Armed forces careers

Dan Mason, Editorial manager
November, 2018

Embark on an exhilarating career and serve your country by choosing an operational or support role in the Army, Royal Air Force or Royal Navy

The UK's land, air and sea-based armed forces take part in combat, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions around the world to defend the country and promote its interests.

From soldiers and pilots to engineers, medics and intelligence analysts, there are countless opportunities available, depending on your skills, interests and qualifications. That means there's plenty of choice when you're starting out, as long as you have the commitment and discipline to be successful.

Army jobs

The Army recruits to more than 100 separate roles in seven categories, demonstrating the range of careers on offer. Here are some examples of what's available in each career area:

  • Combat - infantry officer, paratrooper, tank crewman.
  • Engineering - aircraft technician, infrastructure engineer, vehicle mechanic.
  • Human resources and finance - education and training officer, HR officer, Royal Military Police soldier.
  • Intelligence, IT and communications - intelligence officer, legal officer, operator military intelligence.
  • Logistics and support - driver, chef, logistic supply specialist.
  • Medical - biomedical scientist, mental health nurse, veterinary technician.
  • Musical and ceremonial - household cavalry officer, household cavalry soldier, musician.

If you're a graduate you're most likely to enter the Army as an officer. That's the equivalent of a leadership or managerial position (although you can still sign up as a regular soldier if you prefer). However, a degree isn't essential - see what's available for your level of education by checking your entry options.

Whether or not you're a graduate, to join as an officer you'll need to apply online and attend an interview with a local recruiter. Get interview tips to help you succeed.

Next you'll have an Army Officer Selection Board (AOSB) assessment, including a 24-hour briefing with physical and practical exercises, followed by a three-and-a-half day Main Board where you put your skills into practice.

Following an offer of employment you'll go on a pre-commissioning course before starting a 44-week course at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.

Once you've joined the Army there are lots of opportunities for professional development and career progression through the clearly defined ranking structure.

Explore more roles and apply by visiting the Army recruitment website. Alternatively, if you're interested in joining the Army part time - with a minimum commitment of 19 days per year - consider the Army Reserve (previously known as the Territorial Army).

RAF careers

The Royal Air Force (RAF) splits its jobs into the following categories:

  • Aircrew - pilot, Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) pilot, weapon systems officer.
  • Air operations support - aerospace battle manager, air traffic control officer, flight operations officer.
  • Force protection - RAF Regiment officer, RAF Police, firefighter.
  • Intelligence - intelligence analyst, intelligence officer, photographer.
  • Logistics - chef, driver, logistics officer.
  • Medical and medical support - medical support officer, pharmacy technician, RAF medic.
  • Personnel support - chaplain, media operations, physical training instructor.
  • Technical and engineering - communications infrastructure technician, electrician, weapon technician.

There are three ranking structures: officers (the equivalent of managers), airmen and airwomen, and non-commissioned aircrew. RAF Regulars are full-time personnel; you can also join part time as an RAF Reserve.

Once you've decided which role is for you, apply online. There are seven steps in the recruitment process: an RAF aptitude test, selection interviews, health assessment, fitness test, pre-recruit training course, acceptance and training.

Find out more and apply by visiting the RAF recruitment website, where you can enter your age and level of education to see which jobs you're eligible for.

Another entry route is through one of the RAF's apprenticeships. There are more than 20 of these in careers such as cyberspace communication specialist, RAF regiment gunner, survival equipment specialist and aircraft technician.

Apprentices earn £14,000 or above from day one (more than a civilian apprentice) and there's a guaranteed RAF job once you've completed the programme in between one and three years. Learn more general information about apprenticeships and the specific details of RAF apprenticeships.

The Royal Navy is organised into five services:

  • Fleet Air Arm - fighter jets and helicopters.
  • Royal Fleet Auxiliary - provides fuel for ships and supplies for personnel.
  • Royal Marines - an elite amphibious fighting force.
  • Submarine Service - also known as the 'Silent Service'.
  • Surface Fleet - destroyers, frigates, minesweepers, aircraft carriers, etc.

Across these five services there are nine branches:

  • aviation
  • chaplaincy
  • engineering
  • logistics
  • medical
  • Royal Marines Band Service
  • Royal Marines Reserve
  • Royal Naval Reserve
  • warfare.

Within these categories there are more than 100 different roles available, from aircrew officer pilot and medical officer to mine warfare specialist and weapon engineer officer.

As with the Army and RAF, many graduates join the Navy as officers. If you apply for an officer role, there are several stages you'll need to get through: Naval Service Recruiting Test (NSRT) and informal interview, medical and eye tests, fitness tests, interview, Admiralty Interview Board, and security and reference check. You'll then start your training.

The Admiralty Board Interview includes an essay, leadership task, planning exercise and presentation, interview, psychometric tests and a fitness test. Get some general advice on how to approach psychometric tests.

The alternative to starting as an officer is to join as a rating, while for part-time roles there's the Royal Naval Reserve. Explore in more depth and apply by visiting the Royal Navy recruitment website.

Another option is to join the Royal Marines as a commando, officer or reserve. Learn more about joining the Royal Marines.

Women in the armed forces

According to the most recent figures, just over 10% of the regular armed forces are women, while women currently make up only 3.6% of senior ranks.

However, in October 2018 the UK government announced that women would be allowed to serve in all British military roles - including frontline infantry and Special Forces - for the first time. Learn more about:

Find out more

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