Almost anyone would agree with the statement “the military prepares you for anything.” But many veterans, and civilians alike, have difficulty translating that into tangible talking points when interviewing for a position. There is one particular industry that fits hand-in-glove, however, with military experience: cybersecurity. Even if that person doesn’t have a history in IT or cyber operations, the stringent requirements and training regulations placed on military service members often translate seamlessly to defending companies and government agencies from the latest virtual threats and adversaries.
While we should always take time to recognize and honor those who serve our country, May being National Military Appreciation Month offers a great opportunity to take a deeper look into the talents our nation’s veterans bring to the cybersecurity space. The transferrable skills, both tangible and intangible, can be incredibly relevant and valuable.
Transferrable Skills: The Tangibles
Depending on the type of service, the tangible transferrable skills will vary greatly. However, there are two skills that stand out but are often under-recognized: advanced training in specialized areas, and creative problem-solving.
Regardless of the field, to call the training military personnel receive ‘advanced’ is an understatement. The specialized nature of the work performed is unmatched. And the progressive nature of the strategy and tactics being carried out cannot be emphasized enough. The reality is, if there is an issue a consumer or business is experiencing today, the United States military had experience with a comparable situation years — maybe even decades — ago. While the terminology may be different or classified, the situations faced will expertly inform a veteran’s capability to solve the current civilian issue.
For one veteran at Exabeam, Eric Sanchez, the parallels between the work he performed for an intelligence group in the military 40-50 years ago and how user and entity behavior analytics (UEBA) is working currently within cybersecurity were clear. “We basically took behaviors in the different signals that we acquire from different objects, different systems and then fingerprinted them,” Sanchez said. “That’s basically a parallel to what UEBA is doing now, with establishing baseline behavior for digital users and identifying anomalies, but for individuals.”
When thinking about transferrable skills learned from time in the service, the notion of “failure is not an option” continually surfaced. When you’re faced with making decisions that routinely hold the gravity of life or death, failure truly isn’t an option. That mentality becomes ingrained, and leads to building some truly invaluable skills, like creative problem-solving.
This skill is highly valuable for technical applications (thwarting new versions of threat codes, creating new solutions to ever-evolving ransomware attacks, etc.). It can also be useful when building trust with clients. Once they know you have that background, that drive, they know you are going to work to get them the best possible solution to their problem. For veteran Keith Buswell of Exabeam, it’s “particularly relevant when we start talking about budgeting, and what types of things are important in our environment.”
“A lot of environments, they want the best in breed… but can’t always afford it,” he said. “How else can we solve that problem? … There are different ways that we can get similar information, or at least bridge that gap until they can get there.”
The notion of failure not being an option, this enhanced tenacity seen in military personnel, also creates a heightened sense of trust between both colleagues and clients.
Transferrable Skills: The Intangibles
In the service, you must trust the person next to you — which means you have to be trustworthy yourself. Knowing that your cybersecurity team is going to follow through on what was discussed and will continuously work to defeat the cyberthreat at hand puts the security in cybersecurity.
And clients know this about military personnel. It puts them at ease. This ability to quickly build true, strong trust with clients is an invaluable asset in cybersecurity.
On a more tactical level, cybersecurity professionals are often required to travel quite extensively. It can be a week or month on the road at a time. For most, this seems daunting. But for military personnel who are used to multi-month-long deployments without regular contact with family, this is a walk in the park — both for themselves and their families.
Getting in the Door
If you are looking to break into cybersecurity post-service, know that it is feasible. Military service provides vast experience, and being comfortable talking broadly (as permitted of course) about your experiences in the national security space can be a true asset. A dedication to security is a dedication to security. But there are also some more tactical things you can do to beef up your resume in preparation for a role in cybersecurity post military experience.
Don’t Put Your Skills in a Box
When thinking through your positions and roles while in the service, choose areas to highlight that are most relevant to the position at hand. Look through what you have accomplished during your term of service, and think about it as a job centered around security.
The military provides vast depth and breadth of day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Some are menial, some life-or-death. But it also creates a character that is unmatched. Don’t forget to speak with your interviewer about your skills and preparedness that go far beyond just certifications and degrees.
But that’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue certifications. In the modern era, certifications are quickly becoming realistic stand-ins for degrees when it comes to the IT world. Oftentimes, certifications are the fastest way to break into the cybersecurity field. And it worked for Buswell, among many others. “I wanted to break into cybersecurity the fastest way possible, so certificates were my route,” he said. “So Microsoft first, then MCSE, MCSA and then CISSP was the route that I went, and that got me into the door. And then after that, I got my degree in Information Management Systems while I was employed in the cybersecurity realm.”
The individuals who protect our nation are uniquely qualified to protect the cyber landscape of businesses and organizations. This Military Appreciation Month, cybersecurity organizations should consider the value military personnel could add to a cybersecurity team. With their advanced training, incredible tenacity, problem-solving capabilities and integrity, these individuals offer a unique capability to protect the cybersecurity of organizations.