The informality of the civilian world of work offers significant opportunities to those in transition

“It’s 10 times easier to land a job when the boss hands your CV to the HR department, than when HR sees it first and hands it up to the boss,” says Adam Grainger, a Royal Marine for five years and now a financial consultant.

As someone who has to apply for new contracts two or three times a year, Adam can fairly boast about his 16 years of successfully selling himself.

He offers essential lessons for effectively moving from the military to a civilian career.

Learn their language

The good news is that ex-officers have exactly the skills that employers are looking for: initiative, resilience, leadership and team work.

The bad news is that most don’t know that former military personnel have these skills. And we’re not always good at getting the message across.

“One of the key challenges we face is learning to tell our stories in the language that the rest of the world understands,” Adam says.

Every organisation has its own specific terms, acronyms, even ways of acting. In the military you’re so entrenched in your culture, you don’t notice it.

For potential employers to take you seriously, they will want to feel you understand them and their language. That means learning how their industry works, using language they use and understanding their working culture.

There’s no point in turning up in regimental cufflinks and tie, if the industry culture is less formal. It’ll just show how out of touch – and unsuitable – you probably are.

You will also need to translate your experiences and achievements during service into what similar successes might look like in their industry.

Sign up for a qualification

Adam recommends enrolling on a professional qualification for the industry area as soon as you can. Even if you’ve just enrolled, putting it on your CV shows how serious you are about being part of their world.

It’s also one of the quickest ways to become entrenched in the language and culture of that industry. It might feel like a step back to begin with, but it is a good long-term investment.

“Cream always rises to the top,” says Adam, who frequently sees ex-officers once they’re on the inside.

It’s all about turning up

Getting out of the house, meeting people and asking for introductions are probably the most effective ways to begin a transition to a new career.

It’s too easy to sit in front of the computer, half-heartedly completing online applications and waiting for the phone to ring.

Many jobs don’t come about through formal recruitment, but rather through personal contacts. You’ll be surprised how many people really want to help or share their advice.

But you can only start building a network if you get out there and start meeting people in the right places. Go to the conferences. Join the online networks. Attend the industry trade fairs. Most importantly, send thank you emails and keep in touch with those who you’ve met.

Often it’s not the person you meet first who will be the key, but the people they know, or even the people those people know.

“Meeting someone now and keeping in touch doesn’t necessarily mean landing your dream job right away,” says Adam, “but the foundations you lay now will pay back years later.”

Nothing to lose

After years where rank and discipline are central, it may surprise you how little formality there is in the workplace.

You can go directly to anyone in a company, and the most you risk is that they tell you they’re too busy or to contact HR. Even then, senior staff might admire your gumption. That’ll put you in a good place if your name filters through to them later on.

And there’s no reason why you can’t exploit your military past and connections to open doors. If the CEO or a partner in a company has a military background, they’ll already know the great characteristics and skills you can bring to a job.

“Beyond the unwritten rules of good behaviour, there are no rules” concludes Adam. “You’ve all been trained and practised in using your initiative, so you should find this lack of rules empowering.

“You really can make your own luck.”


Adam Grainger gained 5 years experience as a Royal Marine officer before embarking on a career within management consulting and, more recently, global financial services. Adam has experience of leading projects within global corporations and is currently Chief Operating Officer at a leading global provider of financial services. As a former Captain in the Royal Marines, Adam is acutely aware of the high-calibre skills that officers can bring to civilian employment once they leave the Service.


Hear more from Adam in our webinar “How to Strut Your Stuff on Civvy Street”