Key Tips For
Civilian Job Success

Posted: 9th Jul 2020

Working in the Third Sector – why it might appeal to Service leavers?

If you’re unfamiliar with the term ‘Third Sector’ you are not alone.  It has only gained traction as an employment sector in the last twenty years or so, but is now accepted as the umbrella term used to describe a range of organisations created to solve particular issues that are not part of the public (state) or private (profit-making) sectors.

Typically it covers employers such as charities, social enterprises, think tanks, private research institutes and housing associations - organisations that no longer fall under the auspices of government control and are not driven by the bottom line. Often the term is interchangeable with the ‘voluntary’ or ‘not-for-profit’ sector.

Working for change or a cause close to your heart is hugely motivating so finding a job in one of the multitudes of roles across this employment landscape will put you into a growing market. The National Council Voluntary Organisation (NCVO) reported that in June 2018 there were 865,916 people employed in the sector, representing almost 3% of the total UK workforce, and given that the sector has grown over 11 per cent in the last eight years, the future continues to look buoyant despite short-term fluctuations impacting job availability.

Furthermore, Service leavers have transferable skills that can be applied to a wide variety of positions.  Roles in international charities, for example, play to these strengths with staff often working in politically unstable countries needing to react quickly to changing situations on the ground whilst managing risk.  Sound familiar?

Most ex-military personnel are used to asking the tough questions in order to ascertain critical information to help set priorities, plan and execute work to complete the tasks in hand. Charities value these skills and they are increasingly sought after and as not-for-profit organisations find it harder to justify their funding and deliver results.

After a successful career spanning 24 years in the British Army, former officer Andy Brown left military life keen to do something completely different.  “I was ready for a new challenge and a fresh perspective that comes from working in a civilian setting.”

His first civilian role was as a consultant for Pricewaterhouse Coopers (PwC) but after three years in the post, Andy was starting to think what’s next? “I needed something else more intrinsic to motivate and drive me, and was thinking that perhaps corporate life wasn’t for me.”  Andy was approached by the Macmillan Cancer Support charity via LinkedIn and was successfully appointed to the role of Director of Planning and Deployment.

“My biggest take-away from my time there was delivering in a job that was making a structural change to the way the charity delivers support and being able to add value to that process.  I moved from a largely operational role at PwC into a strategic leadership role where I was managing a large team and using the skills I had learnt whilst serving to help drive change.  It has given me the chance to find out more about what I value and where I want to work, which is ultimately important to your long-term job success and satisfaction.”

Andy is now working as a Transformation Manager for the Shaw Trust, having started his role there during lockdown.

“Onboarding has been very different with its own challenges, but you just need to work that little bit harder to get to know people virtually and you must be proactive.

I am working with the Senior Leadership Team and Board, to help implement the findings of a strategic governance review, develop a risk assurance framework and to set-up an operational support team, in a role that uses all my experiences gained throughout my previous two civilian roles and military career.”

The calibre and quality of the people already working within the sector are high and candidates entering roles for the first time are often struck by the commitment they demonstrate.

“Working for a charity or a not-for-profit can be incredibly rewarding,” confirms Clive Lowe, Deputy Director of Employment for the Officers’ Association.  Clive spent over 20 years working in the commercial events market after serving as an officer in the Royal Engineers before undertaking a role as a Careers Consultant for the OA and then moving back into a senior managerial role within the OA.

“Roles are often more varied, and there is scope to have a direct impact on what the organisation is trying to achieve.  I would advise any Service leaver to identify what is important to them in their next working career and, if motivated, consider exploring job roles in this sector.  Job fulfilment is high and that leads to strong job satisfaction, which in turn means you’ll enjoy the role and of course, find your natural fit in civilian life.”

Like the commercial sector, you need to consider whether or not you want to work in a large or small organisation as this helps determine the extent to which you can use your skills.   Smaller charities offer more scope to be involved across a broader range of functions - from fundraising, operations and event planning - whilst roles in larger organisations will have a more specific focus such as HR, project management or support, depending on their purpose. And according to NCVO research, the majority of voluntary sector employees work in organisations with less than 50 paid staff, with over a third employed in London and the Southeast.  The likelihood is that if you’re not looking to base yourself in the Southeast then it maybe more difficult to find your perfect role outside this location.

Despite the headlines, the sector is proving resilient and weathering the lockdown storm that Covid-19 has brought.  Most charities have to have sufficient reserves to fund their work for a minimum of 3-6 months.

Former officer Sarah Pittaway has successfully secured her next role during lockdown working for the Union Jack Club, the Services member club that operates as a registered charity. Her advice is to continue to network, apply and interview for roles.

“Organisations that are hiring now will be resilient and confident about the future and keen to help kick start the economy. It is possible to recruit either using the various online platforms or face to face - or a mix of the two. Networking is still key and the famed coffee chats can still take place.”

There is a perception that working in the third sector is not financially rewarding but is salary your overriding concern when looking to move into a civilian role? Although most charities and not-for-profits don’t pay as well as the private sector, there are plenty of other benefits to consider.  Holidays tend to be more generous and the sector had long pioneered the working from home model way before lockdown was introduced.  A work-life balance is often more achievable working in the sector, surely something we all want to achieve?

Finally, if you are serious about your next career move, do take time to research and plan your approach. Network as you would for a commercial role and when applying for a post, make sure your CV is achievement orientated and your impact carefully outlined. The third sector is fast establishing itself as a professional employment sector so let go of any misconceptions you may have and explore the varied and exciting career opportunities it offers.

For expert career advice contact the OA: T: 0203 761 6343.

The Union Jack Club re-opens for members on 4th July 2020.


Key Tips for civilian job success
Andy Brown, Transformation Manager at Shaw Trust

  • Networking is key to your job search.
  • Use LinkedIn to profile your skills and experience, and to connect with people.
  • Make full use of the services organisations like the OA and RFEA offer; have a career consultation, use their contacts and work with them to discover what it is you ideally want from your next role.
  • Challenge yourself.
  • Pause, refresh and keep reviewing your next steps as you work out ‘what is important to me.’
  • Be prepared mentally and physically for knocks and setbacks but don’t take them personally. Learn from them and move on!

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