To Protect and Serve: How to Change Careers From Law Enforcement to IT
Whether it's behind a desk, behind the wheel or behind the scenes, law enforcement jobs can certainly be stressful. If you are nearing your retirement or simply thinking it's time to explore another career option, think about how you can continue to protect and service in a new career in technology.
IT Careers vs. Law Enforcement
No doubt your career is an important one. Your life may be on the line daily as you protect the public, and that is a noble cause. While many careers in information technology won't require such a potential sacrifice, there are similarities between the two fields. As someone in law enforcement, your problem-solving skills are likely top notch and being sharpened every day. IT careers also require high levels of problem solving.
And just as helping people is a key component of law enforcement, it is of IT as well. When it comes to a fast pace, your career protecting the public is surely at the top of the list, but IT careers can also be fast-paced, so IT needs people who are comfortable thinking on their feet.
Lastly, the schedule for law enforcement can be grueling. Late-night shifts, “weekends” that aren't really Saturday and Sunday, and being on call for emergencies can drain on the best of us. But have no fear – IT offers some of the best jobs for work–life balance. Many IT jobs work a traditional “9-to-5,” Monday through Friday schedule or even offer flexible options like working from home or making your own schedule.
Whether you are a dispatcher, police officer, detective, corrections officer, customs agent or game warden, you are more prepared for a career change to IT than you might think.
What's Out There for Me in IT?
Maybe you're getting burned out on the day-to-day stress of your law enforcement position and are looking for a change. Or perhaps you're nearing the end of your 25 years on the force and are a young retiree looking for a career change at 40 or 50. There are technology jobs out there that could be right for you.
Consider these two entry-level IT positions as an example of how you could launch your new IT career.
|Help Desk Technician
|Computer Support Analyst
|“Normal” work hours
|Generally requires some nights and weekends
|Can leave work at the office
|Can leave work at the office
Possible Career Path
|Help Desk Technician → End User Support Specialist → Network Administrator*
|Computer Support Analyst → Coder → Software Developer*
|College degree not necessary, but certifications are beneficial
|Associates degree or post-secondary classes often required
|6% growth expected
|6% growth expected
Estimated Time to Career Change
(Statistics and information from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; items marked with an asterisk (*) are from itcareerfinder.com.)
You're Not “Too Old for This…”
With all due respect to Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon, you are not “too old for this…” and can certainly transition to an information technology job with the skills you perfected in law enforcement. Now, just as you probably don't cruise for donuts all day, people in IT don't necessarily sit in a dark room and code for hours on end.
A top job in IT needs people with customer service skills – something you may already have after dealing with the public. Jobs with computers are rarely just with computers! There are people everywhere in an IT career, and with your public service background, you could be great at handling them.
Think about your ability to transition from task to task seamlessly, too. In law enforcement, your day's objectives can change on a dime, and your ability to roll with the punches and put on the big fires first are valuable in IT. Take those experiences to a technology job. An IT pro's to-do list changes during the course of the day, and the information technology field can certainly benefit from your experience in triaging important tasks.
Experience and Training Needed for a New IT Career
If you're thinking about changing careers to IT, it goes without saying that you should probably enjoy technology and computers. Think about what it is you like about technology and where your strengths lie. Are you good at troubleshooting computer issues for your friends and family? Do you enjoy trying to make your own computer run more efficiently? Both of these can be stepping stones to IT careers, as well as helping out a nonprofit with configuring its servers or getting a bit of side work helping someone hook up their new printer.
Also consider what you currently do in law enforcement and what sort of technology you use. You may already be pretty tech savvy, so building on your skills may be easier than you think. While you are considering a new career in IT and still employed in law enforcement, moonlighting (or sun-lighting if you work the night shift) can help get your new career going in the right direction.
How Long Will it Take to Change Careers?
While you may be really excited to hit the ground running in IT, it's important to remember that a career change takes time. Corinne Mills, author and managing director of Personal Career Management, suggests patience when transitioning to a new career.
“While some people want to radically reinvent their career instantly, it is more realistic to work toward a new career over time. This might mean making changes in your current job, studying a course in the evening, shadowing someone in the role or learning new skills to make yourself more attractive to potential employers,” she told The Guardian. “It might also mean that you gradually move into your new career via a series of jobs rather than one giant leap – and this is important if you want to protect your salary rather than going back to entry-level wages.”
The amount of time will be different for everyone, depending on your transferrable skills and experience and the amount and type of training you need. Career coach Daisy Swan says you'll need to allot time “to (re-)educate, to develop a new network in that field and to gain meaningful experiences that introduce you as a player... which then leads to gathering credibility and accessibility to your new work and new career.”
For some, it may be a few months, but for others it may be longer. Regardless of how long it takes, remember to go into the process with patience and a list of SMART goals that will keep you steadily on the path to a career in IT.
Leaping Into IT
To get from here to there, think about your goals and your timetable. Your first step would be to take our free career quiz to see what job in technology matches your skills and interests. Remember, your law enforcement career didn't happen overnight, and neither will your IT career, but with patience and attention to detail, you'll be able to navigate the change.
Research what training and education you will need to get into IT. Perhaps it's as simple as taking a class or two at the local community college. And talk to people in the field doing what it is you think you'd like to do. Researching what you'd maybe like to do will prove to be valuable as you consider how to change careers from law enforcement to IT.
Make sure you are getting the experience you need on a small scale by volunteering your time and expertise to resolve IT issues for a nonprofit or teaching a class at your local library for people that want to feel more comfortable using computers.
If you want to start your career as a coder, for example, start building your web portfolio and polishing your skills. Don't forget, you likely already have many of the skills necessary to work in IT, such as attention to detail and communication! Certifications and training can get you the rest of the way to achieve your IT career goals.
So, What Do I Do First?
Start by taking our free career quiz to narrow down your potential career options and see which IT career is a good fit for you.