Some advice for service leavers and veterans looking for work…

Last week I gave a two-day, one-to-one career transition course to a soldier who is soon to leave the army. The course, grounded in the philosophy of Transperformance™, teaches people how to manage their own career changes, inspiring, I hope, an ability to be in control of one’s own destiny, and to enable participants to be able to move forward with renewed confidence in their own abilities. As has happened time and again with other people I have helped, this particular soldier had many questions and I encouraged him to ask them all, however silly he felt one or two were. Once again, I noticed how much subtext lay behind the questions, primarily based, as is so often the case, on what other service personnel had said to him. And so, as these two wonderful days are still a close and happy memory I thought I would update my blog with some thoughts for military job-seekers. (Because there isn’t enough advice out there already is there?!)

This leads into my immediate thought.

1) ENDLESS ADVICE: (How ironic when I am offering advice!) On an average day that I log onto Linked In, I am guaranteed to read a note from a service person asking for help and advice about leaving the military. It is great that so many people make the effort to respond to these updates, but when I read the conflicting advice given and how much of it is sullied by the personal experiences of the writer, I fear the person who asked the question in the first place will be left even more confused! So, my first piece of advice to anyone embarking upon this journey, is to remain in control. I fear that too many service leavers reach out to the civilian workplace asking how to do it, and this is fuelling the ‘template’ approach to finding a job. There is no step-by-step guide to finding a job, no clearly structured pathway for you to follow. As the poet, Muriel Strode write, “I will not follow where the path may lead, but I will go where there is no path, and I will leave a trail”. In short, I feel it is far better for you to listen to yourself, to identify what your career goals are and then seek advice about specific roles and sectors, rather than ask people how to find a job. So, I would say you need to make a plan that works for you

2) STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD: How many CVs have you seen that start with something like; “Following a 10-year career in the army, where I proved myself as being, loyal, trustworthy, a great communicator, highly accomplished leader, able to work in high-pressurised environments, I am now looking for a new challenge”. If this is looking familiar to you, imagine how often recruiters have seen something similar?! The challenge therefore, is to be able to understand what it is that makes you unique, what are your authentic abilities, what characterises you, what situations give you the greatest chance to succeed? I do realise that what I am suggesting is difficult for anyone to do, but especially for people whose lives have almost entirely revolved around a specific set of values, of regimental/unit nuances, adhering to prescribed ways of behaviour, and where being ‘the grey man’ is the best way to be. It is however something that you need to achieve if you are to allow recruiters to be able to see what it is that makes you different to all the other job-seeking veterans

3) AVOID STEREOTYPES: Despite an increase in public awareness of the armed forces, I don’t think it is unfair to say that much of our awareness has been carefully selected and staged by the media, by service charities, by fictional writers, and documentary film producers to name a few. Both the glamorous as well as more depressing side of military life has been portrayed, to a great extent, according to someone’s agenda. I, like 16 million other people, have seen ‘Soldier, Soldier’, of course we get it! Can you see how dangerous assumption can be? So again, it is vital that you surprise people, by knowing who YOU are

4) LANGUAGE: The military provides us with such rich, historically grounded, varied and unique vocabulary, one might need a military/civilian dictionary. So, whilst the Full Screw has a brew and a banjo with the Lance Jack, the SO1, is on his chin-strap, after a gopping tab, and needs to doss down. Meanwhile, two Royals enjoying a wet, made with fresh ogin, were gripped by a Rupert, for missing scoff and being jack and late for stag. Still with us? On a serious note, few people will understand the terminology, so ensure, when writing a CV that anyone reading it will understand it all. In addition to actual vocabulary, one thing which belies the military’s universal ésprit de corps is the use of ‘we’. Whenever you are in a situation where you need to ‘sell’ yourself, an interview for example, try and avoid telling the listener what the collective organization or team did, and ensure you convey your personal input. The listener wants to know what YOU did, what ‘your’ contribution was

5) NO TRADE? I am often asked by Infantry soldiers, or those without a recognized trade, what value, there is to the civilian work place for, as some people may see you, ‘trained killers’. As one veteran said to me, ‘I can read a map, do BATCO, bull a pair of boots, and shoot straight’, he was not being cynical. One thing leaps out immediately here. This veteran was looking at civilian work opportunities through the prism of being a soldier. If he could shift his paradigm to one where he was appreciating his value through the collective abilities, visible through the totality of his life, then he would increase his worth. You may see yourself as having limited skills that are transferable to the work place and I would encourage you, before worrying about skills, to recognise your natural abilities. In this way, you will be in a far more commanding position to demonstrate to potential employers your intrinsic value

