Fats Track Help Desk: I want to soldier on with a civilian career

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The Independent Culture
The problem

I AM a 28-year-old, non-graduate, ex Army Officer who is trying to secure a job in conference and event management. But few employers seem willing to believe the wealth of responsibility and experience that can be gained during four years in the Army. Since I commanded and personally managed over 30 soldiers as well as controlling six-figure budgets, managing logistic supply contracts in Kenya and a building project on behalf of the UN in Angola, this hardly seems fair. After leaving the Army, I even worked in a multi-national company until I had to move house.

Sally Mitchell, W Midlands

The solutions

Jo Ellen Gryzb, psychotherapist & Co-Director of Impact Factory (a training and personal development company) and Work Agony Aunt for `Cosmopolitan':

Concentrate on presenting yourself not as a 28-year-old, non-graduate, ex-Army Officer, but as a mature, organised, efficient, personable, flexible, hard worker who happens to have been in the Army. Event management is highly pressured work, so make it clear you are a whiz at working to deadlines, dealing with detail and handling on-the-spot crises. Employers may think that being in the Army is about taking orders, being very regimented and working to lots of rules and regulations. You need to give them an alternative view that will be compatible to their needs, which is about being creative, adaptable and able to think laterally. Do not make a point of saying why you left the events job, at least not right away: few employers are willing to risk hiring someone who may have to relocate.

Sarah Webster, Executive Director, Incentive Travel & Meetings Association:

When writing to potential employers, don't make the common mistake of giving them a summary of your entire career. In a short letter accompanying your CV, you should provide only the information which will be pertinent to the job. In addition to logistical expertise, communications skills (both written and verbal) are very highly prized. The ability to speak one or more European language would make you doubly attractive, as would strong IT skills. Personal qualities are as important as knowledge and experience. If you can convey that you are energetic, flexible, personable and have a sense of humour, I would think they would grab you with open arms.

ITMA produces an information pack called "A Career in Corporate Event Management," This is available free of charge from ITMA, PO Box 195 Twickenham, TW1 2PE.

Katie Scott, Account Team Manager, Banks Sadler Ltd:

Why not try freelance work. There are several Recruitment Consultants specialising in your chosen field of work, and freelancing would get you a foot in the door as well as allowing you greater flexibility. Offer to work at a conference agency for a limited period without pay. As well as providing valuable all-round experience, this would again grant you a foot in the door. There are also a number of directories (eg, Corporate Event Services, Showcase Publications) which provide an extensive list of all the Event Management companies. Good Luck.

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