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Ask James Caan – Issue 122

Written by Kimberley Startup | December 11, 2012 | 10 Comments

James Caan Online RecruitmentDear member,

Earlier this year, the Career Transition Partnership announced that over 18,500 service leavers enter the civilian job market each year. Yet in spite of ex-military making exceptionally skilled, committed and capable employees, getting hiring managers to realise this isn’t always straight forward.

It goes without saying that working in the military is hard. But even when you’re leaving the armed forces, returning to ‘civvy street’ can be just as tricky.

Take this email from Marcus, an ex-army soldier who worked as a mechanical engineer. Despite applying for multiple opportunities, Marcus is regularly told he’s not experienced enough or is lacking qualifications.

He writes:

‘I had to leave the British Army after 18 years of service due to health implications. Despite applying for a number of positions, I‘ve still had no success. What should I do?’

Marcus, you may have heard me previously discuss the difficulties faced when transitioning to ‘civvy street’. Not only do service leavers have to readjust to a new environment, but many struggle to find positions that maximise their skills. This is typically because few employers realise the value ex-military personnel can bring to a company. But it’s not all doom and gloom.

You will find the skills you have gained in your army career, a major advantage for many different employers. Skills such as motivation, loyalty and integrity are always high on the agenda of hiring managers – the hurdle for you, Marcus, is demonstrating how these skills apply to the civilian working life.

What sort of positions have you been applying for? One of the most common career paths for ex-forces personnel is in the security industry. The training you would have received while serving the Armed Forces combined with personal qualities from the army makes you ideally suited to this industry.

Once you’ve established the career path you wish to pursue, you can then target your job search efforts accordingly.

There are many sites and communities now dedicated to helping ex-military service leavers make the transition to civilian employment.

For example, Cross Deck, a recruitment and training provider (available at, recognises the difficulties faced when leaving the services. Managing Director, Dixie Dean, says: ‘In today’s competitive job market, it takes more than just military experience to find a job. You must be able to sell your skills to an employer, and that’s where we can help’.

As a team of former military staff, Cross Deck are dedicated to helping others transition to civilian employment. They offer plenty of information and advice to help ex-service members, including tailored training courses to boost your chances of finding the right job.

To begin with, Marcus, I suggest registering your details with sites such as Cross Deck and letting them know you’re looking for a new opportunity.

There are also many other resources dedicated to helping ex-service men and women transition into a civilian work environment, including specialist job boards such as – so make sure you leverage all that is available to you.

Talk with other transitioning or former service members. Ask them for career tips and advice on the civilian world of work and let them know you’re looking for a job.

Whilst it might be a challenge to transition to a civilian work environment, finding the right job and company isn’t an impossible task. Last year, BT alone created c200 ex-military personnel through their fast-track recruitment programme.

With your ambition, skills and experience, Marcus, I strongly believe you will be an asset to any team. It’s knowing where to look and how to market yourself that will ultimately stand you apart from the rest.


James Caan

10 thoughts on “Ask James Caan – Issue 122

  1. Lee Cattermole on Reply

    Having worked with the support organisations, training providers and recruitment companies for a number of years totally agree that there is a lack of coordinated advice a guidance to those leaving the forces. I am lucky to have had a second career in learning and development across most sectors and have found that veterans have contributed significantly to all of the organisations I have worked within. access to good quality information to narrow down the choice within UK PLC sectors needs to be better coordinated and signposted. The National Careers Service, Sector Skills Councils and all of the other bodies who hold much of the good quality information on sector opportunities, roles, training needed etc are not being engaged holistically. The number of leavers involved provides a real barrier to direct support and I am a huge advocate in getting ex forces personnel to provide direct advice, guidance and in some cases mentoring support either using social media or simply through making a connection over the phone. I have done this many times myself using my industry insights.
    I will be doing something about this very soon and making sure that I can use my knowledge and others in a more efficient way to support as many leavers and ex forces into the right second careers across al sectors not just the obvious.

  2. Gary on Reply

    Although there are some great points in the article, I think it shows how little Mr Caan knows about the military pool of candidates, or has been incorrectly advised. I would suggest that Security is not one of the more common industries that ex-military go into. They are far more qualified and far more diverse than that these days.

    I also think that you are wrong saying that ‘few’ employers recognize the military skills. This may be true of 10 years ago, but certainly not anymore. Indeed, the bigger players are spending hundreds of thousands on bringing ex-military into their companies, because they DO recognize the skills.

  3. Andy Osborne on Reply

    In a nut shell Marcus, don’t lose heart and try try and try again. You know that the skills from the services have prepared you for whatever may come. That “foot in the door” will come and when it does, you can open your box of talent and turn that job, into a career.

  4. Trevor Horne on Reply

    Some useful comments but I was a little disappointed in the number of ‘suggestions’ for future emploment. In my personal and professional experience the starting point is often dealing with the leaver’s changing sense of identity. In the forces, who we are is frequenly defined by the post or role we hold – 24/7. That identity affects how we act and speak, how we make decisions, how we contribute and how we manage our relationships. Once that role (and identity) has gone, leavers are often left bewilderd, unsure and confused – not their previously normal state. So, finish the statement ” I am a …….”? The result is often a noun. Now add the statment “because……..” and you can start to get clues to the unique and fascinating person you really are. And that person is not defined as being ex-forces.

