Recruitment of ex-military – are there difficulties?

As a CV writer I learned quite early, both from what landed on my desk and the conversations that were had with ex-military clients, that many commercial and public sector employers are wary of military personnel.
Some very well-known companies will make great glossy claims about the value of time-served military personnel yet when you dig – you need only a teaspoon not a shovel – you discover that perhaps for the veterans, things aren’t that rosy.

In September 2016, PwC UK’s annual report (2016) advises that it has 250,000 clients and 21,864 staff and, of those, 200 are ex-military. The US site advises a global workforce of 208,109 in 2015 and has lots of glossy information about the scope and scale of the recruitment of veterans but nowhere can I find a number (might be me!).

Deloitte’s own information advises that in FY16 they employed over 16,000 people in the UK and they point out this is UK and Swiss operation operations (and exclude CIS and Financial Advisory Middle East operations. In May 2015, Economia, the website dedicated to Chartered Accountants’ activities, advised that Deloitte had only 150 UK ex-military personnel despite having started their “Deloitte Military Transition and Talent Programme (DMTTP)” in 2012.

In their 2015 report, PwC’s Agnès Hussherr, PwC Global Diversity and Inclusion Leader delivered a small piece on the company’s site. Warm, fuzzy, glowing and almost completely vague: “range of experiences….each think differently from one another….apply varying approaches to problem solving….committed to helping every one of our people build a rewarding career and achieve their full potential. Apparently their “inclusion score” – whatever that’s meant to mean – says PwC is an “inclusive work environment where individual differences are valued and respected (78%). And globally, 18% of our partners are female, up from 13% in 2006”. So, no numbers given and only a 5% rise in female partners in 9 years – I wouldn’t like to think what Hillary Clinton’s glass ceiling advisers would say.

So all in, depending on your point of view, very poor numbers or hardly the biggest percentages in the world.
Of course it is easy to pick out individual companies and appear to tarnish them. That’s not my aim. But perhaps the very fact that between them Deloitte and PwC employ 452,509 across 307+ global offices, combined with them offering an array of professional services covering virtually every employment sector, might give an indication of how few ex-military these companies actually employ, despite slick claims. And perhaps there is, even broadly, a correlation with the wider employment market. This suggestion is reinforced by the fact that (“The Ministry of Defence partnering with Right Management”) advises on their site that “over 14,000 skilled and experienced individuals leave the Armed Forces each year”.

On 10th March 2015 the MOD responded (redacted) to an FOI request of 18th February that year, advising that “the total amount spent on external recruitment agencies and headhunters (sic), for each year since 2010” was £3,041,959. There is nothing explicit about what exactly they got for that money – how many ex-military secured new careers.

So, do companies not wish ex-military or do ex-military perhaps not want diverse global organisations which provide a huge array of sectors and roles? And, I would argue fairly evidentially, some companies’ warm publicity-chat does not reflect the extent to which they seek – or don’t ex-military

Of course I can only speak as someone who works with ex-military remotely, though certainly in large numbers and on a client <> adviser setting. What always strikes me about those I work with is that they – and this will sound, to some sceptics, almost laughably trivial, I know – are on time, firm in their beliefs yet also very flexible (adaptable in work?), polite, make no assumptions, and think carefully through all available options. Given the nature of the CV writer <> client relationship, there is also a great deal of ideas’-sharing and discussion of their career moves and difficulties therein. It has led me to some conclusions which, given how many ex-military personnel I’ve worked with, has to constitute at least a reasonably balanced cross section (probably more so than a toothpaste or shampoo ad!)

•Recruiters are intimidated by someone who probably has more training and responsibility as a leader than they’ll ever have – the recruiter is unsettled by the fact, quite possibly, this person was controlling a vast base, cooking for 5,000 people daily, maintaining fighter jets, killing someone, or seeing others killed, and now they have to integrate them into the client company’s team.

•Most recruiters can’t comprehend what really goes on in the military so instead they hire what they know.
So, bottom line: are there inherent difficulties in recruiting ex-military, or are the difficulties debatably with recruiters and organisations’ managers? I think the figures speak for themselves. The question that springs to mind though is how much does the military challenge the public / commercial sectors? I don’t doubt the military has every good intention of helping their leavers to secure work – indeed many clients explicitly tell me so. But given the numbers, how often does the military – if we exclude top brass making appropriate (to them) political noises – challenge the recruiters and HR executives? Make public their dissatisfaction with company take-up rates? Collaborate across all 3 military arms to present a united front?

I am convinced the difficulties lie with the recruiters – absolutely; the military senior managers – to a not insignificant degree; with those leaving and looking for work – not at all.

This is the point at which some of you feel I’m perhaps writing from a biased “I-am-ex-military” standpoint. I have never been in, have no family in, and have no affiliations with anyone in the military. I just think those who’ve served us need more support and, fundamentally, opportunities – and opportunities which they don’t need to hunt down but which are brought to their door.

