The Best of MilitarytoBusiness Blog’s Admission Advice


Military applicants have probably been deployed at least once or twice in the past few years… and are probably lucky enough to have sustained a relationship with a spouse or significant other, let alone with a worthy non-military organization from which to solicit a letter of rec. This is why it is such a great supplement to your application. Many military applicants may only have letters of rec from supervisors, and I am proof that it may be ok. My three letters were all from previous and current supervisors (two O-5s and an O-4). I didn’t have the scholastic reach to warrant an academic letter of rec, and I certainly haven’t been home enough to be seriously involved with an outside organization. My purpose and sole focus in life was to train my soldiers, lead them in combat, and bring everybody home alive. I made no apologies for not having much free time outside the military. However, if you can somehow swing a balance, I think you will be that much better off.


I consider the essays to be the most significant part of the application because they are the only component that one really has full control over. You can’t change your work experience or GPA, and once you are done with the GMAT, the essays are the only thing that you can really continue to influence. It’s important that the essays are developed as part of your overall strategy, and I recommend writing all the essays for HBS together (instead of going from one school application to the next and back) in order to paint a coherent picture.

One of the most important pieces of advice I tried to follow was using the essays to mitigate my perceived weaknesses by playing up my presumed strengths. What do I mean by this? Based on your general profile (consultant, engineer, military, etc), a reader probably has a pre-conceived notion about your strengths and weaknesses. For example:

Consultant: Strength – organization and presentation, Weakness – lack of leadership or vision

Engineer: Strength – technical and analytical, Weakness – lack of people skills

* Military: Strength – leadership and ethics, Weakness – working in ambiguously defined environments, working without a clear chain of command

Non-traditionalist (artist, social sector, etc.): Strength – Unique experiences and fresh perspectives, Weakness – Lack of business and math ability

Investment Banker: Strength – Business and computational skills, Weakness – lack of leadership ability, lack of interest outside of work.

International: Strength – Strong global viewpoint, language skills, Weakness – Poor (English) presentation skills, challenges adapting to Western business

Younger applicant: Strength – Academic rigor, vitality, Weakness – Lack of experience, immature

Older applicant: Strength – Experience, maturity, Weakness – Lack of career focus, reluctance to change or to adapt.

You may or may not agree with these stereotypes, but that is not what’s important here. The important thing is to realize that essay readers are human beings like the rest of us, and what they don’t need to is to be convinced that a consultant has strong organizational skills, that a military applicant has strong leadership skills, or that an i-banker has strong business skills. Your resume should speak to those issues. What they do need to know is that the engineer has people skills, that the non-traditionalist has aptitude to succeed in a quantitative environment, and that a consultant has strong leadership potential. These are all just examples and indeed stereotypes. Perhaps nobody can be thrown into such a specific bucket, but this is an important concept to understand when framing your overall application strategy. Use stories that counter concerns about your weaknesses, not only those that reinforce your presumed strengths.

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