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 paralleled 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 DEVELOP phase, which is all about professional development & upskilling, as well as laying the groundwork for your job hunting.
Building your skills and executing the decisive job hunt
You have made the decision to change careers...you have researched enough to create a plan...you have started building your network and engaging in the veteran & relevant industry community cementing your plan for a IT career...and now it is time to upskill to maximise your skills and network to optimise your job hunting.
This next stage is all about ensuring you have the necessary skills to meet the baseline technical requirements of the role(s) you wish to move into. It is also the stage in which you capitalise on the network you started building in the previous stage and really begin to focus your networking beyond knowledge gains to become specifically targeted.
If you have chosen a career path in information technology, then there are a myriad of courses - both premium and free, that you can access to learn the skills you need. However, I urge caution at this stage, as so many service leavers take the same approach that is exclusively focused on what we refer to as 'badge collecting'. The default upskilling method is to simply pay for as many certifications as possible to replace the lack of industry experience and this often means purely attending bootcamp courses.
Bootcamp courses are fantastic as a 'cram-before-the-exam' method, in which you have combined experience and some study but want the confidence when you take the exam. If you are starting from scratch on your tech upskilling, a bootcamp will almost certainly enable you to answer exam questions but is unlikely to provide you with the necessary skills to solve the technical problems you will face not just in the interview but even more so in the first 6 months of your new job.
To ensure you have the best chance at success, ensure that you first have a training or upskilling plan. This comes from good research, providing you with an understanding of what skills you need to develop. You can then lean on the TechVets community to ascertain what courses, platforms and content is best to facilitate your upskilling.
However, before you start, make sure that you fully acknowledge the problems that can arise from overcommitting. Learning tech skills can be challenging and there is always an overwhelming amount to learn - especially as technology moves at such a fast pace. You can avoid over committing by focusing on one course or one element of upskilling at a time.
Additionally, we (in the TechVets community) have seen many over do it when motivation and determination have prevented them from taking a step back every now and then, as well as ensuring that regular breaks are scheduled into the training plan. By this I am not referring to a "stand up and walk around" kind of break...but a "full weekend away from screens" kind of break!
Finally, we all learn differently. A great way to better understand how you learn best, so that you can optimise your upskilling, is to take a short course such as this one by OpenLearn, 'Learning how to learn'.
How can TechVets help with training?
As a TechVets member, you can access loads of awesome training for zero cost...yes that's right, absolutely free!!!
You should definitely make use of this training offer as it could be the difference.
Your upskilling should focus on skills development over certifications. However, certifications provide confirmation that you have learned what you are studying, they provide both you and HR teams with an industry benchmark...but also they are sometimes simply a really motivating achievement!
Before you begin your job search, you will need to ensure your CV is updated with all your learning - and this includes completed learning and attained certs, as well as what you are currently learning and the certs you are working towards.
Creating your CV is an entirely separate blog post that I will no doubt cover at another time, but before I depart this subject, there is some simple signposting I would like to add-in. If you have created your CV and wish to have it reviewed, TechVets has a CV Review Service that is delivered by more than 15 volunteers, all of whom are not only veterans but are also either currently hiring managers in IT or have sound experience of the hiring process into IT careers. They will work through your CV with you to ensure that it is distribution ready.
Speaking of distribution...TechVets also has an amazing CV distribution service provided by our partners CREST. Once your CV is ready, you can submit it to this service which gets your CV fired out to all 190+ CREST member companies.
Now you have started to build your network, making use of the ready made (and awesome) TechVets network, developed all new kick-ass IT skills, and have perfected your CV, it is time to look for your next job.
This can be overwhelming and sometimes downright soul-destroying as we are seeing an incredibly competitive jobs market despite the number of vacancies available. Don't forget, whenever you feel like the job hunt is going nowhere and you feel like giving up...don't - come and catch up with the TechVets community, we'll help you get fired up and back in the fight.
A key piece of advice I will always give, is that you should be doing more work than your CV. Your CV may be the formal piece of digital paper that is placed under the nose of companies, but your relationship building and targeted networking is the hard work that is all down to you. Maximise your impact by developing your own personal brand using TechVets guide to 'Your Online Profile'.
These days, building a strong personal brand online and marketing yourself well, is just as important (if not more) than traditional physical networking.
When you build a strong personal brand online, you can then leverage whichever platform you are using to attract potential hiring managers, as well as potential customers/clients, simply by being yourself and highlighting your expertise and knowledge.
Building your profile is not a five minute job, and it will take time to research, plan and implement to get the style, message and feel that you wish for your online presence. It’s something that you build over time, and it requires a lot of work.
Building a personal brand requires a lot of work, but when done right, it can have an extremely positive affect. TechVets' guides contains numerous modules that provide you assistance in this activity – from creating an awesome LinkedIn profile to blogging like a pro!
Additionally, ensure you are attending careers fairs and industry conferences as you will meet loads of people from a wide range of companies - in-person too which can be so much rewarding.
Make sure you are reaching out to hiring managers, team leads, and other staff members from companies you wish to join. Get a feel for the current and ongoing company priorities. Understand the people they have and those they wish to bring in. Use this time to impress on those you speak to, just how much value you could bring to their companies. Best case, they hire you; hopefully you will at least get your CV past the filter without even submitting it!
Make sure that every time you go for a "coffee" you prepare like it is an interview, you approach it like it is an interview, and you walk away every time with at least two more contacts to speak to. Remember, a personal reference goes a long way to providing assurance that you are worth considering.
When you apply for roles, if you have networked successfully, you will never have to use an automated system but if you do, ensure your CV is simply black and white. If you are focused on networking, follow up if you haven't heard back - this will hammer home your motivation for getting into their company.
How to negotiate a salary after you get a job offer
The following are some top tips from Harvard Business School with, '15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer':
So we are now nearly at the end of our career change journey, you have come an incredibly long way and overcome some significant obstacles...but you are there! Unfortunately, it is never as easy as saying it's all finished, so in the next and final blog of this series, we will embark on life in your first weeks and months as we discuss the EXECUTE phase.
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.