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Transitioning to a New Career? Here’s What you Need to Know

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By Leischen Stelter

It’s no secret that today’s job market is competitive. It can be difficult to find a job even with the necessary experience and education. So what happens when you want to start a new career, when you want to transition to a new field?

Tom Slade of the American Museum of Natural History discusses career transition strategies during AMU's New York event. Other panelists (from left to right) include Andy Hinton, and Tim Hardiman.
Tom Slade of the American Museum of Natural History discusses career transition strategies during AMU’s New York event. Other panelists (from left to right) include Andy Hinton, and Tim Hardiman.

That was precisely the topic American Military University posed to a panel of experts during a March 25 event in New York City called Advice from the Pros: Private Security Transitioning. The university asked four experts in law enforcement and physical security to provide students with tips and advice about how to best prepare themselves for career transitions. The advice they offered can be applicable to everyone, regardless of specific career paths.

Prepare Yourself Early
Transitioning to a new field can take years of preparation. Start your transition early, don’t wait until you’re close to getting out of the military or law enforcement.

  • If you don’t have the appropriate level of education or applicable degree, get it. Even if you can’t complete the degree by the time you’re ready to change careers, starting it can demonstrate to a potential employer that you are serious about the field and want to increase your knowledge.
  • Join related associations. There are professional associations for every industry. Figure out which associations apply to your career goals and become a member. Many associations offer industry certifications that are well-recognized in that specific field and can be a good addition to your degree.
  • Network with industry peers. Many professional associations hold regional and national conferences and events. Attend them. This is a great place to meet people in the industry and learn more about the field in general. You can take this knowledge and experience and use it during the application and interview process. Showing knowledge and interest in the industry can prove to a potential employer that you are serious about this career change.
  • Join social networking groups and engage in online discussions. LinkedIn is a great place to start. Do a search for related groups and join them. This can help you pick up on the lexicon of an industry and help familiarize yourself with the hot topics. And don’t be afraid to contribute to these discussions. It can help get your name out there and begin conversations with others.

Make sure your Résumé Reflects your Experience
Tom Slade is the Senior Director of Security and Safety at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. During the panel, he discussed how he receives 50 to 100 résumés for every security position he posts. His first priority is to weed out the ones that do not directly tell him how that person would be a good fit.

Make sure you demonstrate succinctly on your résumé how your experience can benefit the employer and how you plan to perform the role. Also, be sure to tailor your résumé to the specific position. It sounds fundamental, but Slade says too often he sees the same résumé for different positions.

Learn to Translate your Skills to a New Career
Chances are your previous experience can be a huge asset for a potential employer. However, many people have a hard time translating their past experience and putting it in the context of a new position. Slade said he sees many highly skilled and talented people struggle with this issue. He suggests job seekers take the time to think about how their direct experience can relate to a new position in a new industry.

For example, if you have law enforcement experience, what skills convert directly into something applicable to the civilian market? Many candidates have the experience needed to enter a new field, they just don’t know how to convert those skills into something that a potential employer can relate to or understand.

Specifically for the security field, if you want to get into it, know something about it. Know about access control and video cameras and the technology behind it, recommended Slade. These days, physical security is driven largely by technology and those pursuing a career in the field need to have a basic understanding of that technology, he said. They also need to know about risk management and risk avoidance and how to best deal with different levels of organizational risk.

In the case of physical security careers, it is very important to work closely with IT departments to secure an organization. “IT and security need to work together,” said Slade. “IT knows when we’re getting hacked, that’s their world. My world is ensuring that our data centers are locked down and people can’t go in.”

Similarly, Google has built a strong partnership between its security engineers and its security non-engineers to enforce security measures, said Andy Hinton, VP, Global Ethics & Compliance for Google, Inc. “Yes, there’s a component aimed at defending our company from foreign powers, but the fact of the matter is that we lose laptops because people leave them on their car seats.” Also, when someone is suspected of inappropriate activity, those cases are often turned over to security to investigate, he said.

Make Sure the Job is a Good Fit
As much as employers are going to interview you, understand that it is a two-way street: You have to interview them as much as they interview you, advised Tim Hardiman, who spent 23 years with NYPD. Make sure that the organization you are considering is a good fit for your personality as well as your professional goals.

In the case of law enforcement officers, it can often be difficult to adjust to the corporate hierarchy structure.  “If your day isn’t complete until someone calls you Chief and salutes you, you’re going to have a difficult time when you enter the corporate world. It’s going to be a totally different experience,” said Hardiman.

The bottom line: Do what you love. “Make sure it’s something you enjoy,” Hardiman said. “You’re not going to survive the long haul if don’t really love it.”

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