Nigel Benson (10 Posts)

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

Share and Enjoy

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Delicious
  • LinkedIn
  • StumbleUpon
  • Add to favorites
  • Email
  • RSS


  1. Paul Hichens

    Thank you for your article Nigel. It certainly raises some very interesting points.

    From our perspective we regularly help service leavers into commercial jobs, and in most cases they send us a job specification of something that they are applying for. So certainly commercial jobs that are suitable for military personnel do exist, and not just in security. For example, over the years we’ve helped service leavers into jobs across a wide variety of roles from supply chain and logistics to deep sea diving, engineering, computing, driving, retail, catering and more. Moreover, we have experience helping service leavers into jobs at all levels from junior positions right up to directors and business leaders. Notably, many of the job specifications for such posts don’t specifically mention that candidates need a military background. In fact, military background is by no means a pre-requisite for some of these positions. However, ex-military personnel can apply for, and land, a variety of jobs in the commercial world. It’s not just theory, it can and does happen, and regularly.

    That said, just because a job is available it doesn’t necessarily follow that is easy to land. Most of our ex-service clients come to us for help specifically because the CVs are not working in the commercial market. From a CV perspective we do find that many service leavers have CVs that are military orientated, and not really suitable for commercial use. The transition from a military CV to a commercial one isn’t particularly straightforward, and it does take thought, time and experience and writing skill to turn this around. However, this is something we are used to.

    The figure in your article also interesting, and hopefully more can be done to address and help service leavers into good jobs. I’m happy to say that we certainly don’t exclude ex-military from our company. Indeed, our customer services manager has a senior level military background. That said, we don’t employ him (or anyone) because of who he was employed by previously. On the contrary, we are very fussy, and are very careful to hire people who we think are the best for the job – something which ex-military personnel often tick the boxes for.

  2. Peter Green

    As someone who is former military myself and who regularly helps ex-servicemen resettle into civilian jobs I’m happy to add further to this blog.

    Firstly, I agree with Paul’s response, but some aspects of the article don’t really reflect the real situation. Let me elaborate;

    The article reflects a point of view. In terms of military transition out of the service the assumption seems to be to fit civilian jobs to military experience. Which is totally the wrong way around. The emphasis should be from the individual to be able to relate to civilian jobs and to civilianise their CV. A cook is still a cook, a driver is still a driver. A senior officer in the catering corps has parallels with e.g. an in house catering manager in the hotel and hospitality sector. These and other military fields/ranks are transferable. What is harder is the junior soldier who is a gunner, machine gunner section leader on the front line and so on. Such trades are harder to place but, after consultation with the client we do normally identify possibilities for transfer into commercial work.

    Usually, the average military leaver gets no realistic viable career guidance except from mainly former retired army officers who have never had the experience of civvy street in the raw. These people are themselves not really best qualified to know what civvy street needs from the applicant, and most don’t seem to understand what a modern commercial CV does, or needs to do. Judging by many service leaver CVs that I have seen that were created with the “help” of military resettlement personnel, they seem to be stuck in the dark ages using old fashioned CVs that include everything, haphazardly and without any real logical or aforethought. There may be exceptions, but I’m yet to see any. Little wonder that CVs written by resettlement experts tend not to be effective in the job market.

    My experience is that many companies and sectors do accommodate former military, warrant officers etc, and many senior ranks are valued and sought after as managers in many sectors and many also translate to quite high executive positions. This is not because they are former military per se, but because they bring with them the positive personal attributes that Nigel mentions that are desired attributes for many employers. Not just in the commercial security sector but as Paul mentions, supply chain, logistics and many other fields.

    Those on the PwC et al market are likely to be quite senior, and in a different world, so in no way representative of the average military person.

    Referring to reports by erudite civilian consultancies such as PwC et al; I would say their figures are skewed because 90% of those leaving the service will never have heard of or become involved with such organisations or their clients in their job hunt. The ones who do would tend to be the minority elite so their results would not appear to be really reflective of any true general situation.

    In response to this comment:

    ‘the total amount spent on external recruitment agencies and headhunters (sic), for each year since 2010” was £3,041,959’

    This is really chicken feed and little actually gets to effectively benefit the person, and specially the average person. It supports a self serving concession to demonstrate that military leaving the services are looked after by the military and the government. Some of the main decision makers in this process are governmental or former military persons who have little real experience of civvy street. This has been going on forever without any really effective improvement to the delivered service.

    I say this with benefit of much experience both personally and through my many former colleagues that I still meet on a regular basis. And also more currently with many service personnel who come to us to fix their unsuitable CVs. I regularly quiz ex-servicemen clients about current resettlement “help” from the services. Not much has changed.

    The £3 million is where we could make a real difference, in fact we as a company could make a real difference if the military really wanted to give service leavers genuine, modern, transferable advice and help – but it’s breaking into the closed circle!