A Naval Aviator’s Perspective on Applying to B-School:

by on November 18th, 2014

All military veterans face unique challenges in the decision to apply to and attend business school. Eric did a great job of outlining the process and timeline here that applies to vets in general (see here, here, and here), and in this blog we’ll discuss some of the specific questions I receive from and best practices for military aviators. This broadly applies whether you are a pilot, navigator or flight officer. So here are two things to think about as you consider the application process:

Age note: This is aimed at those aviators that fulfill their initial commitment and then attend business school, not post-DH tour aviators (Navy/USMC) or equivalent in the USAF and USA.

Is age a concern?

I get a lot of questions from veterans in general, but from aviators specifically if they are too old to apply to business school. The question stems from the large commitments aviators incur when they complete flight training. This ranges from relatively shorter commitments for Army Rotary Wing and Naval Flight Officers to longer commitments for Air Force Fixed Wing Aviation. Either way, this puts you at about 30 years old on the inside or a few years older in many cases by the time you apply and matriculate. With the average age of b-school skewing younger in recent years to the mid to late 20’s (i.e. 27 for HBS and 28 for Columbia in latest class profiles) this can be a concern for some applying. In my experience and judging from the amount of aviators admitted most business schools understand the longer commitments incurred. So bottom line—do not let age influence your decision to apply, this is not a major factor, and no, you do not have to write about it in the optional essay. In most cases this can be viewed as a strength due to the depth of your experience and you’ll want to make sure that “jumps off the page” in your resume and other application documents. For those O-4’s reading this blog … yes, I have seen those in your position go to business school it is just less frequent than the target audience of this paragraph.

Dual Nature of an Aviator’s Role

This comes up sometimes when I read aviators resumes and hear their story. Most fall into the right sweet spot of explaining their technical skills in the aircraft while portraying their leadership role in their “ground job.” Just a quick word of guidance to make sure your resume and story have the right mix of cockpit & flight station time alongside the diversity of your role in maintenance, operations, training and the various subcomponents of an aviation unit. In my experience I have seen it both ways where aviators overplay or underplay various parts of their careers. Recently I read a veteran’s resume during corporate recruiting and thought their project management background was very intense. Only later during a Happy Hour with this individual was I pleasantly surprised to find they were also an aviator and had extensive flight experience. They have focused on “civilianizing” their resume so much they had completely written out the part where they spent over a thousand hours in a military aircraft. It goes back to the old media saying, “Don’t bury the lead.” So this is some tactical advice for resume preparation that you want to think about as you craft your brand.

Conclusion

So these are two things for aviators to remember when heading into the business school decision making process. If you are finishing your initial commitment don’t worry about your age. Even if you are a bit older than that it does not take you out of the game since you are probably just competing with other military folks with extended initial contracts. Secondly, when writing your resume do not water down the best parts or focus solely on your flight time. Best of luck in the application cycle as you go from a flight to a business suit.

John is a USNA and HBS graduate and is a member of the MtB consulting team.

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