With a background in Plans and Operations, it’s no surprise that David Orr, a former Army officer, put a lot of thought into planning his transition.
It is now a year since I started my resettlement journey – transitioning to civilian life after 20 years in the Army. Although it was undeniably daunting at the outset, I am delighted with the way it has worked out. I have a job with an excellent company, I actually get to go home to my family every night (a key driver for leaving) and I am in a financially stronger position. I am fortunate that I have achieved everything I wanted to in the 12 months following ‘pressing the button’.
This seems like a sensible point to take stock and review the last year, not least because it may prove useful to those leaving the Services now – in the same way that I found the advice invaluable of those ahead of me on the conveyor belt. Rather than tackle this with the usual ‘Top Tips for Resettlement’ I thought it might be helpful to recount how I set about planning my transition highlighting what worked and what didn’t along the way.
With a background in Plans and Operations it seemed logical to apply the same trusted planning method I’ve used my entire career to my resettlement campaign. I started by articulating as simply as possible what I was trying to achieve, namely a job in the private sector that I could commute to daily, with a salary that matched or exceeded my existing Army salary.
I then conducted an estimate process to produce a plan to deliver that end state. As shown in the diagram below, I devised five Lines of Operations (LOO) to break the task down into manageable chunks. Each LOO had its own end state and all five aggregated together to deliver the overall objective. I haven’t shown it here, but the plan existed at a further level of detail comprising around 60 milestones and sub objectives, which I tracked using an online project management application.
The LOOs were:
LOO1 – Build the Network
If there is one piece of advice that I was given consistently through the resettlement process it was that networking is critically important. The advice is accurate too; there is no substitute for having a diverse and influential network of contacts who are able and (hopefully) willing to help.
My challenge, however, was turning that theory into practical reality. I had been aware that maintaining a network was important for years, so over time I built up a fairly substantial collection of contacts on LinkedIn. Military officers are fortunate in this regard; simply by virtue of moving so frequently we meet a broad spectrum of people, both serving and civilian. I found collecting these contacts on LinkedIn in the years before I left invaluable, especially as many of my serving contacts had already left and therefore had trodden the resettlement path before me. It really helped when the people I spoke to had been through the transition process themselves and every single one went out of their way to help. It is hard to overstate the value of the network I already had as a direct result of being a military officer.
Armed with my LinkedIn contacts list and a large glass of wine, I set about categorising my contacts into those that might be in a position to offer me a job, those that could assist by opening doors, and those that could provide specific advice. I quickly discovered that the first category doesn’t really exist; networking does not often lead immediately to a job offer and if you adopt the attitude that it should you will lose friends pretty quickly.
Once I had a list, I allocated everyone a score based on how much I thought they might be able to help me. I then started at the top and began making contact, initially on LinkedIn but always followed up with a meeting in person. This proved hugely valuable, and a large proportion of my meetings led to further referrals and several led directly to interview opportunities. Without exception, everyone I met was happy to give up their time and I left every single meeting with at least one new nugget of advice.
If I could do one thing differently it would be to focus my networking on the geographical area in which I planned to settle. I made the mistake of focussing on my network’s centre of gravity, which was inevitably London. It is amazing how many times I met people who could help me get a job in the South East, but who had little influence in the North of England, even when they worked for a company with regional offices. Developing a Partner level relationship with one of the ‘big four’ in London was surprisingly ineffective at securing a job with the same company in the North.
In addition to this informal networking, I also harnessed a couple of more structured and well organised networks. The Officers’ Association is an excellent resource and they were able to put me in touch with some very helpful ex-forces contacts. I also joined the Two Roses networking group which, despite the name, is a Yorkshire focussed networking group for veterans. They are a really helpful and friendly bunch, with the added advantage that they know the ground in the North.
LOO2 – Apply for Jobs
It sounds ridiculous but it is easy to forget that you actually have to apply for jobs!
Particularly in the early days when I didn’t understand how networking operates, I naively thought that eventually I’d be offered a job from that process. I’m not saying that never happens, but it is extremely rare. Fortunately, I recognised this before the optimum time for applying, which turns out to be 3-4 months before the ideal start date, so I was never on the back foot.
