Military Vets and Consulting

Question:

First I would like to express my sincere thanks to the product you've produced and the training material you've provided - I have found it most beneficial.

Second - I've read through all of your posts and FAQs, but was unable to find any relevant material on personnel with military background, and if their "culture" was a fit with those who currently work in the consulting industry (unless you count Spock as military).

I am preparing to transition from being an Army Officer, who graduated in the top 10% of my West Point class, to a hopefully-successful business men. I am strongly considering consulting as a course of action in order to provide me with a broad range of experience and business-sense before joining a specific industry or company.

From your experience, how well does the consulting culture match the culture of former military officers.

Did you ever work with, or know of, any who successfully made the transition?

I would value your insight on this issue, and please keep the posts coming.

My Response:

When my wife attended Harvard Business School (she went to the classes, I read her notes, went to the parties, and footed the bill), a lot of her classmates were veterans. Incidentally, HBS loves ex-military people with successful military careers and strong undergrad experiences. And for many reasons, they were always amongst the sharpest in logistics classes.

I'm trying to recall if I ever worked with or knew of ex-military folks at McKinsey. I don't recall any off the top of my head. I would say that the more common path would be finishing military service, going to business school, then consulting would be more likely.

For the vets at Harvard, they always commented at how different the business school culture (which I think is much closer to the consulting culture than the military culture is) was from the military. It took some getting used to.

I think the two biggest potential culture clash / issues are: 1) authority, and 2) sources of power.

The military command structure as I understand it is one where you take orders and follow them. If there is disagreement with a superior officer, it is expressed in private - never in public.

The consulting culture is pretty much question everything in public. You never followed orders just because someone told you to do something. You followed what was RIGHT / CORRECT for the client.

At McKinsey, there were no titles (or at least very few titles on business cards). It was difficult for someone to tell who was "in charge" by looking at business cards. We were always more concerned with what was RIGHT based on the data and analysis.

At McKinsey, one of the firm's core values (which was most certainly practiced in real life) was the obligation to dissent. If a senior person or even a client was going to do something that you thought was wrong... And you had data to back up your point of view, it was your obligation to speak up.

I was routinely the  youngest person in the room, pretty much 100% of the time. And I did this constantly. And it  was received, accepted, and recognized.

The other factor closely related to authority, is the source of power in consulting.

A consultant inherently derives his or her power from influence and persuasion. You become a good consultant by 1) being right, 2) being able to convince you're client you're right and to do something about it.  It doesn't come from authority, title, or any of that stuff.

So those are the conflicts I see. I don't think it's a total deal breaker for someone from a military background to be able to transition, but I do think it IS a transition. I do think doing something else private sector (whether it be b-school or otherwise) seems to help former military people re-adjust to the new culture.

All of my remarks relate to being effective on the job. As for the interviewing process, case performance is pretty important and being able to show you can collaborate with others through influence rather than power might be important as well.

Here is also a link to an interview regarding Military Vets and Bain.

Hope this helps.

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