From Soldier to Civilian: Insight into Booth 2Y Vets’ Summer Internship Experiences

Author: Kyle Veatch (Class of 2018)

Ben Wackerlin.jpg

Ben Wackerlin (‘18)

Former U.S. Army Infantry Officer

Summer Internship: Strategy & Operations (Boat Division), The Brunswick Corporation

Hometown:  Sandwich, IL

KV:  How did your prior military experience prepare you for your summer internship?

BW:  A big part of my role in the military was dealing with and leading my teams through ambiguous situations.  I believe a common misconception about the military experience is that it is all about receiving and regurgitating clear, direct orders.  This, of course, is not the case.  At Brunswick this past summer, my assigned projects were ambiguous in scope and depth – I had to process the information I received, decide which direction to go, and seek buy-in from stakeholders.  I believe my time in the military, dealing with ambiguity, really prepared me for that role.  Another important parallel between the military and civilian experience is taking on a role as a leader.  A newly-minted officer in the Army is like a newly-minted MBA - you probably have little actual experience, but are given leadership over many older, more tenured people.  Of course, this is a delicate situation and while your reports may be obligated to do what you say, they will ultimately determine if you succeed.  Being humble, building rapport, and recognizing the knowledge base of those working for you is as important in the Army as it is in the civilian world.

KV: What was a challenging aspect of your first civilian role?

BW: In the military, it is inappropriate to go to someone above you in the chain of command that is not your direct commander with questions, feedback, or even casual conversation unless prompted.  This summer at Brunswick I often held back on questions or comments, largely from habit.  After a few weeks, I received feedback and was encouraged to feel comfortable to approach anyone at the firm, regardless if he or she was my direct boss.  The less rigid nature of Brunswick took some time to get used to, but the feedback was invaluable and ultimately allowed me to have a more successful summer.

KV: Any recruiting advice for the 1Y Vets?

BW: Play to your strengths and don’t assume that your strengths are known.  My strengths are dealing with ambiguity and leading small teams through trust and rapport, yet many interviewers will not assume a military background brings that skillset.  I made sure to communicate this during my interviews.

Sarah Owen.jpg

Sarah Owen

Former Signals Intelligence Analyst, U.S. Marine Corps

Summer Internship: Investment Banking Summer Associate, William Blair

Hometown:  Waco, Texas

KV: How did your prior military experience help you/prepare you for your summer internship?

SO: I think the two most helpful tools the military gave me are 1) the ability to persevere through difficult circumstances, and 2) perspective on what is important vs. not important. I took comfort in knowing that no matter what, no one was dying if my financial model didn’t tie out perfectly.

KV: What was the most challenging aspect of the transition into your first civilian role?

SO: In the military, there is a clear designation of who is in charge at all times via rank on the collar. This makes it so you can walk into any room or attend any meeting, and you immediately know the seniority of the person you’re interacting with and their place in the management hierarchy. In the civilian world, this is simply not the case and it was challenging to navigate a new company without the luxury of being able to look at a person’s collar to understand their position within the company and their level of influence over decision making.  

KV: Any recruiting advice for the 1Y Vets?

SO: People will love that you’re a vet and they will fixate on your deployments to Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. It will be important to not get stuck telling “war stories” – touch on one briefly, but then bring the person back to the topic of the industry that they represent. This will be harder than you think.  Also, at the end of the day, the most important thing to remember for your recruiting process (and beyond) is for you to be authentic and true to your core values.