My Heart On My Sleeve…

 

I’ve recently read back over some of these blog posts and they mostly appear quite negative re the the Army. So tonight whilst laid in bed struggling to sleep as sometimes happens I was thinking about some of my better times in the Army and it made me think…Was it all that bad??
I pondered……
In the early years it was all learning, living! There was no time to even stop to take stock, new people, new places, new experiences, new feelings, breaking all the rules, all the time and not giving a shit about doing it…Then things got a bit weird and a bit tough but after a hard year in Aldershot/Canada/Kosovo it all seemed to fall into place – there was a period of absolute bliss. This was when I was serving with the 2nd Battalion, The Parachute Regiment in Colchester. Here everything just felt right. I was happily married, I was flourishing in my role, I was extremely fit which helped given the Regiment I was with. Even the Op Tour to Iraq (Telic III) was brilliant. I loved it there but all good things come to an end – sadly it all ended under a cloud. I was sexually assaulted by some young, new Private whilst on a night out with friends. He didn’t know that I was part of the Regiment and he also didn’t know that I was married to someone from the Regiment. That ended badly for him and my Husband was subsequently Court Martialled, dismissed from the Army and that was the end of that.

I guess that’s when things began to fall apart – I was posted to Winchester on the Recruiting Team…there was LOTS of separation, lots of nights out in various towns and Cities & lots of Lucy starting to unravel. I made some bad choices. I think I felt that I had missed out on being young & doing all the things that young people do. Ultimately my marriage broke down and it was mostly my fault – I’ve never really ‘said’ that before but yeah, it was mostly my own doing…With that in mind I handed over my married quarter and accepted a posting to the other side of the planet. I literally ran away from everyone and everything…
Brunei – what can I say about this place. This was where I put all my problems to the back of my mind and I partied and I partied and I partied and I partied! This particular 18 months of my life was just a big vodka induced blur. We were a group of about 15 single, young people in the prime of our lives, we were thousands of miles away from anyone that knew us and we had lots of disposable income. We drank in the bar on camp most nights but we REALLY went for it on a weekend…that buzz of finishing work a few hours early on a Friday not knowing what crazy stuff you were going to get up to later on. Getting ready in my room with the music blasting at max volume knowing that everyone was going to be just so up for it was amazing! We would smash shots and drinks and whatever the barman had and when he closed the bar we would crack out our own supplies and there were plenty of them – we would party, hard til the sun came up & then some. People across the Garrison heard about our wild nights and everyone wanted in so we let them. Here I travelled to some amazing places, I fell in love with all the wrong people & saw some bizarre and wonderful things. I shared this experience with a small group of people and looking back only we will ever know how mad and how special it really was. Sadly though over the course of this posting the people changed and so did the dynamics of the group. It was no longer an all inclusive unit who did everything together as a small family but it fragmented into ‘the lads’, some singly couples and a few others – me being one of the others. I asked to leave here and headed back to the UK.
I arrived at Wattisham and was greeted by the same bloke that had greeted me in Brunei – always nice to see a friendly face when you go somewhere new. I calmed down a lot over the course of this posting. I worked as the REME Wksp Clk and it was a happy time…It was a relaxed atmosphere even though I was always ridiculously busy. About a third of the way through this posting was when it dawned on me that my relationship with alcohol was no longer on my terms…I went to the Drs and was immediately sent on 4 weeks sick leave, I was having a break down. All those demons I have tried to party away came back at me with vengeance when the party stopped. My mind was a fragile mess, I couldn’t cope with it all anymore..I was in a toxic relationship with someone that had more issues that me – it all just had to stop. I had lots of counselling, I was dry for 8 months and as a reward (I begged to go so I could save money to buy my own home) I completed a mentally & physically draining tour of Afghanistan. After this Tour I met a man who wanted to be with for the rest of my life – he was everything to me & we moved into a rented house together after 6 weeks. We had only been in the house for a few weeks and I learnt that he was cheating on me with 2 other women. I was devastated but I continued with the relationship as I thought it was early days and people can change – little did I know at the time but I should’ve walked away there and then as 5 years later he would do it again and leave me more broken and destroyed than I knew a person could be…
Anyway, Wattisham was my home for 3 years but I was burnt out from it. I worked so hard there & I was ready for pastures new. I somehow instigated a move to Catterick – I didn’t know the Unit at the time but it turned out to the be the Queens Royal Lancers. Turns out someone had been done for fraud and sent to Military Prison so that was my in! Another great time at the start…I was the Wksp / LAD Clerk for their tiny rear party (The Regiment was in Afghan on Op Herrick), this was the slackest I had ever been. Most days I literally did NO work, I just sat at my desk, talked shit with the lads, went on the Internet, drank brews, ate Frickies & watched Jeremy Kyle! But all things must come to an end and the Regiment retuned and I moved back to a Sqn – B Sqn. Another great bunch of lads but I had so much going on in my personal life that my heart just wasn’t in it anymore. Something terrible had happened to me and I needed the Army’s support – it never came. The people that should’ve wanted to look after me & protect me just didn’t care. I had given the Army everything I had over the years and when I needed it the most it let me down. This is where I became so disillusioned with the Army I knew I could no longer continue in it.
So yeah, it doesn’t seem all that bad…of course there were bad times throughout all of the postings. Things that happened to me, the attitudes of some people, the way you are treated, spoken to, exploited etc. But then there is the other side of it – the other people, the good people, the great managers, the ones that you forget when you want to be mad & when you are angry, the ones that did support you…these people as great as they are and I could name them one by one of you asked me to from Posting to posting, these people somehow sadly fall away.
I still think that the Army is fundamentally flawed as an organisation and hate certain people in it for how I was treated but then these are only my views and my experiences…I hope it wasn’t this way for everyone. And just for clarity – this post isn’t about looking at 14 years of life through rose tinted spectacles…it’s just me trying to be fair and balance things out in my mind.

