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It was nearly midnight in Kabul when news reached John Cannan that a Taliban commander had arrived at a nearby compound. Less than three hours later, Mr Cannan - then a lieutenant in the Duke of Wellington's Regiment - was speeding out of his base in a convoy of stripped-down Land Rovers, leading his 30-strong platoon in a mission to capture the enemy leader. Mr Cannan's men scaled the 12ft walls of the compound and secured it in minutes, overcoming armed resistance without sustaining a single casualty.
Eight years on, the episode seems far removed from the work Mr Cannan can expect in the career he is now pursuing: a position in the operations division of a leading investment bank. Yet Mr Cannan, who left the army last year at the age of 31, is confident that his military experience has set him up well for a role in finance.
"The ability to work quickly and accurately under intense pressure; the ability to arrive at a workable solution, engaging other key stakeholders; and the ability to see getting the task done as absolutely paramount," he says, are transferable skills that he expects to give him a head start.
Mr Cannan is emblematic of ex-military personnel that are trying to find a use in civilian life for the skills they learnt on duty. With cuts to military spending being pursued by governments in many developed countries, including the UK and US, his efforts are set to become more common. At the same time some employers are finding former soldiers particularly attractive recruitment targets.
Last year BT, the UK telecoms company, hired more than 800 former soldiers, including Andrew Brooks. He used to drive a tank in an Iraqi desert but now drives a van in north London and connects customers to the company's new fibre-optic broadband network. "A lot of employers nowadays are noticing people from the forces have got a little bit more about them," says the 35-year-old engineer, who left the army in September 2010 after 13 years with the Queen's Royal Lancers.
BT Openreach, the subsidiary that provides other companies with access to its fixed-line infrastructure, planned to recruit about 200 ex-members of the armed forces last summer with the help of the Career Transition Partnership, a partnership between the UK's Ministry of Defence and recruitment consultancy Right Management that helps ex-servicemen and women find work.
BT increased the number after managers spotted a pattern in the first batch of recruits. "These people were very good, and were very good very quickly," says Joe McDavid, human resources director for BT Openreach. "Mostly in selections you'd be turning cartwheels if you were getting a pass rate approaching 50 per cent. We were getting north of 70 per cent with the ex-military."
Mr Brooks uses plenty of the skills he acquired in the army, where he was a telecommunications adviser as well as a tank crewman. On one occasion he even found a use for the Arabic he learnt for his tour to Iraq, to make small-talk with a woman originally from Baghdad as he connected her broadband.
While technical jobs rank alongside the private security industry as obvious routes, employers in other sectors are also hiring ex-soldiers. Charles MacLeod, head of global recruitment at PwC, the professional services firm, says typical strong points include "working in teams, working together to a plan, showing discipline in the face of pressure, being methodical about the way you do things. Military people set high standards - there's a degree of discipline around the way they think and behave."
Often, the challenge for employers and ex-soldiers is to recognise how to translate non-conventional experience from a battlefield into an office. "I was talking to a chap one day who was coming out of the navy," says Mr MacLeod. "I asked if he worked with spreadsheets, and he said: 'No, but I can fly a helicopter gunship; does that count?' I was impressed ... if you can fly a helicopter gunship, how hard is it going to be to use Excel?"
Ross Flanagan spent 17 years in the Royal Air Force and now oversees a risk management centre for professional services firm Deloitte. He also volunteers as a mentor with the Officers' Association, to help other soldiers make the transition to civilian employment. He argues that his peers often fail to explain adequately how their military experience will help them do the job for which they are applying. Someone who has led a platoon, for example, should talk about "leading a multidisciplinary team delivering complex projects, rather than using military terminology ... it needs to be something which looks relevant to an employer who almost certainly won't have military experience or knowledge".
Mr MacLeod says differences in professional culture can also be problematic. "The military [has] very structured, clear chains of command and levels of authority. If you come into an organisation like ours, which is a very fluid, matrix organisation where you work with different people all the time, it's not immediately obvious who's more senior than anybody else," he explains. "If the chief executive of a partnership wants something to happen, it won't necessarily happen in the same way as it would if the head of the RAF wanted something to happen."
For those looking for a fresh start - in finance, for example - the biggest challenge is often having to start in unglamorous back-office roles, or in graduate schemes alongside colleagues 10 years their junior.
However, most leavers are stoical about the prospect of starting a second career near the bottom of the ladder, says Ben Obese-Jecty, who will leave the army this year to pursue a career in banking. "Your comparative lack of experience is something you just have to accept - if you have to drop down a notch to get your foot in the door, that's something most people are prepared to do," he says.
After training as an accountant, Mr Obese-Jecty joined the army eight years ago. He has seen combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, commanding up to 60 men, but he decided to leave when he realised he was likely to be transferred to a desk-based role in the near future. It is "a natural jumping-off point," he says.
Andrew McNeilis, managing director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at recruitment company Talent2, and founder of its pro bono scheme for former soldiers, agrees and advises leavers that they should not expect special treatment. "A lot of ex-army people say to me: 'Civvies just don't understand what I've been through.' But people shouldn't understand what you've been through - you chose that path, they didn't," says the former infantry officer.
"So it's up to you to make it relevant to their environment, not to expect that anyone owes you a living. No one's going to give you a job just because you did a few years in Afghanistan."