From Officers’ Mess To Boardroom


If you’ve commanded Personnel in your time, your civilian career could be heading straight for the company boardroom!

Adapted from CivvyStreet Magazine, October 2013.

These days there are plenty of well-trodden paths for non-commissioned officers and other ranks between the Armed Forces and many a successful civilian career; popular options include the Emergency Services, and the security, transport, or construction sectors. If you’re leaving as an officer (however junior), your options are just as good; the command and management experience at your fingertips could well take you into the boardroom, or at least deposit you pretty high up the corporate ladder.

Having any rank (and the responsibility that comes with it) in the Armed Forces can be excellent preparation for a managerial career. There might not seem to be a direct correlation between guiding operations in Afghanistan and, say, managing a machine plant in Twickenham or a financial services company in the City of London, but your time in uniform will certainly hone a host of ‘transferrable’ managerial skills. Yes, your civilian peer might have gained a great MBA but, according to Michael Jordan of US company EDS, while that qualification can “give you the tools and familiarity” with making decisions, Military experience puts you “in a real-world situation”.

Also, you’ll still be relatively young; if you’ve served a short service commission, you’ll be in your late 20s or early 30s with plenty of time and energy to focus on your new civilian career. Even if this isn’t the case, if you’re in your 40s or early 50s, there will still be many sectors crying out for your experience. The financial world, for example, has long been an attractive option for officers, especially if they’re leaving the Services with considerable experience in operational logistics.

Understandably, you’re likely to be looking for a position in a similar kind of working environment to the one you’re leaving, finding a role in an energetic and dynamic organisation where your decisions really do make a difference. While searching for this, you can expect a degree of support from the staff working in the Career Transition Partnership (CTP), but what does that entail?

Two existing bodies, The Officers’ Association (OA) and the Regular Forces Employment Association (RFEA), are now sub-contracted by the CTP to help provide employment and career support. This isn’t just during the Resettlement process, although the Officers’ Association Employment Department (OA ED) does suggest that the majority of serving Officers get maximum benefit from their support between six and nine months before they return to civvy street. Both the OA and RFEA are also there “for life”, offering a range of bespoke support throughout your subsequent civilian career; roughly two out of every five of those accessing the OA’s employment support will have been back on civvy street for at least two years.

An important part of the OA ED’s work is through formal and informal networking, connecting those going through the Resettlement process with mentors and contacts ‘on the outside’. The OA states that 70% of their clients find their next role through such networking, hardly surprising when so many jobs (the OA claims “around 80% in many sectors”) are not publicly advertised. Connecting with someone who has already gone through the Resettlement process can nevertheless be invaluable, not just for their possible career links, but the experience of chatting with someone who’s “been there and done it”.

Areas in which former officers can prosper can include logistics, human resources and recruitment; this explains why businesses such as Barclays, BT and General Electric now target Service-leavers (especially officers) through employment skills workshops, career days, and internships. At the start of 2013, business advisory firm Deloitte launched its own Military Transition and Talent programme, aiming “to support, transition and develop those leaving the Armed Forces by introducing them to the business world, and helping them with specific skills and networking opportunites”.

The Deloitte programme is something of a personal project for its leader Chris Recchia, a partner in the firm’s enterprise risk services team; not least because, as a former Captain in the British Army, he realised that too many highly talented and skilled veterans who were applying to the company were unnecessarily falling at the first hurdle. In some cases this was simply down to candidates lacking the company’s standard academic requirements; in others, it was about the Service-leavers simply being unable to effectively “translate” their Military experience into something civilian businesspeople could understand.

This need to “translate” between the Military and civilian worlds can be a problem for many Service-leavers but, on the plus side, you potentially have an opportunity to shine at a job interview when you get to the competency-based questions. When it comes to “Give an example of your leadership in a stressful situation”, you’re likely to have an answer that your civilian peers won’t be in a position to match.

What are your prospects once you leave the Officers’ Mess for the boardroom? Extremely good, if a 2006 report by executive recruitment company Korn/Ferry International and the Economist Intelligence Unit is anything to go by. This report found that companies led by CEOs with Military experience had outperformed other comparable companies by as much as 20% during the previous three, five and 10 year periods. Not only that, those CEOs with a Military background also tended to last longer in their jobs, with an average tenure more than 50% longer than those peers with no Military background.

“Without exception, the CEOs interviewed emphasize that the Military offers an early opportunity to acquire hands-on leadership experience that cannot be found in the corporate world or at a similarly early stage in people’s careers,” the report’s writers emphasised. Now, while this particular report focused on American businesses, its findings nevertheless have something to say within a UK context, not least the six leadership traits that the report identified as allowing CEOs to perform “exceptionally well in the boardroom”.

Those traits are: learning how to work as part of a team, organisation skills, such as planning and effective use of resources, good communication skills, being able to define a goal and motivating others to follow it, a highly developed sense of ethics, and, of course, an ability to remain calm under pressure.

Any of those sound familiar to you?


The Officers’ Association
020 7808 4160/0845 873 7153,

Officers’ Association Scotland
0131 550 1575/1581,