Joining the Armed Forces
You can join the armed forces as a regular (full-time) or as a reservist (alongside another job).
Check the following points on the relevant careers website for the Army/Navy/RAF first:
- That you meet the age and physical fitness requirements, the medical conditions and other restrictions (for example residency and nationality) for what you want to do
- That you’ve have spoken with the Careers Centre for the Armed Forces at 35 St Giles to explore your options.
Once you’re feeling ready, you can apply – often in your last year of university or the year afterwards. The regular officer application process takes around 12 months for the Army from the time of making your first application through to walking through the doors of Sandhurst. Covid has an impact on the speed of moving candidates through the assessment stages so as things return to more normal times this should help to reduce the length of time it takes to get through the process. There is clear and ongoing support for you from your nominated candidate careers officer (allocated to you once you have started the process). The Army have 3 intakes during the year for officer training - January, May and September. As those dates become full you will be offered a future date or join the waiting list for an earlier call up.
As part of the selection procedures you are likely to face a combination of:
- Physical fitness tests (eg achieving a specific score on the "bleep" test, being able to throw a weight a certain distance, completion of an obstacle course or run in a given time etc). For the Royal Marines these tests will be even more rigorous and include time spent in the field.
- Aptitude tests. For both the Navy and RAF this is now the Defence Aptitude Test (DAA) - a combination of verbal reasoning, numerical reasoning, spatial awareness, work rate, mechanical and electrical knowledge and application ( roughly GCSE level physics). Do check out the individual services' websites for practice tests and try some similar ones using JobTestPrep which you can access for free using the Careers Service subscription.
- Practical leadership and teamwork tasks - often known as command tasks.
- Planning exercises - being familiar with how to calculate speed/distance/time in your head and under pressure is also useful for these!
- Interviews - motivational and competency based
- Presentations - talking on a given topic (could be about yourself or something you have on your CV)
- Debating current affairs topics - so keep up to date with what is happening around the world and where your chosen may be currently operational.
Allow plenty of time for your application process and be aware that there are times when recruitment for some of the roles is paused. Or you may start an application and even be successful but have to wait until there is space for you to join. For the Royal Marines you may successfully pass their week long final assessments ( which run each week across c Feb - July) but have to wait until July to discover if you are included in the top 50-70 of applicants who will eventually start at Lymptone. Timings of applications for non officer roles will also vary.
Joining the Police
You can join the police in a whole variety of roles - PCs, Detectives, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) or in a civilian role ( for example case disposal, youth justice, evidence review, finance, ICT, communications etc). At Thames Valley Police 47% of roles are civilian so the opportunities are very broad.
You can join the police to be a Police Officer in a variety of ways and for Oxford graduates this would typically be via a degree holder entry programme (DHEP) but mostly you apply to the schemes which are operated by the individual forces which operate across the country. Thames Valley, for example, offer both a PC Degree Holder programme - a 2 year course with a Graduate Diploma in Policing Practice and a Detective Constable Degree Holder Programme (DC-DHEP). This is also a 2 year programme but with a higher level of academic content and exams which must be passed.
Police Now is a relatively new 2 year graduate programme for entry to the the Police force; it operates two schemes: A National Graduate Leadership Programme (for neighbourhood policing with opportunities across 30 forces) and a National Detective Programme.
You could also first join the police as a community support officer, a special constable (a volunteer role), or as a police support volunteer (office based volunteering). You can only join through one police force at a time – start by going to a regional police force website.
Joining the Prison and Probation Service
There is direct entry into training as a Prison Officer but the Unlocked Graduates Programme has enabled many graduates to gain direct leadership development experience in the UK prison service whilst also working towards a Masters in Applied Custodial Leadership and developing skills in policy. Applications usually open in September and there are around 130 places available each year. Officers are given a permanent contract but there is an option to exit the programme after 2 years. Of the 2016-18 cohorts around 42% stayed with the prison service, 22% went into areas such as the MOJ or Probation Service, 14% to a criminal justice charity, 10% to other public sector/3rd sector jobs and 7% into the private sector.
For Unlocked, the key skills and attributes sought are: a sense of possibility (that change can happen), decision making, leadership, relationship building, resilience, self awareness and motivation for Unlocked's mission.
The Probation Service requires applicants to have NVQ Level 5 or a Degree. Recruitment is generally twice a year and will depend on the location that you wish to work in. Training for the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) will take between 15 and 21months depending on whether you have studied relevant modules at University, such as:
- The Criminal Justice System
- Understanding Crime and Criminal Behaviour
- Penal Policy and the Punishment of Offenders
- Rehabilitation of Offenders.
If you have not studied these, the training will take 21 months.
Joining the Fire Service
Each fire service in England sets its own criteria, so check the entry process with the local service you intend to work for. Most services have both ‘wholetime’ (full time) and ‘on-call’ (part time) roles.
Joining the Ambulance Services
To practice as a paramedic you need to complete a programme approved by the Health Care Professions Council in paramedic science. The course finder tool from NHS Careers can help you find a suitable course. You can often find a student paramedic position you can do during your course. Courses tend to be reasonably flexible, but last from 2 to 5 years depending on whether you study full or part time.