  5. Anthony on Reply

    I think this only scratches on the surface of this problem. I left the Army in 2005 and spent a long time understanding how to speak, act and work in a way that firstly got me a job, then kept me in it and finally got me promoted. I think I now have the basics and I am doing my best to help those following on (in Barack Obama’s words turning round and holding the door open).

    I have recently recruited for a new manager and have employed an ex Warrant Officer straight from the Army. So I have a better idea now from both sides of the fence and boy is it tough.

    My advice to anyone like Marcus would be to network as widely as possible. LinkedIn discussion groups are good (The List, British Forces to Business etc). Using organisations like the Officers’ Association, RFEA or even your service/Corps association to get introductions to ex forces that may have information, knowledge or contacts in the industry you are moving to. The more you know about the industry you are moving to the easier it will be to mitigate the risks an employer sees in you so that you can focus them on your strengths – which are many and bountiful.

    Good luck

  6. Graham Brown on Reply

    Recognising these skills (and I don’t just mean qualifications and experience – the military mindset is also sought after, which James alluded to in his article) and guiding ex-military candidates through not just the difficult transition “to civvy street” but the initial two years after leaving, is exactly what Forces Recruitment Services has been doing for the last 11 years.

    I don’t think it’s fair to say that few employers value the skills of military candidates any more. That was certainly true 5 years ago but there has been a significant shift in the public’s perception towards the military in recent years and the evidence we see in speaking to commercial employers every day is much more positive.

    I would also disagree that security is one of the most common career paths for ex-military now – this view is several years old. It’s true to say that some ex-servicemen fall into the security industry but outside of the higher risk overseas jobs security is not the “banker” industry for the military that it was 10 or 20 years ago. Military salaries have moved on and the security industry hasn’t moved at anywhere near the same rate and it’s ninth in our priority placement list now (compared with third 5 years ago) . Many of the ex-military candidates we are talking about are sick of “stagging on” and unless there is a management position on offer, static guarding holds little appeal for most.

    Recommending a security trainer is a very narrow (and somewhat out of date) view in my opinion and it’s this sort of “pigeon-holing” that ex-military despise. An interesting debate nevertheless.
    The best thing Markus can do is email me his CV.

  7. Stu Olden on Reply

    Some sound advice from James, and good to see a high profile business man trying to assist our service leavers in their quest to secure gainful employment in civvy street – especially at this time of multiple redundancy rounds. I do however have to agree with Sabine and Leona – the security industry is an obvious first look for some ex-forces, however there are far more avenues to explore that service personnel have directly transferable and relevant skills and experiences for; Leona mentions the Defence industry (consulting, support services, engineering etc.), there is also the oil and gas industry, haulage, management roles, catering & hospitality etc. etc. For every role in civvy street there is usually a feeder trade in the military. Yes we were trained to deploy to operational theatres to protect Queen and country, as well as our allies, however we were all also provided with varying levels of academic and vocational training – these, plus our engendered soft skills such as loyalty, punctuality, dedication and honesty make ex-forces very employable. The key is to talk to someone who has been through the transition and who understands how to translate these hard & soft skills into words in a CV that civilian employers can relate to and which therefore secure their interest – once you get to an interview it is all about selling yourself with confidence, something that most ex forces have plenty of. If I can help any service leavers or veterans already on the outside in any way I would be glad to.

  8. Leona Matson on Reply

    Hi Sabine,

    Agreeing with you that the security industry is a common obvious choice, I would also include some other options such as training, management, driving and investigative work.

    It’s also worth researching companies who supply to the MoD, or work defence contracts – these types of businesses would be screaming out for military expertise.

    How would you formulate the CV? Without stating the obvious, I think one thing that is important is to ensure it’s written in terms civilian employers will understand, that it’s jargon free and any acronyms have been replaced with terms that employers can recognise.

    In today’s job-short market, it’s a constant challenge to come up with innovative ways to engage with employers and show them just how valuable and viable your skills are. Does anyone have any tips for how this could be achieved?

  9. Sabine on Reply

    Just one example of many these days …

    Your advice includes to join a recruitment and training provider. That’s very short sighted in helping with this transition – given that we all seem to agree it’s a huge step that requires adjusting to more than just a new working environment.

    You further suggest that the security industry is one obvious area to look for work – I’m sure this is by now common knowledge. However, if the figure of 18,500 service leavers annually is reliable, then no one industry sector can take them all.

    I do agree with your statement that few civilian employers will find it easy to spot the transferable skills service leavers have – that’s exactly where coaches can come in and provide a bit of support. And may I add – precisely because I’m a civvie, I can help formulating a CV in a way that best describes a military background to a potential civilian employer. I strongly believe in the idea of transferable skills – no matter where a job seeker is coming from.

    It’s a shame that so many of these debates are led disjointed and in different forums …

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