Selling yourself: How ex-forces personnel can stand out in the jobs market

Published on: 28 Feb 2022

Leaving the armed forces for a civilian life can be a difficult transition, and one of the hardest parts is finding a new career. Your years in the military have given you a lot of great experience, but also a lot of structure and rules that no longer apply. In your civilian life, you will now have to go out on your own to stand out in a crowded jobs market.

Luckily, you are approaching this situation from a position of strength. Your military career is excellent experience, and many businesses will definitely want to hire you. The challenge is getting discovered by those companies, and that means standing out. Here are a few things to bear in mind when applying for jobs that can help you sell yourself to employers.

Talking about your experience

Your time in the armed forces is not a weakness as far as the job market is concerned; it’s a major strength. Your experiences will have given you skills and abilities that will be extremely useful to many employers. However, you will need to broadcast this in the right way, as much of the language you will have learnt in the military will not be understood by civilians.

If your CV says that you ‘completed an operational tour’ or that you served as a ‘General Fitter’, are you confident a civilian employer will understand what you mean? A big part of talking about your skills is cutting down on military jargon and describing your life in a way that anyone can understand.

However, you should also think about phrasing your strengths and skills so they match what employers are looking for. For example, if you spot a job advert that’s asking for candidates with great teamwork, you should edit your CV so it focuses heavily on the aspects of your military career that involved working with others.

Make sure you make it as clear as possible how your military skillset transfers over to civilian jobs. This is not just a matter for your CV; in interviews, you will be asked about what you learned in the armed forces and how it will help you with the job you’re applying for. Practice talking about your experience in simple terms that highlight the abilities your future employers are looking for.

Be selective about what you share

CVs, cover letters and job applications only have so much space. As much as you might want to talk about every single thing you have achieved in your career, you are going to need to be selective. If you go into too much detail, your application will be too long and you run the risk of recruiters putting it in the bin without even looking at it.

Think about which of the skills and achievements you have are the most relevant for the job you’re applying for, and try to stick to just those at first. If you still have space in your application after this, you can always add more detail.

Deciding on what to leave out isn’t easy, but generally you can leave out any military awards or medals that don’t have a civilian use. For example, a marksmanship award doesn’t have much practical benefit outside of shooting a gun, but experience with bomb disposal shows you’re technically minded, good under pressure and able to think quickly in a crisis.

Remember that impressive but less relevant achievements can always be brought up in the interview, or at another point in the hiring process. To get there, you will need to focus on what exactly your future employer is looking for so they know you meet the requirements of the job. Then you can use your other achievements to stand out against your competitors for the position.

Focus on results

One of the most attention-grabbing aspects of a job application or interview is results. Employers want to know what you can achieve for them, so telling them about what you achieved in the armed forces is a good way to give them an indication of what you can do. The trick is framing it in the most effective way to help you stand out from other applicants.

If there’s a number attached to any part of your experience, use it. For example, maybe you were in charge of a team of 15 people, or a measure you implemented saved £50,000 a year or reduced waste by 30 per cent. Anything with a measurable metric will be eye-catching to a potential employer.

Have some similar examples prepared for interviews. If you are asked a question about a time you showed initiative, it will be much more impressive if you are able to say exactly how your initiative benefited the armed forces. Knowing that you’re capable of saving a business money or making them more of a profit will be a great way to stand out from the crowd.

Finally, make sure you’re not missing out on the many opportunities available to you at careers fairs, such as the Security Cleared Expo. Tailored specifically for people with a security clearance, this fair is a great place to make useful connections and find companies looking to hire people with your exact expertise.