How to get your dream job in IT or Cyber Security
It seems like only yesterday I was getting out of the active duty Army and frantically searching through job sites, drafting my resumes, and signing up for every mailing list, job placement service, job board, etc. There are so many things I know now that I wish I had known then and could have saved 2013 me so much heartache and frustration. The military provides a service called the Transition Assistance Program (TAP) when you are preparing to leave the military service. It essentially is the last line of defense and gives you vital information that you must receive before being able to effectively sign out of the military. Topics covered include balancing a checkbook, budgeting, job interview process, where to look for jobs, etc. Each branch has their own version of it and may or may not effectively prepare you to face the job market. The problem is that many people who get out of the military while very accomplished and skilled in their respective area, may not be ready to face the rigors of joining the civilian workforce let alone finding a good paying job in their area. The problem of navigating our crazy job market is not unique to any one group of people and thanks to the magic of the Internet, there are endless job preparation sites, interview prep, resume review, and many others. Those topics will not be addressed here because they are beyond the scope of this article.
Follow the $$$$$
It took me approximately three months to land a job in Information Technology and part of that is because I limited my job search to a single geographic area, more specifically Panama City Beach, Florida. Now don't get me wrong, I love this place and the prospect of being near the ocean is something I think almost anyone can get behind. That said, there are essentially three main industries here: Government, Healthcare, and Tourism. Luckily, because of my military and IT background, there were many opportunities for contracting jobs on the various military bases nearby. The only downside to that is when you are married with three kids, it's tough to live in a resort/vacation area on a single salary. So if I can give you any pearls of wisdom to remember is be flexible in location, otherwise, you will have to make compromises elsewhere. Most companies nowadays will offer some type of relocation assistance package and may even allow some teleworking depending on circumstances. Just do the market analysis and make sure that the cost of living combined with goods and services is not so high that the salary will not be enough to cover it. Additionally, remember that there's always the possibility that you might be forced to relocate due to company restructuring or say a contract gets moved. Another important distinction is that government contracts are very tedious and quite often will lowball the competition in order to come in with a competitive bid to win a contract. You may be able to negotiate a better salary and a non-defense contracting company.
Do what you <3
Arguably the most important factor in selecting a job is doing something you love. There are endless stories about disgruntled employees who hate their job and just move from one dead-end unsatisfying debacle to the next. While it may be exciting for some to constantly change career fields, it can be a frightening experience and almost feels like starting over. Part of being able to do what you love is first knowing what your goals are and what you want out of the job. Anyone who blindly takes a job without first asking numerous questions and doing research on what the job entails is just asking for trouble. Figure out what the day to day routine looks like, who your coworkers are, what kinds of hours you're going to keep, and what kinds of reports or other deliverables are required on a regular basis. Also, the type of boss you work for can set the tone for whether you have a positive experience or a negative one. If your goal in the job is money, then you are most likely at some point going to have to move up to management if you want to make more money. Entry level positions are often more hands-on while the more senior positions are more administrative and generally less technical. Ensure that you don't forget to budget time with family, friends and or a social life if those are important to you. If the job requires you to work say night shift and you like to go out at night, that would be a sacrifice you'd have to make even if it was only temporary. Benefits and intangibles also go a long way toward job satisfaction. Depending on your organization, there may be holiday parties, paid time off (PTO), 401k, health insurance, and many other things to consider.
Networking and Communication
Every job I've ever gotten has been more about me as a person and who I know than solely how good my resume looks. There are so many different types of resumes that I ended up keeping different versions depending on the job I was applying for and some of them were pages upon pages of work history, education, experience, military schooling, and on and on. Additionally, knowing important people at a company like the CSO, CTO, CISO, and someone in HR can definitely help. It also doesn't hurt to have great references that know details about your technical abilities That can and absolutely will make up for ANY apparent shortcomings on paper. If you're hoping to land a technical position, having a website, 100% complete LinkedIn profile, and Facebook page are a must. Tech blogging can be a great way to learn and build credibility in the industry and can go along way to bridging the knowledge gap that can land you an interview. It's also a ton of fun and a great way to learn by emulating the success of others! Lastly, never leave on a bad note. Giving your employer proper notice to hire your replacement and not burning any bridges at jobs you've had are absolutely vital. Lastly, security people tend to have a reputation for not being good with people, being introverted, or just in general not interested in getting to know the human side of a client/customer, etc.
While the job listing may specifically dictate which certifications are required, there are many that are "nice to have" and are not necessarily going to prevent you from landing a job nor are they even really necessary. An example is many Network Engineer jobs list CCNP or higher as a requirement, but the actual network portion is nowhere near that level of complexity. Additionally, the experience will be much more valuable than what certifications you have. Many contracting jobs give a period of time in which you can work on obtaining the necessary certifications while you're doing your day to day tasks. DoD 8140 is the standard for Cybersecurity Workforce Positions, but there's not really a civilian equivalent to that. That said, if the job specifically asks for experience coding something like PHP, Ruby, Python, Java, C#, you better be able to deliver on those requirements (or be a quick learner).
What to do once you get the job
Keep your resume up to date and always look for new ways to better your organization. Let your actions do the talking and ensure that your results always remind the leadership what value you bring to the company. Always be open to other opportunities, but don't let that distract you from whatever objective you're working on. Time management is absolutely vital and going back to budgeting time in to decompress so you don't get burnt out from the job. Best of luck in the job search!
The post was originally written and posted on my blog.