The military-to-MBA career transition is a well-trodden path for veterans in recent years, and for good reason: Top MBA programs and employers recognize the value of military leadership experience within corporate ranks. Often, however, transitioning veterans struggle to demonstrate their expertise to the wider business community.
It’s important to recognize that nearly all MBA students are “career switchers” looking to transition into a new industry or function. Veterans are making a similar transition, but we face a unique set of challenges requiring a more tailored approach.
Consider these five tips from a fellow veteran on how to smooth your transition from the military through business school and into the post-MBA world:
1) “Demilitarize” your language and seek feedback.
One of the most challenging elements of the transition is effectively translating military jargon into the language of business.
When crafting your resume and cover letters and preparing for interviews, seek feedback from non-veteran peers and career advisors to ensure that your achievements are clearly communicated. Ask them to explain back to you what you’re trying to convey. Each element of your resume should follow the STAR format (situation, task, action, result), with the greatest emphasis on the result or impact you made on your organization.
2) Emphasize your leadership experience and responsibilities.
The military offers unique opportunities to lead and motivate teams, take responsibility for expensive equipment and solve complex problems in high-stakes environments. These marketable experiences can set veterans apart from their civilian peers. Don’t sell yourself short — demonstrate your leadership, accountability and problem-solving skills at every turn.
3) Quantify your results.
The business world runs on numbers: higher revenue, lower costs, greater profits, time saved. A passing glimpse of the Wall Street Journal (which you should be glimpsing often), proves the importance of quantified results. Though it can be challenging to determine the financial worth of your military experience, look for measures of it in the cost of equipment managed, increased efficiencies or evaluation and assessment results. Any time you can find a quantifiable measure of your work, cite it.
4) Craft a compelling narrative.
Many career switchers fall short in the amount of introspection and exploration they conduct before starting the career search. Take time to self-assess and identify your strengths and career motivators. Don’t get pigeonholed into a career path that isn’t genuinely yours. Seek to find the intersection of what you care about, what you can be exceptionally good at, and where there is a clear market need. Where those intersect is where you’re likeliest to find fulfillment and material success.
Employers want to know the value you bring to their team along three dimensions: your skills to succeed in the role, your cultural fit and your motivation to pursue this career path. Craft a clear and concise narrative that demonstrates all three, then polish and rehearse it until it shines.
5) Leverage your networks.
This may be the most important point of all: Use your networks. Surveys show that upward of 80% of jobs are landed through networking and internal referrals. In other words, who you know is often more important than what you know. LinkedIn should become your best friend, and your profile should be compelling, thorough and updated regularly.
Connect broadly with people from various networks, including from your undergraduate university, fellow veterans, MBA peers and alumni. Take advantage of LinkedIn’s free one-year premium subscription for veterans.
Request informational interviews with professionals you admire at companies where you’d like to work. Reach out to fellow members of the Anderson network. Be sure to prepare thoughtful questions. Be genuinely curious to learn what they like and dislike, what career paths they make available and what skills are most important to their success.
Bonus tip: Your military experience instilled in you a high level of self-discipline. Use this to your advantage by placing proper value on your time. Use your calendar to plan out your week and block time for academic, career, extracurricular, personal and social commitments. I recommend practicing a weekly review — one or two hours each week when you step back, assess your progress and plan for the week ahead.
Evan Milnor is passionate about coaching and mentoring fellow veterans and can
be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.