6) “MY MATE SAYES THIS….” Often, clients start off by saying to me, someone they know has said something and what are my thoughts? Recently this has included, service-leavers should aim as high as they can within an organisation, at the highest pay grade if you like, and if this puts you at risk of what people call the ‘imposter syndrome’ then you can get through it. I have also been asked my views on salaries, with clients saying they have been told both service personnel get paid more than their counterparts within civilian work and that they are not paid enough. What I say to everyone I work with is….” It depends!”, again, there are no prescribed, right or wrong answers, it all depends on your aspirations, situation and abilities. Everything you ask must be relevant, and of use, to your unique situation

7) A PATTERN EMERGES: The connecting thread is to make a plan that works for you, not to follow a well-trodden path. Of course, other people’s experiences will help you, but to take from those experiences what works for you, not replicate someone else’s life. There are three steps in the transitions journey. 1) You need to appreciate who YOU are, to undergo some form of self-awareness training. 2) You need to identify what YOU want to do with your life, as a whole, and then with your career and 3) Identify how YOU can get to wherever it is you wish to get to. To be truly happy at work, I believe you should aim to find a role that you really want and not focus all your attention on what is available. It’s about pursuing a course through the ‘hidden’ job market, identified with research, conversations as well as an element of ‘right place right time’, together with an exploration of the visible, or advertised, routes

8) COMPUTERS! Many clients have told me about their being subjected to endless computer based assessments, or psychometrics. I know that this is a difficult area to address because in order to approach many organisations about work you will be told to log on to our website where you will find all our vacancies and fill in the on-line application form. I myself, just to keep abreast of what is happening, from time to time, fill out these forms and it is an absolute nightmare! In between the internet crashing and being told my password doesn’t match so I have been locked out of the system, to not really wishing to add any sensitive work experience, to not being able to advance a page if my work history is not exactly as the computer wishes it to be etc. etc. It is enough to start screaming and throwing the laptop out of the nearest window. I get it, but unfortunately despite many schemes such as the Covenant, many businesses have still not got their recruitment processes to be ex-military compatible. This, in turn makes it nigh on impossible, for example, to demonstrate five year’s sales experience and so, like other computer games, you can’t go to the next level! So, what can we do about this? If a business insists you go through this tedious approach then there is very little one can do. Let’s take this five year’s sales experience as an example. You, as a service person, won’t have that, but if you break down the requirements of being a good sales person, you may find that you have all the ingredients. An ability to get on with people, to persuade people to your thinking, to close deals, i.e. to not be afraid to ask for the business, these are all things that can make you actually highly ‘sellable’ and they are all behaviours and abilities that are either naturally present within you or are not, and no amount of military training will be able to rid you of these natural leanings. This is where your networking will come in handy. It is also where you should remember that the recruitment engine of our country is found within the SME market. (small to medium sized businesses). Such businesses, tend not to be too shackled to recruitment functions, and, especially if you live in rural areas, are managed by people who are far more visible within the community, therefore easier to network amongst. Psychometric tests, where the suitability of your personality is judged to an organisation’s requirements can also be problematic for the ex-military job-seeker. Whilst I agree there is value in such systems as a part of a recruitment process, I have yet to see the value in telling an interviewer that you are an INTG personality….is this helpful to you?! Again, from my own experiences, employers who unearth hidden gems amongst job-seekers ae those who prefer to hear a story, something that allows you to articulate your abilities clearly

9) EX-MILITARY RECRUITERS: There are some wonderful organisations out there and there are also some who clearly see the military and veteran community as a relatively untapped income stream. I would definitely add a handful of respected ex-military recruitment companies to the mix of other high-street and internet, civilian, recruitment companies, especially if you know what you want to do and have identified specialists. But be aware that very few will be able to help you to plan and manage your own career transitions, not just now, but into the future. Remember as well that recruitment companies are under pressure to fill vacancies to get their placement fee, so often you being able to find a truly suitable role is not their number one priority. Many companies now have dedicated ex-military recruitment programmes. Just be clear in your own mind, who wishes to genuinely employ ex-military personnel specifically and who is just looking at the military community in the hope of finding what they could find in the civilian talent pool but get the added benefit of adding a green tick to the corporate social responsibility box

