Category Archives: Transition

The 300th Revision

If I heard you telling me that one person could make 300 revisions to a resume when I got out of the Army, I would have thought you were insane. However, I have literally just made the 300th revision to my resume, starting with using a junior military officer recruiter, through working as a consultant, and then through applying to a dozen business schools.

After all this work, it still isn’t perfect and I don’t think it will ever become perfect. Some things I left out as a consultant, I put in for business school, some things I put in my business school resume, I took out now. The resume is the quintessential living document.

Don’t Try to Be Great

I recently read a fantastic op-ed at WSJ titled, “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You,” and it was item # 10 that really reflected a theme that I’ve been trying to beat into the heads of transitioning junior military officers (JMOs) for a while now:

“10. Don’t try to be great. Being great involves luck and other circumstances beyond your control. The less you think about being great, the more likely it is to happen. And if it doesn’t, there is absolutely nothing wrong with being solid.”

This is a great point especially for transitioning JMOs because your platoon leader or company command time in combat was great. It is easy to think that because you have done something great, you will continue to do great things. Let me take a second to define great. When I talk to JMOs, a 20-year career at a Fortune 100 company isn’t considered “great.” There is almost a delusional sense that any JMO can become the CEO of any Fortune 100 company, be the next Steve Jobs, or go win a Pulitzer/Nobel prize within the next 5-10 years. I’ve been trying to beat that out of my friends’ minds, but now I think I have the statistical tools to do so: probability and standard deviation:

Probability: When the weatherman says there is a 50% chance of rain tomorrow, it doesn’t mean that there is a 50% chance that it will rain tomorrow. It means that out of 100 days with similar atmospheric conditions as tomorrow, it will rain 50 days out of 100. So if I said, if you give me $1 million dollars (and that is all the money you have), there is a 70% chance that you will make $1 million dollars off of that and 30% chance of losing everything, that isn’t necessarily a good deal for you, because you could be a millionaire today, but tomorrow you don’t have anything to support your family with. If you look at probability in this light, it should make you more risk averse. The Black Swan talks about this, although this isn’t the central theme to the book.

Standard Deviation: To modify that a little bit for more realistic applications, let’s take the GMAT as an example. What does it mean to do “great” on the GMAT? Does it mean 800? 700? 750? And how are you going to prepare for that score? Are you going to study 1,000 hours? No, why would you? Your approach to the GMAT should be the same as the weather. I’ve put in x amount of hours (most recommend 100 hours), and out of 100 tests, I would usually get 680-720 on the practice exams (although practice exams aren’t a good indicator of actual GMAT score, it is an indication). So if you get a 680, I wouldn’t say you did very poorly and if you got a 720, I would say run with it.  Standard deviation measures how much variation exists from the mean. The better you get at the GMAT, the more you lower your standard deviation. If you can consistently get a 695-705, that is better than a 690-710, which is better than 680-720.

Hard work can lower your standard deviation of success in life, but you will always end up with a range. Nobody ever gets a specific score consistently on anything, i.e. getting a 700 on 20 attempts at the GMAT. Luck and other circumstances will make you a 680, a 720, or anything in between. So JMOs should stop worrying about the end goal – 720 (or 800 for my ambitious friends), and look at what they really want to get out of their next job, or their long term career.

Each job pays you in two currencies: US Dollars and Experience. Everyone needs money, but make sure you get some worthwhile experience as well. When you look back at your life 20 years later, you should feel comfortable being a 680 or a 720 because that is what you have built your life around. Luck might take you to 800 (Steve Jobs success level) or 600 (Mediocre level: stuck in middle management at a Fortune 100 company).

This is obviously much easier said than done and I struggle with this as well, but I think taking this approach to life is at the minimum, more fun and less pressurized.

 

Junior Military Officer (JMO) Recruiting Companies

Since I’ve been getting a lot of questions about JMO recruiting, I think it’s about time I shared my experiences working with Cameron Brooks.

The whole experience is a carefully scripted drama, they need you, you need them, they don’t want you to go to grad school, you are secretly applying to grad schools, etc. The bottom line is, firms like Cameron Brooks get paid (roughly $10,000 according to my sources) per candidate that they successfully source to Corporate America. So from purely an incentives point of view, they are financially incented to make sure that you go to one of the companies that recruit from them.

