After combat deployments, months or even years away from home, and the burden of leadership in the Armed Forces, transitioning to a civilian career should be easy, right? While stories of veteran success in MBA programs abound, this success often developed out of the informal transfer of knowledge from one veteran to another - no one can help you more effectively than your fellow veterans just a year or two ahead of you.
Why Reach Out
On active-duty, there are checklists and step-by-step processes for every career move. But the moment you receive your DD-214, everything rests solely on your shoulders. Building your support network long before that day is crucial to understanding your options, getting into the best schools possible, and choosing the right MBA path for you. It’s simply doing a proper “Leader’s Recon” of your next step. Vet groups at MBA programs typically have a mission that includes assisting veterans applying to that specific school--these groups can give you insight into the program culture uniquenesses, review resumes and essays, conduct mock interviews, ensure you’re talking with the right people on the admissions staff, coordinate class visits, connect you with graduates, etc.
How to Reach Out
The first and easiest place to start is the Veterans or Armed Forces student group for each program in which you are interested. Often, the names and email addresses of current students are listed. You may even be able to find someone from your branch of service who will immediately know what is pertinent to you. Another great resource is LinkedIn. You should use the advanced search tool to find military veterans attending your target schools--you’ll be able to identify individuals in your branch of service, unit, post, etc. It is a phenomenal way to learn about and connect with veterans of similar backgrounds. Lastly, Service 2 School (http://service2school.org/) is an organization that assists transitioning veterans and has a broad network of veterans at MBA programs. After signing up, you’ll be connected to veterans at your target schools that have a genuine interest in helping you make a successful transition.
What to Ask
Whenever you’re entering a new job, team, or environment, it is key to ask those with experience how they handled the situation--think about a relief-in-place/transfer of authority. Making the transition from the military to business school is no different. There are a few key questions you want to make sure to ask every veteran that you speak, because getting different perspectives will allow you to develop your own tailored strategy. What were the most difficult issues/hurdles you faced during your transition? How would you best approach the transition--knowing what you know now, what was most beneficial during the transition? How did you come to pick your career path? Why did you pick “X” school? Do you know any other veterans whom would be good to talk to? The better you can anticipate and plan for potential roadblocks, the more effective your application strategy and smoother your transition will be. Just like in the military, there is rarely a reason to reinvent the wheel--take what others have done and continually refine it.
Lance Dietz, a former US Army Officer currently attending the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
Lee Haney, a former US Marine Corps Officer currently attending the University of Chicago Booth School of Business