Last week I was asked to make a speech at the monthly meeting of the Liquid List. A networking event hosted by retired Royal Artillery officer Mike Nicholson at the Liberal Club in Whitehall. The evening aims to offer advice for those leaving the Armed Forces and the chance to meet those who’ve left the Military and moved into civilian employment (and have a few beers!)
Why was I was asked to speak? Well I few years ago Mike was kind enough to allow me to film at the event for a report I was doing for BFBS on military redundancies and resettlement (see below), so I thought it was about time I repaid the favour.
What was I going to talk about? Well it wasn’t going to be about how to become a journalist, as clearly this is a particular narrow and specialised field. Plus I hoped none of my audience would be daft enough to follow the same path as me! Instead I decided to focus on the advice that I wish I’d been given four years ago when I was leaving the Army. What would I tell Captain James Banks and I how would I prepare him for the challenges that lay ahead?
Use your time wisely
If you’re still serving or if you’re still on your resettlement leave, then you are in an incredibly strong position to prepare for civilian employment. Don’t be afraid to send speculative emails to people in the industry you think you might want to work in. Use you tools like LinkedIn and search for contacts online and don’t be worried about approaching senior industry figures. Tell them you’re interested in what they do, and you’d like to have a coffee and chat sometime. Trust me you’re a lot more likely to get a good reaction now whilst you’re an exciting member of the Armed Forces, than in a few years when you’ll just be another email asking for a job. You’re in a great position so use it!
Whilst the Queen’s still paying your wages should also go out and gather as much experience as you can and offer your services for free. Use your leave wisely, ask to go and shadow or spend a couple of days doing work experience in your desired post military employment. This will not only give you the chance to check whether your chosen future is for you or not, it will also provide you with invaluable on the job networking. Getting your name known in your desired industry is so important. Not only will you make great contacts but also when applying for jobs your CV will hopefully stand out as “that bloke who came in last week – he’s new to the industry, but hey I liked him.” Also remember the support you have whilst still serving, the military will pay for your accommodation during any work experience, the money’s there…so use it!
Whilst in the military the “no bluff too tough” is an extremely well known mantra, but it simply won’t wash when entering the civilian world. Whilst your charm and wit might have got you into your desired Regiment, I’m sad to say I doubt it will get you your dream job in civvy street (although it will help!) Always over prepare for any meeting, if someone offers you a casual chat over a coffee, don’t treat it as that. Prepare as if it’s a formal interview. Think about what you want to get out of the meeting, and be ready to answer such questions as; What package are you on/want, salary expectations, pension plans? All of which in the military we are all rather guilty of taking for granted.
If you have the time then why not try and get yourself a mock interview arranged? Apply for as many jobs as you can and if you get offered an interview (even for a job you don’t want) go along, use it as rehearsal. If like me until leaving the Army, the only interview I’d every had involved wearing a numbered bib and lots of barrels and planks of wood. Thankfully those days are now over so you need to make sure you’re ready!
Don’t be too modest
“If you don’t back yourself then no one else will.” Make sure you maximise the skills you’ve learnt and sell yourself to any potential employer. In the military we’re awful at being too modest and playing ourselves down. If you stepped up to command you’re Company as a Captain or command your Regiment as a Major, even for a short time (perhaps on just one exercise) make sure you put this on your CV. Don’t worry about the fact it was only for a brief spell, you did it, so sell it! Make no mistake those competing for any job will certainly not be sending in a modest CV. The challenge of course is always civilianising your experience, making sure those military skills are transferred into civvy-speak. Also remember your CV is an ever changing document always, always, always alter your CV/Covering Letter for every job you apply for. A generic JamesBanksCV2012.doc sent for a job in 2014 won’t impress!!!
And finally…Think carefully about your ambitions and know what you want to achieve. Think about that commonly asked question…”Where do you want to be in 5 years?” Also don’t forget your military colleagues, they are incredibly useful network and great for offering for support when the civvies in your office are driving you mad!