As a veteran and graduate of HBS with post-MBA experience on Wall Street, I am often asked by prospective military MBA candidates if they should pursue a career in finance. While this is obviously a personal question that each individual candidate should explore deeply based on his or her interests, career goals, and personality, I believe that there are a number of compelling reasons that military candidates should give finance a hard look:
1. You have a genuine interest in financial analysis, the capital markets, or Wall Street.
“Finance” as a broad umbrella, attracts a large number of veterans – with and without MBAs. Veterans fill the ranks of corporate finance departments, investment banks and financial services firms, as well as buyside firms and investment management shops. One of the main drivers of this significant attraction to finance is the dynamic, fast-paced nature of the business. Depending on the nature of your military experience, this is often times “similar” to the atmosphere that you operated in while in service: one of constant information flow, complex ideas, and a focus on execution with deadlines and time constraints. Finance is the lifeblood of a company – Boards of Directors, Executive Management Teams, and rank and file employees alike, are all keyed in on the work of the finance department. If numbers, critical thinking, data-driven analysis, and the ever-changing influence of the equity and debt markets are some things that you think may interest you, then you should consider a job in finance.
2. You want to learn a concrete, well-defined skill set.
One of the things that attracted me to finance, and in particular investment banking, was the fact that as a veteran coming out of an MBA program, I would immediately learn a well-defined and well-understood skill set that is highly valued by the business community. As an investment banking associate, you job is to work as a junior member of a “deal team” comprised of analysts, vice presidents, executive directors, and managing directors, and to deliver financial solutions to your clients. These solutions invariable include detailed financial analysis of a given company, research on the industry that a given company operates within, and up to the minute commentary on the broader financial markets. You will learn financial modeling, various other forms of financial analysis (accretion/dilution and valuation, for example), and you will gain an understanding of the inner-workings of various industries and the equity and debt markets. This broad, but well-defined skill set can be leveraged in a number of different arenas: a career in financial services, a move to a buy-side firm, as the CFO of a start-up, or as an in-house corporate finance expert, to name a few.
3. You enjoy working on teams and bringing to bear different parts of an organization.
Every finance project that I have worked on, both in financial services and inside of a corporation, has required a great deal of teamwork. In an investment bank, for example, an M&A transaction involves work with the “coverage” team (the bankers who cover a given industry), the “M&A team” (the bankers who specialize in M&A), and various “capital markets teams” (the bankers who focus on the equity and debt markets, and help to market and distribute a given transaction). Additionally, financial service professionals partner with their clients, working with teams in various parts of their organization such as the C-suite, Treasury, and Corporate Finance Departments. Likewise, within a company, finance professionals work across multiple teams: they gather projections from departments such as sales, marketing, and operations, and they consult with internal Legal, M&A, and Strategy groups as they develop financial projections and communicate company results to the market. Grant it, finance can often be a lonely endeavor: post-MBA investment banking associates, for example, are often expected to spend weeks on end producing financial analysis and documentation to support senior members of their team. However, this analysis and documentation directly enables other members of the team to perform their individual functions, whether that be winning new business, providing data-driven advice to a client, or executing a transaction.
These are just a few of the many reasons to consider a career in finance. While the dynamics of the financial services industry have dramatically changed in recent years, a number of core principles of the industry have remained the same: finance is dynamic and fast-paced, finance jobs offer a well-defined and well-understood skill set that can be employed across industries, and the finance discipline involves teamwork across positions and departments. If a job in finance post-MBA is something that interests you, feel free to reach out to Mike@MilitaryToBusiness.com to learn more.
Written by Mike, a former Army infantry officer and West Point and HBS grad.