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Armed forces officers defend the United Kingdom and its overseas territories.

What does an armed forces officer do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Armed forces officers are the managers of the military world. They lead others to defend their country and to support international peacekeeping and humanitarian efforts across the globe.

In the UK, officers are employed by the Ministry of Defence in the Army, Royal Air Force (RAF), Royal Navy and Royal Marines. Following initial cadet training and further training within their specialist field, officers are given considerable responsibility and can be posted at military locations at home or abroad.

Responsibilities vary widely across the various roles within each branch but typical activities include:

  • planning manoeuvres, assigning duties and communicating effectively with other staff
  • commanding, training and leading others
  • monitoring the welfare and progress of new recruits
  • operating and maintaining warfare systems, equipment and vehicles
  • taking on specialist duties and skills such as engineering, air traffic control, training and administration
  • producing briefings, reports and presentations
  • distributing equipment, resources and manpower.

Choosing to work within the armed forces is as much a lifestyle choice as a career move. It is highly demanding, requiring dedication and a consistently high level of mental and physical fitness. Officers face dangerous and sometimes life threatening situations under immense pressure. They shoulder heavy responsibility not just for their own lives but for the lives of their subordinates as well.

Armed forces officers may work irregular hours and may have to spend long periods of time away from their families. Travel is a major part of the role: officers can be posted at locations around the globe and can experience a wide range of countries and cultures.

Typical employers of armed forces officers

  • British Army
  • Royal Air Force
  • Royal Navy
  • Royal Marines

All four forces work in the service of the government and in association with global bodies like the United Nations for peacekeeping and humanitarian causes.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into becoming an armed forces officer for both graduates and school leavers.

If you are a graduate, you can enrol as an officer with a degree in any subject. Science, engineering and technology graduates are often particularly welcome because of the specialist knowledge they can bring to technological roles throughout the forces. However, recruiters tend to place more importance on candidates' leadership capabilities and suitability to a life in service than on their degree subject .

Pre-entry experience and postgraduate qualifications can be beneficial but aren't essential. Time spent in school or university cadet corps can help your application but doesn't guarantee you a place.

Graduates start off as cadet officers posted for training at their relevant barracks: Sandhurst (Army), Dartmouth (Navy) or Cranwell (RAF).

Competition for places can be fierce. You'll need to take part in several days of interviews and tests designed to test you both physically and mentally. You'll also have a medical assessment as part of the recruitment process.

  • You will be tested on your ability to think calmly and logically under pressure.
  • You will be expected to have some knowledge of past and present military operations as well as a basic grasp of the ethical debates surrounding warfare.
  • With some exceptions (such as the Royal Medical Corps) you must be below 26 years old.
  • You must have strong vision and colour perception.

Cadets train for just under a year before they become officers. Once they've finished their course, they undertake further training in their chosen specialist field and are then posted to a corps, squadron or ship.

To find out about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or school leaver programme), see the armed forces section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for armed forces officers

Forces recruiters look for people who can work calmly in high-pressure situations. Other essential skills and qualities include:

  • the ability to communicate concisely and clearly to subordinates and superiors alike, both orally and in written work
  • excellent leadership and teamwork skills
  • a high level of physical fitness (near-perfect vision and colour perception is often required for pilots and drivers)
  • determination, self-motivation and discipline
  • a demonstrable commitment to the forces.

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