How certification helps an Air Force Reservist stand out in the civilian sector

Britain Ragar, Air Force Reservist

Britain Ragar, Air Force Reservist

Britain Ragar, Air Force Reservist

The certification process can be rigorous, confusing and time-consuming to even the most well prepared test-takers. For Service members considering certification while juggling full-time jobs and training obligations, these barriers to entry can cause apprehension. Air Force Reservist Britain Ragar provides a first-hand account of the benefits of certification and explains why there is no better time than the present to start the process.

How long were you on active duty in the Air Force and what was your rank and AFSC?

I was on active duty a little more than nine years. Before I transitioned over to the reserves, I reached E5, Staff Sergeant. Initially I was an imagery analyst, which was an 1N1X1A, and I did a lot of strategic intelligence work. About five years in, I transitioned over to a new career field, which was a 1A8X2 Airborne ISR operator, and I did this until I left active duty. I’ve been an Air Force Reservist since 2014.

What certifications do you have?

I am a Certified Fiber Optics Installer (FOI) through ETA International, which I earned in May 2018. I have a Professional Manager certification through the Community College of the Air Force, which I finished in October 2019, and I got the PMP® in May 2020.

I wanted to make sure that I had a source of truth that packaged my knowledge into something that is easily verifiable and understood by everyone. The PMP has definitely gotten me more callbacks and has made me a more eligible candidate than I might be otherwise.

—Britain Ragar

What made you want to get a project management certification?

I wanted to make sure that I had a source of truth that packaged my knowledge into something that is easily verifiable and understood by everyone. If you are in the military, you have a rank that shows that you have gone through certain trials and tribulations and that you have a certain knowledge base. In the civilian world, if your resume does not contain the exact phrase that they are looking for in an application, then you might not get that second look for a job opening without a certification.

I just transitioned out of my civilian role at Google to relocate for my wife’s position, and now that I am looking for a new role in a new state, the PMP has definitely gotten me more callbacks and has made me a more eligible candidate than I might be otherwise.

What tools and resources (people, materials, classes etc.) did you use to prepare for your certification?

For the PMP, I 100 percent recommend PM-ProLearn. They have a really thorough program, and it brings you the information that you need to understand everything The PM-ProLearn instructors do a great job of using real-world scenarios and showing you what you need to know, why you need to know it, and how you can use it in your current role. Being able to ask questions of project managers who have experience and understanding of both the civilian and military side of things was very helpful for me.

They also include a detailed recommended studying outline for what to do and how to do it, broken down by hours per day. For me, having that study plan available made it really easy to meet my personal timeline for achieving the certification. Some programs try to cram all the information into a short period to pass the exam and move on, and in my experience, that is not how this plays out.

Don’t pass up an opportunity: get the certification now so that you have it when you need it in the future.

—Britain Ragar

What do you know now about the certification process that you wish you had known when you started?

I would say don’t think that certification is out of your reach. I think a lot of people get hung up on the time commitment for the things that lead up to taking the exam and achieving certification. I didn’t expect that I would do a full-time job, be a mentor to kids through the Cub Scout program, attend full-time school, fulfill my duty to the reserves, prepare and earn my certification, and still have a life. Take time to commit and don’t let up on it. Give yourself a deadline and schedule the exam.

What should Service members be prepared for as they think about the exam?

The PMP specifically has a rigorous pre-requisite process, so identify unique work experiences that are related to the project management world, and invest in any additional work needed. I had a couple of mentors who were PMP-certified project managers, and I bounced a lot of things off them to determine whether my background experience met the requirement. There was a lot of foundational information in my master’s degree courses that tied to the project management framework, but it could be a year- long process to meet the minimum requirements to get a PMP certification, so be cognizant of that and don’t let it discourage you.

What recommendations do you have for Service members who are considering starting the certification process?

Don’t make excuses for why not to get a certification. Instead, look for reasons why you should get your certification. I had an opportunity to take the Comptia A+ certification in high school and thought “I have the knowledge so I’ll be good to go.” As life progressed, I continued with that mentality and said “I’ll just get the knowledge. I don’t need to worry about the certification.” In reality, a certification is proof that you have the foundational knowledge and understanding required for the position, which is very important to getting a job, especially if you ever try to switch career fields or you have slight variations in your path. Don’t pass up an opportunity: get the certification now so that you have it when you need it in the future.