Armed Forces and Uniformed Services

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The armed forces and uniformed services have a  diverse range of roles available to graduates, including:

There are many different roles within these to cater for specialist skills, from Army musicians, intelligence linguists, liaison officers and military police roles.

There are also a large and diverse range of support roles available, from HR and marketing, to legal, IT and finance.

Related civilian roles include:

Joining the Armed Forces

You can join the armed forces (Royal Navy, Army or Royal Airforce) as a regular (full-time) or as a reservist (alongside another job).

The three forces have extremely comprehensive websites where you can discover the many different roles available and all the details you will need to start an application.  You may also want to have an informal talk to recruiting personnel at the Armed Forces Careers Centre at 35 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LJ.  There are also a variety of online talks and webinars where you can learn about the application process and hear from serving personnel so follow them on their social media platforms for the latest information.

Before applying you may want to check

  • 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
  • the lead times involved in application.  It can take between 6 months to around one year  between making your application and starting in your chosen job depending on the force and the job chosen. Allow plenty of time.  Be aware that  although the armed forces recruit year round, sometimes recruitment for certain roles are paused ( ie applications close for a while).  Or you may be offered a place but have to wait a while for future start date.   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 Lympstone.
  • timings, processes and training establishments for some specialist roles (eg where you are already qualified  - doctors, lawyers) and for non officer roles will vary. 

There is usually clear and ongoing support for you from your nominated candidate careers officer (allocated to you once you have started  the process) as you navigate the various steps of the application process. 

The Army have 3 intakes during the year for officer training  - January, May and September when round 200 officer cadets start their year long training at Sandhurst.    As those start dates become full you will be offered a future date or join the waiting list for an earlier call up. September tends to be the largest intake. Once at Sandhurst you will have the opportunity to apply for a regiment/specialism e.g. to join the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers, the Royal Logistic Corps, The Grenadier Guards etc. An initial 2 preferences can be made and there is a selection process involving interviews with senior army personnel which takes place in the penultimate term. Before joining it is recommended that you take advantage of the opportunity to visit some of the regiments which may interest you - your army careers officer will be able to advise once you are in the process. Bear in mind that some corps will require a termly intake of c 20 officers while others will need just one or two.     

The Royal Navy also have 3 officer intakes per year in January, May and September (except for Medical Officers and Royal Marines for which there is only one intake each in September). You decide the role you are interested in at the time you make your application.  Naval officers undertake their initial training at the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.


The Royal Air Force officers complete a modular Initial Officer Training Course at the RAF College in Cranwell, Lincolnshire lasting 24 weeks and covering 4 modules.  As for the Royal Navy, you decide the role you would like to apply for in the initial stages of application.

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 Assessment (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.

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.

Getting experience after university

With many uniformed services offering volunteer, reservist or similar roles, there are easy ways to gain work experience in the uniformed services if you have graduated and are already working.

Getting experience at Oxford

If you are a student, there are university student societies which are linked to the respective armed forces divisions. By joining one of these, you will gain a practical insight into the work, plus many extra-curricular experiences, and you’ll be paid to do this. Even if you’re not thinking of entering the forces as a career, the skills you gain by membership of an UOTC will generally help you with many of the roles and careers discussed here:

  • Leadership skills
  • Teamworking
  • Decision making
  • Handling risk and challenge
  • Fitness
  • Practical skills e.g. first aid
  • Planning
  • Analysis
  • Organisation
  • Driving licence can also be an asset

The Oxford societies are:

Relevant experience can also be gained by getting involved in volunteering in people-focussed activities, such as those offered through Oxford Hub or through active participation in team sports or outward-bound activities such as climbing, adventuring and so on.


When applying for a job or leadership programme, such as Police Now, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the selection process as much as possible, as recruitment to uniformed services is often both detailed and lengthy, involving in person assessments (often over more than 1 day), as well as aptitude and physical fitness tests.

  • Check the  detail, including on areas around criminal records, citizenship, health and mental health issues and age limitations.
  • The organisation will provide full details of the tests/selection events involved – make sure you keep organised and read and respond to all emails promptly, as following commands is a key element!

Do consider, the range of jobs and industries which link with uniformed services, from roles at the Ministry of Defence, to civil aviation, intelligence and more. Entry into one of these may suit your interests too. These recruitment processes are selective, and having a back – up plan is a good idea!


The Armed Forces and Uniformed Services are proactive and committed to recruit and retain staff  from all sections of society. However, owing to the nature of some of the demands of the roles available there are eligibility criteria and restrictions. 

To find out the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in, explore their equality, diversity and inclusion policy. Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks, look out for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work. Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club (disability), EmployAbility (disability and neurodifference) and there are many more that are working for specific communities. A key place to look is to see what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability,  gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act 2010 and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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