How can I get into consulting after a military career?

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military to civilian transitionGeorge from Southern New Hampshire University asked:

I have 9.5 years as a Marine Leader, and a BA in Criminal Justice. Now I am pursuing an MBA in International Business and want to be a consultant. However, a lot of firms I have applied to have told me I do not have experience. Any suggestions on how to enter the field?

Hi George –

There are a lot of layers to your question, and I want to be sure to address all of them as thoroughly as I can. So, first . . .

Are you taking advantage of the variety of career services available to (and designed for) veterans? 

Making the transition from a military career to a civilian career can be challenging.  The language, jargon, work context and organizational structures in the military are very different from what is found in most civilian work environments.  As the job seeker, it is your job to do the translation.  Everyone in the military understood your role and your activities were determined largely, I’ll bet, but the direct orders you received.  The civilian work world is not nearly that clear cut, particularly in consulting.  You have to show civilian employers that you understand and can successfully navigate this cultural transition.  You bring a lot of value to the table as a veteran; you just have to demonstrate that you are not going to approach your civilian assignments the same way you would approach military assignments. This is a hard transition (as you probably know better than I).  Be sure to seek out the assistance of your veterans’ services office and career center at your university.  Also, check out our Resources for Veterans Links.

How are you marketing your military experience, your undergraduate degree and your MBA degree in your job search campaign?

When you are looking for a job, you are conducting a marketing and sales campaign. It is a process – a pursuit, not a simple transaction or exchange of information.

Your job is to understand the hiring dynamics of the industry you are seeking to enter as well as you possibly can.  Then, you must identify what you offer (your combination of experience, education, skills, and qualities) that matches up well with what that industry seeks in candidates. Through your resume, your correspondence and your professional networking and relationship-building activities, you must pursue opportunities the same way a sales person pursues new clients.

Are you really prepared to answer the following questions?

  • Why should we hire you?
  • Why are you a good fit for this position?
  • Why do you want to work in our industry?
  • Why do you want this job?

If you can’t offer compelling answers to these questions, you can’t expect an employer to answer them.  Again, your college career advisers should be able to help you develop your message.

What really is consulting?

Do you know the classic definition of a consultant?

Someone who borrows your watch to tell you what time it!

Okay, that’s not entirely fair, but on some levels it is true.  A lot of very different kinds of people call themselves consultants, so when you say you want to go into consulting, no one really knows what you mean until you clarify your intent.

What do consultants really do?  The offer expertise, perspective, insight, advice and services that companies or individuals need (and are willing to pay for) in order to achieve a business or personal objective, transition or implementation.  When the goal is achieved or the advice is received, the consultant moves on to the next assignment. Consults are experts for hire.

So if you want to be a consultant, what expertise do you offer that someone will be willing to pay to access?  Anyone who has a special expertise that they make available to clients and customers can be considered a consultant.

Often when people (particularly MBAs) say they want to get into consulting, they mean working with one of the big management consulting firms like Bain, Deloitte, McKinsey, Accenture, Mercer and their peer competitors.  And, these firms target MBAs from the top MBA programs, domestically and internationally.  This is demanding, competitive and intellectually rigorous work, so the application and screening process is also very challenging. It is meant to weed out the average and identify the exceptional, and the first hurdle is the case interview.

If you want to get into management consulting, you had better be prepared to answer case interview questions

Do poorly in a case interview and your chances of getting into management consulting will go from fair to slim to none. You must be able to ace the case!

Talk to your career adviser for advice on case interviewing.  Check out our Job Search Resources for Management Consulting. You’ll find some good information there as well.

Like I said, George, there are a lot of components to your question.  Getting the job you want requires a combination of effort and activities to go along with a keen awareness of yourself and what you offer and how well this aligns with the industry or career paths you are targeting.

Sometimes when an employer says you don’t have experience, they mean that they don’t understand how the experience do have translates into their world.  It’s your job to help them understand.

Hope this helps!


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3 responses to “How can I get into consulting after a military career?”

  1. George says:

    Thank you for your reply! This has helped clarify a lot of quetions I had. Just need to keep on trucking! Thank you again!

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