At the Forces Employment Charity, behind every phone call with a veteran or military spouse, every specific piece of job advice, and every successful job placement, is a member of staff who empathises and values those who have served and the military families that support them. Each staff member has their own story to tell – how they got here, what drew them to their current role, what makes them tick, and crucially, their motivation to support veterans, spouses, partners and dependants.
Continuing our monthly interviews with staff across departments such as employment advisors, operations and specialists we’re interviewing Lisa Jones, Career Consultant on the Executive Services programme and Army veteran.
Read on to learn about Lisa’s career, motivations and advice to veterans.
Can you tell me about your career up until you joined Forces Employment Charity?
After I left the Army I went into the financial services sector, where I worked for two investment banks, Morgan Stanley and UBS. I was client-facing within an area called listed derivatives (futures and options). I knew absolutely nothing when I went into it! I then moved into Prime Brokerage, which focuses on hedge fund clients. It was exciting and different to anything I had done in the military.
Thanks to organisations such as the Forces Employment Charity and the Officers Association, these employers are much more aware of the skills that veterans can bring into the business. When I was transitioning people found it almost extraordinary that I had been in the military! They didn’t believe me and couldn’t understand what I had been doing, had I been firing weapons? Had I been driving a tank? I hope that the work we do is helping employers to understand more about veterans and the skills they have and the benefit to their workforce.
How did you move from finance to career consultancy? They are such different career paths!
To sort of talk about my military career a bit, I served for a couple of years in lots of different places, including Cyprus, Bosnia, Northern Ireland, and Germany and my last job was at the British embassy in Paris! When I left banking the Afghanistan conflict was ongoing and a friend mentioned to me that the army was keen to recruit linguists. I read French and Russian at university and so I decided to retrain as a Dari linguist, which is one of the languages of Afghanistan. As a reservist in Afghanistan, I worked with the Afghan media, helping them to increase their capacity and to report what was going on in their country. Often they couldn’t get to where they wanted to report due to the security situation.
I then came back from Afghanistan and I thought ‘What now?’. I knew I didn’t want to be in Banking anymore, so I went to the Officers’ Association. They gave me advice and guidance and they offered me a job! That was 10 years ago; I went from client to employee!
So we have touched upon it a few times but to clarify, how long were you in the Army?
I left at the 9-year point. When I left, CTP did exist and I was given help with my CV but there was not this same level of awareness from employers about the skills military people could offer. So I did find it reasonably hard work trying to convince people to hire me. But again, the network is what really helped me, so in some ways nothing has changed. One of the things I always say to people is network network network! Leverage those military connections and people you have served with and talk to the people who have gone before you, it is one of the most helpful things you can do.
That is excellent advice! Let’s get to know you in the present, what do you do here at the Forces Employment Charity? Can you go into detail about what the Executive Services team does and what you do there?
We support anyone, any rank, seniority and length of service from all three Services who aspires to an executive level career after the Armed Forces. What we do is work with employers and encourage them to look at Service Leavers for their roles. We help them to run insight events and programmes too.
Personally, a lot of what I do is as a career consultant and I offer coaching skills, advice and guidance on what career path to follow. I try and help them to understand their skills better and to understand how relevant and transferrable their skills might be. And guide them to events and networking opportunities; essentially I help people to learn about their options.
What do you mean by ‘executive level’? Who does your programme support?
We tend to support people who aspire to managerial roles. When starting new career path people do not tend to go straight into leadership roles, but we support those who aspire to that level. It is more about helping people to realise their ambitions and realise their potential. We help them to articulate their skills and experience in a way that employers want. We also help people to think about the career options they might not even have considered.
I remember speaking to a female Service Leaver who had left as a Corporal. She was at an insight event for one of the big four consulting firms and she felt unsure about herself. She wasn’t an Officer and she worried that the consultancy firms wouldn’t want someone like her. But they did. She had fantastic technical skills, and was a leader! She was a junior non-commissioned officer and is now a team leader at one of the big four consulting firms and doing brilliantly.
We don’t just support those with degrees or people who have been officers, but anyone who has the right skills and passion!
What made you want to move into this role?
What you do when you leave the military does not need to be the thing you do for life. It can be a journey and you can have several stages of your career. When I left the Army I wanted an exciting career in the city. I wanted to be in an office environment where all the IT worked and there was nice soap in the loos! I wanted a demanding but rewarding job and I did it. But after a while, I began to question my motivations and whether those jobs were in line with my values. Purpose and values are really important to military people, but during their service, they don’t always realise that and take it for granted.
When you leave you suddenly become more aware of that and it is quite a revelation. So I think over a period I realised I wanted more purpose and I certainly had that in the Army. Especially when I was in Afghanistan, working directly with Afghan journalists. I couldn’t carry on doing that though, I got married and knew I wanted to have a family. I knew I wanted to do something that mattered and had values that chimed with my own, so when this opportunity came up, it felt right. It clicked into place and I thought ‘Yes! I would love to do this!’ And ten years on I am still here!
That’s great! You obviously enjoy what you do. What sort of challenges do your clients face and how do you support them?
We offer through life support and our clients face a wide variety of challenges. For some people it is weighing up the pros and cons of leaving Service life and when the best time to do that is. Not everyone we talk to is necessarily leaving, sometimes they are just thinking about it and how they can prepare for it. We act as a sounding board a lot of the time. But also people face redundancy later in life, they have left the Forces, had a second career and are now facing redundancy and they are finding it difficult. Or even people who have left the Forces, had a job lined up afterwards, didn’t do much resettlement and then face redundancy a couple of years later.
Redundancy can be a nasty thing that you can’t help but take personally and people do need to take time to get used to it. I have had clients who have had to let off steam and needed multiple sessions with me before we could even talk about what they could do next because they were finding it so difficult to deal with their redundancy.
Other challenges some of my clients have faced include PTSD. Sometimes it’s the shock of leaving the service or more, and medical discharge can be another challenge for those who have envisioned a long career. When people leave through choice it’s one thing, but leaving because they have to is very challenging.
And it is totally understandable why that is challenging! Let’s move on to something more positive, what is your favourite part of your job?
I love helping people to feel more confident. My favourite part is when people let me know they got a job. I love when they call to say that they love their job and are thankful for the help I gave them to apply for it! Also watching the penny drop can be great too, watching people realise that they are not alone and the feelings they have are feelings that many other people experience.
What energizes and motivates you at work?
My absolute belief is in the extraordinary talent pool that exists within the Armed Forces! Being a veteran myself helps, but I do believe in this community and I love helping others realise their potential!
What’s something you’re proud of?
I was proud of myself for gaining my mentoring and coaching qualifications during the pandemic! We had sold our house, my husband, daughter and I moved in with my mother, it was difficult but I managed to get my qualification! Getting it gave me confidence but also lots of practical tools and skills to help others. I remember getting feedback not long after gaining my qualification and it said “Lisa is a fantastic coach; she helped me to really understand what I wanted and how I could go out and get it!”. And this ex-client emailed recently as she was hiring and while discussing her requirements, she repeated her feedback. It was so nice.
I am in awe! The pandemic was a hard time for many people so to be able to complete a whole qualification in a cramped space must have been quite an effort!
It was! But I’m so glad I stuck it out!
And that about wraps up the interview, thanks for talking to me today!
To find out more about the Executive Programme click here.