Q&A: CFA Charterholder, left finance to join the Army, now going into IB
Hey everyone. Back in 2017, I made this post about why I left finance (non-IB) to join the US Army: https://www.wallstreetoasis.com/forum/off-topic/q…
Short story, it's come full circle and I decided to get out, pursue my MBA, and I'm going into investment banking after graduation.
First of all, I had a blast in my time in the Army. It has its ups and downs (no one enjoys staff duty on a weekend or connex layouts…IYKYK), but I'm definitely glad that I did it. In hindsight, if I knew some of the opportunities were within the military back when I was in college, I should have joined sooner. Live and learn. There were a number of reasons why I got out. One, I joined a bit later on in life at age 29, so thinking a bit more long term as far as my career, the military wasn't necessarily what I wanted to do for the next 20-30 years, so now was the right time for me to move on. Another is that deployment opportunities were drying up, so the appeal of staying in started to drop. There are things that I miss, particularly the people, but for my career, it was the right move to go to MBA.
There are "hire veterans" type programs at a number of the bulge brackets and upper middle market banks, which try to hire people after ETS, put them through an internship/training type program, and then try to place them into an IB role. I decided to go the more traditional MBA route instead. My rationale behind that was that I viewed MBA as having more at-bats in case I struck out with one of those hire veterans programs. My background was decent with already having my CFA Charter and some finance experience, but nonetheless, I didn't want to leave anything to chance, so I viewed MBA as the best risk-adjusted return, and the GI Bill is paying for it, so that was an easier decision to make.
My recruiting process was pretty standard as far as it goes for MBA associates. There were coffee chats that were arranged by our school's career services, that led to interviews, and I ended up getting a bulge bracket internship offer which turned into a return offer after the internship. (Mandatory disclaimer – all my opinions here are my own and not that of my firm)
I kept hearing during the process that veterans have skills that bankers like, and I do see some wisdom too it-I mean that seriously also, since if you've served, I think you have seen how in the past few years companies sometimes now just like to talk about "supporting veterans" as just the new way to virtue signal. Regardless, two groups that I consistently hear do well in investment banking are competitive athletes and military veterans. I attribute this to working in fast-paced, hierarchical team-based environments.
That last part is really what attracted me to investment banking instead of other areas within finance. One of the things that I took away from my time in the Army was an appreciation for that kind of team-oriented style of work, whereas my civilian career might have had "teams" on paper but really I was an individual contributor.
Some general tips I'd have for veterans that are considering a transition:
- Even if you are not fully GI Bill eligible, schools have programs like Yellow Ribbon or states have programs at their level like the Texas Hazelwood Act that can help pay for MBA
- Regardless of what anyone at your unit says, if you're GI Bill eligible, that does NOT mean that you can get into any MBA program. Yes let me repeat that for those in the back. IF YOU HAVE FULL GI BILL, THAT DOES NOT MEAN YOU CAN GET INTO ANY MBA PROGRAM. If that was the case, then HBS and Columbia would be 100% GI Bill students. Let's use a little common sense here. Yes MBA programs can look favorably upon veterans for a number of reasons, but you still have to compete with everyone else--and you're also competing with veterans who were SOF, been there done that...do well on the GMAT and get your essays dialed in so that you have the best shot at a target school.
- At least in the Army, there is a culture to be a little self-deprecating. Yes, the over the top Grunt Style stuff is annoying, I agree, but at the same time, you do have some experiences on teams and in leadership that a number of your civilian peers simply don't really get the chance to do until later on in their career. There were 20-21 year old E-4s/E-5s that legitimately had more real world leadership experience than me at age 30 when I got to my line unit after Engineer BOLC. There is a common sense line between crafting your narrative of what you bring to the table in a tactful manner and "basically Delta" stories; as long as you use some common sense, you'll be fine.
- You may need to brush up on some technicals before you get to school. For some who joined the military right out of college or high school, your MBA intro to accounting class might be the first time you've even seen the 3 financial statements, if you didn't study business or similar in undergrad. None of this is really any more complicated than high school math, but nonetheless there are some rules of accounting that you just need to know and memorize.
I don't want to be too pushy about it, but I'll just leave this link here; I made a guide on making the transition from the military to investment banking: https://militarytowallstreet.gumroad.com/
Mods if that's against the rules here feel free to delete that out. Not trying to overstay my welcome. I do have some free content as well on Instagram, same name, @militarytowallstreet
I'm happy to help other veterans or others in general prepare for the interview and networking process, so happy to answer any questions.