PRA’s Veteran Leadership Transition Program (VLTP) gives Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers looking to transition out of the military the training and mentorship needed to ensure a smooth and confident transition into their new careers. Since starting the program in August 2016, we’ve successfully transitioned Veterans into project management roles within 18-24 months while also welcoming them into our supportive community. Andrew Snyder (USMC), Marilyn Houde (USA/USAR), and Ismael Ramirez (USA/USAR), three of the program’s Project Managers, share their experiences:
Why did you decide to leave the military and what concerns, if any, did you have about finding a new job?
Ismael: I knew that I didn’t want to spend 20 years on active duty with the Army, so during my last 3-year active contract, I decided to go back to school. I was accepted into Duke’s weekend executive MBA program where I received coaching in networking, resume prep, and interview prep. We also saved money in case my job search took me past my active duty time. I had just begun reaching out to companies when I was contacted by PRA about their Veteran Leadership Transition Program. At first, I was hesitant about the life science industry. I assumed I needed experience in healthcare and that my skills might not translate well into a role at PRA. After speaking with the recruiter, I realized that I was a viable candidate and that this was an opportunity to contribute to an industry that truly makes a difference in peoples’ lives.
When you first heard about PRA’s VLTP, what expectations did you have?
Ismael: I wasn’t sure if the 18 to 24-month timeline to make Project Manager (PM) was real, or how much mentoring I would actually receive, but those concerns were addressed as soon as I entered the program and experienced it firsthand. I was assigned a day-to-day mentor and was also given weekly executive mentor sessions at the VP level.
Marilyn: I had similar concerns. My initial thought was, “Am I going to be good enough?” I thought that after a year or so in, they would realize I didn’t have the aptitude for this and fire me. But after they explained that the program used a crawl-walk-run development method to learn about PRA and the CRO industry, that put me at ease. It truly is a learning environment, and everyone is learning right along with you.
Andrew: When I started at PRA, I kept thinking, “I have no idea what I don’t know.” I was coming from 20 years in the Marine Corps and there was a lot of uncertainty about what my transition out of the military would look like. I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my mentor a few weeks into the program. I told him that my job at PRA was the easiest part of my transition, and he said, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” That’s not indicative of a laissez-faire attitude at PRA, but instead of the support network that was brought in to facilitate the unique dynamics of transitioning from a career in the military into becoming a civilian. Our program is not just unique to CROs. It’s unique to any corporate company who hires veterans.
What was the transition process like for you?
Andrew: Most people in the military communicate and solve problems in a similar way. In the civilian sector, there are countless different avenues to look at and solve problems. Everybody does things differently, and I had to learn to appreciate the value that different perspectives bring.
Ismael: For me, learning an entirely new company and industry with all new acronyms, a new culture, and new SOPs, was challenging at first, especially as I took on more responsibility. I had to remind myself to step back, be humble, and recognize that sometimes there are things you just won’t know right away and you’ll have to learn.
Marilyn: The biggest challenge for me was adjusting to how much we use technology. In the military, being physically present is how you show you care. But as a global company, sometimes it’s simply not possible to meet face-to-face. I had to shift my mindset and realize that, even though my mentors may not be in the same building as me all the time, they are always available and willing to help.
How did your military skills help you in your new career?
Ismael: My skills from the Army really helped accelerate my growth to PM, and they still do now almost two years later. I spent years in the Army leading teams of various sizes with increasing levels of responsibility, visibility, and budgets. Leading diverse teams and being able to account for different personalities, team cohesion, and mission accomplishment has been instrumental to my success at PRA. I faced some very high pressure, intense situations in the Army, and learning to overcome those challenges has helped me immensely.
Marilyn: In the military, I wasn’t an expert in every job I was assigned, and there were a lot of times I’d have to jump in and figure it out on my own or with my team. Those experiences taught me not to be intimidated by the unknown and also to trust in my decision-making abilities. Now that I’m at PRA, those skills combined with the training provided to me ensure that I’m more than capable of performing.
Were you given the resources and training needed to be successful?
Ismael: I really do feel like I was given everything needed to be successful at PRA. The time spent with mentors was real, and the levels of mentorship spread throughout the organization, not just within the VLTP program. I didn’t get hired and then left on an island to fend for myself. Whenever I have a question, there has always been someone helping me along, and now—having made it through the program—I get to do that myself as a mentor. Those that have finished the program are mentors to everyone currently in it, but there are also opportunities to mentor throughout all stages of the program. For example, those that have been in the program longer often have experience with tasks the newer program members are experiencing, so they are able to provide direction, help frame questions, and suggest who they can ask for more information, etc.
Andrew: There’s rarely a day where I don’t walk around the office and ask somebody a question about a contract or something. PRA’s culture truly is one where people want to be involved and are willing to help solve problems with you.
What would you say are the most significant benefits of the program?
Marilyn: Having actual grownup rules is excellent. The military is very structured, and your whole day is regimented. At PRA, as long as you are producing good work, no one is hovering over you or dictating your day.
Ismael: The work-life balance is real at PRA. You can take care of what you need to at home while still progressing with your development and being successful at work. Also, now that we’re in the 4th iteration of this program, we have the framework in place and what they say is going to happen, happens. If for some reason something isn’t working, people listen and make any adjustments that are needed. When they say that you will get mentoring and support, that’s not just lip service. They really mean it.
If you had any advice for veterans considering this program, what would it be?
Ismael: The development process in the program is crawl-walk-run for a reason. It’s okay not to know everything right away. Just be patient and let the program work. Eventually, things will fall into place and start making more sense.
Marilyn: Everything about the industry will probably be new to you. At times it felt like I was learning another language. It’s been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done—learning a whole new industry at 32—but it was worth it.
Andrew: Buckle up, and it’ll be okay. The things that made you successful in the military will also make you successful here. Just trust in the intangible attributes of yourself and what you learned in the military and let those carry you through until you get enough experience where you can really start influencing things