As a former infantry soldier, I would have never considered an employment role in project management within the finance industry when leaving the Armed Forces.
I had an interesting conversation with a veteran this week which opened my mind to why ex-military personnel are in fact perfect for this line of work.
Alex George left the Army in April 2015 but just like many other veterans, including myself, it took him a while to figure things out.
“I had my heart set on going travelling so I chinned off the resettlement program. All I wanted to know was how can I use my Enhanced Learning Credits (ELC) and when can I use them, that was the extent of my resettlement”.
“I felt that the resettlement package was directed at manual labour jobs which is fine but if you don’t want to do manual labour work then it’s not really practical. They tend to push you down the routes of becoming an electrician or plumber but that didn’t really appeal to me”.
Alex decided to go travelling immediately after leaving the Army but was this a piratical approach to the transition from soldier to civilian?
“I hung out in South-East Asia for five months and then went to Australia for a year. I then travelled around South America for a couple of months but began to run low on cash so I decided to come back to the UK”.
Do you regret going travelling?
“No, not at all, although, I should have figured out what I was going to do on my return home prior to travelling”.
“I definitely recommend going travelling when you first leave the Forces, you don’t have to go for eighteen months but you accumulate so much leave from the Forces, you might as well make the most of it. I was still being paid by the Army for my first three months of travelling and I wasn’t even touching my savings. That’s the same for everyone, you will definitely accumulate three to four weeks leave if you’re clever with it and everyone gets four-weeks termination leave. You could easily go to Asia for six weeks and let your hair down. You’ve just left the Army for f**k sake, you don’t need to go straight into work”.
So when you returned home from travelling, it was time to knuckle down, how did you settle back into civilian life?
“It was pretty rough to be fair. I had to move back into my parent’s house. I had enough money to start renting my own place but without a job, I’d be putting unnecessary pressure on myself to pay out my arse for rent. After serving all that time in the forces and two years away travelling, moving back in with my parents was the last thing I wanted to do”.
“My main issue was that I didn’t have the faintest clue in what I wanted to do. You can write a CV but you need to tailor your CV for the roles you are applying for. If you don’t know what job you want to apply for, then it becomes really difficult to get anywhere with a generic CV”.
“I knew I wanted to live and work in the city so I started to look at employment routes into the city. I didn’t have the money and I had no interest in going to university at my age as I would have been six years older than everyone else there”.
“After doing a little research, I discovered that there are various project management courses that you can do. When you couple civilian project management experience with military experience and good references, you can really achieve things in the city”.
“There is a huge ex-military network in finance so the chances are when you apply for work with any big finance company, HR is likely to get an ex-military personnel to scan over your CV”.
Prior Planning & Preparation Prevents a Piss Poor Performance
“I initially went through a company called the FDM group but I was so unprepared for the interview that I completely messed it up. They asked me to do a pretty simple project management plan under timed conditions, something if I was asked to do now, I would be able to do it with my eyes closed but I didn’t have my head in the game and I failed to make it past the interview process”.
“At the time, I was really gutted because I had already spoken to other veterans who had gone down this road and they all told me about the qualifications I could get and how good it was. With the FDM group, they would pay for you to do these qualifications based on the conditions that you work for them for two years. In those two years, they can give you some incredible exposure to some really big names which would be on your CV and that would put you in good stead for future employment”.
“I failed the interview process but I had a word with myself. I still wanted to do this job but it’s wasn’t going to be with the FDM group. I paid for the courses using my own money with some Enhanced Learning Credits”.
“I knew I screwed the interview up but the courses were definitely within my capabilities, I just needed to switch on and prepare myself. It wouldn’t have been a waste of money to do these courses because I knew I could pass them”.
How much did the courses cost and who did you do the courses with?
“The main course was ‘PRINCE-2’ which comes in two parts, the foundation and the practitioner, realistically, you need to have both. It’s a week-long course and it is very achievable to pass but you do need to apply yourself. It’s not an attendance course like some courses in the Army where you can go out on the piss during the week, you need to knuckle down, do the homework and do the revision”.
“That course was seven-hundred and fifty pounds and the course can be completed through various different training providers across the UK but I did mine in London. I then went on to complete ‘PRINCE-2 Agile’ and ‘MSP’. All three of these courses are either project or program management courses but the ‘MSP’ course was actually really f**king hard. I was quite lucky and able to bluff my way through that. Although the ‘MSP’ is very credible to have on your CV, the ‘PRINCE-2’ and ‘PRINCE-2 Agile’ are sufficient qualifications to work in this industry”.
“You can do this in any industry but the main three are Finance, I.T or Construction. There are so many big banks in Finance that have ex-military internships, which is why I personally went down that route”.
“You can relate a Section commanders role so clearly with the framework that they use for project management. It gives you a completely different angle from someone who has just graduated from university”.
Are there any routes you can take when leaving the forces to get into this line of work and could you do the courses as part of your resettlement?
“There were fourteen of us on the military internship and at that point, I had been out of the Army for two years but the other thirteen were either still serving on their termination leave or had been out of the forces for less than two months”.
“One of my initial concerns when applying for this internship was that I wasn’t an officer and I thought that it would mainly be officers applying for this role. That’s not because of what they did in the Army but more than likely they would have a degree. I didn’t really know how it would go in terms of me competing with the officers but if you’ve managed a project then you’ve managed a project, the scale isn’t so important”.
“These big banks understand that you know f**k all about finance, if they wanted to employ someone who knew about finance then they would employ students with finance degrees directly from universities. They prefer former military personnel for their ability to take on direct responsibility and for your ability to motivate others. You don’t necessarily need an understanding of finance, you just need to be able to create a plan and execute it”.
Would you say that you have officially found your feet in ‘civvy-street’?
“Yes, one-hundred percent! At the end of my three-month internship, they offered me a permanent position which is exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want a job which was target driven, I can go to bed each night knowing I’m going to be paid at the end of the month. That’s how it was for us in the Army and that’s what I wanted”.
If you could give any advice to a soldier planning to leave the Armed Forces, what would you say?
“You need to have a robust plan in place before you leave, otherwise, after the initial two to three weeks of excitement, you are swiftly slapped back into reality. You start to think actually, I’m running out of money pretty quickly and I have nothing lined up” – Alex George
When soldiers make that initial decision to leave the Armed Forces, they tend to chill out. In my opinion, this is not the time to chill. From the moment soldiers decide they wish to leave the Army, Navy or Airforce they should then begin to really knuckle down and graft. It is at this point that soldiers should really begin setting themselves up for civilian life.
There is nothing wrong with going away travelling for a short period of time to let your hair down when you initially leave the forces, however, it’s probably best to have a plan in place for your return to the civilian world.
Having said this, if like Alex you don’t have the faintest clue about what it is you want to do, then maybe I am wrong and that time away travelling is what you need in order to discover what it is you want to do in ‘civi street’
Alex has kindly offered to provide more information directly to those who are interested in this line of work, so please feel free to get in touch with Alex via Facebook for more details.
“Networking is key in this business and you need to have an ‘in’, I’m ready to be that ‘in’ for other veterans”.
Thank you for taking the time to read this week’s blog, I hope you have found the read insightful.
See you next week for another ‘Soldier to Civi’ blog
Jamie and featured veteran Alex George.
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