That being said, I still believe JMO recruiting companies provide significant value. Recently separated or transitioning veterans are no different from recent college grads, probably even worse. Recent college grads can afford to experiment with a few different jobs and career paths until they find the one they want. Transitioning veterans don’t have that luxury. That’s where the JMO recruiting companies come in. They point out a few books you should read and try to give you a general sense of what the major grouping of careers are like: sales, manufacturing, consulting, operations, etc.

In addition, as a veteran candidate, there are no other way you can possibly meet and interview with so many Fortune 500 (more often Fortune 100) companies within a 48 hour span. Companies like Cameron Brooks (CB) have been helping veterans get jobs for a long time and a lot of CB alumni come back to CB to hire other veterans. I really admire this business model as veteran candidates don’t have to actually pay for anything, besides the ticket and hotel to the hiring conference.

On the flip side, I don’t think most JMO recruiters can really articulate why you need or don’t need an MBA. Mostly, they just tell you not to do it for obvious reasons. In my opinion, getting an MBA (or other graduate degree) and getting a job through a JMO recruiter are equally good. It really depends on what you want to do. For example, if you want to get into finance (Wall Street finance, not Johnson and Johnson corporate finance), you definitely need to get a MBA from a top-10/15 business school. Also, some top companies don’t use JMO recruiters – like Amazon, Booz Allen Hamilton, Deloitte, etc. Some companies only hire MBAs – McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, etc. You would have to apply directly to them. However, if your ambitions do not lie in entrepreneurship, finance, or a specific company like Amazon or McKinsey, then I wouldn’t even say you really need an MBA.

If all goes well, you find out that you really like the company you are in and you really like the work you are doing, then you can start building a reputation and move up the ranks. You can do an Executive MBA later on in your career. Statistically speaking (or more accurately, anecdotally speaking), the veterans that I have spoken to generally dislike their companies and/or industries. I believe this issue is systemic, and the problem lies with the fact that JMOs typically get more leadership experiences than a typical 25-30 year old would get, and there are few, if any, civilian jobs that can replicate that. Every JMO I have met, MBA or not, have complained about the decrease in executive leadership power. That is because true executive power lies more down the road, in higher positions.

The true issue at hand is veterans not acknowledging the gap between in their capabilities and the lack of jobs that require such capabilities post separation.    

In conclusion, going with a JMO recruiter vs. a MBA post-MBA isn’t going to materially alter your ultimate long-term plan. If anything, you can get a MBA after getting 1-2 years of experience, although this will probably lead into a discussion on how business schools view veterans with corporate experience. The hardest part of the whole transition process is figuring out what you really want to do in life. I’ve been out of the Army for 18 months and I’m still struggling with the “right” answer and my answer is that I think you should get away from it all for a month and do some serious self-reflection. The major issue with the increased op-tempo due to war is that company, battalion, and brigade commanders don’t have enough time to reflect upon what they did well and what they could improve on. Most veterans jump straight into an MBA or a corporate job after separation. I think it takes time to process what you have gone through, to figure out where you want to go, and how to get there.

The Evolution of the Relationship between Military Veterans and the Finance Industry from 2011-2012

Since time immemorial, military veterans, especially junior military officers, have been attending top MBA programs and then entering careers in finance- be it the less glamorous more stable careers in retail banking or the high-pressure, high-paying careers in investment banking or sales and trading. However, it was in June of 2011 that five of the top banks:

came together and organized themselves as an organization called “Veterans on Wall Street” (VOWS), which is dedicated to “honoring former military personnel and employees currently in the National Guard and Reserve by facilitating career and business opportunities in the financial services industry.” This effort was mainly focused on hiring veterans for the retail banking business for BoA, Citi, and back-office and middle-office functions for GS, CS, and DB. Note that no front-office job was being offered as a top-tier MBA was still a requirement to break into those fields. Conspicuously absent was JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley.

