In an article written in late 2019 by fellow OA career consultants Fiona Jackson and Lisa Jones: ‘Time to Take Stock of Your Career’ they reminded readers, “Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted.” Lisa also advised, “The best Christmas present you could offer yourself is to allow time for self-evaluation to prepare for the challenges ahead.”
What do you really want?
The start of a new year gives you time to consider what you’re looking for in a new civilian role: to follow your vision for a new and rewarding career, one that supports your whole-of-life wellbeing, whatever you consider this to be.
During career consultations, I ask clients to write down those skills they are not only good at but also really enjoy doing, and crucially, I ask them to consider what keeps them motivated in their work? I can’t emphasise enough the value of distinguishing between the skill sets you may be good at doing but find arduous and dull, and those you enjoy doing.
This is a bigger challenge when options are limited. Stuart Tootal, a Partner at Matero, spoke at a recent OA virtual careers seminar and confirmed that it’s important to establish a refined hierarchy of needs so that you are clear about what matters to you at this stage in your life. It might be money, time at home with the family, leadership responsibility, working in a defined industry sector or something completely different, such as entrepreneurship, self-employment, contracting or consulting.
If, for example, salary package needs to take a higher priority due to mortgage repayments then a work/life balance may have to wait a few more years. Are you prepared to sacrifice time with the family, hobbies and outdoor pursuits in exchange for long hours and (eventually) travel away from home? Whatever you identify as your priorities, carry out some in-depth research into those sectors and roles where your priorities are achievable.
Preparation is the key
It is never too early to start thinking about your life after the forces. When planning his career transition, Vice Admiral Sir Clive Johnstone, recently retired, and now Head of Strategy for BMT (British Maritime Global) Management Consulting, wrote a paper called ‘Preparation for launch’. His advice to others includes using your time wisely, know who you are (which is sometimes the most challenging aspect), know what you want, know what you need and be clear where you want to end up.
Working all these out can take a bit of time; so never underestimate this task or your transition ‘ground-rush’ may be sudden and painful.
Build your network of contacts
Once you’ve worked out what you need, what you want and where you’d ideally like to end up, working back from that final milestone will include a personal skills audit to identify those areas you may need to upskill. It’s always helpful to reach out to your network of contacts who have already transitioned into similar roles and ask them the burning question, “If you knew then what you know now, what might you have done more of or differently? Which training courses proved invaluable?”
They may say they should have asked their prospective employers or their networks this very question before deciding how best to use their ELCs.
Using your networks to elicit civilian workplace attachments or more informal shadowing opportunities can be enormously helpful in assessing if a role or organisation is a good fit for you. It also enables you to meet people who could become your future colleagues. Fitting in with the values and culture of the organisation can make or break your first 90 days.
A good CV is vital
A CV is, of course, mandatory, and if you’ve rarely had to write one, it’s essential to view it as more of a marketing document than an historical thesis. Keep to two pages maximum and to make an excellent first impression, be punchy and concise, and avoid using ten words where two will suffice. Focus on tangible, measurable achievements rather than on responsibilities where there may be no evidence as to how well you performed.
Book a career consultation
The first port of call for a CV review and brainstorming ideas for your future direction is your career advisor. They can provide professional expertise at no cost to yourself other than a willingness to accept feedback and spending time crafting a tailored CV for each of the jobs you apply for.
It has often been said that building your networks is vital and if not undertaken, can be a deal-breaker. Nobody can do this for you but we can certainly help by providing you with access to our contacts as well with opportunities to engage with employers through events.
When it comes to preparing for an interview, as most are still being conducted virtually, it is well worth setting up a practice run-through with your career consultant using whichever online tool is likely to be used for the real thing.
Ultimately those who fail to plan, plan to fail.