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Military and the MBA

Many young men and women are now transitioning from the military into new opportunities for leadership. History has demonstrated to MBA programs how valuable their experiences are. These experiences range from what they learned and how their service shapes the way they lead, how they treat people, how they make decisions, and how their management style develops. When they exit their branch of Service, they are in prime position to put those skills and qualities into use and many are best suited for a MBA degree before they even step foot into a corporate office.

Earning an MBA is a worthwhile pursuit for many graduates; some benefit far more than others when such a degree is coupled with other life experiences. More and more military professionals (officers and enlisted alike) are seeing the added value benefit of pursuing a MBA as they transition into the corporate workforce. At the same time, many corporations are recognizing the unique skills that Service personnel bring to the table.

There are several important criteria as to why military officers are successful MBAs and more importantly, what a company sees in them. Three of the most important factors considered by business schools and corporations alike are the level of responsibility, academic diversity, and leadership experience.

One attractive factor to many schools and businesses is the officer's level of responsibility. Early in their military career, officers are responsible for large budgets, equipment, and mission critical performance. Additionally, their key responsibility is that of the priceless value of the lives serving under their command. Their ability to handle such responsibility is vital to an officer's success and is usually mastered during their Service career.

Over the decades veterans from various campaigns (World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, the Iraq wars, etc.) are especially highly regarded. In addition to the above responsibilities, they are also less likely to blindly accept orders and the perceptions of others in making critical decisions. They've had the experience of being judge, jury, and executioner of many difficult decisions under fire. They are capable of making quick and confident judgments based on experience, common sense, and the available facts. And they still retain the same training and leadership practice that noncombat soldiers receive.

Academic diversity is also highly valued by business schools and corporations. MBA students represent a wide range of undergraduate degrees, from engineering to journalism to finance. Military officers have heavy exposure to quantitative subjects as well as direct, hands-on involvement in operational activities such as project and resource management that can bring just as diverse a range of educational background as a typical degree does to the table. These types of skills and know-how are important for MBA candidates to be successful not only in a business school environment but also in the corporate workforce.

Military officers live and breathe a life of leadership on a daily basis through active practice and experience. Successful officers are known for their values, ethics, and strong skills in problem solving, decisiveness, and communications skills. They know how to create and develop teams to handle specific situations and are capable of working with larger, more diverse groups to accomplish organizational goals. In addition, these officers continually hone their leadership, time management, and project development skills through constant daily application. They are less hung-up on appearances, not easily fooled or badgered, and foster genuine respect from their peers and fellow soldiers. They've learned to spot and depend on skills and competence from wherever it comes from, not just rank and position. They know that they can only succeed when their whole unit excels. This gives them a vital edge in today's corporate marketplace.

Going after a MBA degree after completion of an individual's military experience is a solid step for those looking to move into the corporate marketplace. With their outstanding experience in responsibility, diverse academic knowledge, and exceptional leadership skills, they are in a position to positively influence not only their fellow students but also the corporate culture around them. Military service provides a unique benchmark of leadership, strategic thinking, and performance that cannot be taught in a classroom. When combined with a MBA, the potential career payoffs are limitless.

– Doug Braithwaite PhD, is a Senior Consultant with AdmissionsConsultants, Inc. He is also a former U.S. Marine. He has served as Director of MBA Admissions at Harvard Business School. For more information, contact AdmissionsConsultants at 703.242.5885 or send a request to info@admissionsconsultants.com.

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