Learning after the Army…

So in my 14 years in the Army I don’t think I ever did any kind of learning that wasn’t either a). Enforced or b). Mandatory. I didn’t do anything to better myself; I was sat stale and stagnant all that time. The reason? Well because I didn’t have to and nobody told to if I’m being honest! So, when it came to leaving the Forces (virtually qualification-less) and I had enrolled onto the CIPD Human Resources Practices course with Development Processes Group I was really quite worried. I’d paid a lot of money to do a course that spanned a significant period of time and I wasn’t even sure if I was capable of completing it…..Suddenly doubt crept in – Would I be able to do it? Was I intelligent enough? Did I still have the capacity to learn and retain information after all those years of being in the learning wilderness?

There was only one way to find out!

The first workshop I remember being especially nervous as I arrived at the Oulton Hall equipped with brand new pencil case, laptop and other sparkly new learning paraphernalia. I wasn’t nervous about meeting new people as I’d done that my whole career but worried that I wouldn’t have the foggiest idea about what was being taught, scared that it would all go over my head…So, as it turned out the first session was a bit heavy as we were introduced to the HR Profession Map and such and I honestly walked out of that room at the end of the day with my brain feeling like it had done 10 rounds with Mike Tyson!! I was just so relieved to be going home…

However, as the months went on and the workshops started flying by and more to the point the assignments were ‘meeting all criteria’ I started to look forward to them more and more. Id got it, it all clicked, my brain was back in absorbing mode and we were loving it. The thirst for information became more and more and the more I applied what I’d learnt at work the more I wanted to know…the learning became like a drug to me and I briefly wondered why I had not done some kind of development sooner? I was in this wonderful bubble. I had an amazing facilitator that was experienced, kind and supportive and I was surrounded by likeminded professionals all on the same journey.

Before I knew it we were at workshop 9 (the last workshop) and it was time to celebrate our success. We had made it and although there was still some work to be done it was a day of mixed emotions. I was so happy to be finally finishing the course as I’d dreamt of Sunday morning lay ins and lazy days instead of 4-5hrs slogging it out in front of the computer whilst the rest of the world perused the morning papers and drank slow coffees BUT I was also so sad that I wasn’t going to be meeting up with these great people who had now become firm friends and I wasn’t going to be doing any more learning.

Anyway, I submitted my final assignment and received the email I had long been waiting for – I had passed!! I was so pleased and have probably never been more proud of myself.

