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The most common job seeking mistakes made by ex-military personnel (and how to overcome them)

July 3, 2024
Gareth Whyatt

Leaving the military and embarking on a new career path can be challenging, daunting and down right frustrating at times. Not only are you on the search for a suitable job, but at the same time you are also having to deal with all the other emotional, psychological and physical transitional challenges that come with leaving the military behind and beginning a new life as a civilian. 

It is not uncommon for those leaving the Armed Forces to feel overwhelmed when they begin a civilian job search. And it’s okay to not really have an idea where on earth to start! 

We’ve listed five common job seeking mistakes to watch out for, as well as how to overcome them to help get you started.

You start your job search without enough preparation and planning

Before jumping head first into a job search, spend some time identifying your skills, industries or areas of interest and job priorities. There are a lot of vacancies out there, and as much as a company wants a candidate to be a good fit for it, it is just as important that the roles you are applying for are a good fit for you. 

What is important to you in a job? How far do you want to travel to and from work, if at all? What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses? What part of a company’s culture might really appeal to you? Asking yourself questions like these will help you understand the type of role you should be applying for. 

Research commissioned by The Forces in Mind Trust highlights the importance of this. The Longer-term Employment Outcomes of Ex-Service Personnel report from QinetiQ, in partnership with Warwick Institute for Employment Research and RFEA – The Forces Employment Charity, found that not all ex-service personnel reported being satisfied with their civilian job or career. In fact, less than half (44.5%) felt that they had found the ‘right job’ for them for the long-term, only 42.5% thought their civilian job realised their potential and just 42.4% thought their job provided them with opportunities to progress.

Rather than using a scattergun approach and applying for anything and everything, taking the time to really fine-tune your requirements will ensure you’re going after the right kind of roles. You’ll also be more likely to be successful in applications where you believe you are well suited to a role that sits within a company that you really want to work for.

You undersell or don’t communicate your extensive and varied skills

At first thought, you might feel you lack the office experience or business know-how required for a civilian role. Of course, some of your experience and skills will be very specific to military life, but your time in the Armed Forces has also equipped you with a huge list of transferable skills and would be an asset to any team and company. 

The key is understanding how to translate your existing military skill set into the desirable attributes and requirements that hiring managers are looking for. Think about how your transferable skills could relate to a job you are applying for. Can you stay cool under pressure? Do you work well in a team? Are you a great leader? All of these (and more) will be desirable to most companies looking to hire a new employee. 

An article from The HR Director references a recent study that showed ex-Service personnel often fail to communicate their skills and experience when seeking employment. 

Once you start considering what your transferable skills are, we bet you’ll be surprised at just how many you can list. Be sure to call out this extensive list of skills to potential employers.

You try to do it alone

It can be daunting to undertake a job search after leaving the military. For many, it may well be the first civilian job search and application process they have ever undertaken. 

As an ex-military candidate, you are in a fortunate position as there are many organisations there to help with your transition. For example, The British Legion offers employment grants to support ex-military personnel as they look for a civilian job. There are also an incredible amount of online resources from CV writing tips to interview support. Taking the time to explore these resources and pick up some tips will help improve your chances of securing a role. 

It’s important to remember too, that there are many thousands of military leavers in the UK alone each year. Utilise any local groups, organisations or encourage friends to introduce you to any other military leavers they might know to help share experiences and advice. You might find you connect with recent leavers like yourself, or even better, come across someone who was in your position 15 years ago and has a wealth of advice to offer new leavers. 

We know, networking doesn’t come easily to some, it can seem a bit ‘salesy’ – and it is! However, it is pretty normal in the business world and you can use it to your advantage. Building a relationship or making an acquaintance with the right person could be just the thing that leads to a job. 

You let a set back throw you off course

Being ignored or rejected for a position you really wanted or feel you are the perfect candidate for can be enormously frustrating. It can knock your confidence in a way that can sometimes be hard to bounce back from. 

The bad news is, unless you are really lucky, it is likely that at some point in your civilian life you will miss out on a role you want. It happens to everyone, and as hard as it seems sometimes, it shouldn’t deter you from applying just as enthusiastically for the next suitable role. 

If you prepare for this kind of setback and understand that sometimes your job search won’t quite go your way, you can mitigate the impact it can have on your frame of mind. Having a realistic mindset up front will also reduce the chance of a rejection throwing you off course. If you can, try to get some feedback from the hiring manager in charge of filling the role you weren’t successful in securing, so you can be better informed for your next application. 

You apply for a role with a mediocre CV

Your CV is what employers will use to decide if they want to bring you in for an interview. It’s your first chance to ‘wow’ hiring managers and make them want to know a little bit more about you. 

Employers are looking for CVs that match their job descriptions so a one size fits all approach isn’t the best option. You need to tailor your CV to the specific role you are applying for, and as much as possible, ensure that your skills and training meets the requirements listed on the job ad. 

The Career Transition Partnership (CTP) has some great tips on how ex-military candidates can curate a perfect CV. 

It’s worth noting the importance of successfully translating your military skills and experience into a commercial and business framework too. The HR Director highlights a considerable gap here, stating that the traditional CV-based recruitment system often fails to successfully communicate the skills and experience ex-Service personnel can bring to businesses. In fact, the publication highlights some recent research that showed 36% of employers found it difficult to identify and understand transferable skills in CVs and application forms from ex-Service personnel. Use those online resources and engage with relevant organisations like the CTP, to ensure your CV is appealing to a business-minded hiring manager. 

As well as having a great CV, it’s worthwhile considering setting up a LinkedIn profile where you can showcase your skills and experience online. Potential employees may search for your profile on LinkedIn when considering you for a role, so it’s a good idea to keep it up to date.  Not only that, LinkedIn is a great place to build a network of contacts and connect with others who might just be able to help you in your job search. 


Transitioning to civilian life can be a huge upheaval and can come with numerous challenges, and these 5 common mistakes are really easily made. However, we’ve seen first-hand how, with the right support, ex-military personnel can go on to excel in civilian roles within the FMCG, food manufacturing and engineering industries. In fact, ex-military personnel are amongst the highest quality candidates we encounter. 

Let us help you transition into a civilian career and secure that perfect role: Ex Forces Recruitment 


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About The Author

Gareth Whyatt

After 12 years’ experience within the industry predominantly focusing on Operations and Supply Chain, founding The Sterling Choice has provided me with the opportunity to take a step back and focus on my passion for developing people and teams! As the self-proclaimed Head of Training I love seeing people develop and grow through the recruitment ranks and ultimately achieving both their personal and business goals.

For me The Sterling Choice is all about fun, results and collective success

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