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Have you ever turned up to a job interview already apologising in your head for the military lifestyle?

Have you ever felt yourself going red when asked about your five-year plan?

Does just the thought of being in that situation fill you with dread?

I honestly don’t know how I got any of my employed roles since 2009 because the second my bum hit the chair in the interview room my head was FULL of the reasons I’d be a liability to employ. My mind helpfully played out every situation in which I might have to let my employer down right at the moment I was supposed to be putting my best foot forward. Not helpful!

We all know that, for many of us, military life does mean that we move around more than the average family. It is also true that there are lots of us living a long way from our support networks which can mean that, if a child needs picking up from school or nursery, it falls to us alone. Clearly, these situations present complications for an employer and it is natural that your mind has become very aware of this because we are designed to avoid upsetting powerful people. However, sometimes our instinct to avoid conflict with power actually blinds us to the reality of the situation. In this blog I’m going to help you get your mindset sorted before you approach a potential employer so you can start the relationship in the right way.

Notice the stories your mind tells you

Ask yourself these questions:

Who counts as an “uncomplicated” employee? Do you know anyone who has no challenges in the workplace?

How long does the average person stay in a job?

How many roles can be performed remotely when they need to be?

How have you grown and developed as a person since joining the military community?

The process I have started here, by asking you those questions, is sometimes called “cognitive restructuring”. That is a fancy way of saying I’m going to make you take a hard look at the assumptions you are making about yourself and your potential employer so you can work out whether your mind might be lying to you.

The myth that civilians are less complicated than us

When we are scared our minds and bodies enter “threat mode” (see the anxiety blogs for a full description of this). Alongside the typical “fight/flight/freeze” symptoms like a racing heart and excessive sweating, we also lose some of our mental abilities when we are in this state. One of the abilities we lose is the ability to effectively work out what is going on in another person’s head.  That is why we can start to make a lot of assumptions about other people when we are anxious. This can sometimes sound like “black and white” thinking in our head as we often categorise people as “perfect” or “awful” with no shades of grey in between. 

For this reason, it is natural that when we are applying for a job we often start to think that we are a “nightmare employee” because of our military lifestyle and any civilian starts to look like an “easier option” for the employer. But is that really true?

The fact is, every human being presents challenges to their employer. That is why employing people is known to be a very stressful thing to do! The person sitting opposite you in the waiting room that you assume to be “uncomplicated” may have a very complicated year ahead of them. They may face unforeseen conflicts with managers, health conditions, financial difficulties, training requirements…  Literally, ANYTHING could happen in the course of their employment and all of those things would be hard for their employer to deal with. They just don’t know about those challenges yet. 

You wouldn’t think it was OK for an employer to judge someone as incompetent because they had a health condition, would you? In fact, there is a law saying that is not OK. So why do you think it is OK for them to judge you because you may face some challenges? 

The fact is you KNOW about your challenges so you (and the potential employer) have some power to plan for them. More on that in a minute…

The myth that civilians stay in jobs for life  

Your mind is probably telling you a story right now about how devastating it will be for your team when you have to leave prematurely. You may be telling yourself “I just wouldn’t want to leave a team in the lurch” or something similar. Now, I know that you are absolutely brilliant and that your team WILL be devastated if you ever leave them but lets do a quick reality check on that one… 

The military tends to be a pretty lengthy career. Many of us will have partners who are in the middle of careers that you count in decades. This can give us a false perception of what counts as “normal” in the civilian job market. In 2017 the BBC reported that the average length of time people stay in a job in the UK is 5 years and the optimal time to stay in a role for career progression is just 3 years. Read that and remember that this average includes all of the people in jobs like the armed forces or teaching where it is common to stay in jobs for 25 years. Your two or three-year posting therefore does actually give you enough time to stay in a job for the optimal amount of time and your civilian counterpart would probably be looking to move on at around the same time.

