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November 18, 2020

My post-military career | Finding and thriving in a civilian job

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“You’ve got more to offer than you realize; make sure you translate your military skills into civilian jargon and don’t sell yourself short.”

Currently thriving in their post military careers, Jo Johnstone and her fellow interviewees know exactly what it takes to successfully transition into a civilian job.

To help others find fulfilling jobs after the military, we asked these experienced ex-forces employees to share advice from their experience on civvy street so far. From the training and transitioning programs that helped them the most to the ways their employers support post-military personnel in the workplace, their answers are valuable intel for those taking steps towards a civilian job.

What formal or informal post-military training or transitioning program helped you find and adjust to a civilian job after the military?

Jo Johnstone | Senior Customer Success Manager, Microsoft: During my army career and for my resettlement I took a number of Microsoft IT courses that ‘eventually’ led me to my current role. Although my current role isn’t tech support, the background has given me a wealth of experience that helps me relate to my customers.

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Jess Clinkard | Associate, Global Regulatory team, J.P. Morgan Network Management: Prior to leaving the military, I took part in a three-day career transition workshop run by CTP (Career Transition Partnership) within my local Army Education Centre. This three-day course covered CV writing, interview techniques, how to apply soft skills into your CV and interviews, along with lots of discussions surrounding leaving the military and next steps. I think this really helped with an understanding of a future career in civilian life.

Dave Gilbert | Senior Project Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester: I used formal resettlement opportunities for gaining Project Management qualifications (Prince 2, Lean Six Sigma), that included some work placements. I had started the APMQ course online before I started in my role but opportunities through my employer have allowed me to gain APMQ and MSP through formal training.

Informal training was very limited; this consisted mostly of attending Service Leaver events such as specialist job fairs and networking events. I highly recommend these as they led to me finding a few useful contacts who were willing and able to help me see through the noise of resettlement and job hunting, and help translate the CV into actual skills. I would highly recommend any workshops about using LinkedIn.

Dan Kelk | Project Manager, Network Rail: Agile Project Management, PRINCE2, LEAN.

Ann Richardson | Team Leader, DSTL: The military provided a one-week career transition workshop that discussed deciding on a future career including personality types, CV writing, and interview skills. It was good to meet others leaving the service and thinking about their next step and the taught sessions were useful. I left with a better idea of how to approach an interview and a first draft of a CV. Although I still didn’t know what I was going to do next or how it was going to work with two small children!

Nikki Scarr | Human Resources Business Partner, Abcam: Leadership training and development in the military is exceptional and often undervalued. Having led teams, I have been able to use this experience to support my stakeholders in civilian organizations from an alternative perspective.

I was fortunate to utilize military funding towards my bachelor’s degree in HR Management and my professional accreditation as part of my transition into civilian life. I have no doubt that this has opened doors for me professionally and enabled me to have a successful transition.

Alice Williams | Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Excellence, Schneider Electric: Schneider Electric took a more informal approach that allowed me to take on a role with a few key deliverables but broad scope and allowed me to widen that scope as I learned more about the business. I was placed in a central function so that I could access and understand all parts of the business.

During my transition there were times where I doubted whether I could “make it”, whether my experience would be valued. Those were the times where the courage and determination to keep going really helped me look forward and take bold steps into the unknown.

How does your post-military workplace support you in bringing your whole self to work?

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Jo Johnstone | Senior Customer Success Manager, Microsoft: At Microsoft I can be me! I have a different background to lots of my colleagues; I didn’t go to university, I joined the army. But this hasn’t held me back, in fact it’s probably helped develop to a more diverse team and I’ve won a number of awards during my time at Microsoft, so all looks to be going well!

I’m a member of our Military at Microsoft group and I’m given time to volunteer on projects that matter to me, such as supporting service leavers or driving the annual Poppy campaign.

My colleagues and management tell me they appreciate some of my more unique ways of looking at things and most of all my directness and honesty!

Dan Kelk | Project Manager, Network Rail: I am very supported by my line manager and wider team who empower me to do my job, often providing constructive feedback and support for other opportunities. This is dependent on the relationship I have managed to build with my manager and wider team.

Ann Richardson | Team Leader, DSTL: Equality, Diversity and Inclusion is something Dstl are particularly good at. Dstl knows that the best, most inspired and novel work is generated by a diverse workforce who feel valued and have the chance to reach their full potential. Diversity and Inclusion are encouraged and supported at every level with networks, events and assistance to support individuals’ specific needs and help these communities thrive. Reading back, this sounds like a textbook answer but honestly, the level of support is quite extraordinary.

Alice Williams | Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Excellence, Schneider Electric: I have been actively encouraged to bring an outside perspective to my role — to help avoid groupthink.

Debbie Riglar | Group Leader – C4 Systems Group, DSTL, MOD: Dstl respects and values all forms of differences in individuals. I feel very much included in Dstl now but initially it took a while for me to adjust to my new environment.