Before I started applying, I invested time writing and fine-tuning my master CV and covering letter. I wrestled with the debate about how demilitarised both should be, and I ultimately decided on a hybrid. Completely civilianising all language and appointments looks ridiculous and contrived – being an Ops Officer is simply not the same thing as a Chief Operating Officer – but equally it is still important to write in a way that the target audience will understand. On several occasions I was complimented on my CV for its absence of ‘nonsense jargon’, something I achieved by writing in plain English and not seeking to translate every element of military language.
I focussed on detailing achievements and outcomes in my CV. As someone who now sees many CVs a week, I can confirm that the real value comes from evidence of success in roles similar to the job you are applying for. Once I had written a draft CV I sent it to an array of people for ‘red-penning’. I kept doing this until I started receiving suggestions to change something back to the way it had been in a previous version. Then I knew I was chasing the error!
I spent about half a day on each job application. It takes this long to tailor the CV and covering letter for that specific job. To really force home the idea that my application was laser-targeted at a specific job I made a conscious effort to weave the language of the job advert and job specification, including using full phrases, into my CV and covering letter.
For every application, I tried to let someone from my network on the inside of that company know that I had applied. This has a twofold benefit; if they are willing to put in a good word that always helps but perhaps even more importantly they are able to nudge the process along when the glacial HR process inevitably stalls.
Overall my approach worked as most of my applications led to some kind of positive follow up.
LOO3 – Build Online Profile
Resettlement is effectively an exercise in personal promotion. Fortunately, in the social media age it is easy to build an online brand and portray yourself however you choose. It is important to start early, engage with multiple platforms and to remain consistently active.
I once met a CEO who claimed he wouldn’t hire someone if they didn’t have a LinkedIn profile. Possibly an extreme position, but it does serve to highlight just how important LinkedIn is in the modern job market. I made sure my profile was immaculate, both in terms of content (which must compliment the CV) and appearance, including adding a few photographs. I also made sure that I was active on LinkedIn daily, including writing original content. I’m not sure exactly how, but high activity and original content seem to be the two things that promote profiles to the front of the algorithm queue.
I also started blogging on a website that I set up originally purely for self-promotion. As it turned out I quite enjoyed writing and the blog also served as an excellent platform to promote my charity fund raising efforts, but these were fringe benefits. I write at least one article a month on a subject of professional or personal interest, which I then promote on social media. The benefits of this are hard to quantify, but I know that over the period of my resettlement my website was viewed almost 6000 times – which is a great deal of exposure I wouldn’t otherwise have had. It is not unreasonable to assume that many of the companies that I applied to will have googled me and it certainly can’t have done any harm when they found a site with a narrative that was completely under my control.
LOO4 – Conduct Training
The resettlement period offers an opportunity like no other to invest time and money in personal development. At the beginning of the process I conducted an analysis of the gap in my skills and professional profile. I did this by consulting widely, but also by reviewing hundreds of job adverts to get a feel for the skills and attributes they were asking for. I quickly understood I had a deficit of commercial understanding and finance. I also didn’t have much in the way of formal recognition of cyber skills, despite having a good few years of practical experience.
To address the first two shortfalls, I enrolled in Manchester Business School’s AMAC course. I can’t recommend this course highly enough; over 3 weeks it teaches MBA level material tailored at the gaps in knowledge a typical mid to senior level officer has on leaving the forces. I learnt a huge amount about business governance, strategy and finance, and it provided an excellent opportunity to get to know officers in the same situation, many of whom I now count as valued contacts. A qualification from Manchester Business School also has a certain gravity that plays well on the CV and at interview.
To tackle the cyber skills certification gap I did the CISMP course. Whilst good enough, I would with hindsight have done CISSP instead as it is probably the most widely respected general qualification in the industry.
LOO5 – Administrate
In the whirlwind that is resettlement it is easy to forget the considerable burden of administration that has to be done on leaving. It all takes longer than might reasonably be expected so it is worth starting early. It is imperative to apply for the pension as soon as possible to ensure payment starts on termination. It is also worth speaking to the taxman before the inevitable first pay cheque gets taxed at emergency rates.
This article was originally published by David Orr and has been republished with his permission.