Former police officer Peter Kelleher examines the use of flexible planning tools and how they can help those looking to leave the job.

 “Fail to plan and you plan to fail” goes the old adage but many of us spend more time planning our summer holidays than we do planning our careers. I was one of those who didn’t really have a career path in mind when I joined the Police Service at the ripe old age of 18 years – and I was happy to carry out a role for a few years before, perhaps, getting a little stale and thinking about moving on to something new.

This had some benefits of course, as I ended up with a breadth of experience across many different roles that stood me in good stead throughout my career and was also an attractive proposition for my future employment prospects once I had retired from policing.

Equally, those who seem to find what they enjoy almost immediately and stay in one or two roles throughout their entire service can build an unrivalled depth of experience in a specialism that can also be in great demand once they decide to do something new.

The difficulty is in deciding which approach works best for you and then trying to identify whether a private sector employer would value – and be prepared to pay for – the skills and experience you would then have to offer.

Changing career paths

Increasingly, anecdotal evidence suggests applicants seem to be joining the Police Service with a much shorter-term view of their police careers than I and others have had in the past. Many are taking a more proactive approach to their own situations and planning, perhaps, a five year career before using this experience, along with any training and qualifications they may have gathered, to springboard into something new.

Some regard the Police Service as an important marker on their employment history that is valued by employers, although recruiters might still wish to see how it dovetailed into an overall personal career plan.

Others become disillusioned and consider leaving before they originally thought they would. It could be that the original reasons for joining might no longer apply or that optimistically held aspirations have not been borne out by actual experience.

Alternatively, work or personal circumstances may have changed considerably in the interim or the constant stresses and strains of the job have finally taken their toll.

However, options need to be carefully thought through, particularly as there may be significant financial considerations to think about. It can be difficult to remove your emotions from the decision-making in these situations and you may benefit from talking it over with a trusted confidant, or a mentor, before you take any action that you might regret later.

Future thinking

Whichever approach you decide upon, taking a long-term view of personal and career planning can be beneficial, whether remaining in, or moving outside of, the service. In one of my later police roles, I spent time as a strategic planner for an ACPO business area and became used to gazing into the future to try and identify what challenges were coming over the horizon to hit my area of the Police Service and then considering how we could best get ready to deal with them.

It is a habit that I have carried over into my post-police situation and now employ within my own business – helping people or organisations transition and move onto their next stage – and there are some great techniques borrowed from the corporate world that can help us.

Transition techniques

One such tool is SWOT analysis. The acronym stands for ‘Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats’ and is traditionally used for organisations to evaluate whether a potential project or new business venture should be undertaken. However, you can also use this as a planning tool for yourself and your career, to help you determine the best way forward for you.

  • What strengths do you have? What are you good at? What do you enjoy?
  • What are your weaknesses, knowledge gaps or things you don’t particularly like doing?
  • What opportunities exist for you in the world, currently or in the foreseeable future?
  • What are the threats to these possible courses of action? What could derail your ideas?

These tools, and others like them, can help you to evaluate future potential courses of action and provide a useful internal challenge to your thinking. On my first day back in civilian life (and without wishing to be morbid) I figured that I had 20 years left working, a further 20 years left living and that would be it – and that was the best possible scenario. So I took the view that I wanted to do something I enjoyed and that helped people along the way, and my idea for a new social enterprise was born.

Specialist advice

However, tread carefully. Ensure you take advice from specialists (particularly financial), those you trust or someone open-minded who has already trodden this path. I find that having a pension is a very useful safety net and means that I don’t have to go out and hassle potential customers and can keep my prices as low as possible.

It’s really important to get good advice from specialists in whatever area you need, although bear in mind that you will usually have to pay for it in one way or another.

In summary, consider having a plan that meets your personal, life and career objectives whether remaining in, or moving outside of, the police service. You will need to make sure that it is reviewed periodically and remains flexible – as life has a habit of getting in the way!

Of course, there’s a lot more to it. We have got loads of great information on the ‘Advice and Guidance’ page of this website, or simply get in touch and we will be very happy to help.