 

Five months later in November of 2011, JP Morgan Chase (JPMC) led an effort called the “100,000 Jobs Mission” to hire 100,000 veterans by 2020. Founding members of the 100,000 Jobs Mission appear to be mostly non-financial services related:

  • AT&T
  • Broadridge Financial Solutions, Inc.
  • Cisco Systems Inc.
  • Cushman & Wakefield Inc.
  • EMC Corporation
  • Iron Mountain Incorporated
  • JPMorgan Chase & Co.
  • Modis
  • NCR Corporation
  • Universal Health Services
  • Verizon Communications Inc.

It is unclear to me why JPMC did not just lump itself together in the VOWS campaign, however, I suspect that it had something related to do with the recently settled military mortgage scandal. Before we go into some of the motives of the campaigns to hire veterans, I want to highlight all the positive things that are happening.

 

In 2012, GS had its inaugural “Goldman Sachs Veterans Internship Program” which started this April. This is the first internship of its kind as its timeline is not connected to the traditional summer internship. It appears to be the first internship at a financial services company focused on training and eventually hiring veterans. Also, military veterans are now considered part of their “diversity” hiring which traditionally included women, minorities (minus Asians), and LGBT.

 

Also in 2012, CS initiated its inaugural “Credit Suisse MBA Military Boot Camp,” geared towards prior-military MBA candidates entering a full-time MBA program in Fall 2012.

 

JP Morgan, not to be confused with JPMC, has had a MBA Early Advantage program in place which has been open to “ is open to Black, Hispanic, Native American, female, LGBT” and recently, if not this year, “military and veteran students.”

 

Citi and BoA are the only two banks that I know of that offer pre-MBA fellowships, i.e. they guarantee accepted fellows a summer internship as well as payment for tuition or a stipend, before MBA students even start their first MBA class. Both have recently, if not this year, included veterans in their respective programs: Citi Pre-MBA FellowshipBank of America Merrill Lynch 2012 MBA Diversity Fellowship Program.

 

The obvious trend is including veterans in “diversity” recruiting and I have no major qualms about that. Although secretly, I must admit that most veterans would find it slightly distasteful as if veterans couldn’t get the job otherwise. After all, combat experience is earned, and all the other diversity categories one is born into. But hey, I’ll get off my pedestal – this obviously benefits veterans so I’m all for it.

 

I also want to touch briefly into why these banks are starting these veteran hiring initiatives, is it out of the kindness out of their hearts or is it more for PR reasons? Probably a touch of both, with a heavier weight on the latter.

 

Beyond the earlier link of JPMC’s recent settlement, JPMC was also involved in violating the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA). The SCRA provides numerous protections, but the JPMC incident focused on the 6% clause, “Servicemembers may be able to reduce the interest rate on their pre-service credit cards, car loans, mortgages, installment contracts, interest charged by the IRS, secured debts under a confirmed bankruptcy plan, and other debts or obligations to 6% per year under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), 50 U.S.C. App. Section 527. However, federally insured guaranteed student loans are not eligible for this rate reduction under the Higher Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C.S. Section 1078(d). The SCRA specifically includes debt owed by the Servicemember individually or jointly with a spouse. Debt jointly owed by a Servicemember and individuals other than a spouse has also been eligible for the interest rate reduction. It does not matter which one of you initially incurred the debt.” Read more here. This is probably a good segway into student loans and how they seem to be impenetrable to anything…but we’ll deal with that in a later post.

 

In March 2011, units of Bank of America and Morgan Stanley have agreed to pay more than $22 million to settle charges that they improperly foreclosed on active-duty members of the U.S. military. The list goes on. Wells Fargo – here. Citi – here.

 

Obviously bad things have been done, I think you get the point by now. However, to balance out this picture, I do believe that in general, the mortgage departments were just incompetent and understaffed, so it wasn’t veterans who were specifically targeted but rather a lot of mortgages were just handled in an erroneous manner.

 

So from a historical point of view, one could definitely argue that the mortgage scandals could have been one of the motivators of the banks starting veteran hiring initiatives.

 

From a employment point of view, this is fantastic. It appears that the retail banking units are targeting enlisted soldiers and the more glamorous positions are still mainly being offered to officers who graduate from a top MBA.

