John Kerner was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Logistic Corps, before leaving the Army in 2016. He originally published this article on LinkedIn, to help Service Leavers better understand the challenges of transition and improve their chances of landing a great first role. He is now a director with Highways England, responsible for delivering a £250 million major infrastructure project. John kindly agreed to let the OA reprint the article.
1. Have a plan
This might seem like a no-brainer, but developing your own personal transition plan helps focus your time, effort and resources on securing a new job (not just any job, but one best for you and your future employer). It gives you a handrail to measure your performance against and is something to review when your situation changes (which it will).
Put effort into building your network(s) early on, as doing so allows you to use them purposely when job hunting. LinkedIn is great for professional networking online, but works best when used alongside face-to-face networking events such as the Liquid List. Finding the best networking combination to suit your circumstances takes time, but my advice is to make use of every opportunity. Networking might not get your dream job, but it will help you get one step nearer.
3. Know yourself
On leaving the Armed Forces you are less defined by ‘what you were’, so may need to better understand ‘who you are?’ Start by identifying what’s really important to you and what your strengths are, before seeking feedback from others who know you well. Few people are solely driven by money for example.
4. Max your Learning Credits
If you are still serving and haven’t used your Standard Learning Credits, then get in the habit of using them. Access to Enhanced Learning Credits only occurs towards the end of service, so think ahead how you can get the best from them within their lifespan.
If you don’t know enough about a sector or role then explore it. If you need to inform an important decision especially, get different perspectives. By all means research online, but better still is to have someone in your network that can provide a personal view or knows someone who can. You’ll be surprised how willing people are to offer advice and assistance.
6. Look beyond CTP
The Career Transition Partnership (CTP) is the MOD’s provider of resettlement support, career transition advice and training opportunities. Whilst you will see and hear much about CTP during transition, recognise that other charitable organisations and businesses exist who can add value to your transition journey. The Officers’ Association, The List (incl Liquid List), Leavers Link , Barclays AFTER programme, BFRS, Project FORTIS, XMR , Salute My Job and FRS are just a few examples of what else exists beyond CTP.
7. Know your market(s)
In your transition plan you should have identified a range of employment sectors (e.g. HR, finance, construction, engineering, logistics etc.) and roles types that interest you. If you haven’t or are struggling, then I suggest down-selecting against what you don’t want to do. Also, consider using Twitter to keep track of sector trends and what employers of interest are doing.
8. Set limits
Before charging off into the job market, it’s a good idea to set some limits. Time has its own value, so decide how long a commute you can tolerate or whether you want to work abroad? Decide how much you realistically want and need to earn? Decide whether you want to stick with what you know or whether you want to move into another sector? Decide what sort of role you want? Understand your CASH FLOW, especially how much money you need whilst job searching as you may need to save.
9. Take a break
Seriously. Before you rush from one busy role to potentially another, think about whether you want or need to build time into your transition for a break. You might want to catch up with family and friends, learn a new skill or finish off that home project that’s long overdue. Taking a break also allows time to improve your health and proper thinking space to consider what’s really important in life.
10. Be self-aware
In the Armed Forces confidence generally comes through training and experience, but don’t let this confidence be seen as arrogance by people who may have little or no understanding of the military.
11. Expect to be ignored
You will be ignored from time to time, but don’t take it personally. Sometimes the job application process is deliberately lengthy to deter speculative applications and your CV may not even reach the recruiter if the initial candidate sift is automated. Recruiters may start a conversation with you, then go silent and move on like a bad date. Try and get feedback, but move on if you haven’t had feedback within 30 days.
12. Watch your timings
Employment processes can take anywhere between one-four months from application to starting. Don’t forget about ‘seasonality’ and recruiting flat-spots in Jul/Aug/Sep and Dec/Jan. Feb-Jun is a good time for job hunting, so think about how this might influence your last day in uniform or job search timings.
13. Play the long game
It’s unlikely that your first job after the Armed Forces will be your only one and it’s likely that you’ll have to pass at least one interview. The better prepared you are the more chance you have of success, but don’t beat yourself (or recruiters) up if it doesn’t work out. Job requirements change, positions may be advertised already knowing that an internal candidate will win or the wind just won’t be blowing in your direction that day. Nevertheless, be professional, courteous and get feedback from everyone you meet ……as a better role in the same company might just be around the corner.
14. Know when to compromise
Rarely will you walk into your ‘would love’ job, so expect to compromise. Don’t under-sell yourself, but be prepared to come down a rung to secure your first role outside the military. Think about what you could compromise before making a decision, as compromising too much too early may leave you in a weaker negotiating position later on.
15. Worst case planning
Think about your worst-case job searching scenario and how to overcome it. You may have to re-frame your expectations if the opportunities aren’t there for you when you need them. Don’t forget to look at public sector, contract/interim or volunteer roles and remember that periods of unemployment can be a great opportunity to reinvent yourself.
16. Have a great CV
CV advice is plentiful online, but translating military experience into the language of your chosen sector(s) takes practise. Get feedback on your CV whenever you can (as some sectors have certain preferences), so that when you use it for real it gets the right result – an interview.
17. Job hunting
The challenge is getting your CV into the hands of the hiring manager. You will be competing for the role, so ensure that your CV is well tailored to the job description and use a cover letter to help stand out from the crowd even. Online applications often go through a keyword sift and if your CV actually reaches a recruiter they will probably be junior, have little understanding of the Armed Forces and spend less than a minute reading your CV before deciding whether to add you to the interview list or not. Better still is to identify and build rapport with the recruiter, to get a feel for their needs and how to meet them. Best is to have your CV passed to the hiring manager by someone senior and this is why networking matters.
18. Interview success
Ensure you understand the interview format beforehand, who you are dealing with and their role. Don’t expect all interviewers to be highly skilled – they may be as nervous as you! Competency based interviews usually follow the STAR format, so ensure that your answers reflect this. If the interview lacks focus, then help bring the interviewer back on track with your answer. Scenarios and case studies may also form part of the interview.
19. Stay healthy
Job searching for most is a marathon not a sprint, so ensure that you keep physically and mentally healthy. Networking generally involves long days and online job applications often involve considerable time behind a screen. Get decent sleep, eat well, do some exercise and add variety to your days. If job searching through the dark winter months, maybe even consider taking a daily vitamin D supplement? Also, don’t forget to build fun into your job searching.
20. Pay it forward
Regardless of whom you were or what you did in the Armed Forces, you were part of a team and this doesn’t change when you become a veteran. If selfless commitment isn’t already in your DNA, then make an effort to reach out to others – as everyone appreciates an offer of help once in a while. If you’re someone seeking help, then don’t be afraid to ask.
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