But with the course passed and having some time to reflect, looking back now with my attitude to learning the way it is I literally feel as though I have wasted the last 14 years of my life. I wish that I had done something different to vegging out in the block on a night watching rubbish TV or going out drinking when I was bored and enrolled in something at the Army Education Centre or at a nearby college. I wish I had used my time more productively, given myself better opportunities than I did. I mean the Forces predominantly supports its soldiers’ learning and it is all there for you – they even pay for it for goodness sakes! But as they say, you live and learn and I have certainly learnt my lesson – Never again will I allow myself to get into that rut, of that I am sure.

So what now for me and my continuous professional development?

Well, I’m already investigating and pricing up courses to work towards a Degree in Human Resources and I literally can’t wait but first….there’s the small matter of having a baby!! Yes, our baby is due on 3rd Jan and we are just thrilled about it but back to the matter at hand….Other than sharing an experience I just hope that this blog post might inspire one person who may be feeling some self-doubt or worry about learning that you can do it and all the hard work is worthwhile. Just go for it, stick your head above the educational parapet – you just might like it!

http://www.cipd.co.uk
http://www.dpgplc.co.uk

10 Things I’ve Learnt…

  1. Most civilians are hardworking, professional and conscientious.
  2. Whoever told me they aren’t are both deluded and a liar!
  3. I actually enjoy the commute – it gives me time to switch from work mode to home mode.
  4. Having less money doesn’t mean you have a rubbish life, it just means you appreciate things more.
  5. Driving within the speed limits is more fuel economic and will save you money in the long run.
  6. The gym is enjoyable when someone isn’t screaming in your face telling you how rubbish you are.
  7. It’s ok to be professionally ambitious.
  8. Real Managers don’t encourage you to go out and get drunk on a week night – its not acceptable.
  9. It takes ages to get a Doctor’s appointment.
  10. It’s amazing to go to bed and wake up with your most precious loved one every day.

Job Interview – Part 2 (The Interview)

The day came of my interview and I had prepped myself to the n’th degree, I was ready!  And to be honest, I was more excited than nervous or worried.  I wanted to show the Company just how good I could be and showcase my skills in the best possible way. 

I set off in good time, I didn’t need to recce my route as I already knew where the interview was being held, (I would’ve done a dry run if I hadn’t been sure of the location).  I arrived at the Company about 20 minutes early and parked up, this gave me chance to read through the interview notes I had made before heading off to the reception to book in. 

I arrived at the Reception and gave the ladies on the desk the biggest smile and warmest hello whilst booking in, these people are often in good positions with Managers and MDs etc so it can’t harm to charm the socks off them.  The intern who came to pick me up to take me to my interviewers got the same treatment. 

After climbing a mammoth amount of stairs (thank god for the sensible shoes!) I arrived at the interview room and with my interview panel…that’s right, an interview panel of 3 people.  They all were Managers of various seniority and after the handshakes and introductions we sat down and got down to business.  I offered them my newest CV, they declined and I took out my notebook and pen to jot things down should I become flustered. 

Each Manager asked me different types of questions.  First set of questions were generic ie Tell me a bit about yourself? Tell me why you left your last job? Then the second set were Competence based questions ie. Tell me about a time you worked in a team? Tell me about a time when you checked your own work? And lastly were the more personal questions ie Why should we employ you? Why do you want to work for us?  Rather than try and baffle them with intricate wording and my wide vocabulary I just spoke to them, in my normal tone using normal English.  One of the questions they did ask was ‘What is my biggest weakness?’  Be as honest as you can without ruling yourself out of the job.  I said that my lack of experience with the Time Management System they use was mine, however, I informed them that I had researched Time Management Systems as part of my Preparation and understood the mechanics of it, therefore turning a negative into a positive.  I managed to get in all the pertinent points that I’d researched into the interview and I knew I would be memorable because of them.  My questions about professional development and the Redundancies went down well too. 

The interview flowed well with no awkward pauses and there were even times when we were laughing together.  When I walked out of the room at the end of the interview I knew it had gone well, I wasn’t arrogant enough to think ‘I’ve got it’ but I knew that I had given myself a really good chance of getting the job.  I was content with the way it had gone and couldn’t think of anything I would change given the chance, if I didn’t get it there was simply a better candidate.  They had informed me they would let me know by the end of the next day if I had been successful. 