BBC reference: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-38828581

The myth that you have to be in a place to be in a job

One of the challenges of the pandemic has been forcing our minds to accept that our spatial location isn’t as important as it used to be. Our poor brains were made for a time when working together meant chopping wood, hunting, cooking or looking after children as a collective. We were no use to each other at all if we were not in physical proximity. We still value physical closeness extremely highly. I offer completely online therapy services and yet most of my clients still find me by typing in their postcode and looking for “nearby” therapists. It is soothing to know that someone is within walking distance, even if you never walk over to see them.  But 2020 has shown us that there are a great many jobs that can be done successfully remotely. The majority of companies have also now invested in the infrastructure to make that possible and many of them will decide to keep their workforce remote. If an employer previously discriminated against remote workers, it probably doesn’t anymore… 

The myth that you stopped gaining skills and developing when you left work

Oh I could write you a BOOK on this one. I am speaking to the voice in your head that tells you you aren’t “enough.” I know it is there making your life harder whenever it can. In threat mode, the brain is trying to keep us safe. In a situation like a job interview, you are being judged and your ancient brain perceives this as HIGHLY risky. It worries that you will be cast out of the pack if you come across as aggressive, challenging or too confident. So it sends you a hefty dose of shame. Shame that makes you want to stay small and quiet, that makes you think you have no skills or abilities, that makes you cancel the job interview. Shame will probably make sure you don’t get killed by your interviewer. BUT it won’t help you get the job and it doesn’t give you a balanced view of your life. You have developed skills and personal characteristics in your time out of the workforce. You just need to recognise them before you allow yourself to set foot in that interview. 

Your interview action plan

OK so hopefully I have convinced you that you can’t trust everything your mind is telling you right now about your capabilities. Here are some practical strategies you can use to get yourself out of shame and job interview-ready.


We need to get you out of threat mode so we can switch off the shame response. See our anxiety blogs for some tips on activating your soothing system. Once you have done some balloon breathing or dropping anchor I want you to reach out to another military spouse or go on to the RFS forum and join in with (or start) a conversation. Your brain needs to know that you are not alone. We are a community and there are many of us that want to support you on this journey. So talk to each other! Knowing that you are connected to a group of inspiring people facing the same challenges as you will help pull you out of threat mode and let go of shame.

Take action

Get out your journal and take some physical notes about yourself. What have you learned over the time you have been out of employment? What key experiences have shaped you as a person? How would the you of X years ago handle life differently? If you are struggling ask people who know you to contribute. Keep these pages somewhere close and add to them as things drop into your head over the next few days. Then actively force yourself to re-read them every morning or before bed (or both!) Your brain is biased against you sometimes and we need to address that bias. 

Now we can make a plan. Think about the role you are applying for. How could you perform that role even if the worst aspects of military life get in the way? What would you need to make it possible? Consider all options, childcare, remote working etc. What adaptations would you need? If you were the employer how would you work around it? Write down your ideas so that if you are asked to talk about how the role will fit around your military life you have some answers. I’m not sure if they are supposed to ask about that but I know I have been asked and being prepared means you are less likely to go into threat and shame. When you do this however you must remember that it is the employer’s responsibility to figure this stuff out WITH you. You don’t carry all the responsibility.  

Let it go

Now we have taken the action we can take and we have established whether our thoughts are real or just products of our threat system. All that remains is to let go of the thoughts that aren’t helping us. Once we have established whether they are helpful or not it generally doesn’t work to continue arguing without thoughts. Our threat system just gets more insistent when we do. Instead, I try and notice these thoughts and imagine that they are cars driving past my window. I’m not getting in the car and I’m not standing in front of the car. I’m just letting them go on their way. There is a meditation that will help you to do this here. 

I hope this gives you some practical steps to take when you are going to meet with a potential employer for the first time. Next week we will be looking at how to resolve the situation if the employer or potential employer doesn’t fully appreciate your greatness.