Military Vet to Tech Career Transition Stories

By Robert Half on June 25, 2015 at 3:00pm

Robert Half Technology conducted a panel interview with three military veterans on our staff in an effort to better understand some of the challenges veterans face in finding new and meaningful careers upon leaving the service, and how they transitioned from military to civilian jobs.

Here, we begin a two-part series of Q&A’s based on that interview. (You can find part two of the series here.)

The panelists included Zach Torre, a former Army sergeant with experience in networking security, fiber optic repair, and transmission operation, now working as a network operations specialist; Jim Lantz, whose government and military career spanned more than two decades, including stints as a detachment commander, exchange officer and Middle East policy planner, currently working as an IT portfolio manager; and Philip Bull, a former Air Force satellite communications technician and unit deployment manager now working as a senior tech asset management coordinator.

In our first post, we discuss the many assets these professionals bring to their respective Information Technology teams. We also take a look at how veterans can prepare before separation, and after, to market themselves and their skills — many of which are transferable and in high-demand across industries.

1. How do you plan ahead for the move from military to civilian jobs?

Zach Torre: Resume writing, cover letters, networking and company research all can be done before you leave the military. In my case, planning for finding a job was easy —working with a recruiting agency like Robert Half Technology made the transition smooth for me.

Jim Lantz: The onus is upon the service member to take the transition assistance training that’s offered prior to separation — attend the classes, do the homework and really prepare yourself to leave. I did the homework. I had a multiple types of resumes based on the jobs I was pursuing. I was networking with friends, family, colleagues and even people I didn’t know.

2. How important are the resume and education?

Jim Lantz: Both are important. You never know where your resume may end up. I emailed my resume to an IBM executive in Southern California. He saw the potential I had and emailed it to some of his business colleagues, and eventually it came across our CIO’s desk in the San Francisco Bay Area. He looked at it and said, wow, this guy doesn’t have a background in IT, but I bet he could help me in this particular job (project and finance management).

Philip Bull: I landed several interviews simply because I had a degree. One recruiter told me he was leaning toward an applicant with more job experience, but he wanted to talk to me because I had a degree, an impressive resume and portfolio.

3. Why a career in Information Technology?

Philip Bull: I fell into IT asset management in the last three years of my military career. I joined what was previously a one-man shop. The commander came in and said I need you to fix this program. The inspectors came back afterwards and said this is one of the best programs we’ve seen in the Air Force. I got lucky. Robert Half Technology recruited me three years ago and I’m still here.

Zach Torre: The tech field is always progressing. It keeps you wanting to learn more. Consumer tastes and the tools they are using are constantly evolving. And that’s why I’m here. Maybe I’ll figure out a way to develop something that no one’s developed yet.

4. What are the most transferable skills you build in the military?

Philip Bull: For so much of my career, I was in positions where I was writing procedures and policies. And while I may not have been directly supervising people, I was indirectly supervising them and affecting their careers. It’s those skills that I developed over time that helped me in my job search. Also, the military has an adapt-and-overcome mentality that transferred well to IT because technology is always changing.

Jim Lantz: Soft skills are key — the ability to learn, the ability to lead and the ability to communicate are skills that are valuable in any job, but particularly in the tech industry. I told my boss when I interviewed I had limited experience with technology, but over the course of my career I learned Arabic and worked extensively in the Middle East, a place very different from where I grew up, so I was pretty sure I could learn IT. I think he felt confident in my ability to learn and gave me a chance.

5. Any advice for other vets considering jobs in IT?

Philip Bull: Learn how to translate your technical skills into IT skills because that’s what’s going to get you noticed. But also learn how to sell your soft skills. The technical stuff is impressive, but it’s going to be the soft skills that will get you the job.

Zach Torre: Expect to start at the bottom, but work your way up quickly. The technical piece isn’t as important as you convincing the interviewer that you’ve got the ability to learn. And that’s something we’ve all proven in the military. If you’ve got the ability to teach us, we’ve got the ability to learn.

Robert Half’s Career Opportunities for Veterans — This website features job-search tools for the move from military to civilian jobs. In addition to job listings, Robert Half has a wide range of resources for helping veterans find jobs.

Additional resources may be found at the Four Block Foundation, a New York City-based nonprofit organization offering career development and transition support services to returning veterans and their families.

This post has been updated to reflect more current information.

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