While the veteran unemployment rate may be at a historic low, the transition from the military to civilian life isn’t without its challenges. For starters, ex-military members often need help translating their skills gained in the armed forces to non-military roles, and many need to become more familiar with the wide variety of civilian career path options that align with their previous experience.
Military veterans are natural problem-solvers who understand the importance of maintaining a strong defense posture and following the chain of command when dealing with an active threat, all of which make veterans attractive candidates for cybersecurity roles. And with a growing talent shortage in the security field, veterans have a prime opportunity to apply their skills to support this vital industry.
As countries worldwide recently honored veterans for their service during Veterans Day, it’s also important to recognize that these individuals continue to play a critical role in cybersecurity as a talent pool helping shrink the skills gap. In a recent conversation with James Murphy–military veteran, Director of the TechVets Programme at The Forces Employment Charity, and Fortinet Veterans Program Advisory Council member–he discussed these opportunities and provided insight into resources available to veterans.
Q: Why are veterans a critical talent pool that more employers should focus on to fill vacant cybersecurity roles?
James Murphy (JM): Individuals who have military experience have a hardwired sense of security, as well as an innate ability to understand threats of all kinds to various systems. Veterans are quick learners–look at the volume of information new recruits must learn on various topics, ranging from technical equipment to weapons systems. Further, military personnel regularly move from one role to the next, resulting in them having to learn new processes and capabilities quickly, and more throughout their respective careers in the armed services. As a result, individuals with military backgrounds tend to acquire technical skills faster than their non-military counterparts, making them strong candidates for cybersecurity positions.
Additionally, many businesses are looking for candidates with cybersecurity knowledge yet also need the human skills that those with a military background can offer, such as teamwork, problem-solving, adaptability, and more.
Q: How can organizations better recruit and retain veterans for cybersecurity roles?
JM: Many organizations have recruiting policies to attract candidates from varying backgrounds. The enterprises that have had the most success with recruiting veterans have specific programs in place to readily support hiring ex-military.
A straightforward way to adjust recruitment strategies to be more conducive to hiring veterans is to allow former military service leaders to speak directly with the talent acquisition team. This often helps the recruitment team learn more about the individual’s valuable skills and determine what organizational roles would be a strong fit. Should the candidate not be suitable for the role they are applying for, the team can direct them to other parts of the business to find a position more aligned with their skills and interests.
Q: What potential challenges might veterans face while transitioning to IT and cybersecurity, and how can they overcome them?
JM: Veterans can sometimes face several hurdles as they transition to civilian life, and the severity of these challenges is often relative to the time served and the roles the person held while in the military.
One of the most pressing issues is that veterans have such valuable transferable skills, but they don’t always recognize them. After years of service, some leaving the military can struggle to articulate their skills and experience attained through service, with roles, capabilities, organizations, and technologies communicated in a way that may not align with the modern business world.
Another issue often impacting service leaders is that they have yet to be exposed to various roles available across all industries. As a result, a veteran can be more likely to follow those who have exited the military before them. As the individual follows in others’ footsteps, they may pursue what they feel is a low-risk employment path, which often results in underemployment.
The good news is that there are resources and organizations available to help veterans overcome these hurdles. For example, organizations like TechVets and initiatives like Fortinet’s Veterans Program offer skills training and employment support services to assist ex-military members, including military spouses, in finding a new career path after leaving the armed forces.
Q: For veterans considering a transition into cybersecurity, what advice would you give them to prepare and position themselves?
JM: There are numerous ways veterans can prepare themselves to transition into cybersecurity.
First, start networking. While many people think of networking as synonymous with finding a job, it offers far more benefits. When you network effectively, you’ll gain insight into what you want to do after exiting the military, what industry you want to work in, and what type of company feels like the best fit.
Next, decide on a career path and plan your training and upskilling accordingly. This ensures you’re building the knowledge needed for the roles you’re interested in instead of pursuing a broader, less focused set of skills.
Finally, lean on the veteran community. Learn from those who have already transitioned to the cybersecurity field, and take advantage of programs designed to equip veterans with the skills and resources needed to pursue a meaningful new career path. The Forces Employment Charity exists to provide life-long, life-changing support, job opportunities, and training to Service leavers, reservists, veterans, and their families, irrespective of circumstances, rank, length of Service, or reason for leaving. Founded in 1885 and operating across the UK, we have the specialist knowledge and understanding to bridge the gap between military life and civilian employment. We work in partnership with other organisations and employers who, like us, respect, and value the unique qualities and abilities of all those who have served.
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