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Making the Move from Military to MBA

October 07, 2018 :: Jacob Allison

MIlitary to MBA Transition

We have plenty of experience helping clients that want to transition from military service to the private sector by getting an MBA. Candidates with military backgrounds have unique experiences that they can utilize to differentiate themselves from the majority of applicants who have largely worked in corporate environments.

However, candidates transitioning from a military career also often have unique challenges to overcome when communicating their experiences to civilian adcoms. Here, we’ll outline a couple of the best ways to use your military experience to boost your competitiveness, as well as a common pitfall we see from applicants with a military background.

Your Experience Advantage

MBA applicants with military service backgrounds, particularly those who’ve served in active duty, often have compelling, intense, and gripping stories to share with adcoms. Whether you’ve led a team through a life-threatening situation or guided billions of dollars worth of equipment through adverse terrain and circumstances, you’ve got stories that someone who’s spent their early career in an office simply can’t tell.

When you’re thinking about which experiences to talk about in your admissions essays, consider the following:

Teamwork – The ability to work in a team is a huge part of the MBA learning process and a requisite for post-graduation positions. It’s likely that any successful mission you were a part of during your service was accomplished through teamwork. When you’re sharing that success with adcoms, make sure you focus on HOW you were a team player. Who did you help when they were lagging behind? How did you motivate those under your command? How did you keep your teammates calm in a stressful situation? Show the reader what your personality and communication style is in stressful situations, and they’ll believe their MBA program will be no sweat for you.

Leadership – Applicants with military experience often also have compelling leadership experiences that can help them stand out from the crowd. Many of our clients were deployed overseas as a part of their service. That global experience can be leveraged to communicate to adcoms that you have led diverse teams in challenging situations. When writing about these leadership experiences, focus on the unique stakes of the situation, the unique challenges that you used your leadership skills to overcome, and the specific cultural barriers you had to maneuver to lead your team to success.

Avoid Military Jargon

The biggest pitfall in applications from candidates with military service experience is the use of military jargon. While a few adcoms will have had military experience, most won’t know the difference between a company and a brigade, or that a captain is more senior than a lieutenant. So, to avoid confusion, use contextual descriptions. For example, “The company commander (COO) tasked me to do X…”

When you’re forced to use military terminology, make sure it’s followed by some kind of context so that the reader can fully understand the situation you’re describing. For example, “Because of my success on project X, I was put in charge of handling all HR inquiries for a battalion of 800 soldiers.” With that kind of context, a reader won’t be focused on trying to translate your experience to civilian terms. Instead, they’ll focus on how impressive your experience actually is, and how the SKILLS you demonstrate are applicable to their MBA program and work in the private sector.

A career transition is never an easy thing to sell to adcoms, and the military to private sector transition can be the trickiest. If you focus on contextualizing your experiences and highlighting your skills, teamwork, and leadership, you’ll be well on your way to securing a spot at your top MBA.


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