From Uniform to ‘Civvies’ - Leaving the Armed Forces

Thinking about your next career move - useful blogs

Leaving the Forces can be a tricky time. Those who have planned their leaving for years can prepare more easily, but defence cutbacks (or ‘Strategic Defence Reviews’) may have meant an involuntary and, for you, premature end to your forces career. 

Those who are ill prepared for the move to ‘Civvy Street’ may find it suddenly quite daunting, but the skills you’ll have built up should allow you to choose from a variety of options.

Clearly, the variables will include your role type, length of service and level of responsibility but there is the common misconception that those having spent some years in the forces will, by definition, have a narrow, regimented view of life and will find the transfer difficult. 


The British Army’s REME (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) regiment is a vital group of people who “ on the latest and advanced technologies which vary from Tanks and  trucks to helicopters and weapons systems.” Quite a responsibility, you’d have thought - and you’d be right. The fact is that the modern armed forces work with extremely high levels of both technical and administrative sophistication. As a result, they can offer a range of skills that not only match, but very often exceed those of their civilian counterparts. Wow. Really? Yup. They do.

Indeed the breadth of skills and abilities is such that there should be an amazing range of options open to you. Long-serving ex-military personnel can offer strong backgrounds in, for example: medicine, piloting, aircraft or vehicle maintenance, shipping and navigation – to name only a tiny representative few. The armed forces refer to the actual move from a military to a civilian status as ‘resettlement’ and they offer help and guidance through their Career Transition Partnership (CTP): “Successful resettlement requires clear aims, good job intelligence, effective networking and an intelligent approach to employers. It can also help to acquire extra skills. It’s therefore vital to take full advantage of the resources and facilities at your disposal.” 

And this is all useful to someone leaving the forces, but even the CTP will admit that some of their ‘clients’ are easier to place than others. A pilot or air traffic controller, a qualified nurse* or HGV driver – these people have relevant experience and qualifications that should allow them to transfer straight into an equivalent civilian role. Then there are many whose ‘soldiering’ experience may, apparently, offer little relevance to employers. However, they would be completely wrong and possibly miss out on employing someone quite special, as what they can offer could include highly attractive attributes such as:

  • Strong leadership qualities
  • Professional management and communication skills
  • Fantastic teamwork
  • Ability to operate professionally under extreme pressure
  • Problem-solving (‘on the hoof’)
  • Unquestioning and continual hard work…. 

This inaccurate perception held by some employers will almost certainly be overturned when they actually meet the individual(s) involved and discover the true character that’s in front of them. People with a background in any of the armed forces will have a great deal to offer and, as always, the key is to make sure you get to meet right employers face-to-face and impress upon them just how good you can be. Almost certainly, they will be pleasantly surprised.

*Top grade First-Aid skills

So, yes, when asked, many employers recruiting new staff would not immediately suggest the armed forces as their primary source of suitable candidates. And yet they could be missing some of the best trained, highly motivated and inspirational leaders available to them.

It’s a common misconception but one which both employers and ex-forces people need to address, exchange views and gain a mutual understanding and respect. “Why are you good for me?” But also: “What can I do for you?” should be the questions asked by both.

As both could gain a great deal from the exchange.


Key Points

  • The vast range of forces operations
  • The Career Transition Partnership (CTP)
  • Specialised, qualified experience
  • Persuading employers

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