Post-Military Wardrobe

If you are transitioning to a corporate job after the military, you absolutely need to think about getting a corporate wardrobe. My opinion on this matter is that you just plunk down some serious change and get some tailored suits, matching shoes and belts, and some ties. Sure, Men’s Warehouse or Brooks Brothers might suffice during the very first interviews you have coming out of the military as companies understand your situation. You could get a pretty good suit for $300 at either store. The low-end of a good tailored suit is probably around $800-$1,000. I’ve seen ballers get $10,000 suits, which I personally would never get even if I could afford it. Anyways, since I went into consulting in NYC after the military, it was obvious for me to get something great without breaking the wallet. I had two suits made from Hong Kong through a company named Noble House. Less than a year later, these suits have shrunk (and no I didn’t get that much fatter) and their quality seems faded. So therefore, I do not recommend them, but the two suits I got carried me through the first few months of my job.

 

When I got to NYC, I immediately started looking for a tailor in NYC and I’ve been pretty happy with Alan David. This being New York, of course you have to do some negotiation, but overall I feel pretty good about the price I paid. I purchased two business casual sets, i.e. sports coat and trousers. About three months later I got a regular suit made through them. As far as shoes, I personally believe you need a solid black, brown, burgundy, and I personally like camel. So that’s 4 pairs of shoes which could get good rotation throughout the week, with matching belts. Don’t throw away your old shoes just yet. For “lesser prestige” clients, training events in other cities, or rainy days, I wear my older pair of brown/black shoes. You don’t need to wear your best stuff everyday. Same thing with ties, I’m sure you have accumulated a few even though you’ve been in the military. Unless they are totally destroyed, just keep them around and slowly build your collection.

 

I think a good target within the first two years out of the military is to get around 24 shirts. The idea behind this is that the more you have, the more you can rotate, and the less wear and tear you can have on the rest of your shirts. And since I have a weird body, I find that tailored shirts work well for me. But then again, you might have the perfect fit that Brooks Brothers is making shirts for and I would definitely just go with off the rack if it fits your body size. I would recommend having a black suit, a charcoal suit, a navy suit, and two sets of business casual – i.e. navy blazer and gray pants, etc.

 

It sounds cliché, but just by dressing well gets you further than you’d imagine. Think of it as having a squared away uniform. At least initially, we tend to think that Soldiers with a great appearance ARE better Soldiers. It shouldn’t be too much of a stretch to think that people in the corporate world think the same way.

Interview with Richard Carbone, CFO of Prudential Financial, former Marine Officer

My posts talk a lot about veterans, MBAs, and finance so I thought it would be a great idea to hear about all of these topics from someone is veteran, has an MBA, and is a leader in finance. It isn’t every day that a CFO from Fortune 500 company answers your email and I’m glad that Richard Carbone has taken the time to answer a few questions for veterans pursuing MBAs and considering a career in finance. Richard Carbone is executive vice president and Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of Prudential Financial, responsible for its treasury, controllership, tax, business line CFO functions and M&A activity. Prudential Financial is a diversified insurance and financial services company that was ranked #64 on the 2011 Fortune 500 list. Richard received an MBA from St. John’s University and is a Certified Public Accountant. He served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps from 1969 to 1972.

ArmyJMO: Is there a difference between what you perceived as the value of obtaining an MBA while you were attending St. John’s versus what you think now?

Richard: Yes.   First of all, my MBA was a necessity.  My B.S. was in chemistry and I could not get a job.  MBAs were scarce in the 70s vs. today as well, so getting one for me had a somewhat outsized benefit.  If your undergraduate degree is not in demand and you need to retool, pick a Masters program you like, as you are not going to get many chances.  Also, I think CFA and CPA designations are as good as an MBA today

ArmyJMO: With the Iraq war ended and the Afghan war winding down, many veterans are returning home and transitioning to the private sector. Due to the current situation, what are your thoughts of veterans going directly into a full-time MBA program versus getting a part-time MBA while working?

Richard: If veterans already have B.S. degrees in Business, Accounting, or Economics, enrolling directly in a full-time MBA is preferable.  If not, they should work a year and enroll then.  They need to really want the work and have some talent in it.

ArmyJMO: There aren’t many veterans in the financial services industry. Do you think this is due to the lack of interest in this industry or that it is just hard to break into this industry?

Richard: I think location has something to do with this.  Financial Services tends to be in large cities.  The veteran population comes from a broader cross-section of America.  Also, Finance is not something a military background would remotely familiarize one with.

