The guaranteed starter job. (Part 3)

A common frustration of first-time job seekers in the field of IT is that it sometimes seems like you need prior experience to get your start in the field. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a job that accepted all applicants? This article is the third of a series that deals with this topic.

Photo by Diego González on Unsplash

In the previous two articles in this series, we talked about two great ways to get your foot in the door: internships and word of mouth. If you didn’t read those yet, they’re worth a quick look before jumping into this article.

No, really. Read those articles first. The advice in this article is a bit more… drastic.

But maybe you’ve already read the other two articles. Perhaps the advice there doesn’t apply to you? Maybe you didn’t go to college and can’t access an internship right away, but you still need a job right now! Or perhaps you’re a bit introverted (no judgment!) and don’t have a large circle of family and friends that you can tap to effectively use the word of mouth technique I described.

Well, good news! It turns out there’s an employer out there that will give you amazing work experience, provide tuition assistance, and maybe even throw in a top secret clearance as well – the military!

There’s a bit of a downside, though, as we’ll discuss in a minute. But first, a quick disclaimer: I didn’t do any military service myself, so this is all second hand knowledge. If joining up sounds like something that would work for you, I highly recommend speaking to someone who’s currently serving for some insider knowledge.

Let’s dive right in.

Pros of military service

  • It’s a guaranteed starter job! And yes, they have tech careers! You can learn to do penetration testing or network security, for example. Neat!
  • It’s guaranteed experience. Since you’re signing eight years of your life away, you’ll come out of this with eight years of experience. Something worth noting here is that even if you enlist for three years, you’ll be a reservist for another five afterwards, so when making a decision like this, always use eight years as the number.
  • Guaranteed financial aid. You’ll have help with paying for college afterwards, and you may also come out of the military with a cert or two.
  • There might be a signing bonus. These can be in the five figures.
  • You could get a top secret clearance out of the experience. Top Secret (AKA “TS”) Clearances can be very useful in places like Colorado or the Washington DC area where there are a lot of government jobs as those jobs sometimes require a clearance to work there. For most jobs, however, a TS clearance doesn’t hold much advantage. It’s main advantage is to open up a whole new pool of potential jobs for you, essentially.
  • There are lots of other benefits! I’ll let you research the branch that interests you instead of trying to cover everything here.

And now, let’s talk about the pretty big drawbacks of joining the military.

Cons of joining up

  • Recruiters have recruiting targets they need to make, so they may gloss over some things here and there. Approach joining up as you would negotiating any other contracts. Don’t rely on any verbal agreement or understanding – get it into your contract! For example, if you will only join up if you get a certain job, make sure that you’ve got that in writing! (This is the kind of thing someone in active duty would tell you, so again, please make sure to speak to someone you know and trust that is already serving before you commit to anything.)
  • You might have to shoot someone. It doesn’t matter that you’re signing up to push 1’s and 0’s from your keyboard – you’ll be a soldier first. And that may require you to shoot someone, launch a missile at them, throw a grenade, well… you get the idea.
  • You may get shot at. Yes, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the Navy on a nice big ship. Someone may eventually shoot at you. Worse yet, they may not miss!
  • Your career may progress slower than if you were a civilian. This compensation comparison page from the army is worth looking at. According to the second chart, if you were a Telecommunications Engineer II with four years of experience, your salary might be $79,985 as a civilian and $59,774 in the Army. As they highlight in the chart, there are other financial benefits like getting a housing allowance and whatnot, but you get benefits in civilian jobs too (like 401ks and bonuses) that they’re not factoring in. The number they use for the civilian job might also be really low depending on your area. In DC, for example, I was already making six figures after four years of experience.

You’ll need to think about a few other factors.

For example, will you go active duty or reserves? Active duty is full time service, whereas reservists report for duty one weekend out of every month. But, reservists get deployed first. (This directly relates to the bullet point about getting shot at.)

Another thing to think about is whether you’ll want to be an officer or enlisted. If you prefer to give the orders, you may want to finish that college degree before you sign up so that you can be an officer.

Think about these choices well and long, because they’ll have real life implications for you if you join up. Some jobs won’t be available to a reservist, for example, and others are specifically for officers.

Signing up for military service shouldn’t be done lightly. Remember to never sign anything on the spot, no matter how much the recruiter pressures you. Get that contract and take your time reading through it, preferably with someone who’s already in the military. Remember that military service is easy to get into but very, very hard to get out of if you change your mind. If you hate it, you’ll be at a job you hate for eight years before you can leave. (Sorry for all the underlining, but I wanted to make sure you didn’t miss these warnings!)

The up side, though, is that they will take almost anyone, so if you really are struggling to get that first IT career, this will get you that coveted first job.

With each post, I cover a new topic to help you get your start (or keep progressing) in your IT career. If it’s your first time visiting this blog, start here. Or, see all my posts about interview questions you should definitely be prepared for.