Joining the Military & Your Future Job: Assigned or Chosen?

Having browsed a number of military and military-related forums regarding recruitment and selection, I noticed the same (two-part) question popping up:

  1. Do they assign you a role, or do you choose the role yourself?
  2. If you apply as an officer but don’t succeed (e.g. insufficient leadership skills) do they encourage you to apply again as a soldier?

The questions would suggest binary answers (i.e. Yes or No), but it is not that simple; its a question of perspective.

Question 1

Joiner Perspective:

Some people know exactly what job/role they want when they go through the recruitment and selection (R&S) process, however, some are the complete opposite and have no idea.

Some people might want to join the British Army, for example, without actually knowing what they want to do. The R&S process provides an overview of what the British Army does, the jobs available, the places it goes to (or might go to), the tasks you might carry out, the opportunities available such as adventure training, sports, pay, promotions, education and training, and the paid for holidays (aka R&R packages).

For some jobs there are ongoing job vacancies, the Royal Marines is an example of this. The Royal Marines start a new recruit training programme every two weeks with up to 60 recruits. The opposite of this are the Technical Trades, such as the Royal Corps of Signals Communication System Engineer, which might only take on 15-30 in the whole year. You also need to consider competition. If there are eight vacancies and nine candidates, why should you be one of the eight and not number nine?

Another consideration is non-direct entry roles, of which the Royal Army Physical Training Corps (RAPTC) is an example. You cannot join the British Army or the RAPTC directly from civvy street as a Fitness Instructor, and therefore must join in another job beforehand.

Military Perspective:

From the military’s perspective, they have a quota for each trade within their Service. Considerations for the military (which you may or may not be aware of) include:

  • Organisational and manning changes (up and/or down) due to the Strategic Defence and Security Reviews.
  • Number of leavers (both retirements and early leavers).
  • Number of promotions.
  • Number not completing Phase 1 or Phase 2 training.

These and other factors enable military recruiters (along with historical data) to plan the numbers required for each trade. Those not completing training and early leavers mess up the planning assumptions.

For example, given the above factors, military recruiters might state they require eight Marine Engineers for that training year (e.g. April 2016 to March 2017). You go through the R&S process and pass everything successfully but … you are number nine! They don’t (might not) tell you, you are number nine, they just state the trade is not accepting new entrants. Possible options include:

  • Wait until a course is available, which could be a wait of over a year.
  • Go with your second, or even third choice (and stick with it)
  • Go with your second, or even third choice (and attempt to transfer to your first choice later on).
  • Attempt to join another Service with the same or similar trade.
  • Don’t join!

If your chosen trade is ‘full’ and you present as a superlative candidate, the military will not want to let you slip through the net and will therefore try to, subject to jobs available, give you something relevant to your skills and experience. However, not getting the job you wanted could be a blessing!

My Perspective

For example, back in 1990, I wanted to join the Royal Military Police (RMP) but did get the required score (though was never told this) and was gently steered towards joining the Royal Corps of Transport (now Royal Logistics Corps) as a Driver.

During training, in the then Junior Leaders Regiment, we attended trade lectures and I found the maritime trade very appealing (I was not told about it during R&S), and consequently ended up as a Navigator driving boats in the British Army! I enjoyed opportunities I would not have had access to in the RMP or wider-RLC.

Question 2

As part of the R&S process individual’s will receive feedback, on both strengths and weaknesses (areas for improvement perhaps).

If an individual was, for example, attending the Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB) and they failed, they would receive feedback which would highlight the strengths and areas for improvement.

If the reason for failure was ‘insufficient leadership skills’, the feedback would discuss this, typically stating why the assessors thought it was insufficient and what could be done about it. Broadly, outcomes can be categorised as:

  • Level 1: Demonstrates leadership skills and qualities above those of their peers;
  • Level 2: Demonstrates leadership skills and qualities in line with their peers;
  • Level 3: Demonstrates leadership skills and qualities below their peers.

If the officer candidate is marked as level 3, then why? Potential reasons could include:

  • Not enough exposure to leadership opportunities.
  • Shows potential but is not yet ready.
  • Too autocratic, e.g. no discussion with team members.
  • Too democratic, e.g. too much discussion with team members and not making a decision.
  • Not able to make a decision at all, or dithering.
  • Unable to make mind up on a course of action.
  • Letting team members take control.
  • Being to introverted or not able to make yourself heard.
  • Not adapting to the situation, e.g. making a decision to perform a task in a particular way and finding it doesn’t work but not changing your decision/course of action.
  • Attitude: bullish, arrogant, flippant, submissive etc.

The exact reason for the ‘insufficient leadership skills’ will vary between candidates and whether a candidate is invited to attend another officer selection, transfer to soldier selection or is informed not to apply again will depend on this.

The same basic principal applies for soldier candidates.


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