Armed forces officer: job description

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

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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 – and having infrequent (phone) contact with – 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. School leavers need 72 UCAS points across three subjects at A level – so, at least three Ds (or equivalent).

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.

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 will be tested on your ability to think calmly and logically under pressure, and must have strong vision and colour perception. You'll also have a medical assessment as part of the recruitment process.

Cadets train for a long time at their barracks before they become officers. For example, training for the army lasts for 44 weeks.

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, courage and discipline
  • a demonstrable commitment to the forces.

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