Podcast - Engaging with Ex-Military Community

There is an increasing trend of ex-forces personnel seeking a new and rewarding career in the project profession. However, the transition journey can be filled with technical and emotional challenges as individuals adapt to personal and career changes. Matthew Powell, Consultant for MIGSO-PCUBED UK and Mark Sorrell, Head of MIGSO-PCUBED UK Public Sector practice, join James Lewis to discuss the HM Forces transition process and share tips and experiences that may ease the process for individuals exploring a future career in P3M. 


James Lewis: Hello everybody, my name is James Lewis. I’m the head of Change Management for MIGSO-PCUBED and I’m going to be chairing this podcast which is essentially to give a little bit more information for those people in the Armed Forces who are either, coming to a point in their career where they might be thinking of a new career in project management outside of Armed Forces, or have already left, and are thinking along the same lines. 

We want to give you some ideas about what it’s like and perhaps some pointers that can help you when you are at this critical juncture in your career. So, in order to discuss this a little bit further, I’ve got two of my colleagues from MIGSO-PCUBED with me today. I’ve got Matt Powell who recently came out of the forces and started working for MIGSO-PCUBED in the last year or two. And I’ve got Mark Sorrell who’s been around in MIGSO-PCUBED a lot longer than that and he actually runs our public sector practice. I’m going to start with Matt. Matt, good afternoon.

Matthew Powell: Good afternoon.

James Lewis: Matt, my first question for you is; tell me a little bit about your background and how we, MIGSO-PCUBED, are looking to help people in the Forces who are thinking of leaving and going into project management?

Matthew Powell: I joined the forces straight from school when I was 16. I spent 13 fantastic years in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and it’s noticed that there is increasing trends for service leavers and veterans looking to make a new career into P3M, or Projects Programmes and Portfolios. 

I have to say, for me, it was a career choice that aligned with a lot of things I wanted out of a second career. Something that was challenging and provided the opportunity to make a difference. I am an engineer at heart and fixing things, delivering a product of innovation or altering processes to make things easier for people, or dealing with multi discipline teams to design, install and commission major construction facilities and things like that is something that’s right up my street.

So, when I look at MIGSO-PCUBED, it is a global consultancy specialising in P3M and Change Management. It has an ex-forces community within it, which have successfully transitioned into P3M and Change consultancy. This community has got a huge passion for sharing their experiences with the veteran or transitioning forces community to help wherever they can. 

This provides an opportunity for direct access to friendly and experienced Subject Matter Experts (SME’s) for veterans and transitioning service personnel, who want to do this in the future. It also offers the ex-forces community within MIGSO-PCUBED, the ability to give something back to a career that they fully enjoyed and help their former colleagues transition more effectively.

James Lewis: Ok, thank you Matt, that’s really interesting. Now, of course, you actually made the leap relatively recently in the last year or two. How did you find the transition? What was your personal experience of moving from the Forces into P3M consultancy?

Matthew Powell: I joined MIGSO-PCUBED just over a year ago and made the transition into consultancy. However, I did leave the military back in 2013 and spent a number of years in industry prior to joining MIGSO-PCUBED. 

I reflect on my transition with mixed emotions. However, I do think the steps that I took helped me transition more effectively. There are plenty of things that I could have done better if I had known what I know now, which is why we are here. We want to be able to give that shared experience back to others who are making that same transition and help guide them into a rewarding second career in projects. If we can do that, then for me we have been successful in our objective.

My transition was a 12-month process. I believe this is now changed to 24-month process for those that are coming to the end of their career. Initially I found my transition extremely daunting. I joined the Forces straight from school – I had excelled in my career and I had never written a CV apart from a career’s day in school – It was a completely new challenge. I had a mortgage to think about and a family to support so my appetite for risk reduced significantly. 

My solid income for the past 13-years was going to come to an end which added a sense of pressure and realism to my situation. The civilian world is full of opportunities and a list of positions that could go on forever. So I had to narrow my field of view.

HM Forces have a huge amount of resources available to them which can cloud the issue, but it is there to help people in readying themselves for a new career – the big question being, what should my new career be? What are the right courses to invest in? That is something that the ex-forces community in the company can completely resonate with.

I decided I needed to Network; this is something I highly recommend. I needed to understand what was out there. What did I want to do? What did success look like to me personally? I was extremely taken back at how receptive and how helpful people were. As time passed my knowledge grew, my questions became sharper and my ability to hold a conversation in what seemed like a new language (the P3M language) became a lot easier. 

