A Perfect Storm – Military redundancies and a challenging recruitment climate

Published: 18 July 2013

I was recently lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to speak at a very well-attended event run by The Officers’ Association on how the commercial recruitment world works and how officers might make better use of headhunters and recruitment consultants.

It is clearly a difficult time for those leaving the Services at any level. The combination of a weak economy, an extremely cost-conscious employment market, and the largest redundancy programme the Armed Forces have seen for decades, ensures that making a smooth and successful transition from military to civilian life is a challenge even for the brightest and most able. Therefore it is absolutely vital that Services individuals are able to present themselves in the most effective and commercially attractive way.

At Berwick Partners, we see a consistently large number of military CVs. This is probably to be expected, given that we specialise at recruiting in the £50,000 - £100,000 bracket which is exactly where a large proportion of military officers are pitching themselves. However, when we receive a military CV, it is often difficult to know what to do with it, and I know for certain that other recruitment firms and indeed employers themselves often have similar issues. There is often a lack of definition or focus; too many officers talk generically about ‘project management’ or ‘consultancy’ but then struggle to really elaborate further, either in terms of their own understanding or indeed their transferable skills – the all-too-generic ‘excellent people skills’ appears far too often.

A few tips, therefore, for ex-military officers on their job-search campaign:

  1. Understand that only three initial questions really matter: “What?”, “Where?” and “How Much?”. Generally, the hardest of these to answer is the “What”, but in general that is the one that really needs to be answered before starting to approach headhunters or potential employers.
  2. Network like mad in the early stages of your campaign (and it really does need to be a campaign), using as wide a range of contacts as possible (through personal connections, ready-made networks such as the Officers’ Association and The List, employers’ military alumni sites etc etc), but do not contact any recruitment firms at this stage – keep your powder dry. Recruiters are an important part of your campaign, but are generally not very good at giving impartial advice on what you might like to do…
  3. Only when you have a good handle on what sector or function of the market you want to aim for – and an equally good understanding of why you would be good at it – should you start to engage with recruiters. You now have a proposition and a product to sell – you – and like any product people need to know exactly what it does and what it is for.

This is the key missing feature in the majority of military CVs we receive – it goes without saying that a large majority of military individuals are bright, talented, have interesting backgrounds and excellent commercial potential, but without a firm understanding of what they are seeking and the steps they have taken to get there, it is almost always nigh-on impossible to recommend them to our clients.

Jim Robinson is a Consultant in the EMI practice of Berwick Partners, focusing on the Defence, Aerospace & Security sectors.

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