Making the Career Transition Jump

Translating Military Project Management to the Civilian World

Translating 12 years of Military Project Management to the Civilian World 

There comes the point in your military career, where at the very end, you sit and wonder, what now? Most of us fear this time in our military careers; the Military has become a lifestyle and a (very) lengthy career stretch, we tend to wonder if we are any good at anything else. 

Military professionals have difficulty translating skillsets in preparation for the civilian workforce, but honestly, it is not as hard as it seems! 

The Military and the civilian workforce share a lot of the same types of skillsets for jobs with minor differences, but these roles are identified differently.  

For example, a military program manager who oversees multiple projects may be identified in many forms, such as: 

  • NCOIC (Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge) 
  • Ops Superintendent (Operations Superintendent) or 
  • First Sergeant 

These military team members may do various tasks within their units but closely mirror what a Project Manager in the civilian sector does.  

These individuals may have different titles than what you would find in the civilian labor force, but these individuals have project management skills. Servicemen and women acquire project team skills in the Military can translate over to a successful project manager or program manager. 

Transitioning military personal can have a profitable, long-term career. I did not know I was a good project manager or wanted to pursue Project Management until the last three years of my military career. Project management is not a known term within active-duty positions in the Military, 

Project management positions are disguised as Program Management. This discovery in career re-alignment was exciting, to say the least; I was already doing Project Management work in the Military and did not realize I was or knew it was even called project management.  

My Career Transition Story

During my service, there was a common saying that goes, “Do as you’re told, and do more with less,” and that is what you did. You figure it out and make it work!  

Most tasks given by command followed the common sayings, “Not enough time for completion, Figure it out.” “No staffing? Make it work.” “Under budget? Get it done.” 

And guess what – I did. I plundered through impossible tasks and timelines (sometimes blindly) and, surprisingly, “made it work” for the first ten years of my career.  

The year when I was closing another enlistment contract, I sat at my desk at Robins Air Force Base debating if I should re-enlist or separate from the Military. That is where it dawned on me; I had no idea what I was genuinely good at, professionally. 

I held many job titles in the Military (not by choice, as you are moved around based on mission needs), and the thought of seeking civilian employment scared the living hell out of me. I did not know where to start!  

Career Transition from military to civilian workforce

I was unsure of my next move, so I extended my military contract. Defeated by my dilemma, I had lunch with a mentor who had recently retired from the Military. “You might like Project Management.” 

He explained how my work ethic and mindset matched the skillsets needed for successful project planning. I knew I was good at what I did and completed what was required and asked, learning on the fly and getting it done.  

That was all he had to say to get my brain gears moving. After some light reading, I realized I might have been dropped as a baby on my head not to see these skills before. How did I not know project management was a thing, let alone the name of the skillset I was performing my entire military career? I felt like an Idiot. 

Your Skills Are Valuable

In simpler terms (my military folks can attest to this), most military careers are not focused career paths. Military careers often change depending on the needs of the mission. This process is also called “Jack of ALL trades.” Resiliency at its best, huh? 

With such resiliency comes great responsibility to plan from all angles, no matter the obstacle or delay. My military career consisted of – planning, preparing, forecasting, analyzing, budgeting, risks – tracking what I am putting down here? Project Management.  

Now let us address the infamous difficulty with most military transitions, translating skillsets. The Military, like many organizations, is full of acronyms and vast terminology used to define a business process.  

Many will say, “a military project manager is different from a civilian project manager.”  

While this may be true, the foundation is quite similar. There is a learning curve to be had, which comes with starting a new position or with a new organization. The mindset and foundation of a project manager, wherever they may go, can always be adjusted to new business processes and environments.  

Remember that resiliency I mentioned earlier? This skill set is where military projects and program managers shine.  

Years of resiliency come in handy during any military transition, in this case, transitioning and translating military skillsets into “relatable” civilian skills. These job titles may not always mean the same thing, but the skill sets acquired are similar in many ways. 

Project and Program Managers Transition to Civilian Workforce

Additionally, translating Military into civilian skillsets does not mean “dumb it down” so civilian counterparts can understand your resume. Eliminating the military jargon, and identifying your role and responsibilities, what was being done, and how you went about doing it will go a long way.  

After 12 years in the Military, I knew what I wanted to do in the civilian sector, and surprisingly, it is something I enjoyed. Fast forward to this year, and I landed my first Project Management role with Kolme Group 

Let us take it back to that learning curve I mentioned. Talk about a huge transition and introduction to the civilian world. Unfamiliar terms, systems, and business processes – The list goes on.  

Do you know what remained constant? As a project manager, my mindset and foundation are to be resilient in any given environment.  

Whether you are transitioning from the Military or currently in your Skillbridge internship, I leave you with some tips that have helped during my (successful) military transition.  

  • Ask yourself: What is my definition of a “happy/successful” move into the civilian sector? What are my skillsets? What profession/industry do I want to be in to highlight my skillsets? 
  • Find mentors currently doing, or did, what you seek to do in the civilian sector. (LinkedIn is a great place to start!) Gather feedback and their success stories. 
  • Research certifications/degrees you may want to pursue to strengthen your skillsets (Also a plus for seeking employment) 
  • Prepare yourself. The civilian world is full of new shiny things! It may start rocky as with any new environment, the Military is known for building resilient individuals, and naturally, we adjust and grow.  

 

Lastly, own your transition and continue to learn about yourself as you start a new journey after the Military. Feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn if you have any questions! Good luck with your next move. 

Sofai Faumuina AuthorModerator

After spending 12 years serving in the United States Air Force, I know what truly drives project success and customer satisfaction—and it’s not mastering the flavor of the week. It’s how well you connect with actual human beings you’re trying to help and communicate your understanding back to them.

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