ArmyJMO: Prudential has a longstanding commitment to U.S. Veterans. Beyond the awards and recognitions from entities such as G.I. Jobs, which named Prudential to its 2012 list of “Top Military Friendly Employers,” and Military Times EDGE magazine, which ranked Prudential No. 25 on its “50 Best for Vets 2010 Employers” list, Prudential has been hiring veterans for a while now, without much fanfare. Whose decision was it to start hiring veterans at Prudential, and why?

Richard: Our Chairman, John Strangfeld, initiated the push to start our programs Our company is highly aware of the special value that veterans bring to the workplace. Prudential is working with other companies and partners to improve veterans’ access to education, job training, and job opportunities. This year, we expanded our work-study VETalent program to new cities and universities to continue to prepare veterans for new careers.

ArmyJMO: By any measurement, you have had a very successful career that many veterans and non-veterans alike would like to emulate. Many people may want to have this level of success, but they seem to want instant success or gratification. But this didn’t all happen overnight. Could you describe some of the hurdles or challenges you had to overcome to get to today?

Richard: Three Hurdles-

  • Education – needed to start all over
  • Age – by the time I had a usable degree, I was 30.
  • Discrimination – Marine Officers were not like the people doing the hiring who had a clear bias against the Vietnam War and Officers.

ArmyJMO: I recently read a great article about ambition that could be summed up by this paragraph:

“People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness. If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.”

A lot of young veterans are ambitous, do you have any advice on how to strike the right work-life balance?

Richard: I never strove for power or happiness; my objective was always to have peace of mind.

Insider Trading, Goldman Sachs Employee Resignation, Good Time for Veterans to Reconsider Finance

I went to a talk yesterday morning at the New York Society of Security Analysts by Garrett Bauer, a former trader who is convicted of insider trading, obstruction of justice, and money laundering and is awaiting sentencing by the courts. Besides a fantastic description of what being inside jail is like, and a few interesting facts (which I haven’t confirmed yet) such as there being no more parole in federal prisons, his actions and subsequent consequences seemed very Kafkaesque. This is a guy who made millions trading for his own proprietary account that got caught up with receiving often vague, rarely specific, tips from his “friend.” This friend’s massive withdrawal of cash is what triggered an investigation that led to his friend’s downfall, and then he turned Garrett in to lessen his own sentence.

Other interesting facts:

  • Prison sentence for insider trading is based on how much money you made, not how many crimes you have committed
    • The calculations don’t count losses, so if you lose $90M off of trading insider information and then gained $100M, you owe the government $100M, not $10M. Although you may only owe the IRS taxes on $10M, but that’s not even a relevant issue at this point.
  • Turning people in will probably let the informant off with less time or with no time at all. The theory is that this incentivizes people to turn others in and therefore people will stop committing crimes.
  • It is still a crime to trade even from a false tip
  • Insider trading doesn’t have to be specific, his example was he received a tip that a semi-conductor in Texas might be acquired, and he had to guess which one and act upon it
  • Insider trading is a federal crime; federal prisons are better than state prisons

 

When I got back to work, I saw the headline which everybody has already seen by now, an op-ed by a former Goldman Sachs employee, Greg Smith: Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs. The internet is ablaze with comments on Goldman Sachs, finance, etc.

 

Both incidents led me to an interesting thought: the military is highly regarded for their ethics, yet I cannot name more than one or two high-profile senior trader, investment banker, or any front-office related finance person that is a veteran. The one person I could name is Richard Carbone, who is the CFO for Prudential, a military veteran and leader of a financial services firm.

 

If you can think of other senior leaders in finance who are veterans, feel free to post a comment.

 

Establish a Relationship with your Mentors

I have a very close relationship with the battalion commander that I served under in Afghanistan. I had no idea how important and close our relationship would become, especially after I left the service. Almost everything in civilian life requires a letter of recommendation or at least a reference.

If anything, I wish I established more lasting mentor-mentee relationships while I was in the Army. I always had great relationships with my company or battalion commander, but when I PCS’ed (moved), I didn’t keep in touch with these men. I’m not suggesting that you start sucking up to every superior officer before you leave the service. I’m suggesting that you think about the key people who have made an impact on you during your military career and reach out to them letting them know that you are separating. Ask if you could use them as a reference.

