Saturday, November 17, 2007

Top 10 Observations about Life at HBS/KSG/Sloan and Beyond for Military Veterans

For the past several years, I have had the privilege of sitting on the panel for the annual Career Fair sponsored by the Armed Forces Alumni Association of Harvard Business School. The group also includes current and former military officers studying at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and MIT’s Sloan School of Business. This year’s Career Fair took place last week. I handed out a document that outlined ten observations I have made about military veterans transitioning to life in business school and beyond to the world of business.

Several of the MBA students who were present expressed their opinion that my observations could be useful to a broader audience, and they encouraged me to share my thoughts with the readers of The White Rhino Report. While several of the ten points are specifically aimed at those studying in Cambridge, much of what I shared last week has universal application to those considering a career transition. So, I offer these thoughts to readers of this Blog.

Top 10 Observations about Life at HBS/KSG/Sloan and Beyond for Military Veterans

  1. Offer of 1-on-1 help in thinking about career choices – my role with AFAA

    1. Who can I help? Probably 10% of those in this room today

i. Renaissance Men and Women

ii. Those wired as entrepreneurs

iii. Those who may choose to follow an alternate career path:

1. When you look over the list of companies that are here today, you find yourself thinking: “These are all great companies, but I am wondering if there might be something else out there for me – starting my own business, working for a start-up, working in government service.”

2. If that describes you, then we should talk.

    1. Form of help:

i. Periodic meetings

ii. Access to my network

iii. Objective feedback

iv. A listening ear

  1. Relax – Part I

    1. Do not stress out inordinately worrying about interviewing for internships and jobs.
    2. Of the hundreds of HBS/KSG/Sloan grads I know personally, not one of them is homeless or even close to indigent.

  1. Relax – Part II

    1. Your first job out of grad school will probably only be a stepping stone in a progression of career moves, so don’t worry about making a wrong move that could cripple the rest of your career.
    2. Your choices are not between “good vs. bad,” but rather between “good vs. best”!
    3. In the past month, I have met with or talked on the phone with at least 7 HBS/KSG grads whom I have mentored over the years and who have contacted me to talk about their next career move. In each case, he or she is in their first or second year of the job they took out of Harvard, and they feel – for a variety of reasons – that it is time to move on. This is not an aberration, but is becoming the norm.

  1. Realize that your search for an internship and a job is a two-way street.

    1. You should be just as selective in choosing a company as the company is in screening candidates.

i. You should be interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you.

    1. Make sure that the job, the corporate culture, the hours you will be expected to work, the amount of travel you will be expected to do all fit with the game plan that you and your family have decided is appropriate for this time in your career and this time in your family life.

i. Earlier and earlier in their careers, thoughtful individuals are asking tough questions about life-style and family balance before jumping at a lucrative offer.

    1. Be aware that at the level of responsibility you will be assuming, bad hiring decisions sometimes happen, and when they do happen, they usually result – not from a misaligned of hard skills with the task at hand – but from a misalignment at the level of the intangibles:

i. Corporate culture

ii. Value systems

iii. Communication style

iv. Decision-making style

v. Work-life balance

  1. Know your Value Proposition as a Military Leader

    1. Do not be intimidated by your section mates who come here from the world of I-Banking or Consulting and who are already fluent in the nomenclature of “EBITA, liquidity events, or B Round Founders’ Share Dilution”!
    2. You bring to the table things they can only dream about:

i. Leadership experience that has been battle-tested

ii. A sense of proportionality – what is truly a “life or death” situation and what is something less than that

iii. A knowledge of what it takes to motivate a work force

iv. How to achieve consensus under duress

v. How to accept responsibility for your actions and their results

vi. A solid ethical base that has been tested in the crucible

vii. Reliability

viii. How to function as part of a team

    1. Be aware that many of your civilian section mates - and prospective employers - may not appreciate the full range of your value proposition and distinctives.
    2. It is your job to humbly educate them and disabuse them of some of the stereotypes they may be harboring about the military

  1. Be aware of the power of narrative – and be prepared to use it

    1. In overcoming stereotypes about the military and in making people aware of who you are and what you are capable of doing, master the art of story telling.
    2. Joe Rich quotation: “Every successful businessman/woman needs 10 good stories they can tell
    3. Stories make you memorable and intriguing

i. They simultaneously touch the cognitive and the emotional level of communication and make that communication “sticky.”

  1. Mentoring, mentoring, mentoring

    1. While you are in school, look for mentors among the faculty, in the community, among resource individuals who visit campus

i. Maintain relationships with mentors from earlier stages of your life

    1. In considering joining a company for an internship or permanent role, explore if it is a mentoring environment
    2. Can you identify potential mentors among the senior leadership team?
    3. Ask specific questions as you interview: “Who is your mentor in this organization?” “Who are you mentoring at the moment?”
    4. Even while still in school, find someone to mentor

i. Don’t buy into the lie: “I don’t have time”

ii. You develop habits and priorities and values here that will carry into your career

  1. Be aware of the power of networking – and use that power wisely

    1. I am in a position to observe many networks in operation.
    2. The HBS network is one of the best in terms of its reach and the influence of those within the network
    3. The HBS network is trumped by the Service Academy network – which is, hands-down the most responsive network I have ever encountered.
    4. An important principle of networking is to build and nurture your network before you need it.

i. The Mike Cooper story – USMA ‘2002

  1. Use your time in grad school to process what you have experienced as a military leader

    1. Use tools like Grossman’s books, “On Killing” and “On Combat” to think about what you may have experienced in combat.
    2. If you recognize any symptoms of PTSD in yourself and or who are close to you, address them early so they can be dealt with in a healthy and healing way.

  1. Do not neglect the spiritual part of your life as you are caught up in the whirlwind of grad school and job hunting

    1. If one of your differentiators as a military leader is your strong and reliable ethical base, make sure that your ethical base has a spiritual anchor that keeps it from drifting amidst the pressures of school and of work.
    2. I am prompted to mention this factor because of a conversation I had a few years ago with a former President of AFAA. As he was getting ready to leave HBS to start his new job, he said to me: “You have been such an important part of the process of evaluating where I am heading in my career, I am wondering if I can call on you to help me in a part of my life I have been neglecting. I don’t have a clue how to address the deficiency in the spiritual part of my life. Would you be willing to help me there, as well?”

1 comment:

Anthony Lorizio said...

Dear Al:

As always, your current post is brilliant and insightful. The value proposition you bring to the world is OBVIOUS! Keep up the good work!

Anthony Lorizio