“I’m Going Forward and I’m Going Up”
How a Career Change Put a Former Server on the Fast Track for Growth
When Sara Stone decided it was time to get out of the restaurant industry, she was determined to find a career that could take her places. She went back to school, earned a construction management degree, and has been on the rise ever since. In the span of a year, she advanced from a co-op to an assistant preconstruction manager at Miller Valentine Construction. Here’s her story, along with advice for those who are looking to make a change.
Let’s start with how you got into this field. What brought you to the construction industry?
I started out in the restaurant industry, doing everything from dishwashing and cooking to serving tables. After years of doing this, I realized I didn’t want to be on my feet all the time.
I found an opportunity at the Builders Exchange, which is a reporting service for the construction industry. I worked my way up from an administrative role to pre-bid reporter. I talked to architects, subcontractors, and owners about the different stages of their projects. That sparked my interest in construction. But after five years, there was no more room for growth, and that’s what I wanted in my career. So I went back to school.
Where did you earn your degree?
I earned a Construction Management degree from Indiana State. I did the whole program online because I needed the flexibility. I was still working at the Builders Exchange and as a server while I was in school.
How did you get started at Miller Valentine?
I worked as a co-op from January 2021 until I graduated that spring. As graduation drew closer, I started to look for a full-time opportunity. I interviewed at a few places, but my main choice was Miller Valentine. I was offered a position as a project engineer in May 2021.
Why Miller Valentine?
I really liked the culture. There is a real camaraderie, and people here are so willing to help. If I have a question, I can reach out to anybody. I saw that there was a lot of opportunity to advance. People stay here long term because Miller Valentine grows with its people. There is definitely support for helping people learn how to grow.
What were your duties as a project engineer?
A project engineer is an entry-level position for the preconstruction department. Basically, I helped out the preconstruction managers and project managers with coordinating projects.
And you were promoted to assistant preconstruction manager not long after that?
I was promoted in December 2021. As an assistant manager, I can run my own projects. I am more involved with creating estimates for each project, and I have more interaction with project stakeholders. There is more responsibility and ownership with this role.
That is a big shift in responsibilities over the course of a year. How did you adjust? What have been your biggest challenges?
I always say bring it on. I’m a big multitasker, and I enjoy having busy workdays. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, which can be humbling. But I step back, determine where I need to grow my knowledge, and then focus so I can excel. I’m pleased with my progress so far, and I have a path for growth in this department.
How has your work history helped you in your current role?
Working in the restaurant industry is a team-building experience. And I’ve always played sports, so there’s that sense of being part of a team. In our department, we need to work together for the benefit of the project and the company. And my time at the Builder’s Exchange opened my eyes to what it takes to build relationships with contractors, subcontractors, and owners. You need to build trust with all stakeholders to achieve good outcomes on a project.
What does the future hold? Where do you want to go next?
I’m going forward and I’m going up. Wherever that leads me, I’m going.
What advice do you have for those seeking a new career?
It’s never too late to do a 180. I was 35 years old when I decided to go back to school. It can be terrifying. But you never know what you can change until you try. If you’re not a little scared, you’re too comfortable.
Why is construction a good career for women?
Why not? Women are good at multitasking and at managing projects. They have a tendency to be well-organized and to be good at building relationships. I know a lot of women who are creative, and that’s what the construction process is. It’s really cool to drive past a project you worked on and say, “I helped build that.” People think if you’re in the industry, you’re out on the site. That doesn’t have to be the case. Our CEO is a woman. There is room, and there are a lot of different options, so I don’t see why not.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I enjoy hanging out with my husband and our three dogs. I love to travel – I visited Aruba in January – and watch football. And I have my own art business that I started while I was laid off from the restaurant industry during COVID. I make and sell pour paintings and other artwork at art shows around the Cincinnati area. You can visit sstoneartwork.bigcartel.com to see some of my work.
For more information about careers at Miller Valentine, visit: https://millervalentine.com/careers/