As a veteran, while I was active duty I had a hard time deciding where to focus my efforts to make myself competitive for a job after the service. I wanted to prepare for my future both in the military and as a civilian.
In the last couple years and following months leading up to transition, I was constantly debating the desire and effort to get either a master’s degree or get a professional certification. The difficulty I found was not that I wanted one or the other but that I was unsure what I wanted to do after transition and I wasn’t sure what would help me the most. I considered an MBA, MS in logistics or MS in Supply Chain Management, MA in operations or management etc. Then there was the factor of time available and time until I transitioned; neither of which I had a lot of.
When I talked to a mentor of mine I was advised to pursue the certifications rather than education. This surprised me, but it was good advice for my situation.
Here were some factors I was dealing with:
- I had a defined timeline. (less than 2 years)
- I wanted the best value for my effort and money with versatility. (I wanted to save my GI Bill for my kids)
- I didn’t yet know what I wanted to do for a career with enough specificity to invest in a master’s degree.
- I needed something to help me get a job/make me competitive in the job market and also demonstrate my skills to an employer.
For me the choice to pursue certifications was better than to pursue a masters and has been huge for me since I left active duty. This isn’t to say that certification is better than a Masters, but I think this is an overlooked opportunity for active duty before and during transition.
As I have coached individuals through this question over the past two years I start with a simple process.
- What field do you want to go into and what role do you want to have? *If you are unsure then look at a job posting to see what qualifications are required.
Ask the Right Questions
Knowing the type of industry and what position/type of work a person wants to hold/do helps frame and shape what qualifications, certifications, and education might be beneficial. Certain industries value certifications more than formal education. Things like IT/Software development tend to value certifications more (Security Plus, C++, ITIL, ACP, SCRUM). Areas like finance and business value more formal programs like MBA. Engineering and construction look for both (BS/MS degree and PE/PMP).
- What is your timeline? Various education programs have very different timelines to obtain. Masters programs usually take about 2 years. Certifications are usually less depending on if there is a project associated or not.
- What is your budget? Formal education programs are typically much more expensive than certification programs.
As I began to look at the qualifications listed on jobs I was interested in two certifications stood out. Lean six sigma and PMP. Both of these I was able to earn and have funded by the military.
So what do you choose? Here are some pros and cons to each.
- Quick Timeline to obtain
- Both narrow and broad application depending on which certification
- Quicker return on investment
- Often demonstrate education and experience
- Cost may be reimbursed or covered by employer or military unit.
- Often Industry specific
- Many require experience in a field (PE, PMP)
- Not all instructional programs are quality (Flooded market)
- Often require re-certification/maintenance
Formal Degree (Bachelors/Master’s)
- Often Required for upper movement in a corporation
- Broad acceptance and application
- More in depth learning and education
- Costs may be reimbursed
- No re-certification
- Long time to obtain
- High costs
- May be industry specific
The choice is not always easy but hopefully this provides some insights that have not previously been considered and a way to approach this decision.
I can tell you that for me my PMP certificate and the training I received was invaluable. I have used the training in my role as a Project Manager in a heavy rigging company and how as a consultant with a DOD firm. The best thing was that my military unit funded it as well as my lean six sigma certification.
Josh Atkinson is an 11-year USMC Veteran who is now putting his military experience to work as a logistics advisor.