Sunday, June 17, 2018

Life After Law Enforcement: How to Prepare

I decided to delay the progression of the Life After Law Enforcement series since I was involved in an active hiring process and I didn’t want to provide any unfair advantage to candidates who read the upcoming “how to prepare” content in the series after others had actually put in resumes.  For example, I’m going to devote an entire blog post just to resumes alone and didn’t want to re-enact a scene from Patton where one candidate got to “read my book” while other candidates didn’t get to do that because they put in resumes before I got the post out.

Now that we’re past the resume intake process and the jobs aren’t posted anymore, I can fire off this next blog post.

One of the best bits of a career advice that I have received is to always prepare for the next job.  The “next job” might never be necessary, it might be an opportunity inside of the organization that you are already in, or it could be with an entirely new organization and even in an entirely new career field.  

One of the first steps in preparing for that next job is to define your goals for that post-law enforcement job. What do you consider your priority items? Is it working in a specific industry, a specific role, or even a specific geographical location?  Your goals will dictate the strategies and tactics that you use to prepare and obtain your next job.  You should be talking to those who have gone before you into the great wide world of the private sector to see what their experiences have been and what they can tell you about their jobs and organizations.  The better an idea that you have of the of what job you want and what its requirements are, the better you will be able to prepare.

Frankly, the most important strategy for job searching is networking.  Making connections with others will help you learn about the job market, how to prepare for specific jobs, and it will greatly increase your ability to land a job.  The age-old phrase, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is partially true.  It’s both what you know and who you know that will lead to landing that shiny new job.  It’s not that you can’t get a good job by blindly firing a resume into a job posting (I’ve hired people that way many times during my career), but you have a much stronger possibility of success if you already have pre-established relationships in the organization you are trying to work for especially if it’s with the hiring manager or someone on that person’s team.

You should have a well-written, professionally reviewed resume. Period. I’ve been a hiring manager for over a decade now and I can tell you with metaphysical certitude that most people’s resumes are abject clown shows.  I swear most of the resumes I get are just a few steps above being written with crayon on unicorn stationary. I’ll leave that alone for now, but I’m going to devote an upcoming blog post in this series exclusively to resumes.

One of the best tools that you can have for your job search is a well-designed LinkedIn profile. Your profile should largely reflect your properly crafted and professional resume and you also have the option of also posting your resume on your LinkedIn profile. Your profile should include a professional looking picture because you have to assume that any hiring manager who is interested in hiring you is going to do at least a cursory social media search for you that will include your LinkedIn profile as one of their first stops.

Start searching LinkedIn and various other job sites for job postings and pay close attention to what skills are being sought after by employers. Do they require a college degree? Are there particular certifications that they require or are preferred? What technical skills are they calling out as being important to the position? The job postings are going to be giving you important roadmap on what employers want to see from candidates which will help guide you in your preparation.

If you are in this business, you probably have at least some basic open source intelligence skills. Time to start using that skill set to help land you a job. Find job postings that you find interesting and start doing your research using tools like LinkedIn on people inside of that organization so you can reach out to them and start making friends and collecting information.   The holy grail of this sort of research is figuring who the hiring manager is for active roles so that you can make contact with them.  Even if you aren’t ready to start applying right at the moment, it’s smart to make contacts and start learning what hiring managers want out of job applicants. 

One of your strategies should be creating a body of work that demonstrates what you are good at and passionate about. I know the phrase “personal brand” sounds silly, but there’s quite a bit of truth to it. Learning and contributing through methods such as Twitter, blogging, conference presentations, volunteering (like at your local BSides), and the like will go a long way in establishing yourself as someone an employer knows is passionate and capable.  You do not have to be doing cutting edge and highly technical content to be a contributor.  There are new people entering the digital forensics world all the time and having someone explain concepts to them in ways they can understand is immensely valuable. For example, there’s nothing wrong creating a well-crafted blog post or conference presentation that explains a known concept in a clear and concise manner. If you do want to delve into unique areas, look ahead a bit and see where you think the digital forensics world is going to need to up to speed quickly and where there isn’t much work being done.  That’s one of the reasons why I’m spending so much time and energy on blockchain investigations.  It’s a gap in our collective knowledge and it’s just really, really cool.

Another good idea is to get yourself a mentor who can help advise you through your career transition. Ideally, this would be someone who is a hiring manager in an organization or industry that you are targeting in your job search. This person can help be your Sherpa guide for your transition into life after law enforcement and might very well end up being someone who hires you. I’ve successfully mentored people who are looking to break into the industry and were successful in doing so.

The questions that I tend to get revolve around what skills are needed to land a job and be successful outside of law enforcement. In general, the answer to that question is a function of what sort of job that you are interested in.  This is why I recommend paying close attention to job postings even before someone is considering making application.  The job postings are going to answer those questions in that they will be telling applicants what the hiring organization is looking for in an applicant.  That said, one of the universal skills that I tell people to start shoring up quickly is learning anything and everything they can about computer networking.

When I left law enforcement, I knew quite a bit about operating systems, but not much at all about networking.  I filled that gap by studying for and passing the CompTIA Network+ exam as well as the Cisco CCNA and CCDA exams.  I even started passing exams for the CCNP certification. Through that process, I learned an immense amount about how computer networks worked and ended up being my organization’s VPN engineer along with doing digital forensics work in my first role in the private sector digital forensics world.  I also studied for and passed the CompTIA iNet+ (which is no longer offered), A+, and Linux+ exams.  I found that, at least for me, learning a skill knowing that I would have to pass a certification exam at the end of the process worked very well for me when it came to expanding my knowledge.  It was also nice to list a horde of certifications on my resume since human resources and some hiring managers like to see that sort of thing.

The other question I tend to get is what role a college degree should play in preparing for people who don’t already have one.  This one is a big tougher to answer so I’ll throw out the lawyerly answer of “It depends”. If you’ve got loads of marketable job skills and experience and you’re meeting or exceeding the requirements of the jobs that you are interested in pursuing, it may very well be a bad idea to spend all of the time and money doing a degree before getting hired somewhere especially if you are doing it while you have family obligations. However, in some depressingly stupid organizations even if you can get hired without a degree, it can be tough to get promoted without one which puts downward pressure on your career path.

I did my first graduate degree while I was working as a police officer and that was quite a bit of work.  I did my second graduate degree while I was working in the private sector running a global digital forensics team and having a family and that was nightmarish at times.  So, unless you are going to be obtaining marketable skills at a reasonable price through the degree process, it may not be a great idea. The trick is understanding that many degree programs are grossly overpriced relative to their value.  For example, going $80,000 in debt in your forties for a digital forensics degree is probably not going to make any sense.

One of the big problems with getting a degree is that the bachelor’s degree system here in the United States generally takes four years or more due to the general education requirements so you can find yourself later in life sitting in class (physically or virtually) taking Babylonian Astrology 101 when you really just want to increase your marketable job skills.  You can’t even think about doing a graduate degree chock full of technical goodness until you’ve banged out that undergraduate degree. 

Ireland to the rescue on that front.  University College Dublin offers a graduate degree in Forensic Computing & Cybercrime Investigation that does not require an undergraduate degree to enter the program if you have enough prior experience and training and can be done from the United States. This is the program that the mighty Cindy Murphy went through and I know others who have entered the program and think very highly of it. 

The primary takeaway from this blog post should be that the burden of preparing for and landing that next role is squarely on you. Not doing any research or preparation and blindly firing off a third-rate resume into random job postings is one of the worst ways you can go about this process.  The more you take control of the process through preparation and networking, the better your result will be.