Keep your old evaluation reports as a starting point for what your mentor will write about you because they will probably have forgotten what occurred two or three years ago, and tons of junior officers separate and ask for recommendations or references. You don’t really need to coach them for general job references, but you really should have a phone conversation about MBA applications. MBA letters of recommendations are so unique that they need to be tailored to each particular school. The story on the letter of recommendation needs to match the story in your essay.

Veterans tend to get similar letters of recommendations extolling their combat service so you need to differentiate. What did you do in the military that wasn’t related to the military? I know we were all busy due to a heavy operational tempo but if you think really hard you might think of a few things that you did non-military related. A personal story for me is when I went through  mediation training as part of what my commander wanted me to do. However, since I liked mediation, I went beyond the mandatory training and actually volunteered for a mediation organization for a few months before I deployed. Things like that.

 

Storytelling

Here’s my latest post on BTG.

 

My first post describes why junior military officers should consider an MBA. This post will focus on all the things you need to do in the next seven to eight months before some Round 1 applications are due:

1. Collecting Stories

2. Acing the GMAT

3. Talking with Mentors

4. Link up with MBA Veteran Clubs/Associations

 

This week, I’m going to talk about storytelling. Storytelling is perhaps the most powerful skill I think anyone can possess in any industry. This is also an area that you control. You can’t control some things in your life, like your undergraduate GPA. But you can control how you convey your experiences to convince people to hire you or to let you into a top school.

 

Collecting Stories

Resumes, Interviews, and MBA applications are all about storytelling – crafting stories, telling stories, and selling stories. We all have combat experiences and while they may seem unique to us, they are actually pretty similar if you talk to other veterans. The first step is to collect your stories. Look through your Officer Evaluation Reports (or other service equivalent) and other documents to really reflect on what you have done. If you are currently deployed, I would even advise writing a diary or journal of what you are doing. I’ve been out of the Army for 14 months and I still find myself remembering new stories that could help me highlight my accomplishments.

 

a) Resume: I recommend a one-page resume because the resume isn’t a detailed explanation about your life. The resume is like an appetizer that entices the hiring manager or MBA admission committee to learn more about you. I went through a JMO recruiter and they helped a lot with translating my military experiences into a language that civilians can understand. If you plan to go straight into an MBA, which I advocate, there are a lot of resources out there for you. The best resource is the MBA Veterans Club of the schools you are applying to. They will show you what format their school uses and provide some advice on what has worked for them.

 

b) Interview: This will probably sound extreme but I have a spreadsheet of the top 40 or so commonly asked questions that could be asked during an interview. In the second column, I have detailed stories and in the third column, I have one or two sentences that could trigger the detailed story from my memory. Then I purchased a tape recorder and recorded myself answering these questions. I was so surprised to hear some weird things I would do with my speech that I wouldn’t have noticed without recording myself. Obviously we all sound great in our own ears, but it is good to hear what you sound like to the outside world. I also started interviewing in front of a mirror and once again, I found weird things that I would do like not maintaining eye contact or a bunch of other things. Finally, I bugged my wife to interview me and videotaped the whole thing. This might sound like overkill, but it works. I’ve been through over 30 interviews in the last 14 months and nothing can really throw me off now. Interviewing is a skill and you should practice it.

 

c) MBA applications: This is really the mother lode of storytelling. You will have a certain word limit to tell a story to answer a question that the particular school is asking. The most common mistake JMOs make is to recycle their essays. I was guilty of this too. Schools just know if you recycle an essay. They read hundreds, thousands of essays per year, so generic or recycled essays are very easily spotted and boring to read. Some questions may seem similar, but that is just what I said – “similar,” not “same.” By now, you should have tons of stories at your disposal and it is all about picking the right story to answer the right question. You also need to research the school and work with the Veterans Club in reviewing your essays.

 

Next week, I’ll cover the importance of the GMAT, especially to veterans.

Popular Transition Paths (5 of 5) – MBA and other Graduate Schools

This is the final post of a five post series on popular transition paths for separating junior military officers (JMOs). Click here for the first post, here for the second post, here for the third post, and here for the fourth post.