As soon as I got home I rang the recruiter to let them know how I thought it had gone and then the wait began, that was probably more of a nervy time than the interview itself to be honest. 

The next day came and I was checking my phone every 5 minutes wondering why the hell they hadn’t phoned me, had I missed their call, had the signal dropped out and it had gone straight to answer phone?  Then the call came about 3pm, I felt sick with anticipation….I made some polite chit chat with the Recruitment Consultant and then he continued to tell me that the Company had been extremely impressed with me at the interview and wanted to offer me the position.

I’d got the job – I was so pleased that all the hard work had paid off, the hours of preparation, slogging away in front of the computer. 

PS  I start on Wednesday!!  🙂

Job Interview – Part 1 (Preparation)

I was called out of the blue by a Recruiter who had seen my CV online at cv-library.co.uk.  He explained that he was recruiting for a vacancy and he would like to put my CV forward to his client.  I asked about the role and he gave me a brief description of what I would be expected to do.  I decided I had good experience of most areas of expertise they were looking for and agreed for him to forward it on. 

A couple of days later I received a call back saying that the Client was interested in me and would like to call me forward for an interview.  I was ecstatic!!  At this point he gave me the details of the Company.  I immediately went online and had a look at both of their Company websites.  An industry leading International engineering firm – I was very impressed. 

I went out and bought a suit from Next, nothing too expensive but it looked good, smart, but the most important thing was I felt comfortable in it.  I bought a nice portfolio from Staples to house all my certificates in so they were presentable should my potential employer ask to see my qualifications.  I also placed an up to date CV in the front of the portfolio and some business cards I’d had made.  Shoes with a sensible heel and a professional looking bag topped off the look. I now had all the material things I needed.  All I had to do now was learn about the Company, learn about the job (especially the things I had no experience in) and practise those interview questions. 

The Company I was interviewing with was huge so I decided to learn a small part about where and when the firm originated and how they started out.  I then looked at what they do now and where they do it but just within the UK.  I also read and learnt their Vision, Mission and Values verbatim.  I would later align these points with my own personal Values & professional Mission when the ‘Why do you want to work for us?’ question if it came up. 

I then googled the Company to find out what else was going on away from the Company specific website.  Here I found out about some Charity/Voluntary work that the Company were doing in the Community and also about some current Redundancies that were taking place on one of their other sites in Daventry.  I would incorporate these finds into my interview to show that I had researched the Company on a wider level.  I printed all the useful information off and made a little interview pack that I could take with me and read over on the day just before going in.  I then re-read and re-read this information until it sunk in. 

Then I practised my interview questions using the STAR method.  This is a good format to use when answering competence based interview questions (ie Please tell me of an occasion where you dealt with conflict in your working environment?) as it helps you avoid rambling and enables you to provide structured, concise, relevant answers. It breaks down as follows: 

  • Situation  (What was the situation?)
  • Task (What needed to be done?)
  • Activity (What did you do?)
  • Result (What was the outcome?) 

I now just needed to put together some relevant questions about the Company that didn’t revolve around money or benefits and I was sorted!  I’d chosen to ask if the Company would support any professional development I wanted to do in the future and also if the Redundancies down South could move to the Huddersfield site.  I’d hope that these questions would show I was ambitious and that I was up to date with current affairs. 

Find out how I got on in my next post…..

Applying for Jobs…? Get Organised!!

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The following post is about my experiences of applying for positions and a few things that I have found handy.

In the early days of my Resettlement leave I wasn’t applying for too many jobs, just the ones that I really fancied or a random one that sounded interesting or a role that was a bit of a stab in the dark.  So, as you can imagine it wasn’t too hard to keep a track of what I had on going.  However, as the weeks progressed and I came closer to my discharge date I was applying for more and more jobs and was worried about losing track of my applications.  Could you imagine being contacted for a position by an employer and not having a clue which role they were talking about?!  Not the most  impressive or professional way to start with a potential employer!

