Career choices can often feel huge, daunting prospects. To people who have served their whole working life, or even just part of it in the military, this can feel even more so; but in fact, they are better prepared to tackle career change than they think.
A ‘job for life’ is no longer the norm. Indeed, research by LinkedIn shows that the average person will have 12-15 jobs in their lifetime and that career switching can happen as much during a person’s 20s and 30s as later in life.
We have seen, particularly over the past 18 months, that life is not a linear path but a continuous series of new experiences and challenges. There is no longer a precise destination; rather, the most important element is the constant pursuit of learning and minimising regret.
Deciding to leave the Forces is a significant one, which can feel high risk. To imagine that those accustomed to placing themselves quite literally in the line of fire are risk-averse may seem paradoxical but stepping into the unknown of ‘Civvy Street’ may feel like the riskiest decision they have ever taken.
Is there a risk in leaving? Of course, but it would also be a risk not to explore other opportunities outside the military environment. If you do not try, you will never know and may lose an opportunity to learn, develop and find your next career passion. Another essential stage of transition is to have no regrets. Explore everything – An approach Laurence Whittingham adopted when he was ready to leave the Army after seven years with The Queen’s Royal Lancers.
Laurence had enjoyed a varied career that saw him undertake two tours of Afghanistan and operations in Australia, Canada and Europe.
He found leaving military life a challenge but having studied Economics at University; he began researching civilian roles in the City, securing a role at Citi in a position that was junior to that of his role in the Army.
Laurence said, “I now work in a front office job, dealing foreign exchange, structuring derivatives, and discussing how to manage FX exposures with multinational companies; for me, this meant starting at the bottom to learn my trade.”
Laurence believes the transferrable skills you gain from your time in the military are sound but if you want a technical role – you will need technical training, which can mean taking a step back to learn the role. This can put many Service leavers off applying for schemes like Citi’s, opting instead for more typical ex-military roles like management consultancy and project management. Laurence comments, “I would argue that many write themselves off unnecessarily. Having helped run Citi London’s military recruitment for the past 4 years, I have seen ex-military go into some of the most demanding roles on the trading floor and excel.”
The military environment is always changing. Those serving learn to be flexible, adaptable, to go with the flow and yet consistently deliver. The key here is to leverage the dynamism these changes engender – learn as much as possible and develop and refine a core set of skills. This way, we can associate constant change with constant opportunity.
During transition, military personnel often worry that they are a ‘Jack of all trades; master of none’ or that their varied military career means that they have no specialism that would appeal to a civilian recruiter. However, the key is to look at this experience differently and find recurrent threads. The skills you will have built up over your career will be diverse and have common themes.
Demonstrating that you can continue to deliver no matter what the environment or circumstances will show that your skills are solid and resilient and highly likely to withstand whatever a new career can throw at them.
The variety of career choices can seem overwhelming, so it is helpful to turn to others who have trodden this path to improve your knowledge about different sectors and how your skills might fit. However, exploring those familiar directions others have followed, it is worth looking to the future to less obvious but more current areas such as AI, robotics, cyber, logistics and renewable energy. These are the growth sectors where military talent is increasingly sought.
Groups such as the Armed Forces Sustainability Network supports those interested in industries active in these areas. A network of former service members across multiple industries such as finance, consulting, renewables, clean energy, utilities, policy and academia is willing to provide advice, referrals and opportunities.
Caspar Bossom, a former officer in the Royal Engineers and founder of the network, says, ‘The military’s collaborative culture means service members gain exceptional interpersonal skills; having to adapt under pressure within dynamic teams whilst delivering multiple projects at pace.’
Maria Larsen is a case in point. Having left the Army in 2018, she has enjoyed a varied career, initially taking up a role in a humanitarian aid organisation for two years as a disaster responder, leading deployments to an earthquake, a tsunami, cyclones, flooding and bush fires. As an engineer and team leader, Maria developed her collaboration and leadership skills immeasurably. On her return to the UK, Maria qualified as an Agile Project Manager and gained a Project Management Qualification (PMQ). She now works for MI-GSO | PCUBED as a Senior Consultant, where she has a client-facing role for the central government, operating in response to Covid-19.
Throughout Maria’s career, variety has been the key to holding her interest, given her innate ability to solve complex and demanding problems. Sound familiar? It echoes in the stories of many Service personnel.
Whether you have managed a defence programme at a strategic level, helped rebuild a school in Somalia, or run a workshop supporting armoured vehicles, the challenges you overcome, the solutions you delivered, and the skills you developed will be of value to a future employer. In a world where no one can predict what will happen next, change is the only constant.