 

One of the top things that most JMOs are most proud of is their leadership experience, especially in combat. It is truly an honor to be entrusted with the lives of the sons and daughters of Americans. Whatever your reasons are for separating or transitioning, you need to evaluate what your top assets are, and more often than not, leadership boils up to the top of the list. I’m sure most of you have seen a version of this graph before, this one is from the Military to Business Blog:

 

This specifically focuses on a MBA trajectory but it is relevant for most other career paths. My personal opinion on this matter is that regardless if you received a MBA from a top school or not, your true leadership experience won’t be utilized until later on in your career. Having a top MBA opens the door to prestigious jobs such as investment banking and management consulting but I wouldn’t consider those to be positions requiring a lot of leadership. True leadership is being in charge of business units, whether they be in operations, investment banking, marketing, or something else. And to get to those leadership positions, I believe you need to acquire some technical skills or knowledge. This is why pursuing a graduate degree is a great transition option for JMOs. There will always been the exception to the rule, but generally speaking, no matter how good you are or what school you go to, you are not coming out of a graduate degree or the military leading a significant business unit, because you don’t have the industry knowledge.

 

I’m not saying you actually learn everything you need to know from a graduate program, I think you can only learn the framework. That is, what should you be learning or thinking about when you are actually on the job. Ultimately, the number one reason I think JMOs should go to graduate school is for the access to a great network. While the unemployment rate seems high, many top-tier jobs remain unfilled due to lack of skilled applicants. For the top-tier “general-player” positions, there are more qualified applicants than positions, so getting an interview is often more about networks and networking ability than anything else. The name of the game is getting a foot in the door.

 

Historically speaking, there seems to be an abundance of JMOs pursuing degrees in business or policy. There is a whole debate about MBA rankings, whether they matter or not, and my personal conclusion is that I wouldn’t mind going to any of the so-called top 16 schools, which is grouped into tiers by this MBA Apply post:

Top Three: HBS, Stanford, Wharton (some say Wharton is just a rung below HBS and Stanford but above Kellogg, MIT, Chicago, Columbia or Tuck, which I won’t dispute – opinions vary).

Elite Eight: Top 3 plus Kellogg, MIT, Chicago, Columbia and Tuck. Some say Tuck is just a rung below; again opinions vary.

Sweet Sixteen: Elite 8, plus Michigan, Duke, Darden, NYU, Berkeley, UCLA, Cornell, Yale (some will say that Cornell and Yale are just a rung below, but again opinions vary).

Rest of the Best: These are the top regional schools including (in no particular order) UT-Austin, Georgetown, USC, UNC, Emory, Babson, Indiana, Purdue, Notre Dame, Maryland, Carnegie Mellon.

Big Two International: It’s basically INSEAD and London Business School (LBS), and then everyone else. The caliber of the student body and reputation of both these schools are comparable to the US Elite Eight.

There is no material difference in reputation between schools within the same tier. In other words, don’t ask whether Columbia has a better reputation than Chicago or Kellogg, because other than the alums and students, no one cares!”

I seriously considered going to an international school until I calculated the costs involved. I went to an INSEAD information session and they didn’t even know about the GI Bill or Yellow Ribbon Program. I am married with a child so the costs balloon out of control if I need to start shipping things overseas. Furthermore, a friend of mine is currently attending IESE Business School in Barcelona, and he has found it difficult to find summer internships being an American in Europe in conjunction with the current European debt crisis. I traveled to London for a consulting project and I loved the city. However, it is just way too expensive, especially if you need to covert dollars into pounds sterling. So unless you are single, have no furniture, and are just adventurous, I wouldn’t consider going to an international program. If you are a top 25% JMO, you should be able to get a decent GMAT 680-730 and that should be competitive at the top 16 schools, and you should probably have higher GMAT going into the top-3.

In terms of the public policy schools, I am certainly no expert. I do know that Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS) has a joint degree program with five business schools besides Harvard Business School:

Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth
Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University
MIT Sloan School of Management
Stanford Graduate School of Business
The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania

 

I will touch upon my HKS visit in a future politics post, and touch upon my one-year of an online graduate degree popular with JMOs from many countries – MA in War in the Modern World from King’s College London.