More and more consulting firms are realizing how veterans have a lot to offer in the business world. Many firms though, still focus their recruiting only on consultants with a traditional consulting background, and as a result there is a hurdle for veterans to enter the consulting world. For veterans, making the transition to consulting can be accomplished by building a strong relationship with the company, communicating strengths beyond just their military jobs, and articulating how much (and how fast) they are capable of learning.
With that in mind, below are a few practices I learned as a military officer, that I still rely on today to deliver high quality business results for clients. If you are planning a transition soon, try these out in your current role to practice and gain experience.
- Stay nimble. Plans change often, both in the military and in the business world, and you have to be able to quickly adjust your mindset and your next actions.
- Navigate the politics. In the military, you wear your rank on your uniform, but you must also pay attention to who wields the influence. In consulting, the same principles apply - you have to learn quickly who has the power and influence (formal and informal), and be able to navigate to accomplish project goals and keep your client and yourself moving forward.
- Pay attention to detail. If you want to present at the executive level, get your documents and PowerPoints clean and have an eye for detail. Some of the best practice I got in the military was prepping for and presenting to senior leaders. Make every word count and hold yourself to a high standard.
- Lead towards decision-making. It is often said that you shouldn’t bring problems to your boss without offering some solutions. The military helped me take this further. I learned to come with options and recommendations and be ready to act on any of them. It’s important to be thoughtful about recommendations and consider broad impacts across time, cost, people, image, governance, and more.
- Lead without authority. The Air Force taught me that even when you are the lowest ranking person in the room, you shouldn’t be afraid to speak up - that’s what they’re paying you for! As a business consultant, you’ll often be thrown into new environments without any formal authority. It’s important to build credibility quickly by following through on your word and making thoughtful contributions.
- Come ready to present. The military taught me to come prepared and to dig deep into topics and justify recommendations. If you’re not the expert, bring in the people that are.
- Take care of your team. In the Air Force, I managed teams both large and small. The most important thing I learned was that if you want people to perform, you have to look out for them. Ensuring people have the capability, tools, time, and resources to do great work is paramount - especially when that means ensuring they get home early if they have a family event.
I was fortunate to have some great mentors and leaders in the Air Force who helped me learn quickly from early mistakes. Without those, I think the transition would have been much harder. Consulting isn’t for everyone, but for some veterans who are looking for a post-military career, it may be a great fit.