Attention! How to Change Careers from Military to IT
You've served your country and moved yourself and possibly your loved ones around all over the world, and perhaps you are thinking about civilian life. If you've made the military your career but are thinking about something else, you may want to consider a job in IT. The skills you've picked up in the military could serve you well if you're considering the career change to IT.
IT professionals use many of the same skills as military members to solve their problems. If you're a military member or veteran interested in a career switch, or if you're already in the civilian workforce and considering quitting your job, a career in information technology might be for you. More than 25,000 service members and veterans are already CompTIA certified. That may sound like a lot, but with almost a million IT jobs available in the United States today, it's not even close to meeting the industry demand.
Comparing Military Careers to IT
You may wonder what could possibly be similar between the military and IT. First and foremost, both jobs are about helping people. One of the many inaccurate stereotypes about IT is that it involves working alone at a desk in some dark, dingy basement office. But think about your experiences with IT professionals. IT employees are deeply embedded in the fabric of every organization, because there's no part of the modern corporation that doesn't at least occasionally require technical assistance.
Another similarity between the two fields is that both revolve around problem solving. In the military, you have to think on your feet, and while the situations may not always be as dire as what service members face, IT professionals also need to think on their feet. In both cases, solving problems can come down to your ability to pay attention to details. And military members looking for a career change should be right at home in the high-stress, fast-paced environment found with many IT jobs.
What's It Like to Work in IT?
When wondering what job is right for you, the sky's the limit with a career in technology. IT is a rapidly expanding field and with our growing reliance on technology, you should only expect it to grow further. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates job availability for computer support analysts to grow 10 percent between 2014 and 2024 and for help desk technicians to grow by 12 percent in the same time period. In our uncertain global economy, IT is not only one of the most lucrative and rapidly growing professions, but it's also one of the most stable.
||Help Desk Technician
||Computer Support Analyst
||“Normal” work hours
||Generally requires some nights and weekends
||Can leave work at the office
||Can leave work at the office
Possible Career Path
|Help Desk Technician → End User Support Specialist → Network Administrator*
||Computer Support Analyst → Coder → Software Developer*
||College degree not necessary, but certifications are beneficial
||Associates degree or post-secondary classes often required
||12% growth expected
||10% growth expected
- Provides technical assistance to users
- Answers questions
- Runs diagnostic programs
- Gives in-house support of technical issues and computers
- Finds ways to avoid common problems and improve systems
- Evaluates and tests current network systems
Estimated Time to Career Change
Neither job requires a bachelor's degree as a rule. In fact, you can become qualified for either job with just a few classes and the right certifications, making both of them excellent and cost-effective options if you're still not sure what to do for a second career after the military.
One thing I like about IT is if you get tired of what you are doing, you can change and keep all that work experience.
Andrew DongaNetwork Engineer
Andrew Donga now works as a network engineer, but he’s also a U.S. Navy veteran. He worked with radars, direction-finding antennae and other communication tools in his time in the military. And when he left the service, he used the GI Bill to help him pursue further education. He now holds two certifications and said that the biggest benefit of certifications is the knowledge you gain.
What Skills Do I Need to Break into IT?
Many of the traits that made you successful in the military – discipline, commitment, flexibility, adaptability – will also make you great at IT. One of the most important aspects about working in IT (if not the most important) is about making the technology accessible for laymen. That means that, like in the military, you need to be a team player and work well with others.
Similarly, because some IT professionals deal with the nitty-gritty details of how the technology actually works in a practical business setting and not with the theoretical knowledge behind what makes it work, successful IT professionals tend to be well organized, comfortable with following routine processes and adept at improvising when it's called on. Fortunately for you, these are all skills that many military members possess in spades.
Ultimately, the most important skills for most IT professionals are communication and project management. IT workers don't just make sure computers work. They make sure that people can get computers to do what they need. Because IT professionals work with everyone within an organization, they are sometimes the link between different departments working on the same project and are often required to present reports to larger groups of people, earning valuable face time with upper management. And because IT professionals work with so many different groups, they need to be self-motivated and self-directed, with the ability to properly set priorities that balance short-term needs with long-term goals.
How Do I Get IT Experience Before a Career Switch?
If you're thinking of a career switch to IT, you do need to have an affinity for working with computers and other forms of technology. Thankfully, you should have plenty of chances in the real world to build practical IT experience. Mess around with fixing an old printer or offer to help an older relative set up their new computer. You can even try to build your own PC.
The Marine Corps will help them obtain and pay for certification. Get these certifications now, because they will benefit you when you enter the civilian sector later.
Michael BaysDatabase Application Specialist
Michael Bays served as a U.S. Marine for eight years, where he worked with data trends and databases. When he left the military, he was working as a data analyst but knew he needed something more for long-term success. He was offered a position as a database application specialist with the stipulation that he earn CompTIA Security+ soon. He studied and passed and is looking to pursue a career in cybersecurity.
If you're looking for something that will really make your resume stand out from the crowd, you could volunteer to help a local nonprofit with the technology side of their work. Perhaps the most useful thing though, is to start taking classes to prepare for an IT certification. This may even be something you could do before your active duty is up. The best time to look for a new job is while you've still got your old one!
How Long Will It Take to Change Careers?
While you may be really excited to hit the ground running in IT, it's important to remember that a career change takes time. Corinne Mills, author and managing director of Personal Career Management, suggests patience when transitioning to a new career.
“While some people want to radically reinvent their career instantly, it is more realistic to work toward a new career over time. This might mean making changes in your current job, studying a course in the evening, shadowing someone in the role or learning new skills to make yourself more attractive to potential employers,” she told The Guardian. “It might also mean that you gradually move into your new career via a series of jobs rather than one giant leap – and this is important if you want to protect your salary rather than going back to entry-level wages.”
The amount of time will be different for everyone, depending on your transferrable skills and experience and the amount and type of training you need. Career coach Daisy Swan says you'll need to allot time “to (re-)educate, to develop a new network in that field and to gain meaningful experiences that introduce you as a player... which then leads to gathering credibility and accessibility to your new work and new career.”
For some, it may be a few months, but for others it may be longer. Regardless of how long it takes, remember to go into the process with patience and a list of SMART goals that will keep you steadily on the path to a career in IT.
Ok, I'm Interested. But How Do I Actually Make the Switch?
When you break it down, getting into IT can be as easy as 1-2-3.
- Take our free career quiz to help you find the right IT career for someone with your skills and interests.
- If you find you've got an aptitude and interest for the field, you should talk to your local VA office about getting help paying for training. The cost of certification is much less than that of a college degree, and a lot quicker, too.
- Leverage that certification to find a job – look for jobs that seek out certified IT pros, include it on your resume and talk about it with employers. Having an IT certification could open up job opportunities you might not have been eligible for before. There's a reason IT pros with a CompTIA A+ certification earn an average of $70,554.
While switching careers can be tough, switching to an IT career can be relatively painless! Remember that the skills you learned in the military – and the traits that helped you succeed – can apply to an information technology career as well. Don't sell yourself short – you have what it takes to get into IT.