I suppose the first thought I had after leaving the Army after 25 years was “What have I done?”
Like most career Soldiers I considered myself institutionalised; thoughts of discharge often made me think of prison movies where a convict was being released after 25 years from behind bars.
My own departure was unexpected but anticipated for many years. I’d been through the whole “I’ve had enough of this game” at many times during my career; yet 23 years later I’d filled out the discharge paperwork, handed it to my Commander and was officially flying by the seat of my pants.
Honestly, (as much as I want to convince myself otherwise) it wasn’t the time for me to leave. I hadn’t researched my exit at all and was putting all of my eggs in one basket by jumping into a new job, in a new industry I didn’t understand, and with no training.
But, after a false start (I’ll write about that another time), I seized the opportunity to start again and have had a great time so far.
Leaving the Army (or other Services) need not be the end of the world. So here, based on my experience, are some of the top pieces of advice I have for those about to make the transition to civilian life:
Maintain and Value Your Defence Connections and Network
Despite wanting to leave, Defence can still offer you security and stability in the short-term while you look for your next role. Reserve Service is an option if you’re not quite sure about making the final jump, and it can provide great networking opportunities.
Start talking to people in the fields that interest you. Create a LinkedIn account (or the other networking sites) and start making connections. Do some research. I didn’t do this as I thought I had it all worked out. By the time I realised how important it was, it was too late.
Prepare Well for Interviews
Learn how to talk to recruiters and hiring managers. Do they speak Army? Do you speak their language? Practice makes perfect. Learn your elevator pitch, your successes, and get some sound answers to common questions. Rehearse with someone and get them to ask you some difficult questions. The STAR method is great at helping you answer the behavioural questions in a structured manner.
Learn what they look like and start building yours. Ask civilian friends to review it or share theirs. My partner (who sees lots of CVs) ripped mine apart, rebuilt it in “non-Army speak” and it helped enormously. Find out what CVs do and do not do. Find a format that is clear and tells who you are. We’ve got a great CV eBook if you need some help.
Employers Want Technical or Work Experience, Not Just a Manager
Many jobs require technical skills or expertise in addition to managerial experience. Being a problem solver has a place, but getting to an interview on general managerial experience can be hard. Think about where you can get some more experience or training that may be needed for your next career move.
Find Somewhere to Live
After many years of moving around every three years, you can now choose to live where you want! Pick somewhere that’s within your means, has a good employment rate and has good commuter options. Again, doing your homework is the key.
No matter where you’re coming from, when you make the decision to leave it can be all systems go. I encourage you to take some time before you head down the wrong path, to research, plan and organise yourself so you can be prepared for the next exciting chapter not going around in circles.
Yet the biggest, most important part of this is to back yourself and enjoy the journey!