Ex–Mil Recruitment Newsletter: You mentioned that perhaps you should have made more of an issue of your resettlement — with hindsight, what else would you have done differently in the 18 months before you left the Navy?

**This would be dependant on personal circumstances as the answer would be vastly different from someone retiring with a full pension vs someone leaving to embark on a new career.**

Martin Greaves: Knowing what I know now, I would definitely have tried to make a decision on what I wanted to get into in terms of a new occupation or career, purely to save myself a lot of hassle and frustration. This is easier said that done though as it has taken me 3 years of deliberating and experience in other jobs to finally make that decision and I actually think I have come to right decision because of that. If I had made a snap decision before I left the Forces then it may not have been the right one.

With that in mind, before I left I would have done much more research into kind of civilian jobs there were and how they are structured and tried to at least make some headway to deciding what I wanted to do. For example, I had always shied away from any job that had the word ‘Sales’ in the title as I don’t think I’d be a very good salesman but that was purely down to my preconception (and misconception) of what sales is all about.

I would also have made full use of the full resettlement opportunities before my TX date as there is a wealth of information and support resources out there. Its just a matter of picking through it all and making use of the ones that will be most beneficial to you.

E R N: You obviously realised the need to communicate transferable skills in to ‘civvy speak’ — What other tips for ex–military personnel have you come across/learnt when it comes to a civilian job search?

Martin Greaves: Civilian employers generally have no concept of what the various roles in the forces are and what skills ex forces personnel can bring. And why should they? They are recruiting for a specific role, for someone to do a specific task. Just because you've done all these wonderful things in the Service, they generally have little or no bearing in the civilian workplace. It is the transferable skills that are important, what were the skills that you developed and employed in order to achieve the military aims in your service and how can you use those same skills to achieve what it is that the civilian employers want to do.

Sounds simple but it is actually trickier than it looks. The job market is an incredibly competitive place and you are competing against people who you feel may not have your breadth of experience but these are the people who know the environment and the language much better than you.

There is lots of advice and guidance out there regarding CV writing and communicating skills to prospective employers but it can be quite conflicting. I have had people tell me to play up my military experience in my CV and others tell me to hardly mention it at all. It comes down to what you feel comfortable with and how you want to portray yourself to a prospective employer.

One of the problems I had when trying to write my CV was that it was almost like I had too much experience, there was too much that I wanted to communicate. Forces personnel are highly skilled people with an extremely wide skill set — think about your current role and what your duties and responsibilities are? I can pretty much guarantee that it involves some elements of planning, communication, leadership, human resource management, building relationships, project management, working to tight timescales etc. In fact, ex–military personnel have the confidence and aptitude to turn their hand to pretty much anything and succeed, but which of these skills and how much do you put on your CV? All of it, and it becomes repetitive and boring, too little and you feel you are selling yourself short.

You've got to be comfortable with your CV but it also has to answer the questions the employers have set in the job description. Make sure that you are selling yourself to the employers as the product they want. If the job description doesn’t mention planning then don’t waste CV space on your operational planning experience. Again, sounds simple but when you’re unemployed and disheartened you feel that you need to communicate everything about how great you are!

Be specific and prepare, they love to hear examples of your skills and experience. As in: this was the problem, this is what we did to solve it, this was the result and this was my contribution to that solution. I remember an interview I had where they asked me "Tell us about a situation in your previous role where you were under pressure to complete a business task?" I almost said, "All the time! My previous role was in the Armed Forces I was constantly under pressure to achieve some aim or other." What they wanted was a simple example and I just couldn't think of one specific thing so ended up waffling about some operation I was on which they could neither understand or relate to!

Don't read too much into job titles. A role entitled ‘Senior Strategic Communications Manager’ would quite feasible be the lad who sorts the post. My current title is ‘Senior Executive Officer’ which sounds very grandiose but is actually quite low down the rank structure in my organisation. I dread to think of how many jobs descriptions I had not bothered reading just because the title sounded far too senior.

E R N: What elements of your Navy experience and training were helpful in coping with any difficulties you had in dealing with day to day life as a civilian — either in terms of the personal qualities it developed or actual skills/techniques you’ve learnt? And what about dealing with the frustrations of working life as a civilian?

Martin Greaves: One thing I didn't realise when I was in the Forces was how supportive the structure is. You have a career path, it is someone’s job to manage your career and make sure you are getting the right development opportunities. You eat, sleep and drink with the people you work with and because of this form a much stronger bond than you ever will with your new civilian colleagues. This can be quite difficult to get used to, I hadn't even thought about it before I left but the culture shock has probably been the hardest thing to overcome during my transition.

My transition has been incredible frustrating, more so than I ever thought it would be. You suddenly have to deal with people who have a completely different mindset that you are used to and completely different set of priorities. Luckily for us, as ex–military personnel we are all incredibly flexible and can adapt to most situations. We are also great at establishing good professional relationships with people. I think it was these qualities which allowed me to make the most of some of the more frustrating periods.

As ever, a sense of humour is essential.

E R N: What have you found to be the most useful resources, (military or civilian) for dealing with the transition to civilian life? And for finding work in ‘civvy street’?

Martin Greaves: It may sound odd but the best thing I have found to deal with my transition was a FaceBook group called The Submariner’s Lounge. Not so much for job searches but for the mutual support and opportunity to connect with people who have similar experiences and have shared the same frustrations. I was surprised to feel a heavy sense of nostalgia after I had left the RN and this group allowed me to still feel connected with my previous life.

Job wise, the ex forces recruitment websites are very useful as they are targeting people from specific forces backgrounds and disciplines. One ‘civvy’ recruitment agency once told me they couldn't help me because my professional background didn't fit into one of their pre–defined employment sectors.

Friends and family can also be extremely useful for finding job opportunities if they know of positions available in their own organisations or can put you in touch with people who can assist you in finding work. These are the people who have been in the civilian job market all their lives and although I’d never admit it, the best advice and guidance I had came from my Mrs who had 20 years of civilian job experience for me to draw on.

E R N: There is a lot we can take from your story already, but do you have any other advice for guys leaving the forces/or having recently left?

Martin Greaves: Although resettlement is advertised as a priority for service leavers, it can often take a backseat to more pressing operational commitments, as it did in my case. It is a hard choice between your duty to your unit and taking the time off to prepare yourself for retraining but you absolutely have to focus on your resettlement and take as much as possible from opportunities available before your TX date, even if this means leaving your unit a man short. They're going to have to manage without you when you leave so they can manage during your resettlement.

Be patient, remain positive and be prepared to challenge yourself in a surprising number of ways!

E R N: Many Thanks Martin.