My Experience of Leaving the Services — Martin Greaves
April 6, 2012 The Ex-Mil Recruitment Interviews
Martin Greaves left the Royal Navy Submarine Service in May 2009 as a Lieutenant R.N., after eight years service. He has kindly agreed to tell us about his experiences of leaving the Service and the transition into civilian life and employment, in his own word…
"I submitted my notice in Jan 2007 and my TX date was in May 2009. When I submitted my notice the country was still economically sound (outwardly facing at least) but during the 18 months before my TX date the ‘credit crunch’ hit and the economy went into recession.
Due to my unit's operational programme I was at sea for much of the 18 months prior to my TX date. I think if I had made more of an issue of my resettlement time I perhaps would have been permitted more time off to attend courses/training etc. but I thought, probably quite naively, that I would have no problems finding work once I left. I'm a highly trained member of her Majesty's Armed Forces after all, who wouldn't want to employ me? Perhaps because I was my unit's Training and Resettlement Officer I didn't give myself the proper advice and guidance which was needed at that time.
I ‘Retired’ in May 2009 to Nottingham to look for work.
I did manage to attend the CTP Career Transition workshop which was useful and informative, in particular the activities around making sense of job descriptions and reading into what the employer is looking for.
Although I am sure that the CTP have helped many people with their transition, I did not gain much from the discussions with the career consultants. I think their job is easier if the individual knows what career/industry they want to transition into but, as I didn't know, the advice was fairly limited. Looking back, I think a bit more challenge as to what my plans were and advice on suitable roles, industries based on my military role would have been useful.
During this time I also used one of my 3 shots of Enhanced Learning Credits to get my PRINCE2 project management certification but whilst it may look good on my CV, I haven't actually used any of the processes I learned. I signed up for this course almost in a panic a month before my TX date as I felt I had to do something in terms of training regardless of whether it was right for me or going to be worthwhile.
Following my discharge I spent four months claiming Job seekers allowance and gradually trying to adjust to my new civilian life. Despite being in the RN for a relatively short period of time (8 years) I found it particularly difficult to come to terms with not having the responsibility I had been used to and the almost lack of focus and sense of urgency that I found in the people I was dealing with day to day whilst registering with employment agencies and talking to prospective employers.
NB (This continued well into my employment and to a certain extent still persists).
There was also a great deal of frustration that although my skills and experience were, to me at least, outstanding and exactly what a prospective employer would want from a candidate I had no joy at all in finding work.
I had applied for over 100 jobs in the first 2 months and had only gained 1 interview (I didn't get the job although the feedback was that I was a close second to the chap who had done the exact same role before in a competitor company and who obviously got the job).
Trying to translate my military experience into civvy–speak and communicate it into something a business would understand and relate to was extremely hard work. Although I had a great many transferable skills to offer, they all seemed to be ‘soft’ skills like management, leadership, communication, training and development, strategic planning, resource management and HR management. All great things to be able to bring to a business but I found that because I didn’t have the experience in any industry or environment prospective employers could even begin to understand, they weren't interested. ‘Royal Navy Submarine Service? I don't know anything about that therefore I'm not going to bother with this one".
This was compounded by the conflicting advice on ex Forces CV writing with half the guidance saying play up your military experience and the other half saying the opposite.
During this time I sought advice from various sources from the Officer's Association to my local RFEA and received more guidance which wasn't much help to my situation. From ‘as a commissioned officer you should be looking to transfer into £40–50k management position’ to ‘we have this great opportunity for you to be an engineer in Bristol’. I'm from a non–technical branch and live in Nottingham, how could that be an opportunity for me?
I found that most of the advice and guidance available was great if you wanted to work in London or were from a technical branch and had some relevant industry skills. In the economic climate of the time, employers weren't taking the chance of employing someone who although looked good on paper, did not have experience in their particular industry.
My main problem was that I didn't yet know what I wanted to do for a new career. It was almost too hard to choose which jobs to apply for because I didn’t have a sector, or an industry or a career path anymore.
As time went on the more frustrating, disappointing and soul destroying it became. My partner and I would constantly argue as our dream of spending more time together and being happy wasn't panning out like we thought.
I think it would have been extremely useful if there were resources for partners and families available regarding transition and what to expect when their husband, father etc. leaves the Service.
I missed the Submarine Service terribly and often thought that I should have stayed in but we persevered and eventually I was offered a job.
This was in fact a office temp position in a public sector organisation but seeing as I had spent 4 months not working I grasped the opportunity to get out of the house and actually earn some money.
Going from an in–zone Lieutenant pushing for promotion to office temp in 4 short months was yet another frustration to manage. From being responsible for the safety of several hundred million pounds of military hardware and 130 men’s lives to photocopying and entering data into spreadsheets wasn’t the transition I was hoping for.
Although it was difficult, I managed to keep my frustrations in check and concentrated on fulfilling the duties of my role. I think my forces experience actually helped me to do this as although it wasn't what I wanted to be doing I was still a member of a team and had some minor responsibilities and I didn't want to let my new team–mates down.
There were other frustrations in being managed by people younger and with less personnel management experience than I had which was probably the most difficult aspect of this.
I was promoted to a role of project manager after approximately six months as an internal vacancy came up. This turned out to be another frustration however as it was around the time the Government changed and the public sector budget cuts came in. The project I had been hired to manage was scrapped and I ended up doing bit work for around 18 months.
All I wanted to do was work hard and contribute but there just wasn't enough work to go around so it was almost back to square one. During this time I was actively looking for other employment opportunities and trying to figure out what sector I wanted to get into so I could do some training courses and hopefully get a new career off to a proper start.
The job market in the East Midlands was particularly bad and although there were some opportunities the relevant industry experience factor was in full play.
Fortunately though, I had grown interested in IT and started a training course using my second shot of ELCs to aid my transition into the IT sector. (For perspective, by this time I had been outside of the Forces for about two and a half years so maybe I had had enough time to settle down and think straight about what I wanted).
About 3 months ago, again due to public sector budget cuts, the organisation I work for went through a restructure with some staff being made redundant. A lot of staff saw this as an opportunity to move out of the organisation into other external roles which left a number of opportunities in the IT department.
I managed to secure one of these roles and although I am on the lowest rung of the career ladder, it is a ladder which I am excited about climbing and for the first time in 3 years I am happy and content with my job and career prospects. Because of this, I am finally adjusting to not being in the forces and no longer wish I had never left but am actually glad I did (most days anyway!)"