Dave Gilbert | Senior Project Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester: My work is very values based and seeks to embrace people’s diversity. It’s very common for people to be sought out because their skillset, experience and background can solve a problem.

“The military background helps hugely with this — being action orientated means that we always seek progress and have a pursuit of excellence.”

My work appreciates this and if there are things I prefer to do in order to deliver on that, ways of working for example, that’s fine.

Caroline Duffin | Customer Service Advisor, SGN: SGN is a MOD Employer Recognition Scheme Gold Award winner for showing outstanding support to the military community and the Armed Forces Covenant, so it’s no surprise Armed Forces veterans and reservists feel welcome and valued. SGN recognize the skills learned in the forces can be easily transferred to a range of roles here and provide excellent training packages to teach important job and industry-specific knowledge. The culture is inclusive, and managers are always on-hand to offer guidance and support which enables me to bring my whole self to work.

Eight top tips and career advice for finding and thriving in your job after the military

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1. Don’t sell yourself short

Georgia McHardy, Military Transition Program GTI People and Workplace Strategy at J.P. Morgan advises: “I wish I had been advised earlier to advocate for myself and recognize my abilities! Military personnel have so many skills that are ingrained from the commencement of military training and honed throughout our careers. These are skills in which we often become unconsciously competent, and we’re typically unaware of how sought after they are in a corporate environment.

“Fine-tuned soft skills, sound organizational skills and an innate desire to work as a team to find solutions are all examples of qualities military personnel don’t recognize in themselves. Understanding how valuable their own individual skills are, while maintaining a humble outlook, will help inspire confidence in soldiers transitioning into civilian street.”

This is echoed by Jo Johnstone, Senior Customer Success Manager at Microsoft, who simply says: “Don’t undervalue your skills and take the first job offered to you. You’ve got more to offer than you realise; make sure you translate your military skills into civilian jargon and don’t sell yourself short.”

2. Ignore the myths, plan your pay, and approach people

“The myth of leaving and being snapped up to work ‘in the city’ for triple your old paycheck is purely that — a myth. It might work for a rare few but most of us will have to do it the old fashioned way.

“Consider what your minimum pay could be — that’s the lowest offer you can accept for any job. It doesn’t have to be the perfect job, it only has to be the next job. It’s like a posting, there’s always another if you keep looking. Consider as well that consultancies are very good starting blocks for ex-military. I wish I’d approached some more openly at the events I’d attended. It’s probably a good, but uncomfortable, line to take to ask, ‘I’m interested in working for you, do you have someone who can talk to me about opportunities?’

“Also consider doing an Excel user course. This, it turns out, is a vital work skill that I’m still only scratching the surface of its true capability.” Dave Gilbert, Senior Project Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester.

3. Be proactive about making the most of the resettlement opportunities

“Be proactive about making the most of the resettlement opportunities offered when leaving military service. I am currently studying for financial exams alongside my current role, but I wish I had started it earlier and taken more advantage of the time and financial help on offer during the resettlement process.” Hannah Bisbas, Associate, EMEA Client Platform, J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

4. Do your research as early as possible

“Understand what you want to do as a second career, develop knowledge of that role through talking to people or gaining qualifications early so you can demonstrate application of that skill. Research the industry/organization, understand their challenges and what they do and build a network within that business or industry of people (not just ex mil) who can give you credible real time advice and support.” Dan Kelk, Project Manager, Network Rail.

5. Get to know yourself

“Take the time to connect with my personal identity outside of the uniform. The change can be jarring and the process for stripping back the ‘military identity’ and getting back to the personal identity doesn’t really exist – you have to do that hard work yourself.” Alice Williams, Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Excellence, Schneider Electric.

6. You don’t need to change yourself for a civilian job

“Rather than focusing on advice I wish someone had given me, the advice that I would certainly pass on to anyone leaving is: Don’t change yourself to fit a new career, allow that career to adapt around you and your skills. What I mean by this is that in the military we are trained to think, work and act in a certain way. However, I feel that leaving the military I can truly be myself and have inputs into team projects where my opinions are valued.” Jess Clinkard, Associate, Global Regulatory Team, J.P. Morgan Network Management.

7. Leaving the Regulars? Consider exploring the Reserves

Dave Gilbert also says, “If leaving the Regulars, consider as well exploring the Reserves. The people there are at the very least a group of like minded individuals who work in a wide variety of backgrounds and businesses. One of them might just be able to say, ‘actually, I’ve got something for you’.”

8. Be ambitious: you can find a second career after the military, not just a job

“I wish I had known that it was going to be better and that a second career rather than just a job was possible. It would have been good to understand that I would need to adjust but that I should be ambitious because self-improvement and progression was possible.” Ann Richardson, Team Leader, DSTL.

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Looking for a new opportunity?

Our transparent job board only has vacancies from employers we endorse and lets you see what benefits, policies and perks come with the job.