Looking back over the past twenty-six years of my career since medically separating from the United States Navy, it’s not surprising that I would end up in the military transition space. It’s where I am now comfortable, because I am equipped to be here, and because I spend a lot of time here, equipping and helping thousands of others navigate their transitions successfully without sinking their proverbial ships.
From Military Service Member…
My journey from military service member to project manager to founder began on a warm, sunny, powder-blue afternoon in July 1994. The fourteenth to be exact. I sat in the driver’s seat of my Jeep Wrangler, waiting for the right turn arrow to turn from red to green, leaving a Navy base for the last time as a Sailor.
But I wasn’t a sailor. Just minutes earlier, I had surrendered my active duty military identification card and received my honorable discharge papers. However, I was sitting there at that light still in full dress uniform.
Which was very strange; because civilians don’t wear Navy uniforms.
I remember that moment like it was yesterday, feeling crushed by the weight of the realization that I had no idea what to do now. I would need a job, a degree, a home, new friends, new clothes, and I didn’t realize it at that moment staring into the abyss; I would need a new identity, mission, and purpose, too. I was frozen with fear, even though I was awash in sunlight! I turned right into the flow of traffic, holding onto the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were blanched white.
Most of the next twelve years, until my formal project management career started, would be lean, arduous, and dark. At several points, I even contemplated suicide. However, I proved too Christian and too cowardly to execute the final solution.
So, I’d wake up each morning disappointed I’d woken up, day after day until I finally just resolved,
“Well, I guess I’m going to have to figure something out. No more victimhood”!
Pity party over, everybody out!
…To Project Manager
When I arrived at the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, I was a mediocre financial and accounting manager, but a star project manager.
I seemed to have a knack for teasing out real, meaningful stakeholder requirements and needs, translating these to motivated, empowered team members and resource owners to secure resources and keeping key stakeholders and functional bosses read-in and confident of our project execution. I also learned to speak time and money; the language of executives. Even government ones!
During an interim performance review, my boss (a mentor really), observed,
“You’re not bad at project management Eric. I think you should develop yourself along that career path”.
To which I replied,
“What’s project management? That’s a thing?”
He said yes, and supported my professional development, and advocated for my placement onto bigger and more visible projects.
My next boss, another mentor, would do the same, and the next, and the next. Success made all of us look good, and it paid off!
From defense project management, I moved into higher education, having completed a Doctor of Philosophy degree and several years of teaching project management at the undergraduate and graduate levels as an adjunct professor.
I was consistently labeled a great professor, always receiving high marks, and volunteering to run campus projects, delivering success on each one. And again, making a name for myself with leaders that I was someone that could deliver results methodically, making us all look good while being better, faster, cheaper.
From higher education, I would move into entrepreneurship, founding a consulting business. That would ultimately fail!
However, like any good PM, I captured pages of lessons learned on how to do the next one more successfully.
It was. And still is.
…To Founding the Veteran Project Manager Mentor Alliance and Vets2PM
I now run a multi-million-dollar company that specializes in recruiting, developing, deploying, and mentoring military veterans-turned-project, cyber defense, and human resources managers.
I have an amazing team running the company, which provides me the bandwidth to Keynote speak, author books, and mentor other veteran-owned businesses to success.
In fact, I even co-founded a 501(c)3 to provide military veteran project managers (PMs) with mentoring provided by successful industry PMs! It’s called the Veteran Project Manager Mentor Alliance, and like Vets2PM, it is changing military veterans’ lives profoundly.
At this point, you may be asking yourself,
“What is the key to all of this success?”
My military training! And a great team!
Why Military Service Members Are Great Project Managers
Military service members, and therefore veterans, which are military members no longer serving, have many skills and talents that allow them to operate as professional managers in the civilian workforce, what I like to call the “civilian division”, or CIVDIV. We are resourceful, resilient, creative, dedicated, and steeped in teamwork, followership, leadership, mentorship, responsibility, and accountability. We don’t fail. We are quintessential team players, dedicated to much more than paychecks!
Additionally, we are trustworthy, many holding advanced clearances to perform their jobs, and we have significant amounts of project management experience. That’s because military missions (the doing) and exercises (realistic training events to prepare us for the doing) are temporary in nature, and produce unique goods, services, or results, which is the very definition of projects in the CIVDIV.
Some of the most common and biggest challenges though are translating our experience in a dialect civilian hiring managers can understand, and thus value, and checking the blocks representing the basic career development and advancement techniques civilians know. We spent portions of our lives in a completely different environment safeguarding them while they learned the ropes, which puts us at a disadvantage.
That’s why we developed our proprietary four-step process to help any honorably discharged military veteran transition into a meaningful, lucrative post-service career successfully.
How The Vets2PM Program Works
It covers not only credentialing but the other basic skills of job hunting and job landing as well.
- First, we inspire them. We show them how their unique military experience translates into target professional career fields to help them paint a picture of themselves post-service.
- Second, we train them. We provide the plans, training, and resources to help them achieve in-demand credentials that represent their target industries and associated lexicons, so they become familiar to and in demand by potential employers.
- Third, we prepare them for their new post-service career. Preparation includes a professionally written, forward-looking resume demonstrating capabilities, interview skills development, LinkedIn profile make-overs course in how to use it to find potential employers and how to prepare for behavioral interviews with them.
- Finally, fourth, we place them. For life! We understand people change careers nowadays. They’ll need several versions of their resumes, networks, and mentors. We equip them with the knowledge and tools necessary to acquire and manage these things.
Results, Recognition, and Roadmap
Of our program, we receive quotes like the following weekly:
“Thank God for you and your program, Dr. Wright!”
“A must-take course for transitioning veterans pursuing a project management career. Vets2PM breaks down the civilian language barrier and translates the terminology for the vets to better understand”.
“The Vets2PM program has a cost-benefit superior to other training products on the market. As I gained further knowledge and exposure to the program, I learned that Vets2PM is a support group as well as a community of learners”. And,
“Cathy is amazing, that is all I can say! For months, I have applied to many jobs and had no luck. Only weeks after Cathy helped me with my resume, I got a few interviews lined up. And, a month later, I received my first offer”! Plus, the companies we provide training and PM talent to repeat buy from us time after time. Our veteran professional managers (PMs)continue to impress them by exceeding expectations.
We not only help veterans achieve meaningful, lucrative post-service careers in Corporate America but in entrepreneurial endeavors as well! We help military spouses and veterans set up little LLCs and then provide them stable work writing resumes and instructing our courses all over the globe! Additionally, those independent businesses that want to become Vets2PM employees sometimes get that chance! In fact, our veteran hiring activity even resulted in being awarded the 2019 Department of Labor’s Gold Star award in the small business category for our veterans!
Our mission is simple, and our vision grand:
Civilians acculturate into Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine through a branch-specific boot camp experience.
Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines acculturate back into the CIVDIV without one.
We are building the exit Bootcamp using bleeding-edge tech, collaboration with several professional organizations, firms in Corporate America, institutions of higher education, and some other select veteran-owned businesses.
My short fifty years riding this rock, the last decade of which has been spent helping thousands of military veterans transition between two of the most disparate organizational cultures known to man, the US Military and Corporate America; has taught me that the key to success is serving others. First. Building permanent societal structures to do so is my legacy, my literal pyramids on my Giza plateau.