Your Career at a Crossroads

You have been serving in the armed forces for a few or many years. You have enjoyed your time, developed skills, perhaps taken degrees and diplomas, risen through the ranks, served on the front line, commanded personnel, managed logistics, even worked with ministers, reached the very top; and then for whatever reason it’s time to go. For some the options are clear, for others the options are confusing and for a few bewildering. Be more positive – view it as an opportunity to try something different.

As a headhunter who has worked with all three forces I understand some of the anxieties and tensions. It is daunting when the individual has been secure in the knowledge of a steady job, likely promotion and a positive identity.  Where to start? Look at what you have achieved in your military career. Think back to when you made your original decision to join. Know what influenced you – family, friends, fun, frustration or fortune?   Did you know what to expect? Above all did you achieve what you set out to do?

All these questions are important when making a career change. It does not matter what rank you are or were. It’s what you can bring to the next stage of your career. It’s easy to forget that your next career could fulltime or it could be part time, voluntary or a combination of both. The point is to be calm, think positively and keep all your options open.

Start by writing down on a sheet of paper your likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses or to put it another way – what gets you up in the morning and what does not. You might be surprised as to where that leads Examine the skills you have mastered, those that came naturally, those that you have developed in your work and those qualifications you have gained. Do not forget your interests – the things that set you apart from the next candidate. Even now after many years in recruitment and specifically executive search I am still surprised by what people have forgotten from their early life, such as activities from school, college, university and first employment.

Don’t necessarily go for the obvious in writing your applications. Look at what your job involved. For example, if you were in logistics were you actually dealing with people rather than for example transport. If you were on the frontline, were you really interested in strategy rather than operations?  Was your work on an airbase more to do with dealing with public concerns over security rather than how many tons of fuel were delivered?

For many years I have successfully advised men and women within the armed forces on the search for new opportunities in all sectors, public, private and the charity or community and voluntary sectors. The charity sector could be well suited for many of you and is an excellent opportunity to assist a cause that you are passionate about and to develop another career. An ethical win – win. There are many opportunities. Let’s look at them – Chief Executives/General Managers; Directors/Heads/Managers of Finance, School Bursars, Fundraising, Operations, Estates, Services, Marketing, Communications, .that’s just for starters.  The charity sector comprises approximately 163,000 registered charities in England and Wales – environmental, medical, faith-based, working with the elderly, children and young people, the military, education, training, animal welfare. If there isn’t a charity in existence already, you can guarantee one is being considered. There is a vibrancy about the charity sector that in its best form combines passion and professionalism. The statistics are interesting because they hide the diverse nature of the charity sector in terms of employment opportunities. According to the Charity Commission nearly 70,000 charities have an income of up to £10,000 such as residents associations and allotment societies. A further 73,000 have an income of up to £500k with the remaining 10,000 charities with incomes above £10m and rising such as the MS Society, Save the Children, Cancer Research UK and the National Trust.  In addition 10,000 charities have not yet fully declared their income figures to the Charity Commission.

In the commercial sector all sorts of positions exist which might be appropriate to the skills and experience you have developed. Don’t just go for the obvious of security, operations and logistics which is what I have found many do. Look at the people skills you have and how they could contribute. Think about the sort of environment you like working in. Do you prefer being a big fish in a small pond or vice versa? Is the buzz of an office or do you prefer being your own boss? Do you like to travel and if so how will that affect your personal life? Can you relocate to another part of the country or possibly overseas? Maybe you have had enough of that and would prefer to settle here in a town or village and contribute to your local community.

Having thought about all these issues, and given yourself time to do so, make another list of all the organisations in whatever sector that you might like to engage with. Spend time searching the internet and for a first step also look locally. You may be surprised at the opportunities on offer. Above all talk to people, find out about the networks that will be able to help you, research the different sectors and develop your CV. There are many ways to construct one and no right or wrong approach. What matters is that you are comfortable with it and can explain it and above all market it. But be honest with yourself – it’s your sales document.  Give yourself time and space to come to a decision and with determination, patience and practice achieve your goal. I know it can work because I have seen it happen on countless occasions. Good luck.

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