Sean started his transition two years before ETS, but was initially influenced by the many JMO headhunting firms that try to place all Junior Military Officers into business management positions. Though he lost several months of transition time pursuing expertise more suited to an MBA than a computer programmer, he did learn the importance and power of self directed study. As he pivoted his focus to a career in IT, he continued the pattern of evening and weekend study and preparation he had learned from the headhunters.
As he approached the one year before transition milestone, Sean found himself a bit behind the power curve due to the time initially spent learning business subjects. Ideally, he would have been closer to completing key training and certifications at this point, but he was just getting started. He identified an IT certification that was in demand at the time, the Microsoft Certified System Engineer (MCSE) and developed a plan to earn it. He didn't have the money or time to go to a training program offered by the many IT training vendors. Instead, he identified the best training manuals for each of the subjects on the exam and began a program of self directed training. He spent many an evening and weekend poring over a thousand page technical manual or installing and configuring trail versions of various Microsoft products. As he completed his study on each subject, he took the related test. Each test passed brought him closer to the goal of certification.
While certifications can be very helpful when transitioning to a new field, Sean realized that hands on experience would make his certification much more valuable. So he started to look for opportunities to use his newly acquired IT skills. The first opportunity presented itself while he served as the Battalion S-4 (Supply Officer). Each time an expensive or sensitive piece of equipment was lost or damaged, an investigation would be performed (a "report of survey."). The rules surrounding what steps were required throughout the investigation were complicated. This resulted in Sean or the BN Supply Sergeant having to wade through regulations multiple times during each investigation to ensure each path in the decision tree was correctly followed, and all steps were correctly completed. Sean saw an opportunity to save some time through automation and spent a few weekends building an application that encoded all the rules and provided guidance on what steps were necessary based on the data provided regarding the investigation.
The next opportunity for hands on experience came several months after Sean was assigned to a Project Officer role. The NCO who had been maintaining the office network was suddenly and unexpectedly reassigned. Sean volunteered to take on the additional duty of running the network. This gave him critical hands on experience with networking and administering servers.
As Sean reached the six months prior to ETS milestone, he turned his attention to his resume. He found peers who were also preparing to transition from active duty and worked with them on resume preparation and interviewing. All preparation, of course, had to be done on evenings and weekends because there was no time during the duty day for transition preparation. He ensured his resume answered the question "Why should I hire you?" and spent many hours practicing answers to common interview questions.
At the three month mark, Sean began the job search in earnest. He attended the job fairs hosted by JMO headhunter firms, but didn't find much that interested him there. This was before Internet job boards had become popular. Sean found a lead on a job opening through an alumni message board. All his interview preparation, self directed study, certification, and additional duties for hands on experience paid off. He landed a job as a technical project manager at a company run by a fellow veteran.
What can we learn from Sean's experience?
You must put in significant effort on your own time to learn the skills necessary to transition to a new field.
Certifications can help you transfer to a new field or can vouch for your skills if you are staying in a related field.
Hands on experience is important. Look for opportunities to volunteer for roles than will give you relevant experience.
Buddy up with another transitioning service member to work on resume and interview preparation.
Don't assume a job will fall in your lap at a job fair. Pursue an active plan of searching for and applying for jobs.
You may be wondering what happened to Sean after his transition. About six months after transitioning, he went on to become a Co-Founder of MilitaryHire to help his fellow veterans through their transition to civilian careers.
Three steps to success:
by Sean Pritchard — Posted on Apr 03, 2015 in Veteran Transition