is all about conducting your initial personal needs analysis.
What do I need to successfully career change?
Now that you have been through the DECISION phase and have decided that you want to pursue a career change, the next thing to do is to work out the what next - the DISCOVERY phase.
This DISCOVERY phase is all about researching and subsequently curating a plan that will aid you in achieving your desired final outcome. It is important to be thorough and to consider those aspects of your future life that many overlook due to the differences with military life.
One of the most important factors to consider at this early stage is getting buy-in from your family. Whilst you may be full steam ahead with your ideas of leaving the military or changing careers, this huge change will also have a substantial impact on your loved ones if you have a partner or spouse, as well as the potential upset for any dependents stability. The three primary factors to be considered here are…
During military service, good financial education is not usually provided. Many will consider the security of the military employment model enough but planning ahead is critical to success. Before you click that button to leave the military, I strongly recommend you consider your financial position properly.
The MOD provides you a salary and pretty much manages most of your main commitments from rent / accommodation costs, council tax and more. Once you are outside, there are many more financial commitments that you may not already be aware of. When I left, I immediately went from paying approx £300 p/m for accommodation to £800+ p/m and that is not including the £150 p/m for life & critical illness insurance, house insurance, higher water and council tax bills and more.
On top of this, one must factor in the costs that come with working outside a barracks. It is very unlikely that you will have a 5 minute walk to work with the cost of commuting 1 hour each way on the train everyday, potentially costing up to and in excess of £5,000 p/a. Therefore, your salary jump of £10,000 from your military one is suddenly less impressive. It was a sobering moment when I realised that my jump in salary (which some in service wrongly think is going to be huge by default) was consumed by a £735 p/m train ticket!
Always consider saving, investing and adequately planning. If I could go back and serve my last 10 years again, I would have started a private pension scheme amongst other things. If you would like the opportunity to discuss these things, TechVets holds bi-monthly Financial Wellbeing sessions with a qualified financial advisor and military veteran.
If you want the most impartial, objective resource for financial advice, visit Martin Lewis, The Money Saving Expert.
How much will you need to meet my bottom line?
Beyond planning and preparing your finances, it is essential that you consider how much you would need to earn to meet your bottom line. When I was planning to leave the military, I broke this into three levels…
You should be left with three brackets and I use 10k brackets, an example of which is below...
> Bottom Line = £28,000 - £35,000
> Most Likely = £35,000 - £45,000
> Best possible outcome = £45,000 - £55,000
Once again, it is essential that this is an individual calculation based on your needs and NOT one somebody else has provided you.
Choosing a career path:
What drives anyone to choose a particular career? In some cases, it might be sheer aptitude – a mathematician, say, or an athlete. Sometimes it might be passion or a vocation - perhaps an actor, or a doctor. Sometimes it’s a simple case of grabbing an unexpected opportunity.
But for most of us, the drivers are several and more mundane: a good salary, job security, interesting work, progression potential… all of which are good reasons why you should choose a career in cyber security.
This will almost certainly be one of the most challenging aspects of this entire journey. For some, you would have built a military career around a specific trade which allows you to move directly into a similar role when you leave the military…for others, there are no real opportunities for a RECCE Section Commander or sniper on the streets of Bristol!
However, the benefit of engaging in this research / planning model as early as possible, is that you can allow yourself to consider what you want to do and not just what you should do. This opens all manner of opportunities to you and unlike your military career so far, the only restriction on this at this early stage, is your imagination and motivation to succeed!
Whilst all opportunities are open, clearly (and quite selfishly) I will focus on technology and cyber security careers.
However, before we get to that it is important to understand the support that is out there. For all those serving or have previously served, the following applies…
Company, culture, industry & sector!
Often with service leavers and veterans, we are too hasty to prioritise the financial aspects over the company we would like to join. Given the close team dynamics and strength of team work through all manner of situations that we are used to dusing our military service, you may not get the same environment outside the military - therefore, the culture you move into needs to be one that you feel is right for you. Often being part of an incredibly rewarding mission, or supportive team environment can be more fulfilling regardless of the role.
"This is not about fuzzy, holding hands around a campfire, kumbaya stuff. That’s not what values and culture and mission is about. This is about building an organization for success. This is about winning. This is about doing the tactical things to make sure your organization and your people are aligned around the same thing."
The same can be said for the sector you would like to work in. Do you want to serve the British people in the public sector, be driven by profit in the private sector or perhaps improve the lives of those who are most vulnerable in the charity sector.
Would you rather a small company or a large one - a start-up or mature business?
Working in a tech startup...
> Unique culture
> Boost your CV & learn more about multiple business functions
> Sense of family / community
> Recognition & impact
> Lower starting pay and benefits
> Long hours
> Constant change
> Very hands-on often beyond your stated role / responsibilities
> Higher risk
Working in a big company...
> Lots of perks
> More resources & bigger tech stack
> Professional opportunities
> Structure, order & stability
> Less creative thinking
> Hard to get ahead
> You are just a number
The Specific Pathway
Whether we signed up to the military for queen and country, to serve the British people, to travel and seek adventure, or simply because we didn't know what we wanted to do - it is during our military career that we realise that what we do has a higher purpose and greater impact...sometimes nationally, perhaps even globally!
When we leave the Forces, many of us feel the need to be part of something that means more than just a job. Information Technology careers can certainly give you that, in fact it is one of the fields in which there is always a great purpose. You could be part of a team developing digital public services; building green tech to help deal with climate change; bring services to those who are vulnerable; revolutionalise gaming; or defend people and their digital assets.
When looking at what career pathway to take, there are so many disciplines and each company may give the same roles different role names making this even more challenging fo service leavers. The following provides some of the main career paths within information technology...
Other important factors
Whilst understanding what it is you really want to do is important, this needs to be weighed against the value you place on location.
Where you decide to live (region within the UK) has a direct impact on the opportunities available to you despite the increase in hybrid and fully remote opportunities. Many companies still require you to make it into the office on occasion and sometimes this can be too often for you to have a monstrous commute from one end of the UK to the other. Therefore, if your location is a higher priority than the job role, then understanding your local area or region, the companies operating there, as well as the services provided will provide you a start point with the types of roles that are feasible for your plan.
As a TechVets member, I advise you to get stuck into your Regional Jobs Hub in our Discord community. Each Regional Hub comprises members who are living in or frequenting the respective region as well as veterans already in industry working in that region. This will provide you some start points for advice and guidance as well as assist you in starting to build your professional network.
The breakdown of UK regions within the TechVets community
At this stage you should have a good idea of what you want to do, where you want to do it and with which company or sectors.
This is the stage in which you consolidate your research into a list of top 3, top 5 or top 10 options for your next career. At present you will have your ideas based on what you want and what you need. These findings are only missing one thing - real time and trustworthy experience from others who have been in your shoes and have since trodden these pathways.
You will be able to refine this further during the first part of the next stage when we dive into the community.
About the author
James served for 19 years with the British Military, deploying to Northern Ireland, East Africa and Afghanistan with the Infantry, receiving lifelong injuries as a result of enemy action. James served the remainder of his service in intelligence developing the Army’s exploitation capability, providing support to UK Defence Engagement in East Asia, before delivering integral support to global Joint Military operations.
Upon leaving the Military, James was responsible for the management of Cyber Threat Intelligence at Government Digital Service, volunteering his spare time with TechVets.
James joined TechVets in January 2020 as CEO