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Career transitions: A military veteran and an IT novice weigh their options

Two people with very different backgrounds both have the same goal—they want to use their previous career experience to transition into a competitive IT career. TechRepublic's career coach Karen Childress provides tips for each job seeker.


By Karen Childress

Let professional business coach Karen Childress help answer your career questions. Karen will be sharing hints and tips on a host of career issues in this Q&A format.

Q: I have been in sales for more than eight years but only one and a half years in IT. I have had success working for a large ERP vendor and am interested in getting into the e-commerce (B2B, B2C) or CRM markets. I am working with a few headhunters and have had some leads, but much of the feedback I have received is that I need a few more years in IT under my belt.
Since the traditional headhunter approach is not producing many results, what other steps can I take to find a job in those fields?—Ben Paulson
A:Childress: The feedback you are getting is probably right on the mark. A year and a half of experience in a fast-changing and complex industry is a little on the light side. Can you hang in there with your current job for another year or so? You’ll be taken more seriously when you go out looking again.
If you are just chomping at the bit to make a change, however, there are a few things you can do. First and most obvious—network:
Who do you know in the industry that might be able to give you some good leads?
Who do you know from your previous sales experience who is now in the tech world? Go through your Rolodex and leave no card unturned.
Don’t overlook the value of attending networking events, mixers, and the various “Tech Brew” type gatherings in your area.
How wide is your search? Are you committed to staying where you are geographically? If not, let your headhunters know you are willing to relocate and search the newspapers and the Internet for jobs in cities where you might enjoy living.
Whether you decide to change jobs now or in the future, you should set a goal for yourself, make a plan, and then follow your own plan. Your goal should be specific and have a date attached to it. For example, “I will have a new sales job in e-commerce by Nov. 1, 2001, earning $XX.” Then map out a plan just as you would if you were managing a project for an organization. And don’t take just any job. Make certain you are clear on your criteria before you begin to look and stick to them. Hold out for the right job so you won’t be going through this process again a year from now.

Q: I am a 39-year-old Air Force Master Sergeant eligible for retirement in November 2003. I currently have a B.S. in management, computer information systems. I have experience managing small IT programs and projects within the Air Force Intelligence arena. I am trying to decide whether to pursue either a project management profession or work my way into the information security world. Any advice?—James (J.R.) Brown
A: Childress: It’s always nice to have choices, isn’t it? First of all, what do you think you’d most enjoy? Since you’ll be retiring from the service and will have some income from that source, I suspect you can afford to go after a job that will give you the most satisfaction—as opposed to feeling forced to take the one with the biggest dollar sign attached to it.
Since you’re doing project management now, you know what that’s all about. Do you like it? Does it excite you? Or are you bored? Been there, done that? Answering these questions should give you some direction. Be honest with yourself and spend some time thinking about what you can get passionate about.
With your intelligence systems background, easing into the security world shouldn’t be too much of a stretch. What is it about that arena that intrigues you? Who do you know in the field who could give you the inside skinny on what it’s really like? Consider going out on some informational interviews between now and the time you leave your current position. This strategy is great for fact finding and networking.
You have time on your side. The tech world changes so rapidly that you should closely watch developments in the industry over the next couple of years. Part of your decision may end up being based on what the market demands are as you near retirement. While you are still in the Air Force, take full advantage of any additional training and experience that will help your civilian job search.
One final thought: If you are motivated, organized, and confident in your abilities, you might consider consulting or freelance project work while you get more clarity about what you want to do.

Karen Childress is founder and president of ihavegoals.com. She is an entrepreneur, management consultant, and certified as a professional business coach by the Hudson Institute. A frequent speaker, she has delivered keynotes and workshops to groups of 20 to 200. Childress is the author of the book 88 Ways to Take Control of Your Life.

Do you have a question for Karen Childress? Send Karen a letter about a problem you’re facing on the job or ask a question about your next career move.

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