Project Manager Deploys Army Training to Land Sales Job

Michael Stark leveraged his army aviation experience to land a sales job in Waco, Texas that required aircraft knowledge.


Michael Stark was working as an IT project manager in Phoenix last year for Perot Systems when he was laid off as a full-time employee. Although the company kept him on as a project manager for a temporary project, he knew he was living on borrowed time.

“It was good that I stayed employed,” the OpsLadder member said. “But I could read the tea leaves; I knew it wasn’t going to last.” That was last July. He began immediately to think about how to focus his job search, and while he initially decided to look at the health-care industry, it was his experience in his former career with the military that helped him eventually land the job offer he got in early March, as a program manager for L-3 Communications in Waco, Texas.

Eyeing a growth market: Health care
“I tried to concentrate on health care here in Phoenix,” Stark said. “I think it will be a growth area as the government focuses on restructuring the health-care system.” Beginning in July, he started looking at job boards and networking through LinkedIn and project-management groups. “I tapped into everything I could because I knew, with the economy the way it was, that it would be a huge effort,” he said.

While he got responses from recruiters and did some phone interviews, nothing was moving ahead. “I knew it was a function of the economy,” Stark said. “A lot of companies were holding back until they could figure out what was happening with the economy, and what they would need.”

Not that it made him feel any better. “I was absolutely terrified that I wouldn’t find a job,” he said. “I wasn’t getting the responses I had hoped. I was concerned with the snowball effect the economy was going to have on jobs. I had just moved into a house I had built, and I didn’t want to lose it.” However, as Stark adapted to his situation he forfeited some self-imposed standards, “I made the decision in October that I would open myself up to jobs anywhere in the U.S. and internationally,” he said.

Playing up former military experience
In early December, he saw a listing on Ladders looking for someone with skills specific to what he had done in the Army. “They needed a program manager with experience in Army aviation,” he said. “They were looking for someone familiar with air-worthiness certificates — what you need to ensure an aircraft is legal to fly — Army acquisition programs; those were some of the discriminators, the special skills that made me especially qualified for it.”

Stark said he tweaked his resume to add a few military acronyms and make it a little more specific to aviation, and he sent it in. And he waited.

“I sent it in early December, and then heard nothing,” he recalled. “I’d like to think I was qualified for all the jobs I applied for, but this one I liked, and I really felt I had a shot.” He kept at his job search through December, but was starting to feel concerned in early January, when the postings were almost nonexistent. “If there was a perfect storm for recruiting, early January was it,” he said. “Companies were not putting out new requisitions, the new [presidential] administration was not in office yet, no one was sure what was going to happen, and nothing was happening,” he said.

And then, in the third week of January, he received a call from L-3 Communications, saying they wanted him to come to Texas for an interview. “It was long enough since I sent my resume that I had to ask them to send the job description again,” he said.
After “one long day of interviews” with everyone from the hiring manager to the chief financial officer, Stark went back to Phoenix feeling very confident. He wrote thank you notes to all the people he met, and then … nothing. “I heard nothing for three weeks,” he said. As of February 8, I was unemployed, so I was still applying for jobs like crazy.”

Then, in early March, L-3 Communications called him with an offer for a job. His official title: program manager on the joint cargo aircraft program.

“I haven’t been with Army aviation since I retired from the Army 12 years ago, so what they were really hiring me for was my leadership and management capabilities,” he said. “It just so happened that I had some background they were interested in.”

And despite the fact that he has to leave his new house, he’s excited about his prospects in Waco while making the best of a bad housing market. “I’ve got an increase in pay, the possibility of international travel, and working on a job I am excited about,” he said. “The housing market in Phoenix is the worst in the nation, so I’m not going to sell my house; I’ll put it up for rent, for now. And I’ll rent in Waco, where the cost of living is lower.”