10) START EARLY: Most people jump straight into ‘How do I get a job’ mode. The pressure you end up under can be immense as you get your CV together, speak to the ex-military recruiters, talk to your friends who have made this transition and brush up on your interview skills. All this in addition to moving home, perhaps finding a new school for your children, opening a new bank account, organising the council tax, new GP, new dentist, etc. etc. there’s a lot to do! You can help yourself massively by using your time, whilst still serving, to plan ahead and to carry out all the necessary steps needed to find a suitable and rewarding civilian role. You will need longer than you think to work through knowing who you are and what you want out of life.

11) THE DREADED CV! Don’t panic about writing a CV and don’t waste your money on people charging hundreds of pounds to simply rearrange your CV. My company gives a free CV review to every serving and former member of the armed forces who asks us to do so. I do not believe in charging people to rip their work to pieces, what I prefer to do is come up with some useful pointers for you, and, given that there is enough evidence to prove that the best CVs actually reflect the authentic you and not the person you are supposed to be, and given that they should demonstrate your true competencies and ambitions, I make no pretence to deny that should you realise that your CV needs a lot of work then I will encourage you to complete a career transition course. Your CV really should be looked at together with your online presence and personal branding. It should not be seen as a stand-alone document.

12) RESEARCH! So many recruiters complain that candidates at interviews don’t do enough to show that they really understand either the role they are being interviewed for or the organisation. You need to show that not only do you want to work within the sector but that there is something special about what the interviewing organisation does. The ability to show that you are well prepared and suitable comes from carrying out extensive research on the organisation before attending the interview.

These are just some thoughts that I wished to write about based on the last few clients I have been assisting. I do believe it is important to say that if you can filter out the endless narrative about how impossible it is for veterans to find work, you will be able to hear the wonderful success stories of the majority. I am sure more will come up and I will no doubt write about this subject further! In the meantime, if you think I can help you as you either prepare to leave the armed forces or are changing careers as a veteran, then please contact me. Where I add value is in helping you to become more self-aware, to help you to gain some clarity on what you have to offer an employer, to help you identify areas of interest within the world of work that you wish to explore, to see if they are relevant to you, and to help you present yourself, both orally and on paper/line so you can be in the best position to secure that job. (nh@transperformance.net)

2 thoughts on “Some advice for service leavers and veterans looking for work…”

  1. Thank you for this most useful and approachable post.
    I have found that people usually have an idea about ex Services people, that we are disciplined, focussed, know about leadership either as a leader or having been led and usually we have been both. Making the most of this comes with experience as you note the response of the listener and then judge how to translate what you’ve done in the Army into civilian terms. This post will help you do that.

  2. Never responded to one of these before so here goes!!

    Really interesting article. Left the RAF after 32 years 3 years ago. The big question (Question 1) is what do you yourself want to do? I felt as if I was 16 again just leaving school. Pure luck how I ended up where I am ( a long story!!).

    All the good stories that CTP workshops tell you about all our good virtues, timekeeping, reliability, etc. are great but they alone will not get you a job. I know I tried for 6 months! You need a specialist skill, something that the workplace needs.- there is no substitute. I can’t stress this enough. I was extremely good at operating and maintaining kit made in 1970s but no real call for it in Civvy St. (Sorry Civilian St!). Not meant to be sarcastic, excuse my feeble wit at humour as what you say is an extremely valid point! That along with spelling mistakes and poor grammar- nothing worse!

    I managed to get a H&S NEBOSH course which helped but did not fully do it. You need to decide long before you leave the answer to Question 1 and be ruthless with your resettlement and get what you need to go there!!

    There is also the myth that employers are not allowed to be swayed by age. I can now categorically state that this is a lie having firstly experienced it and secondly been in a position to ask prospective employers this question directly. When they are sifting CVs they will disregard dare I say it ‘older’ candidates by the amount of experience they have on their CV. Obviously there is no way of proving this but be warned it does happen! So the opening gambit of ’30 odd years meritorious service with HM Forces’ is a line I no longer use at the top of my CV as it seems to join the CVs with service lingo and spelling mistakes!

    Rant over, but that said the market is filled with keen willing people but you need that something extra. Decide before you leave!! You have been warned!

    Good luck

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