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Jan 24, 2014

Military Skills in a Civilian Job Market

The comment I hear the most from ex-service personnel after an unsuccessful job application is that they have been told they don’t have enough commercial experience...

The candidate is usually quoting that the client doesn’t understand or recognise their X amount of years service.  That they have been managing 150 people in their last role with outstanding SJAR’s.  That they’ve taken their Unit on 1-3 operational tours successfully (something their civilian counterparts would not be able to comprehend!) and that they have been covering a desk job at one or two levels up for the past 2 years!

These are all very understandable points and it is true that a lot of my time as a recruiting consultant is spent informing my clients what these entries in your CV mean and equate to in the civilian workplace.  It is true that a large number of HR officers and managers out there do not understand all of what goes on inside the wire or on board ship!


However, I read with interest this week, the reverse view of this scenario that might put one or two things into perspective:

Let’s say that you have been working as a civilian Project Manager for a major defence contractor for the past 25 years with some success.  You have risen from the shop floor to a senior workshop manager/planner, and have gone on to liaise with the military on some major multi-million pound Naval refits with some success.  You have all the right people around you, and you have coordinated your team to several industry awards and have been rightly commended for your cost saving, time and man management and safety procedures.

You have decided that you have taken the role as far as you can and it’s time to make a brave decision.  You decide to join the Navy! And because you have worked alongside them for some time, you think the right level to enter is at Commander level.  Your application goes quite well and you’re accepted……

Can you imagine the impact that this MIGHT have on your Unit.  Things could go very awry on the first day, when you need to send an important email to a senior officer at Headquarters!  And imagine the chaos that could ensure should you be about to deploy!  The situation could be life threatening.

Now, I’m not trying to suggest that putting an ex-serviceman/woman into a civilian company is going to be life threatening.  Far from it.  But the client might be worried about a local threat to company culture/balance, and the position may be important to the success of the business in a number of ways, be it profit, business development or recruitment etc.  Putting you up against an equal civilian, they might be forgiven for going with what they know, or they think they know!


I’m constantly receiving excellent feedback from clients regarding the way my candidates are having a positive impact on their company performance.  I also have a client who has recently taken on 11 ex-servicemen in engineering roles and are spending a huge amount of money in training them ‘their way’.  They recognise their skills and training and are going to huge lengths to ensure they fit into the company.

So, there are plenty of clients who do recognise your skills and experience.  But sometimes I think we need to understand things from their point of view to.  Perhaps the way forward is to get a foothold in the company at a slightly lower level and wait for the recognition, because it will come.  And when it does, your rise within the company could well be meteoric! 


This original article has been written by Lee Clayson, Regional Director of FRS South West Office:

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