While working in financial services and consulting I have come across many individuals with experience in industries quite unlike the ones in which they now find themselves. To call out a couple of examples: a current colleague started out as an engineer, while a former manager used to make musical instruments for a living. My own story is similar, and similarly unique.
I joined the British Army upon leaving school and served in the Parachute Regiment for 15 years, reaching the rank of Sergeant. My transition from the Army wasn’t initially by choice. While serving on an operational tour in Afghanistan I suffered end stage renal failure due to illness and was evacuated back to the UK. After a week of treatment, I was told that my kidneys were no longer working, and I was to start dialysis immediately – and this would continue unless I received a kidney transplant.
After nine months of dialysis, I was lucky enough for my wife to be assessed as a close enough match, and she donated one of her kidneys to me. I returned to service, albeit in desk bound roles, and faced a medical discharge from the British Army given I was no longer deployable overseas. As a soldier, many aspects of your life come to depend on the armed forces and, as in many cases, a medical discharge meant the loss of the Ministry of Defence property my family called home. One day I realized that answering emails at a desk was not what I joined the Army for, so why not do it in a different industry?
Clearly, following a kidney transplant, many of the second careers I envisioned were no longer an option. What, I asked myself, what do soldiers do if they can’t soldier anymore? I had heard that a former officer I used to work for was now fulfilling a role as a project manager with an investment bank in London, so I asked if I could meet him for a coffee. I explained that I couldn’t see how I was employable outside of the military except in unskilled jobs. In response he pointed that the skills I had developed through years in the Army, being thrust into difficult positions and having to solve problems and creating robust plans as solutions.
These are the transferrable skills I have acquired, which I stress to others who are themselves leaving the Armed Forces:
Despite possessing transferable skills, my transition into financial services wasn’t altogether straightforward. I still had to learn what a bank was, the different lines of business, the products offered, the customer types and so on. The key challenges I faced were that job advertisements were very specific, and I felt that I didn’t have the skills required. I didn’t have a degree, as I had joined the Army directly from school, and I didn’t have any knowledge or previous experience in financial services. I didn’t know how to convey the skills I did possess in a manner that would be relatable to a potential employer. How many banks want to employ a mortar fire controller or sniper? What does it mean to have served in Iraq or Afghanistan to the average Managing Director? I feel these are typical challenges facing those leaving the armed forces.
This is where networking came in. I started with individuals that had a similar background to my own before branching out to other contacts. This enabled me to have a conversation about a role and understand what they were looking for. A key piece of advice for someone else in this position is to think less about the skills in the advert you don’t have and instead focus on what it is you bring that could enhance that role.
Networking also enabled me to hear advice on where to find answers, how to learn about the financial industry through background reading. I recommend in particular:
In my relatively short time in financial services, I have worked in retail banking, private banking/wealth management, investment banking and now consulting. Here at Capco my previous experience is always welcome. We provide services to multiple domains including banking and payments, capital markets, wealth & asset management, insurance and the energy sector, and we recruit a very diverse range of talent with varying backgrounds. This promotes a lot of ‘out of the box’ thinking and solutions, making my unique background quite an asset.