Pablo Torres, Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel
Certifications are often thought of exclusively as a tool for transitioning Service members. The perception is that the time commitment is considered unfeasible while on active duty and that the benefits are only useful once Service members transition. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Pablo Torres breaks down these assumptions, explaining his decision to get the Project Management Professional certification, the methods he used to prepare and how he expects it to help him while he is in uniform.
How long have you been in the Marine Corps, and what is your current rank, MOS and role?
I graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and received my commission as a Marine Corps officer in May of 2001. My rank is Lieutenant Colonel and my MOS is a 7565, which is an attack helicopter pilot. As of August 2020, I’m in Quantico, VA, attending Top Level School at the Marine Corps War College, which is a one-year school where you learn about national strategy at the highest level. You develop and communicate your plan and strategy just as you would as a project manager. My next job will be within a staff, and I will most likely integrate, coordinate and communicate with civilian agencies.
What made you want to get a project management certification?
A friend mentioned that he was taking a course to prepare for the PMP® to create opportunities for himself outside of the military. I’m not planning on getting out of the military. Still, I saw the PMP certification as an opportunity to become a better asset to the Marine Corps. I viewed the PMP certification as a way to improve my ability to work successfully with our civilian counterparts in the project management field.
What tools and resources (people, materials, classes, etc.) did you use to prepare for your certification?
I used PM-ProLearn for training, and they were fantastic. They offer one year of access to take their training course as many times as I wanted, either virtually or in person. They also have highly qualified instructors who will answer any questions via email or phone within 24 hours. Their website has multiple practice tests and additional training material that you can revisit as necessary. Having the pros right there at your fingertips is fantastic. I don’t think I could have done it without the PM-ProLearn folks — they’re doing a phenomenal job.
The PMP certification gives me credibility when I’m working with our civilian counterparts on key projects that are beneficial to our country's defense.
Tell me about your certification process.
When I was going through PM-ProLearn’s training course, we were told that the best time to take the test was between two and eight weeks after completing the course. That was not the case for me at all. When I started my certification process in September 2019, I was the Commanding Officer for HMLA-167, with roughly 350 to 400 Marines reporting to me. My main effort was devoted to the Marines and getting my unit combat-ready.
I didn’t have any time during the workday to prepare for the PMP exam, and the only way that I could study was to listen to audio files from PM-ProLearn for three months on my way to and from work. In December 2019, I became the Marine Aircraft Group 29 Executive Officer, and I still didn’t have time to study at work. I sacrificed a lot of personal and family time to study in the evenings and on weekends when I was home, but I got it done. I received my PMP certification in May 2020, almost eight months after taking the PM-ProLearn course.
Have you noticed any impact that the PMP or any other certification has had on your career?
I’ve gotten quite a few hits on LinkedIn from people requesting my resume and I have to tell them that I’m not planning on retiring from the Marine Corps anytime soon. It’s incredible how much civilian companies value this certification. It’s not necessarily the golden ticket to a job in the project management field, but it will definitely open the doors for an interview.
Do you feel that your certification makes you more valuable to the Marine Corps?
Our Commandant issued his “Commandant’s Planning Guidance” with five top priority focus areas, “education and training” being one of them. How are we going to educate the force to meet the demands of an uncertain future? Technology is the driving factor, and right now civilian companies are advancing in technology at an incredible pace. We need military members who understand the systematic process civilian organizations use, especially in the project management field. The PMP certification gives me credibility when I’m working with our civilian counterparts on key projects that are beneficial to our country's defense.
Answer as many practice questions as you can before you take the exam. I went through about 3,000 questions from different sources, which gave me different views on how to digest what a question was asking.
What recommendations do you have for Service members who are just starting their certification process?
As a person who went from no subject knowledge to passing the PMP exam, my best advice is not to be afraid of the exam or the preparation phase. It’s a lot of information, and preparing for the test will take some time and personal sacrifice. Yet, when you consider the benefits that this certification can have on your future, whether in the military or the civilian sector, it will be worth it!
What should Service members be prepared for as they think about the exam?
The best advice I received was to not focus on memorizing the processes. Instead, focus on “understanding” the processes. Read and understand the Project Management Body of Knowledge book and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Answer as many practice questions as you can before you take the exam. I went through about 3,000 questions from different sources, which gave me different views on how to digest what a question was asking. Spend time looking at questions and understand the reasoning behind the correct answer.