This Armed Forces Day (26 June), Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Aerospace, Defence and Security at Sopra Steria, shares an insight into her journey from military to civilian life, tips for those making the leap and some advice for employers about how to attract veterans and support them to thrive.
Transferring to civilian work life is an experience that only other veterans can truly understand. I remember that time in
my own life so vividly. Not only was I facing an uncertainty about entering a culture I was completely unfamiliar with but I was also processing something akin to grief. Leaving the military was almost like a bereavement because that strong sense of belonging and shared values I’d been used to in the military was suddenly gone.
If I could underline a message this Armed Forces Day for any veterans with who this resonates, it would be that those feelings are temporary. There are inclusive organisations out there that are looking for talent like yours right now.
When I started my first civilian job, all I had ever known was military life. At 18 years old, I was incredibly fortunate to secure a scholarship to attend the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA), which I guess is similar to Sandhurst in the UK. I joined the academy as a supply officer in the Royal Australian Air force and carried out officer training whilst studying for my degree. Being in the military whilst at university was an extremely steep learning curve. I served for 11 years overall, my main roles were in the fields of logistics and catering but one of my most enjoyable was being back at ADFA as a Divisional Officer.
During my time in the academy, I’d been used to full-on days, learning, working and training from 6 am – 10 pm. I was used to being part of a community where we all shared similar values and beliefs. We all prioritised our mission and had a clear understanding of our individual roles within it
I later found that being in a civilian workplace could be starkly different. It wasn’t uncommon to find myself working without visibility of a strategy or structure and sometimes alongside or for people who didn’t have the integrity I was used to. My networks became a real support for me - having a group of ex-military colleagues at my first job was incredibly valuable and was a safe space for me to share concerns and learn how best to fit in. We all understood each other.
Still to this day, 25 years into my second career, I’m constantly learning. If I had any tips to share with fellow veterans, they would be;
- Don’t just look for a job, look for a culture – It can be tempting to jump for your first offer but I’d strongly encourage you to ask questions about the company, its values and its culture. Does it align with your own? It has to be the right place for you. (And don’t forget your first job doesn’t have to be your ‘forever job’)
- Build your networks – Find like-minded people as well as those with different life experiences to yours who you can learn from. Find mentors and lean on friends old and new. Don’t be afraid to reach out to your military peers. Plus, you can learn loads from LinkedIn.
- Be your authentic self – I know this is easier said than done! But you are your biggest asset. Companies aren’t looking for perfection, so show up as your true self in interviews and at work. Being real and open about your strengths and areas for improvement will get the relationship off to a flying start.
- Build friendships with your colleagues - In the military I had great friendships; my closest friends were my work colleagues. So, my final tip is to develop strong friendships at work, this is something I have done and feel has helped me in my career.
And what about employers, what can they do to attract former service women and men to join? And how can they create an inclusive environment for all?Organisations that recognise the skills, leadership qualities, problem-solving and team-working strengths of service-leavers really stand to benefit. It’s a privilege to see this first-hand working at Sopra Steria. My veteran colleagues are so talented and bring so much to our teams. They all have opportunities to thrive, develop and grow and they provide a vital service and perspective to our clients – both within and outside of The Ministry of Defence.
At work, I am part of a team that believes in collaboration and delivering services that truly create value for our clients but also wider society. Sopra Steria is also committed to supporting everyone including our ex-service personnel in many ways through our diversity and inclusion networks, mentoring programmes and providing mental health first aid training to staff.
We all stand to benefit from an inclusive and diverse work culture for all.
Trust me when I say, I know how overwhelming it can be making that leap from the military to civilian work life, but with the right support, development and mentorship that more and more forward-thinking employers are now offering, your skills and experience will set you up to thrive.
Today, I #SaluteOurForces and I hope you will join me too.
Sue-Ellen Wright, Managing Director of Aerospace, Defence and Security
Visit our careers page to learn more about how we support the Armed Forces Community and to view what opportunities are currently available.