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5 Steps to Position Yourself for a Career Change

Backend computer hardware administration. (Photo by NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given)
NASA photo by Emmett Given

The careers most touted as likely transitions for veterans may be a perfect fit for you. If you worked in military police and want to transition into the law enforcement, that is wonderful -- the pay is supposedly quite nice. If you were a network administrator and want to work in network administration for Facebook or Google, that is great too! Your transition may be a direct one, and you should already be searching for opportunities on the Veterans job finder and using the skills translator to help word your resume so that it stands out in the civilian workforce.

However, what if you were military police but want that network administration job at Google? Or thinking even more outside the box, what if you want to be a video game designer? How about a financial consultant for Goldman Sachs? Do you want to work in the government, say at the State Department as a Japan specialist?

If your career aspirations point you toward a career that seems completely outside of your current capabilities, you don't need to freak out. You served in the military (or are still active) and have the discipline it takes to set your mind to something and have a fairly good chance of achieving it. Yes, nothing is guaranteed, and sometimes the saying that it is a marathon and not a sprint may be very appropriate. But once again, you joined the military and put your life on the line for your country, so why not put a little elbow grease into working to achieve your next goal?

Here's How to Do It:

Be who you want to be, and do it now. In case that is confusing, it simply means that you should start building your skills and your resume, so that when you create the opportunity or said opportunity comes knocking, you are ready. You can prepare in five simple steps, as follows:

  1. Know your industry. If you want to be a game designer, that means playing games. It means finding groups such as those on Meetup.com or at events such as the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, so that you’re discussing the industry with others just as passionate about it as you are. If you want to be the Japan specialist, stay up to date by reading articles in The Economist, or once again, Meetup.com groups. The same holds true about any industry. You have to find out how to keep up to date on everything that is related, so that when you are at a networking event or job interview, you have one more way you can show your passion.
  2. Develop your skills. You not only need to know what is going on in your industry, but you need to know how to do the job. Use the GI Bill to enroll in a full-time degree program, or if you are active or working as a civilian already, look into evening and weekends programs. Find a local game writing, Japanese language, or financial analysis class, as appropriate.
  3. Network. You should always be networking, but it is going to be that much easier when you know your industry and have developed your skills or honed your craft. Get out there and shake hands, smile, and be friendly even if you are dead-tired from working all day and then working on steps one and two in all your free time. You may have a family or other commitments, and you should not make sacrifices there, but you must network. You happen to live in at an amazing time when networking can be done one-hundred percent online. Chances are you will be more successful if you are networking at live events and online, but do what works for you and your situation, as long as you are doing the work. The good news is that you already have one big network of people out there willing to help -- your fellow veterans. Do not ignore the veteran community, because they may be the most willing to help you get ahead.
  4. Build the resume. Make sure to include your classes and groups that you are part of on your resume, as well as your military and other relevant experience. Create on your own, whether that means finding independent games to get involved with, a blog on the world financial system, or anything you can use in an interview to show that you not only are passionate about the job, but have taken the initiative and have experience (even if it is limited). Find a part time internship that you can handle on evenings and weekends. Volunteer for a related organization. You should be doing anything that you can to make your resume tell the story of why you belong in this new career.
  5. Make sure everything represents who you want to be. The final step, and an ongoing one throughout, is to make sure your online presence represents this new you. If you have resumes out there on different job sites, make sure to update them. If you don’t have a website, create one -- maybe your new blog will attract the attention of a hiring manager? You do not need a blog. You can stick to a website highlighting who you are, what you are working on, and what you are passionate about. This is true for your twitter account (the short bio you can include there), Facebook, and every other social media or professional online networking site you may be represented on.

Remember, you can be doing all of this to some degree while working full time. If you do not have to work, bravo. Share the secret (or money) so your fellow veterans can devote their time to pursuing their dream careers as well. But while the rest of you wait, keep your eye on the prize and do everything you can to make it a reality. And start NOW.

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