With world-class training, diverse experience, and a highly desirable skill set under their belts, it’s no wonder leading employers are recruiting ex-military personnel — especially those with the belief that one should hire for character and train for skill.
Today, we’re sharing the unique perspectives of 11 ex-military personnel currently thriving in new careers with a range of our Endorsed Employers. From how their force’s skills transfer to the workplace to the ways in which their employers attract and retain military personnel, their insights are vital intel for HR and recruitment teams.
Recruiting ex-military employees brings a wealth of transferable skills onboard
Caroline Duffin | Customer Service Advisor, SGN: My time in the military equipped me with a range of skills that have proven to be beneficial in my current role at SGN. I’ve always had a strong work ethic, which is something that was honed in the Army. My conscientious and hard-working nature served me well as a Supply Specialist in the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), ensuring my comrades had the equipment they needed to perform effectively and stores were well maintained. Whereas, working in a customer service setting, it means going above and beyond to help make sure our customers are satisfied first time, every time.
Alice Williams | Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Excellence, Schneider Electric: The most important transferable skill I have brought with me is the ability to break complex problems into manageable and actionable tasks.
Jess Clinkard | Associate, Global Regulatory team, J.P. Morgan Network Management: The most important skill I have transferred into civilian life with is the ability to communicate and build relationships. Without this skill, I believe for me personally it would have been a real struggle. If you can connect with all individuals and achieve the task at hand with everyone on board, I think you are onto a winner!
Nikki Scarr | Human Resources Business Partner, Abcam: Experience in operational environments has enabled me to work well under pressure, to remain calm and think objectively. This has helped me in interviews for new roles, in challenging conversations with stakeholders or, in supporting operational issues in a commercial business to help problem-solve outside of my role in HR.
Dan Kelk | Project Manager, Network Rail: Adaptability is key to project management as factors within any project can change on a daily basis, especially in the Rail industry.
Ann Richardson | Team Leader, DSTL: I would say that my organisational skills, ability to get things done and deliver as good quality work as the time allows is the most important skill set I brought with me. My people skills and my leadership style have developed considerably from when I was in the military; my style was much more autocratic but now I aim to inspire and persuade.
Dave Gilbert | Senior Project Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester: The art of being able to speak to people, to identify what they need and want, how you can help, and also where you can't or won't, while maintaining a healthy relationship should not be underestimated. The common military skills in communicating under stress are all highly desirable skills in an office environment or a meeting. We've all worked with people who are experts in their field but impotent because they can't explain what they want to do — we are not those people. Sometimes we need to be accurate in our messaging but each military member knows the strength of being able to hold a conversation with someone to solve a problem.
When you recruit ex-military personnel, you’re recruiting key core values
Jo Johnstone | Senior Customer Success Manager, Microsoft: There are so many values that I took from the military that have moulded me into the person I am today. Loyalty to my colleagues and wanting them to succeed because the army taught me that you're only as strong as your weakest member. This ensures I'm always eager to share my knowledge.
Having the courage to step forward and be a leader when needed (especially under pressure), but always being a team player. I have strong moral principles that I find difficult to ignore; I'm the person that people come to if they want honest, direct feedback! I could never sell something to a customer that I don't believe they need and this has enabled me to build trust with my customers and ultimately be successful.
Ann Richardson | Team Leader, DSTL: The core military values are pretty similar to values in the Civil Service code, which are dedication and commitment to the Civil Service and its core values and integrity, honesty, objectivity and impartiality. I've found that the military tends to look down on civilian careers, however, there is a similar spread of excellence in the civil service. I've also found the culture to be more enlightened and progressive outside of the military!
Debbie Riglar | Group Leader - C4 Systems Group, DSTL, MOD: In the military there is an ethos that when you say you'll do something; you do it. Your personal admin is good so you're well organised. Attention to detail is automatic. You are used to working with a diverse group of people in a team — you have to find a way to get on — there is no option and this makes one resilient, adaptable, and tolerant.
Hannah Bisbas | Associate, EMEA Client Platform, J.P. Morgan Asset Management: I believe that there are many parallels between the values and standards of the UK Army and the core values of J.P. Morgan. Knowing that both the armed forces and financial services operate with a high level of integrity is paramount for individuals to be able to have trust and faith in both organisations. Neither would survive without it. Additionally, an enjoyable working environment is vital to get the best out of employees and the high levels of respect for others demonstrated at J.P. Morgan ensure this.