So, I decided I needed to be organised and made myself and excel spreadsheet with the details of all the jobs I was applying for.  This information was collated from the initial job advertisement and the receipt of application email normally sent.  My column headings were as follows:

  • Job Title
  • Recruiting Agency/Website
  • Recruiter Contact Details
  • Web Link to the Job (if applicable)
  • Job Reference Number
  • Salary or Hourly Rate
  • Date of Application
  • Current Status of Application

I filled this spreadsheet in religiously as I went along and even went as far as using colour for the status of the application. For example.  Red Cells if it was longer than 6 weeks since application or I had a rejection letter/email, amber cells if I had just applied for the position and green cells if there was some interest from the employer.  This made it then very easy to see where I was at with each individual application and also if the phone rang I could just hop on the computer and be completely happy with which position I was discussing and who I was discussing it with.

I also made a ‘Job Applications’ folder in my Professional email Inbox (you have made a separate professional email account right??) so that I could keep all my applications together.  That way as I needed certain emails they were easily and quickly located and I wasn’t trawling through hundreds of emails to find them with an employer/recruiter hanging on the phone.  And once that application was ‘redded out’ for whatever reason I could delete them.

I found that this system is simple and effective and it proved that it worked when I was called by a Recruitment Representative from Jet2 with regards to a position that I applied for BUT that is a different post all together!

Facilitation Course, 10 – 12 June 2013

So there I was nearly at the end of my terminal leave and edging rapidly closer to my Discharge date and I heard about the APMG International’s Facilitation Course via the company Explosive Learning Solutions on Twitter – There were some last minute places going on the course and was I interested? My first thought was – 3 day course, decent price and another qualification to add to the CV…I was sold!

Then a few days later whilst I was tootling down the M1 to Oxford I started to actually think about what I was going to be doing? What was a Facilitator? What exactly was I going to be learning? I thought about what Facilitation meant to me…To facilitate meant to enable something, to aid where possible and support something to happen. Mmmmm, I worked in a customer facing role, I did that all the time right?!?!

Monday morning came and I arrived at ELS HQ. The building is modern with great facilities and is ideally located at Harwell Science and Innovation Campus just off the A34. I settled into the classroom of 6 students and we started our introductions. I was pleased to find that there was a good mix of ex-Military and Civilian personnel on the course and also on the ELS team. I felt instantly relaxed and knew the outcome of the 3 days would be extremely positive.

As it turned out this was the first EVER Facilitators Course to be run…in the entire world!! I was excited…So, I wondered, what was it all about? After a post introduction cuppa we then got down to our learning and over the next 2 and a half days we covered a vast amount of information from the text books we were provided. There was an excellent mix of presentations, discussions and exercises with regular breaks for refreshments. A fantastic lunch was also provided daily. Without giving too much away of the course material it is all about the thinking behind being a facilitator, the different models, tools and techniques that a facilitator can employ when assisting a CEO/MD/Manager with a Meeting, Event or Workshop. The emphasis on the course is all about Process or ‘Green Thinking’ and getting to the bottom of that ‘wicked problem’. The course also covered a lot of other things that can be applied in other forms of life, be it professional or personal, such as identifying Conflict and the Management of Conflict, Personality Profiling and how to be a good Active Listener. It was all interesting stuff!

Before I knew it Wednesday afternoon was upon us and it was exam time – 50 multiple choice questions to be answered in 40 minutes….Exam done and after an agonising wait whilst our instructor marked the papers we were called back into the classroom and all informed that we had passed. We were 6 newly qualified Facilitators armed with a fundamental knowledge of facilitation, we were all ecstatic.

For me this course was so intense and so very different to any other course I have ever been on in my life, there was so much information to take on board and the civilian terminology made it all the more difficult BUT I had passed, I had done it! I had passed the most challenging qualification I had embarked on during my whole life and it made me feel so proud of myself, not only that but it gave me an increased level of belief in myself and gave me a renewed level of optimism that now anything was really possible. I had met some great people and worked with a great company, I would thoroughly recommend Explosive Learning Solutions to anyone whether you are a Service Leaver embarking on a new career or whether you are just looking to do some professional development.

I’m already looking forward to booking my next course!!

http://www.explosivelearningsolutions.com/
http://www.apmg-international.com/
http://www.enhancedlearningcredits.com/

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