“The Royal Navy Gave me an Excellent Grounding in Management”

Vanessa Murphy left the Royal Navy in 2012, just shy of 16 years’ service. Her first role was Head of HR for Zipcar before she was approached by Toyota a year later. Here, she talks about the challenges of her first corporate role and the joys of no longer being ‘shielded by layers of seniority’.

Early Planning

About four years into my career in the RN, my boss advised me to start planning for my retirement early and actually, this was really great advice.

I always knew I wanted to have a career in HR. I used the remaining time in the Service to get HR appointments and the right qualifications and accreditations. Despite this, the first six months of my first corporate HR role were challenging and a steep learning curve – the pace of change was so much quicker. I had to introduce a redundancy programme, dismiss numerous people and build up an entire marketing team, including digital (something I knew nothing about).

On top of this I had to learn a whole new lexicon and become much more financially savvy. Fortunately the RN gave me an excellent grounding in management skills – in particular, the importance of keeping calm, making decisions and building relationships. It was these skills I called on, while I was establishing myself.

Adapting to Civilian Life

I really enjoyed my time at sea – the sense of purpose, team work and camaraderie is second to none. However, I genuinely do not miss the Services and get a lot from the fast paced, commercial environment.

In my role, as General Manager HR, at Toyota, I like the fact the buck stops with me and I am not shielded by layers of seniority – that also means I get the credit for the work I do and it isn’t absorbed by someone else. I also like the fact that I get to see the world, for short periods of time, and there are no long absences from my family and friends.

There is also the small stuff like getting to choose what I wear every day, no ceremonial drills and incredible financial benefits. However, time keeping seems to be looked at differently – I still work on the five minute rule but it appears nobody else does.

Vanessa’s Top Tips for leaving the Services

  • Start planning early and speak to people who have been through resettlement – collect a data bank of top tips and apply those which work for you (or try something different).
  • Review your CV regularly and make sure you tailor it for every job you apply for. This will require more work but now I’m in a role where I see lots of CVs, it’s really easy to spot generic ones (they rarely get past an initial sift).
  • Lots of people will tell you to network in order to secure a new position. However, I got my first role through the traditional route of responding to an advert and then I was headhunted for my second role. I use networking to increase my knowledge in areas where I have interest or knowledge gaps.
  • You are very unlikely to encounter an organisation culture that is like the Armed Forces – make sure you are able, and equipped, to deal with that. That might sound obvious but it can be a shock to some people.