Serving in the military has given you some amazing project management skills. But sometimes, you just need help learning the commercial lingo. Most project management skills are used and well understood by you and your fellow service members. However, there is a divide between military and corporate vernacular and culture, which can create an obstacle during your transition. 

Different Terms; Same Definition

Vocabulary differences are a major stumbling block, but this can be overcome. We say “mission” in the military; civilians say “project.” What we in the military call a “debrief or hot-wash” is often described in commercial project management terms as “lessons learned.” Most NCOs and officers perform project management on daily basis, but do not use civilian project management language.

Learn the project management Lingo Before You Go

As a transitioning veteran, you should learn the project management industry standard language and vocabulary. One of your greatest transitional challenges will be to articulate what you know into language that can be understood by civilians. Unfortunately, if you do not perform the rigorous effort required to learn the lingo, employers will interpret your lack of commercial project management terminology as insufficient knowledge and experience. 

Ideally, you should learn the terminology before leaving the military. Regardless, whenever you have downtime, read and practice the language and concepts of project management so that you speak confidently and correctly during the interview and in your future position with your fellow employees. Together the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) and The Transitioning Military Project Manager are great resources for learning the vernacular and the career field of project management. Study these materials, and you will be able to translate what you did in the military and speak about your capabilities during job interviews.

Project Management Certifications Say: Hire Me!

The second part of the translation equation is earning your certification. Certification is like a large neon marketing sign that says, “hire me”. If you can acquire your PMP® before you get out of the service, your transition will be much easier. The biggest benefit is that employers will not question your experience. You will have proven that you understand the body of knowledge required by all commercial project managers and the certification speaks for itself as a proven industry standard. Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF), earning the PMP® is a door-opener.

Make the Network Rounds

Network with other current and former military members. Just as important, meet non-military professionals in the career field. Talking with them will help tremendously. You will instinctively learn how to translate your skills during your transition. A huge networking opportunity can be found while volunteering with your local Project Management Institute (PMI®) chapter. 

Don’t Ignore Your Social Game

You can meet others by posting professional social media requests to connect with veterans who have transitioned into project management careers. Ask to meet with them for informational discussions and advice. Often, these key friends and acquaintances will know of positions that are available within the project management career field in your area. Make sure you follow up and meet with them again. Conversation will get easier with every subsequent meeting.

Remember, relationship is key! Former service members and professionals in the field can not only help you find your first job, but also assist your transition into the civilian project management environment.  Stay in touch as they can provide advice once you are in the position, when challenged. You should always be ready to thank them and pay it forward with others during their post military job search. 

Begin to translate your skills now

Your transition will be a success. Just remember to start preparing today by reading books and articles on the subject. Continue to network with those that have come before you, and you will make the transition with ease.

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Jay Hicks is an author, instructor and consultant. With a special kinship for military personnel, Jay provides guidance on successful civilian career transition and has co-authored “The Transitioning Military Series”. He is the co-founder of Gr8Transitions4U, where advocating the value of hiring military personnel is the key focus. More about Jay and his passion can be found at