Military MBA Applicants – 7 Winning Tips

Military MBA Applicants are conditioned to categorize obstacles to smaller problems, allocate the right resources to tackle each of them and apply the full force of their might to achieve the objective. Not many applicants have this natural inclination to systemize the problem and hit one goal after the other.

When regular applicants spend an inordinate sum on improving their status (through college, employer) acquiring the skills through private courses and embracing one extra-curricular experience after another, the ‘outside’ work for Military applicants is limited to the zone of their operations and path to military confined to a few schools.

Most are in deployment at far corners of the world, dealing with the fallout of the geopolitical turmoil. The risk is real and the challenges of integrating multi-national forces many. For the military applicants guarding the borders, the challenges could be in the form of a hostile neighbor or the terrain in which they are operating.

While applying for MBA Admissions, many assume that the adaptability without incentive, discipline, emotional intelligence and the bias toward action is the norm in the corporate world.

They are not.

Here are 7 Winning Tips for Military applicants:

1) Lose the Jargon

One common pattern between applicants from Technology, Banking, and Military is the incessant use of short forms and jargons. Most applicants don’t realize this when they share the essay with a Business School alumnus from the military. Although they might have fine-tuned and eliminated the use of jargons while applying, old habits don’t die hard.

Depending on the years away from the military, the alumnus might miss many terminologies that sound alien to the general audience. This is not a plug for our Essay Review Service. Choose an independent reviewer or family/friend outside the military to review the essays. Give them the authority to scrutinize each jargon and incoherent achievements captured in the resume.

2) Capture the Scenery

Evaluation reports in the military require cutting the fluff and focusing on the quality of the outcome, leadership, and character. Excessive capture of the scenery is not encouraged for MBA applicants, but we have noticed a concentrated effort from Military applicants to eliminate context or limit the context while explaining a challenging scenario. Not many of us have lived through life and death decisions and remained focused on the goal. Even in non-combat operations, the interactions between complex systems and documenting the plan and resource utilization is not what a traditional job entails. Offering a bird’s eye view of the interactions and why it is relevant for smooth operations of the military is a narrative that many don’t spend too many words on.

3) Chain of Commands

Another common error in perception I have seen in Military MBA Applicants is the assumption that the ‘general audience’ that includes the admission team is aware of the various terminologies used to separate military units, the rank in charge of the unit and the scope of the responsibilities.

With the word count going down by half and the questions in the essays limiting the scope to goals, strengths, weakness and leadership, offering context on what it takes to receive a promotion or the responsibilities under each rank is a duty that military applicants should take seriously. Optional essay is an ideal place to educate the reviewer on the nuanced difference of Squad, Platoon, Battery, Battalion, and Brigade if you have used the terminologies to demonstrate growth and uniqueness of the achievement.

4) Responsibilities vs. Result vs. IMPACT

Since the organizational hierarchy in Military is clearly defined with expectations set on the results, applicants are less enthusiastic about connecting the impact the unit’s work had on achieving the country’s strategic objective. Maybe a show of military strength and aggressive maneuver might have forced a controversial political head to seek a diplomatic solution. However, Military personnel are discouraged from thinking in terms of IMPACT.  In MBA Admissions, ‘IMPACT’ is the one differentiator that separates an applicant with GMAT 720 from a 770 candidate. Academics and GMAT could separate you out of the crowd of underperformers, but true magic happens when you articulate the IMPACT your work had at the highest level.

5) Creativity

The military does not encourage creativity. At least that is the perception the general audience have. With roles, responsibilities and outcomes clearly defined, anyone rebelling against the commanding officer and taking over tasks that help the unit achieve strategic objective would be seen as a misconduct.

The exception is in Combat operations.

When the enemy becomes creative, the rules of engagement and tactics in accordance with the military playbook does not bear the desired results. The only way to combat ‘out of the box’ thinking is to be creative.

That is why Business Schools and MBA Admissions team have a high affinity towards applicants with experience in combat. There are no corporate challenges big enough for someone who saved ‘5 fellow soldiers’ while disengaging the ‘enemy’ and limiting civilian casualties.

The fast thinking, assessment of the hostile environment and the adaptability to ‘pivot’ by the second is not something any MBA can teach.

For non-combat applicants, differentiating and showcasing creativity becomes tricky. Luckily, with the proliferation of technology into military operations, Generalist with skills just in ‘warfare’ is not enough to excel as a leader.

You should have the creative problem-solving skills to resolve personal problems of your troop, integrate and operate complex systems, change the perception about your country to seek local support in a combat zone, or address numerous logistical and cultural challenges in a partner country – skills that are transferable to general management, technology, marketing, and operations respectively.

6) Agreeability and Innovation

Another contentious trait many admission team members might not reveal is the high level of agreeability among Military applicants. This is a required trait to work efficiently in a well-defined organization like the military, Fortune 500 company and in Manufacturing, Healthcare, or the Investment Banking industry. Creative rebels don’t thrive in such environment.  However, the trait might not encourage recruiters to employ military applicants in roles that require process or product innovation as agreeableness has a negative correlation with individual innovativeness.

A healthy level of disagreement in marketing and Management Consulting is required for ideas to clash on campaign choices, process changes and market strategy. Without a propensity to question the assumptions of the team members, the brainstorming would turn into a session of confirmation bias. Choosing examples within the military communication framework where you initiated a change in procedure or a practice is sufficient to demonstrate that you have the inclination to innovate. The challenge is at offering enough context to avoid translating the example as trivial or too complex.

7)  Honesty vs Narrative vs Spin

Ask MBA Applicants from marketing or with the penchant for blogging on what is their biggest achievement; they would be ready with at least three plot points with the right amount of suspense, fear and joy mixed into the narrative. It is not a big stretch for applicants with a creative background to engineer an interesting narrative. MBA Admission team will have a problem if mediocre achievements are converted to creative narratives or what we call a ‘spin’. Fearing this tendency, competitive applicants learn to mix the right amount of narrative, numbers and objectivity to their essays.

Military applicants trained to think about the team over themselves, choose to mention their achievements with the objectivity of an accountant. They are boring, and the admission team would find it hard to differentiate the daily responsibilities from the grunt work of a professional. When the work is translated to the impact at the unit, organization and the country levels, the admission team would appreciate your understanding of the ‘larger’ objective.

Honesty is essential but feel free to simplify the jargon, include storytelling while offering context and tie it all together to the impact your work had on the country’s diplomatic ties and positioning in a global economy.

Need help with storytelling and capturing the most relevant military achievements? Subscribe to our Essay Review Service (Free Resume Editing and Winning MBA Essay Guide)

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+ How to write about your Strengths
+ How to write about your Weaknesses

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