After graduating high school, I served in the United States Navy for five years as an Information Systems Technician. My primary job responsibilities were to administer and protect the computer and network systems on a Naval combatant ship at sea so that the ship could complete its missions. In 2012, as the end of my service was coming up, I had nearly completed my bachelor's degree, obtained my IT certifications, gotten married to a fellow Active Duty sailor, and welcomed a new baby into the world.
With everything that was going on in my life at the time, I decided that it was in the best interest of my family to leave the service. I will always be grateful to the Navy for giving me countless opportunities and a variety of experiences to learn, lead, and grow both personally and professionally.
As I left the Navy and began to look gainful employment, I had plenty of reason to believe that my real world experience, certifications, upcoming college graduation, dedication to my craft, and military discipline would be enough to facilitate a smooth transition back into civilian life.
So I set out eager to start my career. I researched the top companies in my field and my area, and got to work on my resume. I applied to jobs, mailed my resume, cold-called potential employers, and began attending the job fair circuit. But after nine months, I got nothing but rejection. Somewhere along the line, those positive feelings of affirmation and confidence morphed into feelings of unworthiness. My fear of failing became so great that I began to feel what I now know as impostor syndrome: persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
My fear of failing became so great that I began to feel what I now know as imposter syndrome: persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a fraud.
I felt totally unworthy, but why? Because in nine months' time a worthy candidate would have secured the job and salary they wanted. I felt unworthy because jobs for which I was completely qualified – or even over-qualified – were still somehow out of my reach. A worthy candidate would have received offers to interview for open positions that were perfect fits, especially after positive and promising e-mail exchanges with recruiters or hiring managers.
The feeling of unworthiness gave way to all of my fears that I wasn't supposed to be here, that I wasn't deserving to be in my chosen field of Cyber Security, and that the only reason I was here was because the Navy let me serve my country and trained me well. How does a person who has such grave doubts about their self worth, identity, and technical abilities secure employment in a competitive field and job market?
I rose above those feelings of unworthiness and asserted all of the facts and qualifications that made me feel affirmed when I left the service.
For me, this became a call-to-arms defining moment. There was one position I especially wanted, and when I finally got the interview, I rose above those feelings of unworthiness and asserted all of the facts and qualifications that made me feel affirmed when I left the service. Two days after my interview, I told the recruiter to forget about the two other job offers sitting in my inbox that weren't my dream jobs. I made it clear to the recruiter that I really wanted to work at the company I had just interviewed with. The recruiter passed along the message to the hiring manager, who then extended me an offer of employment the following Monday.
Although my nine months of self-doubt and rejection resulted in employment, I still find myself feeling like one of the lucky ones, not only because of imposter syndrome, but because statistics indicate that US veterans – especially women – have difficulty obtaining gainful employment after they have left the service.
Statistics indicate that US veterans – especially women – have difficulty obtaining gainful employment after they have left the service.
The US Department of Labor Statistics observed the highest unemployment rate of women veterans based on available data (since 2000) was 13.2% in 2012, the year I was looking for work. The highest unemployment rate for male veterans since 2000 was 9.6% in 2010. The good news is that things are getting better. In 2018, the highest unemployment rate for female veterans was 5.3% and the rate for male veterans unemployment was 4%. We have come a long way in the past twenty years but there is much more we can do because there are still veterans, male and female, struggling to gain employment.
On March 30, 2019 at the Women in CyberSecurity 2019 conference in Pittsburgh, PA, I am speaking on a panel titled "We Got the Skills! Women Veterans Transitioning into the Cybersecurity Workforce." I will be speaking with other technical women who have obtained cyber roles after leaving the service. We will be sharing our experiences in hopes of enabling other veterans to have a successful transition from the service to the public or private sector.
The experience of finding employment after my military service was challenging, but these difficulties were rewarding for two reasons. First, my journey led to a fulfilling role at the greatest cyber security company in the world. Second, the lessons I learned on my journey have enabled me to help other veterans streamline their job hunting process and gain employment.
I appreciate when people thank me for my service, but my mantra is: thank a veteran by hiring or helping another veteran.
Mack T., PMO Director for Symantec's Consumer Business Unit, shares his observations on the changing attitudes towards Veterans over the years.
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