Mid-Career Transition To HR


I am a mid-40s senior RAF officer currently looking at options outside of the service. I have a largely operational background but have undertaken several roles with formal HR responsibilities. My current role is HR/training focused and strategic in outlook,which I am really enjoying. I am looking to undertake a distance learning CIPD Level 7 qualification throughout 18/19 to enhance my skills in this area and potentially make me more employable in the future.  I am considering HR as a future employment route and ideally at a reasonably senior level. Is this achievable and will the Level 7 qualification make me more attractive to potential employers?  I would be very grateful for any advice.  

  • Hi Simon

    When I first joined HR in heavy manufacturing industry many many years ago, it was not at all unusual for very senior ‘Personnel’ managers to have line manager backgrounds. Of course all the present Level 7 PgD and similar‘ underpinning knowledge for professional CIPD membership’ stuff and similar hadn’t been invented then, either. And, with hindsight - but I hope without selective vision - I tend to think that our profession was not at all the worse for not having it then, and probably in many ways just as effective and credible as it is now - if not more so.

    Many might disagree with this view and with some justification point out that that was then and this is now, so it’s not a valid comparison etc etc. But I’m recalling a former functional boss - a blue chip holding company HR Director - was a retired RN Rear Admiral, and could hardly have been more effective in his new role in industry.

    Another fairly common managerial practice then was to cross-post managers largely from other functions to jobs such as ‘Assistant to the Personnel Director’ where they could learn the senior managerial ropes in a new function often with a view to in time taking them over themselves in a full blown functional Head role, either for succession or elsewhere.

    Perhaps these practices of days gone by still persist to a certain extent these days: in any event, it might pay you to draw up a ‘hit list’ of HR Directors of companies etc known to be enthusiastic about employing ex-military officers and put yourself forward to them in an appropriate way.

    I don’t know whether or not the armed forces and those they task with resettling ex officers into civilian roles offer to potential employers any forms of short ‘try before you buy’ or experiential secondments but something like that seems the obvious thing to do....And even if they don’t, you might consider offering to do it yourself from your own resources if your own personal circumstances permit.

    Sorry I don’t think I can be of much more possible assistance to you, but I’m sure Communities colleagues will soon be along with very sound and salient advice and guidance and whatever your future career, do wish you well in it.
  • In reply to David:


    Many thanks for your thoughts. I am at a very early stage of my research and will talk to our resettlement people about companies that may be willing to offer short secondments, as this is something I would be very interested in trying. Not only would it provide valuable experience but also help me in translating my skill sets into something more recognisable to civilian employers. Thanks once again.

  • In reply to Simon:

    Good luck in your transition Simon

    I agree with David up to a point, certainly there is a long tradition of people moving from Ops / Functions into HR roles and often at pretty senior levels. I think these people can and did make some great HR Directors and the like. Most of the ones I came across in my earlier career were great X Directors in their firm and were moved into the HR job in their Firm - an internal transfer.

    But I think the challenge you will face is (a) transitioning into HR (b) transitioning from military to civilian and (c) maintaining a senior level role. I think to some extent those are three big challenges and you will need how you over come the challenges of each of the three both individually and then all three collectively.

    I don't think its impossible, but I do think you will find it incredibly difficult and need to go into this with your eyes open. You may need to decide which you compromise on?

    The Level 7 wont hurt but you will need to demonstrate both qualifications and relevant experience. Whilst your military experience may carry weight with some I fear (and as in PC as this is) it will turn off as many or more. So you will need to target your experience and search really closely.

    Good luck
  • In reply to Keith:


    Thanks for your comments. I appreciate the realism in your reply and recognise the challenges ahead. I think you have hit the proverbial nail on the head in your description of the issues I will face. I have some time to work these through and am keen on the qualification as it will help in my current role even if it does nothing else. Thank you for your time and input.

  • Simon,

    Something that's often not talked about in resettlement but which I found to be important and which others who've been through it since have confirmed to me is your flexibility when it comes to the location of your resettlement.

    For example, as a junior Army officer with a Level 7 CIPD qualification, I had several offers of interviews with London-based corporations, but as I was going to work in London over my dead body, I declined. But companies of equivalent size that had enough understanding of the value of military service whilst also having the capacity to wait while industry knowledge developed were few and far between outside London. Whilst they existed, it wasn't in sufficient volume that I would have been able to pick a resettlement location before finding a job.

    I elected to pick a location that suited my family first and find the job second.