It was from this vital point and exercise that I was able to establish a good gap analysis. I was able to define really what I wanted and what I needed to get there. Once I had chosen P3M, I was able to accurately look at what I needed to do to get from A-B and successfully pitch myself at the right level in that industry, which helped me manage my expectations. 

I had a network at the ready to answer my questions and translate what new terminology meant so I could relate with my experience so that I could converse much better in an interview environment.

I found it wasn’t that I was inexperienced so much, it was that I didn’t know how to translate the language and how to relate my experience. That was a big impact for me and something that my network really helped with. I turned my network into my testing ground or a classroom prior to my exam if you will. No judgements were made in that network and they were more than willing to help. It is better to make use of a helpful ear in a network than in an interview.

After this my transition became a lot less daunting and a lot easier to manage mentally. I also took advantage of a work placement for 6 months. I’m extremely fortunate here as it was a friend and former colleague who offered the position within his company. However, for those listening, this is something that is available through CTP – if the parent unit can allow the individual to leave due to operational commitments and circumstances. My work experience was brilliant and really allowed me to broaden my understanding of business. It is also a good way to find out if the career path that you are looking to focus on is right for you.

James Lewis: Thank you for sharing that story with us Matt, I think that a lot of people will find that very helpful and very instructive. Have you got any specific tips? You touched on a couple of things when you were telling your story, but have you got any specific tips to those who are thinking of transitioning into P3M?

Matthew Powell: Absolutely, so my first tip would be “The Mindset” and the importance of goal setting and I touched on that in the previous question. What I found important was – what does success mean and look like to me? This is a personal journey for all. So you should treat it that way. Don’t focus on what friends are doing, or anything else like that. This is a personal journey. Make it personal to you.

Make short, medium, and long-term goals. These may change, but it will help focus your direction. Also, be patient, take a break and don’t feel pressurized to take the first opportunity presented here. Make sure the package is right for you and the overall package that is. A lot of people, like me who have been in the Forces, or were in the Forces since school, they’ve never been without that safety net of income or employment and it’s very easy to get swept away and rush into excepting the first opportunity that becomes available.

The second point would be “The P’s”; Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance. It’s something that is branded around in the military over and over from day one, why stop using it now? Understand the industry things like glass door networking, professional bodies, all great resources used to understand the industry, understand what that is. Know your audience and your subject matter; Your interviewer may not be military, but know how to bridge the gap, drawing back to that terminology point, make sure you can clearly articulate your experience with civilian terminology. 

Be confident and know your competition and know your self-worth. Manage your expectations about where you fit in and your unique selling point. Also research the opportunity, how does it meet your objectives?

My third tip would be “Networking”; LinkedIn, Professional bodies and events etc. Use it as your testing ground. Go out there, ask people questions. People are really helpful, go to events, go to professional body events, this is a fantastic way to grow. Listen to what people are saying, practice and ask for guidance. People are really helpful if you just asked the question, and people are very receptive to your situation. If you said; look, I’m not sure on the terminology, can I just run something by you? That can really help.

My fourth tip would be to never stop “Learning”. Once you understand what it is you need to get from A to B and what courses may help you get there, then programme how you’re going to do that. Use your time effectively, but also don’t be afraid that you can’t achieve the end goal straight away. Be realistic, learning is a continuous cycle that will continue far after leaving the military.

Always revert to Point 1; Re-assess your goals, your short, medium and long-term goals. This will help you focus your direction.

James Lewis: Thank you, Matt, some absolutely fantastic tips for those who are thinking about making the transition. Now, I’m going to move on and have a chat with Mark Sorrell. So, Mark, good afternoon.

Mark Sorrell: Good afternoon James.

James Lewis: Mark, you are actually in charge of MIGSO-PCUBED’s Public sector, so I guess you’re reasonably well placed to tell me, why is MIGSO-PCUBED investing time to engage with the military and ex-military community?

Mark Sorrell: There is a number of different angles to it. So, we thought about investing some time and thinking about the objectives we would want to achieve in this and we recognize that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has been one of our largest clients in the UK and we are keen to continue supporting the MoD in its delivery of Project and Programme management challenges in the future. We shouldn’t be just seen as a supplier; we want to support with reach back and be seen to be offering our services to their work forces and their workforce transition. So, to MI-GSO |PCUBED, that relationship with the MoD is important.

Secondly, we are also generous with our time and people like Matt are willing to give up their time to talk to service leaders. We have delivered and attended presentations in a pre-COVID-19 world to provide our tips and advice for areas of industry that are growing and offer interesting projects and programmes to get involved in, we are always willing to give out that time to individuals.

