Creating a Career Path for Defense Personnel in the Business World
PMI South Asia

Military veterans seeking a meaningful and lucrative career often struggle to get a clear answer to this fundamental question after they leave their service: – what career will best suit them? Project management is one profession that offers a natural transition for defense professionals.

With their military experience in handling complex projects, the ability to think strategically, training to adapt to new technologies, and their leadership skills, veterans can effortlessly adapt their military skills to manage projects successfully in a business environment. Besides, with the demand for project management professionals growing, the chances are high that someone who has retired from the defense forces will land a new opportunity in this profession. Besides traditional project-oriented industries such as IT and construction, sectors such as finance, healthcare, real estate, and pharma and life sciences are reporting more project management positions. Organizations now seek certified professionals for these positions. According to PMI’s Project Management Salary Survey 2020, Project Management Professional (PMP)® certified professionals earn 22 percent higher on average than those without the PMP certification.

Many former defense officers have become successful project managers. Some have honed their project management skills by taking up project management certifications. In this special feature, we have spoken to veterans who have made this transition to understand their perspectives.

Leadership, Conflict Resolution and Communication are Transferable Skills
Veterans are equipped with high standards of skills as a result of the disciplined work environment and training they have been a part of. Thousands of trained veterans join the civil world with a ‘can do’ attitude. They are committed and reliable individuals, and capable of thinking out-of-box solutions in the toughest situations.

Earlier, security and facility management were mainly considered as the two streams suitable for veterans. This is no longer the case as veterans, with their immense experience and positive attitude, have proven to be exemplary in fields ranging from consulting and management to leadership positions in almost every sector.

During my stint with the Indian Navy, I was involved in managing large and complex programs. When I decided to leave the Navy, the question that arose in my mind spontaneously was ‘what next’. Every veteran faces a similar situation as the civil world is an unknown territory. However, our strong background in the armed forces comes to our rescue when we have to steer the uncharted waters.

While I was exploring various options, I came across a career in project management. I was not very enthusiastic about it initially as I had been involved in managing various projects earlier. Leadership, negotiation, excellent communication, and conflict resolution are some key skills that are required to be a successful project mana ger. These traits are well ingrained in every veteran.

I was prodded with a big question - ho w do I utilize the skills that I have acquired during my service that align to the industry practice? To make my skills more relevant, I completed PMP certification. This certification has opened many doors, and scaled up my management skills as per the industry requirements. Based on my experience, I can say that certifications like the PMP and Program Management Professional (PgMP)® certifications can be good career options that veterans can easily and quickly adapt to and grow to meet their professional aspirations.

Naveen Kataria retired in 2009 after serving in the Indian Navy for 21 years. He has held several key leadership positions in IBM India Ltd. in areas like project management and IT-digital transition and transformation strategy.
Leadership Skills Prove Beneficial
Military service and corporate life are like two opposite banks of a river, and to transition from one side to the other has always been a challenge. However, PMP certification acts as a four-lane highway bridge to facilitate this transition. PMP helps a veteran to identify and study the similarities between the two professions to overcome the perceived differences. In fact, it stirs a soldier to understand his various military assignments from a different perspective - giving it a new flavour in the form of project management. These multi-dimensional project management skills can easily be integrated into the corporate parlance.

PMP is widely recognized by the business as well as the government sector for its credibility and value in contributing to an organization’s mission success. It always keeps itself abreast with the changing technology, and business trends and practices, which makes it relevant all the time.

The PMI framework has effectively tuned itself with the changing requirements from the waterfall to the agile model. A military leader comes with a vast experience of leadership skills. PMI has emphasized on the importance of leadership towards project success through its “leadership triangle.” It is formed by leadership, project management, and domain knowledge. PMP thereby helps to transfer the leadership and project management skills of a veteran into the all-round corporate requirements, compensating the lack of domain expertise at the transitioning stage. It also gives an assurance of the sharp learning curve of a veteran to the corporate world.

As a success story, I would like to put on record that I obtained the PMP certification just before my retirement, which gave me the confidence to start afresh in the new domain. It landed me with a role as a project manager in the most coveted investment banking segment.

Col. Amit Kasodekar (Retd.), PMP is the vice president, CIB Operations, JP Morgan Chase & Co. He has served in the Indian Army for 22 years.

Decision-making in Stressful Environments a Key Asset 
The basic ethos of defense training inculcates the importance of planning for effective execution of time management, team management, and resource management in young cadets. A defense officer in various appointments is continuously entrusted with the responsibilities of leading and completing tasks as simple as organizing a tournament to executing major projects. The versatile environment offers an ‘hands-on’ experience in tackling situations that require decision-making in a stressful environment with zero error. Such situations make defense personnel savvy to deliver even in hostile conditions, and underline their ability to adapt to myriad environments seamlessly.

I have served in the project domain for half of my career, wherein I handled multimillion dollar projects. What differentiates military from the corporate sector is mainly in the jargons used, and monitoring and accounting process of resources (largely manpower). Other parameters of planning, execution, monitoring, and control are similar.

The project management course and PMI certification facilitate bridging of skill gaps, and understanding the jargons and methodologies used in the corporate domain. Defense personnel with the strategic advantage of the project management experience can thus easily leverage the skills with requisite PMP certification when stepping into the corporate world. It is equally important that defense personnel upgrade their skills to meet the requirements of the corporate world prior to making the transition. The learning curve for any defense personnel would be very small, and they are able to prove themselves in a short time.

The PMI certification has been of immense help when I decided to step from maintenance and operational domain to project management. The fundamentals of project management taught in the PMI program amalgamate well with the experience and skill imbibed from the service, and it gives me an extra edge in proving my credentials in the corporate environment. These specialized skill sets also explain my career advancement in the corporate world in a short time.

Mukesh Sharma is a naval veteran who took premature retirement in March 2017. He held various positions in the marine and aviation domains. After retirement, he stepped into the corporate world and has experience working with major MNCs in project management roles.