Dan Kelk | Project Manager, Network Rail: [The core values of the military] have given the foundations of my behaviours and ensured that I have remained professional. I have used these values to establish my team and instilled these behaviours within my team
Alice Williams | Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Excellence, Schneider Electric: Integrity is a hugely beneficial value as it drives commitment to excellence in work and most importantly accountability; being prepared to own the delivery of work and knowing that whilst you can delegate a task, you cannot delegate the responsibility. Another concept that I come back to is loyal disobedience, which marries well with Schneider's value of 'Dare to Disrupt'. It is more loyal for me to challenge in a constructive way than allow the wrong action to be taken.
Six expert tips for supporting and recruiting ex-military employees
1. Invest time in understanding ex-military personnel before they even interview
“Try to develop an understanding of someone leaving the forces. They might not fully understand how transferrable their skills and experiences are. Understanding their background will give you the confidence in their abilities even before interviewing.” Dan Kelk, Project Manager, Network Rail
Nikki Scarr, Human Resources Business Partner at Abcam, also advises employers to be mindful that the interview process itself can be alien to ex-forces: “Those transitioning from the military have often never experienced an interview or stepped foot in a corporate environment. Their skills and experience may not immediately seem transferable, but they are quick to learn and adapt.”
2. Learn to translate their skills — or risk missing out
“Build a community that can help the business translate military experience, to help reading CVs and in interviews. This can help you recruit for potential rather than qualifications. Be open to different career paths — military personnel generally change posts and roles every 18 months to two years so are highly adaptable and can apply their skills in areas you may not think of. Harness the people skills — the military is a lifestyle, not a job, and everyone (regardless of role or rank) is first and foremost a team player. Leadership and management skills are second to none.” Alice Williams, Vice President of Strategy and Commercial Excellence, Schneider Electric.
3. Similarly, don’t rely on job titles to tell you what ex-military personnel have to offer
“I would advise employers to look beyond the job titles candidates have previously held and consider the skills they’re able to offer. In my experience, I’ve found that people who have served in the Armed Forces are dedicated, committed and will, without a doubt, do their best to please. They’re accustomed to working in challenging and highly pressurised circumstances with people from different cultures and backgrounds, making them good team players and often excellent leaders. All in all, a set of skills that would be of great value to many employers.” Caroline Duffin, Customer Service Advisor, SGN.
4. Involve ex-military personnel in the recruitment process
“The military culture is not about blowing your own horn and very infrequently do we have to sit interviews, so we can be a little rusty. If you have an ex-military employee use them for your recruitment process. If you don't consider asking friendly organisations if they have someone who would assist — this can even be charities or approaching the military itself to ask for some assistance or advice.
“Other options might be holding an ex-military only recruitment opportunity, offering work placements or attachments to service leavers or veterans. For those with employees who are ex-military, potentially asking them to engage with veterans charities or ex-military networks may open up like-minded support networks in their region.” Dave Gilbert, Senior Project Manager, Transport for Greater Manchester.
5. Help them adjust to the flexibility of civilian workplaces
“Worryingly, my greatest challenge was to think for myself! And to empower others to think. I also needed to adjust to how to deliver excellence in an informal way and to understand that informality was not necessarily of lesser quality. Military people are used to structure and flexibility can be disconcerting. If organisations could somehow help to shift the military paradigm with some (structured) training over the first year or so, to support ex-military to adjust, this would help.” Ann Richardson, Team Leader, DSTL.
6. Offer ex-military personnel work placements and support (it’s in your organisations' interest)
“My advice to employers is to offer work placements to those transitioning from the military in a similar way to internships offered to university graduates. Provide networking events with local military units and reach out to military charities to offer mock interviews and resume writing support. Not only is this a great way to give back to the service community but also, you may find that by understanding a little more about their capabilities and experience you can see the transferability of skills to your organisation.” Nikki Scarr, Human Resources Business Partner, Abcam.
Get even more HR intel every month
Want a free monthly email full of the latest diversity and inclusion news, updates, and inspiring stories from both employers and job seekers alike? Sign up to our HR newsletter today.
Or perhaps you’re ready to start attracting talented women from all walks of life by becoming an Endorsed Employer for Women.
About the author
To help women find a workplace that will work for them, we prescreen employers on their gender pay gap data, parental leave policies, flexible working, and more. Find your next role on the WORK180 job board.