Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Experience that matters in corporate America

I believe John Kerry when he said that he wasn't intending to insult those serving in military by calling them uneducated. Kerry is one of the few in the Senate who actually served in the military and I find it hard to believe he would purposefully insult the armed forces.

That said, Kerry's comments were misplaced and suggestive of a broader theme. There are a lot of preconceived notions in the private sector about how a military background measures up in the civilian sector. With the hindsight of now having more years in the corporate world than the military, I know that military experience can be a great contributor to business success. However, many young former military officers feel they need to minimize their military experience to appeal to those in corporate recruiting. I probably did a bit of the same thing.

I remember one dinner with an investment bank during Harvard's recruiting process. I was sitting next to a managing director who asked, "How would taking down a smuggling operation ever be useful to my firm? Frankly I don't see any way you could fit." Maybe it was a test and I probably should have had a better retort at the time. I would now. Leading a multi-national effort (US, Dutch, Colombian), across a matrixed organization (US State Department, US Navy), using unstructured data (intel, analysis,) in a high stress environment to a successful conclusion. How couldn't that experience be considered relevant? The rest of the stuff (high seas, night time boardings, etc) is just window dressing.

My advice today to an officer going through the experience is to not give any company the time of day that doesn't value your experience.