Few people know that I spent a year working in the Army Reserve. I've not broadcasted it until now, and I took it off my CV a while ago to make way for my more relevant marketing experience. On reflection, this work experience is probably what helped get my foot in the marketing door of big companies like GlaxoSmithKline and Tesco.
You did what?!
I joined the Birmingham branch of the UOTC (University Officers' Training Corps). The UOTC is a non-deployable part of the Army Reserve, which was called the Territorial Army back in my day. In other words, I got paid to do basic infantry soldier training without the commitment of being on call to join any wars. All training is based roughly around full-time university studies so I worked every Wednesday afternoon - evening (at the training centre), and then every other weekend, Friday evening - Sunday afternoon (in the field at various locations).
How did you get in?
As we all know by now, its pretty hard to get any job as a student, and even the army has its own quirky assessments. First I had an informal interview with an officer at the Freshers fair, then signed up for the Selection Day. You can only join at the beginning of the academic year.
On selection day a coach came to pick up the candidates. We were taken god knows where and did about 4 group tasks e.g. get the whole team across a distance without touching the ground, using a few planks. We then had to run 1.5 miles as fast as possible, then we were drug tested. From what I remember at this stage, everyone was let in, despite the fact that many didn't pass the run time. I then underwent a medical examination, which involved ear and sight tests, as well as walking like a duck in my underwear in front of the doctor (men have to do it naked)! A few people were sifted out at this stage, I assume because of psychological stability, drug abuse or medical issues such as asthma.
What happened then?
Once I was all official, myself and my peers started on Military Leadership Development Programme 1, the first year of a three year curriculum created by the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. My year's intake (B Company) were sorted into three groups (platoons), then within those, into a team of 8 (section) with which to work for the rest of the year.
I was trained in map reading, weapons handling (A2 5.56mm caliber rifle and hand grenades), camouflage, battlefield casualty drills (first aid), and fieldcraft (attack, defence, communication, travel and camping in the battlefield). Some Wednesdays they held PE sessions to toughen us up for upcoming weekends.
Exams took place for each of the above after we had finished our training and practice of them. Some of the learning was tested later in the year with a written exam. In February the final PFA (Personal Fitness Assessment) took place, which was where they measured whether we could now meet the officer benchmarks for the run, sit-ups and press-ups. The hardest test of all was the CFT (Combat Fitness Test), which was a 6 mile march carrying over 25kg.
Why it is amazing work experience
Make your CV stand out. If you are applying for a unrelated job, I guarantee it will catch the recruiter's eye. The other lady to who got hired on my Tesco assessment day had also done UOTC - coincidence? I think not!
Have unusual answers to competency questions. I used UOTC experiences to answer interview questions about leadership, contributing to team success, improving myself and communication.
Perform well under pressure. You try loading 30 rounds into a magazine within 60 seconds when being watched by a scary officer!
Learn new skills and build self-confidence. Aside from the cool soldier skills I mentioned, over the summer the army offers opportunities for you to get your driving license or subsidised nationally-recognised adventure training qualifications.
Expand your network. UOTC has catchment areas that include more universities than just your own, so you'll make friends and work with people from all over.
Have so much fun. Thanks to UOTC I got to go to my first ever ball. We also celebrated Burns Night with a regimental dinner. To put it mildly, lets just say there was an epic social scene at the Officers' Mess (bar) and further afield.
Sense of achievement. I drew a lot of personal satisfaction from being the only female in B Company to complete the CFT and come top in the PFA.
Prove you are disciplined. In my opinion, this is what our country lacks these days. Thanks to time management, discipline and commitment I did not miss a single day of work until I chose to resign to go on my year abroad.
Why it sucked sometimes
So stressful. You are given about 60 seconds to do everything - get out your sleeping bag, put it away, and get into the prone position, watching out for a non-existent enemy. Or the number of times I got indigestion from wolfing down a cold curry from a sachet!
Weight gain. Contrary to popular belief, the army lifestyle doesn't make you look like Demi Moore in G.I. Jane. The ration pack of food you are supplied with every 24 hours when out on the field is like 10,000 calories and far too much for lady.
Discomfort and pain. Every other weekend I'd get back from training covered in cuts and bruises. Several people were hospitalised during the CFT because their foot blisters had swollen so much. Constantly hurling yourself to the ground into stinging nettles and getting about 4 hours sleep a night in the open air can wear you down a bit.
Can take over your life. There's more to UOTC than just getting onto the coach in time. There's a lot of admin involved. You must wash and iron your filthy uniform before the next training session (or risk a bollocking during inspection), check what specific kit you need to bring for each session, and exercise in your spare time to ensure you can survive the next field weekend. This can all eat into your study and social time.
So that's why I think this tough but incredible experience helped get me ahead in my business career. It may be the only job that doesn't let you shower for three days, but it might just shoot down the competition for a grad job.
- REVIEW: Predatory Thinking by Dave Trott