    It took six years and meant starting again at the bottom.

    Now, this was a while ago, but I recently met up with some recent Service leavers who reported a very similar experience - wanting to resettle in my bailiwick of Gloucestershire, their only openings were for HR admin roles - often on a temp or FTC basis - despite being SNCOs with Level 5+ CIPD qualifications (and, in one case, an MA in HRM).

    The only one who reported finding a role at an equivalent level to his rank on exit was one who was lucky enough to find an ex-Services HRD who already knew how to get the best from a Service leaver.

    However, you do have a significant advantage in that you are a fair way up the greasy pole - I assume you are at Wing Commander or higher - which gives you access to a fairly exclusive network of former senior staff officers working in industry who will be ready and willing to open some doors for you.

    Your formal qualifications are going to be less important to these than your experience and reputation (because they will definitely reach out to mutual acquaintances to check that you're worth a punt). However, that said, if you want to build a second career in civil HR at a senior level, FCIPD is a status worth being able to flaunt and a Level 7 qualification is pretty much the gateway. If you can get MoD to pay for it (as I did) it's probably worth pursuing.
  • In reply to Robey:


    I am very grateful for your comments. It is very useful to hear from someone who has made the transition that I will need to make. You may well think I am mad, but I am looking at the London job market as I have a house near a good commuting station and in an area that works for the family. I recognise the difficulties that I will face and my thinking is that London offers more scope for employment opportunities. I would be looking to get as qualified as possible as it will hopefully make me a more attractive proposition and develop me as a HR specialist.

    You rightly mention networking, which I have deliberately not started as I want to be very sure of my ground. I know that this is something that I need to work on in the forthcoming year. Thanks once again it is really useful to get this type of feedback as it is helping me to plan out the transition process in a more informed manner.

  • In reply to Simon:

    Good to have you part of the Community, Simon.
  • Hi Simon,
    If you havent already, go to the Officers Association. They'll give you some industry contacts who will be able to advise if it's worth your while undertaking the Level 7 at this stage, if even you don't want to start networking yet.
    Also, consider the AMAC at Manchester Business School as part of your resettlement - it will fill in the commercial gaps in your knowlege.
    Good luck!
  • In reply to Simon:

    Working in London's not all bad Simon ;) There's a certain frenetic buzz that we all eventually adapt to! #21yearsandcounting
  • Hi Simon,

    I can't really add anything to the advice you've already been given, but thought it was worth mentioning - my other half works for a global IT business (including an office in London) who have an ex-forces programme. Obviously they specialise in IT, but have a large HR and L&D department. I don't know much about it, but I do know they have been recognised by the MOD's Employer Recognition Scheme and that the programme is run by ex-service personnel. They are called FDM (@Steve, hope I'm allowed to say their name?!)

    All the best.

  • In reply to Liz:


    Thanks for the really good advice. I am going to e-mail the OA to see if they have any good contacts. I have heard very positive reports about the AMAC and recognise my lack of commercial awareness is an area for rapid improvement. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
  • In reply to Johanna:


    I admit that I am quite excited by that buzz. I have spent lots of time in and around London and have always been drawn to the idea of working there at some point. I am lucky in that I will be within a reasonable commuting distance and in an area which suits.

  • In reply to Jenny:


    Many thanks for the comment it will really help with my research as I think that my best transition gateway will be with an organisation used to dealing with service leavers. As I am rapidly learning networking in an informed a manner as possible will be critical - any little insight helps. Thanks for your time and input.

  • Hi, Simon.

    I was in exactly the same position as you around 6 years ago with a similar background and experience and without any formal HR qualifications (although I had obtained Chartered Member status). I am hopefully proof that what you are considering is quite achievable.

    I also considered undertaking a formal Level 7 CIPD qualification during my resettlement but went for Executive Business Management instead to broaden my knowledge, capability and employability.

    For me the OA wasn't much help (maybe it was the consultant I met with rather than the OA as a whole - she was very dismissive!) but my experience shouldn't put you off - speak to as many people as you can and take from them what you think will help you.

    If you want to chat through your situation in any detail then please do let me know. I'd be more than happy to help if I can.

  • In reply to James:


    Firstly many thanks for replying and it is very encouraging to hear from someone else who has successfully made the switch. I am really keen to hear about how you went about getting your Chartered status and why you didn't pursue the Level 7 so would be grateful for a little more of your story when it is convenient for you. Thanks