Veterans Helping Veterans Find a Fresh Start in Project Management9 Nov 2023
A community, according to one definition, is a group of people who share a common story about who they are.
In this post, I’d like to relate the story of how I made a life-changing move from one community to another – from the U.S. Army Special Forces, where I spent 24 years serving my country, to the project management community, which I now call home, and which in part defines who I am today.
I couldn’t have made this transition without the critical support of both communities. The U.S. Army provided essential financial and resource assistance, while the project management community – and PMI, in particular – provided the mentorship, guidance, and learning tools to smooth my entry into a new career.
Now that I’ve successfully made the transition, I’m working as Director-Military Liaison for the PMI Tampa Bay Chapter to help other veterans enter the project management field. And while this is a U.S.-focused story in honor of Veteran’s Day, the lessons learned are applicable to members of the military all over the world.
So why did I decide to leave the military and chart a new course in the civilian world? In a word, it came down to family. I had spent much of my career traveling the world training Special Operations Forces (SOF) partners. After more than two decades, I looked forward to putting a stable, family-centered routine at the center of my life.
But what to do? How would I translate the knowledge and skills I had acquired over my long military career into a civilian job?
Interestingly, my wife was the one who first suggested I look into project management. She too was pivoting – from the world of academia to project management via a Military Spouse Fellowship from the “Hiring Our Heroes” program.
Project management sounded promising, and the more research I did, the more appealing it became. I liked the fact that no individual day is like another. That you have an opportunity to work with different people and different teams. And that there’s a clear sense of accomplishment at the end of a project – just as there is in the military when we complete a mission.
In speaking with some of my early contacts, it also became clear that many of the skills I had honed in the military – around leadership, critical thinking, communications, time management, and, perhaps most importantly, accountability – were readily transferable to project management. I learned, in fact, that the PMI community referred to these as “power skills.” I liked that.
I still needed to develop technical skills, of course, and the Army helped there too. Like my wife, I received a Hiring Our Heroes fellowship. It allowed me, while still in uniform, to gain real-world experience in the global tech industry – at Nike in Washington State, where I was based at the time. I fell in love with tech and promptly pursued Google IT certification.
Then I set my sights on Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. Why? Quite simply, I kept seeing references to the PMP wherever I looked on job sites like LinkedIn and Indeed. Clearly, certification holders, regardless of industry, were held in special regard and highly sought after.
With funding from the Onward to Opportunity (O2O) Program offered through the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) via Syracuse University and with Army Credentialing assistance, I signed up for a PMP bootcamp. And I connected with members of the local PMI Chapter in Olympia, Washington for advice on how best to prepare for the PMP test. They couldn’t have been more welcoming.
Successfully passing the PMP examination has significantly bolstered my confidence, prompting me to pursue further professional development such as the ITIL v4 certification, SAFe 5 Scrum Master, PMI-ACP, PMI Agile Hybrid Project Pro, Lean Six Sigma Green Belt, AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner, and completing my MBA with a concentration in marketing and technology.
Ultimately, it was the validation that came with PMP certification that helped me get a foot in the door in the corporate world working with JP Morgan Chase and now with Booz Allen Hamilton, where I am a senior IT project manager, leading a team developing software for federal clients.
The sense of community I felt in Washington has been mirrored in my experience with the Tampa Bay Chapter. I love sharing experiences with the more seasoned members of the Chapter, and I make a point of connecting with new people to learn their stories whenever we get together.
At some point, however, I had a sense that there was something missing in the life of our Chapter – a connection with the local military. MacDill Air Force Base is nearby, as are the headquarters for U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) and U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM).
So, I created the military outreach program for the PMI Tampa Bay Chapter. Working with several non-profit organizations in the area, we provide subject matter expertise, materials, and resources to members of the military who might be considering a career in project management. I also started a mentorship program that connects military members and veterans with project management professionals.
In the year and a half since the program started, we’ve connected more than 60 mentees with 50 project management mentors. Of those mentees, 15 have gone on to obtain PMP certifications and five have obtained Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)® certifications. Ten certification holders have moved into project management positions.
We coordinate our outreach efforts here in Tampa Bay with PMI’s overall Military Initiative, led by Matt Quick, Partner Success Specialist and Veteran Program Lead at PMI. Military liaisons nationwide stay connected through Matt via LinkedIn, a WhatsApp group, and periodic meetings. That keeps us all in the loop about the full range of PMI resources available to veterans – everything from certification support to PMI pins.
Now that I’m firmly ensconced in the project management community, what advice would I offer veterans or members of the military who are considering project management as a career?
- First, do upfront research and decide what industry or industries you’d like to consider. That will tell you what areas of project management you should explore further.
- Connect with project management professionals in advance of your end-of-service or retirement date. They can be an invaluable source of insight, inspiration, and support as you manage through the transition.
- Build your professional network by becoming a PMI member and participating actively in your local Chapter. The practical, hands-on experience you’ll receive – either through networking or through volunteer activities – is priceless. And, as I tell my mentees, pmi.org is a treasure trove of project management tools, templates, techniques, and learning materials that can make your entry into the project management world that much easier.
Finally, I would say, get certified – with the PMP, if possible. It is a true validation of your project management skills and experience. It will help you garner the respect of your colleagues and peers and help set you apart in today’s job market.
Transitioning from the military community to the project management community involves lots of hard work. It may be one of the most difficult efforts you ever undertake. But I can personally attest that all the hard work is worth it and that there are people of goodwill from both the military and project management communities ready to help you succeed.