Thirdly, we are corporate members of the Association for Project Management (APM) and project management is just one profession but, there are lots of professions out there competing for people to join their ranks, and P3M is where we specialize. So, we should be supporting our industry and our professional body by getting more people into project and programme management.

Finally, it has been a good source of talent acquisition. Matt and other colleagues in the team, Jack, Jeff, Richard and more who have all come from an ex-forces background and they are all having fantastic careers in MIGSO-PCUBED UK and I think that trend can continue.

James Lewis: Excellent, so one area which I think might be a source of concern for a lot of people who are transitioning is the interview process. How might this go for someone from a military background, that might not have had an interview for many years? You are going to be quite thoughtful about how that’s going to go. So, Mark, your quite often the person who is conducting the Interview, so do you have any tips for somebody from a military background who might be about to attend their first interview in a long time?

Mark Sorrell: Sure, and it is common James, for somebody to open the interview and say, I haven’t had an interview since I was 18 or since I was 21. That is a common occurrence, so people shouldn’t think they’re in a unique situation. So, my tips would be:

Firstly, try to give answers with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Projects are set up; they deliver some stuff and then they close down. If you can construct your answer to have a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion, and some benefits at the end of it, that is always a good way of telling a story. As Matt said, you should recognise your interviewer may not be ex-military, so they may not know Brigadier Jones, or they may not know all the parlance or acronyms. So be careful with your use of acronyms.

There is business or industry terminology that is completely common with military situations. So, feel free to explain scenarios where you delivered in a pressurized situation, or you had to give a weekly status report, or you had some of your resources reallocated, or you had stakeholders changing your mind. These are military situations, but they are common to business and industry and if you can tell stories around those and how you dealt with that. That will resonate with your interviewer.

I think there is some word substitution that you should be careful of. So, instead of saying ‘orders’, you may want to use a more project management term like a ‘mandate’. Instead of saying ‘my unit’, you might want to say, ‘my team’ and ‘Commanders’ can become ‘stakeholders’. There’s one word that really shouldn’t be used in civilian business or industry setting and that is “subordinate”. That’s not really a term that’s used. So, just be careful with your terminology and try and describe projects that you’ve worked on, that have lasted ideally several months, not days, and have a beginning, a middle, and an end. If you can construct your answer like that, you should have some good dialogue with your interviewer.

James Lewis: That’s really interesting and there is a common thread there between what you said and what Matt said. There is some fantastic experiences and very relevant experiences people in the services will have gained in their careers and the trick is to be able to translate those experiences into a language that reaches out and resonates with your interviewer. So, less of the military and more of a substitution of the civilian equivalent of some key words. So, Mark, any other advice you have for people thinking of moving into our line of business?

Mark Sorrell: I think I’m going to reiterate some of the points that Matt made. So, networking is very important. Networking is not something you should do when you need it, where you have got an issue and you think, who in my network can help. That’s not the time to start networking. Networking is a proactive activity that you do throughout your career, so you keep in contact with your former colleagues, you join a professional body, you go to events or webinars. You’re willing to introduce yourself and talk to people and listen and to keep a log of what you have learned through that process.

I think we picked up on LinkedIn being a very useful tool. So, having a career profile on LinkedIn, connecting again with your former colleagues or people you know socially even, you can connect on LinkedIn. Look at the professional body pages on LinkedIn and read articles and it is important to comment positively, I think, on articles and try and get some debate going rather than being deliberately controversial. Research job titles and look at how people brand themselves and look at the civilian equivalent of a job that might relate to the one you did in the military. Look at the job titles people use on LinkedIn and decide whether there applicable to you.

Finally, learning. Learning is a continuous journey; we never stop learning. No matter where we are in our careers or how senior we are, or how we relate it to our transition point. We can always learn more. I think, as a philosophical point, learning is a continuous journey and through learning, we give ourselves options in our career. So, really important!

James Lewis: Thank you Mark, and I can only add that I’ve worked with a number of really talented and excellent colleagues who have come out of the services to join MIGSO-PCUBED, so I can speak first hand and say that it is a genuinely realistic option to come into this line of work. I would like to think it would be quite an exciting one as well. For those of you who are listening, and we’ve raised your interest and want to know a little bit more. Then I know that both Mark and Matt would be very happy if you were to email them asking for a little bit more information.

Thank you Mark, thank you Matt, for your excellent advice and contribution this afternoon and for those of you who are listening to this podcast, we look forward to hearing from as many of you as possible, and to all of you, good luck. Thank you.

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