PiPS member, Dave Sumner, shares his experience of moving from policing into the private sector

I have learnt an awful lot from speaking to colleagues further ahead of me on the path to finding a new career after completing working life in the police, as well as by reading articles from the PIPS Linkedin Group. So I think it is only right to give something back. Don’t worry, this isn’t a triumphalist article although there is a happy ending. This piece is more about the journey and the learning along the way.

With a year to go before the conclusion of my police career, I realised that mine was to be a traditional exit from policing. I would emerge from 30 years service freshly divorced with no idea what I really wanted to do.

I looked around, thought really hard, spoke to others, toyed with all sorts of ideas but despite this could not settle on anything I actually wanted to do. I eventually answered this question and the results surprised me as much as it surprised those who know me well.

Here’s how. There’s a great book entitled Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by G. Richard Shell and I read this in the hope of finding some inspiration to help find what Iw as looking for. I can save you the read as the key idea I took from this was a much-quoted idea – ‘the answer lies within.’ Deeply profound you may think but it’s just a neat summary of concepts such as people explore the world for happiness only to find it lies in their own back yard, or no one knows you better than you etc.

For someone like me who had no clue what to do in their post police working life other than it had to serve a meaningful purpose, this notion was useful. So once I’ve realised that it is only me who can come up with the answer I then harked back to some of the personality tests I had completed and kept, for various promotion efforts.

We each have our favourites but Myers-Briggs struck a chord with me. You can do this test online for free. The only bit I remembered was that I was ISTJ – with I standing introvert. Beguiling that, as my personality is extrovert until you realise that the Myers-Briggs people are referring to thinking style.

Extroverts look outward, see something and think ‘I’ll do that!, whereas introverts will see the same thing but look inward to make sense of things before declaring ‘I’ve had a great idea!’ So what does this mean for job hunters like me wondering what job they really want to do? Well extroverts just need to look around before they find the look of a job they like whilst us introverts need to reflect on the possible, draw inspiration. Knowing whether you think in an introvert or extrovert style helps us understand where to look.

Armed with this information I came to one conclusion, trust my own instinct. Instinct was telling me ‘you’ll never find this job unless you take a different view of things and consider roles you’ve previously dismissed.’ So I approached it like any person without a clue should approach a work task – methodically with application and perseverance. Instinct told me to look at the job market e.g. Recruitment websites and job market related articles, search for an area where there was a skills/qualification shortage, assess if I could obtain same, obtain them, apply for job and try it. Bingo!

This method didn’t answer the question of what it was I really wanted to do but the journey did. In applying this methodical approach I hit upon the answer.

Next came applying for roles. And it was here that I relied on advice given to me by friends and colleagues especially Christos Kalamatianos and Nigel ‘Rocky’ Rock, both of whom had landed good jobs after leaving the police early and on retirement respectively.

Chris taught me that in the private sector police ranks mean nothing. It’s experience, skills and qualifications they are looking for. I found this to be true both literally and in general. Despite the wealth of cop shows on TV, employers have no idea of what we do nor what our ranks stand for in terms of achievement or responsibility. We all know our skills are transferable e.g leadership, decision making etc but we often lack qualifications. We only have to look at job adverts on recruitment websites to see that most job specs ask for specific qualifications. I made it my business to obtain some of those qualifications for my chosen field and it was surprisingly straightforward, absorbing and even interesting.

Rocky taught me about the recruitment world. By lunchtime, you are yesterday’s chip paper. You need to upload your cv and apply for jobs on a daily a.m. basis. I learnt not to squander a call from a recruitment consultant. A couple of times whilst at work and firmly in work mode I took calls from recruitment consultants who asked me what I considered to be daft questions. It’s a reality that many of these people will be young, inexperienced, won’t have read your cv or understand it even if they have read it. I’m afraid I gave some of them short shrift.

When you inevitably receive such a call from a recruitment consultant your job is to sell yourself to them as it is their job to sell you to their client i.e. an employer who has asked them to find candidates for a real job. This job could be one you have applied for or one they think you are suited for as a result of searching for a cv ( recruitment websites allow recruitment consultants to search the cv’s of candidates who have applied for jobs on their website). So take a deep breath, smile and patiently and enthusiastically explain why your police experience makes you an ideal candidate. I would add that I also had some very positive and enjoyable experiences dealing with recruitment consultants some of which led to interviews and eventually a job.

It is well established advice to tailor your cv for each job. It became clear to me that I had a higher response rate from job adverts when I listed the specific words stated within the job spec at the beginning of my cv. I think this approach catered for both those recruiters who skim read cv’s and those who employ a word search. After all, they must get thousands of cv’s. My experience was that the cv is the key factor in the recruitment process as I had relatively few views of my Linkedin profile from recruitment consultants, they’re just too busy. This may not be typical as Rocky’s experience was that Linkedin was crucial.

So now for some lateral thinking and applying it to the job hunt process. I have already mentioned that it can be straightforward to gain specific qualifications, however it can also be easy to look at a job spec you are interested in and think ‘I don’t have the experience they are looking for.’ Well think again. If you’ve ever handled a piece of intelligence and kept it confidential then you are experienced in Information Security; if you’ve ever used the National Decision Making Model then you are experienced in Risk Management etc etc.

On the same theme of lateral thinking, once you have a rough idea of what area of work you would like to operate in, try considering the role from different angles as all offer you opportunities. You could be the person doing the job (operational), the one who assists them (chance to learn), the one who inspects and assesses them (inspections and compliance) or the person who advises the person doing the job (consultancy). I applied for roles from all these different angles and it definitely helped me settle on which type of role I wanted to pursue.

As for interviews, there’s plenty of advice out there so here’s just two lessons from experience that I feel can add to that bank of knowledge. Firstly, your previous experience of preparing for internal police roles and promotion will stand you in good stead. Lastly, be aware that your police experience will seem incredible to some interviewers whose work experience may be mundane by comparison. As you recite an incident at work to demonstrate a transferable skill, there is a strong chance they will not understand why you are leaving a job that sounds very exciting and that you will become bored in the role they are offering. This happened to me in interview for two roles. You will need a strategy to counter this.

Me, I was successful in selection for several roles but decided to take the lowest paid of the lot. It offers the best development opportunities, the least travel to work times and I’m really excited about working with the people in the company and the possibilities for my particular role. It is also a role I never thought I would want to do or be able to perform but thanks to the journey I have described it truly is both.

I once met a retired cop in one of the bars at Twickenham after a good win for England. When he learnt of my impending retirement he excitedly told me, ‘Dave ( because that’s my name) the world is your oyster, the world is your oyster! I thought what does this guy do? Maybe he’s a pearl diver in the Maldives ?? Turns out he worked for Dairy Crest as a milkman! Well he seemed happy enough, or maybe he was just a bit hammered.

I decided to ask myself ‘what would I advise me to do?’ Take the best paid job or the most enjoyable? I heeded my own advice because, after all, the answer lies within….

Posted by Angela Hackett on behalf of PiPS member Dave Sumner