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SPOTLIGHT ON STUDENT LIFE: ARMED FORCES GROUP

Join our live chat with current students from the Chicago Booth Armed Forces group (AFG). Participate in a discussion about their Booth experience and how it has made an impact on their careers. Learn more about how the panelists navigate academics and recruiting, as well as the dynamic and supportive community at Booth.

 Chat Transcripts
 Guest: Good afternoon everyone - I know the group page describes the AFG as for current and former members of the armed forces, but I was wondering what opportunities exist in the AFG for civilian students.
* Katie Wurzbach: Thanks for joining us today! As far as specific group resources such as partnerships with specific companies for recruiting, networking, etc - we reserve that for AFG members. However, there are several events we do in partnership with the school as a whole (annual Paintball event, for example) that are open for everyone to participate in.

Guest: First question is what made you all choose Booth of all MBA programs?
* Ben Winston: Flexible curriculum was a huge selling point for me. As Booth students, we have the ability to take the classes that we feel are most interesting, most relevant or most useful to our career plans. Top rankings helped too.

Guest: Hi, I'm an army captain currently stationed at Fort Riley as a company commander. How have you found the opportunities for veterans to contribute to the Booth community? Thanks!
* Katie Wurzbach: Thanks for joining us from Kansas. There is a multitude of ways to get involved at Booth.  We have a number of student activity groups that range from professional (career focused, for example, Investment Banking) to social (Wine Club). You can participate and contribute as a member of that group in your First Year, and compete/volunteer for leadership roles your Second Year.  As far as community service opportunities, Booth has the "Give Something Back" club that organizes community service events. This includes long-term commitments (tutoring in local schools) to "one off" events depending on your schedule.

Guest: In reference to Booth's flexible curriculum, what do you think is the best way to select and target classes?
* Lior Sahaf: So there are two approaches, one says choose the classes that are going to be most helpful for your future career/interest career and the other one says choose the classes that interests you and that you will probably have few opportunities to take or learn afterwards. Personally, I think I mostly played between those two approaches, I started off by taking corporate finance classes because I thought that was an industry that interests me and now, close to graduation I try to take classes to get the most out of the Booth faculty, for example, stock exchange investing which I will probably won't have a chance to learn afterwards. Overall, I think the flexible curriculum is something that is incredible and is mostly understated when highlighting why Booth is great. It lets you choose your courses of interest, manage course load, and prepare for your future career, your choice.

Guest: Hello everyone thanks for taking the time to chat. One particular opportunity that I am interested in at Booth is the New Venture Challenge. What are some ways (formal/informal) that students are able to network/discuss entrepreneurial ideas and create teams to launch a venture?
* Ben Winston: The Polsky Center here on campus is a great resource for all things related to entrepreneurship. There are also a handful of incubators in the Chicago area that the school has access to, and dozens of networking events to link up like-minded individuals. There are also tons of course offerings and events set up to help you pitch your ideas.

Guest: Do you feel the leadership lessons in the MBA program are useful to someone with a military background? In other words, is an MBA more useful to a veteran as say, an MS in Finance?
* Katie Wurzbach: Great question. I will say that a competitive advantage Veterans have coming into Business School is the direct leadership experience we have through our military experiences. Having said that, in my experience at Business School, there are still plenty of managerial lessons to be learned that are unique outside of the military. Specifically I've found that the types of people, and personalities, at Business School are much more vast and varied than they were in the military. You have to learn how to informally influence, and lead without specific authority, and how to work with different groups of people. Additionally the MBA focuses on providing you frameworks and toolkits that you will take forward as a manager versus an MS in Finance, I would imagine, is more tactically focused on the theory and specifics associated with certain Finance methodologies (if that makes sense). All in all, I've learned a lot of leadership lessons while here, but maybe not as many as some of my peers.

Guest: Good afternoon, this is Ben from Fort Hood. Question: This is a major change for all veterans. Did either of you go into school set on one industry or field and find yourselves pursuing a different one now? If so, would you mind discussing the process a little?
* Ben Winston: I first came to Booth with a plan of going into management consulting and then transitioning into a corporate role, but after the first few weeks of class decided that I was much more interested in pursuing a general management position straight out of school. There are tons of resources here that provide you with everything you need to make those tough decisions – Career Services, student groups and 2nd year mentors among them. Here you'll get a chance to explore companies and career paths that you never even knew existed.

Guest: Thanks guys for hosting this forum. Two questions for you. What do you find most rewarding about your Booth experience thus far? How was the transition out of the military into Booth (assuming you got out)?
* Ben Winston: I’ll answer your second question first if that’s alright. I rolled straight from a deployment into the classroom – two weeks after getting back from Iraq I was sitting in a chair listening to a panel of professors talk about their departments. It took a few weeks to get used to the volume of different choices getting thrown at you and a relatively unstructured schedule compared to what you have in the military, but everyone around you is going through the same thing and so it became a lot of fun. The most rewarding parts of this MBA experience to me have been the group of amazing people you meet here - students and industry experts alike - and learning a brand new, unique method of approaching problems.

Guest: What are some of the things you wish you knew prior/as you were making the transition into Booth?
* Lior Sahaf: I came into Booth straight from the military and I felt the biggest thing I struggled with in the beginning was to understand, on the most basic levels, what are the career options that I have and what did they really mean. Although I tried to do that on a more general level through talks with veteran MBA alums I wish I would have learned earlier about what every career path really means and talk to people that have gone down those paths to understand if that’s something that interests me.

Guest: Do you see former military gravitate more towards a certain career field coming from Booth?
* Lior Sahaf: I think it varies quite a bit and it’s mostly representative of the total school population. From my year, for example, the industries vets ended up going into varied between consulting, banking, corporate and general management roles, investment management, tech, private equity, startups and entrepreneurship. I actually don’t know how it is in % for each industry compared to other schools but I can say that it’s more diversified than I thought – it’s not just those “general skills” professions as consulting and banking but virtually almost every industry that you can think of for a post MBA path.

Guest: And how did you determine your short term and long term careers goals prior to applying?  Did you do any pre-MBA internships?
* Lior Sahaf: Personally, I entered Booth with a general idea that I would love to manage an organization one day as my long term goal and the role that I will be starting after Booth – a general management rotational program in a Biotech firm ended up fitting that description but I actually went through starting the recruiting process for investment banking, decided it’s not for me on the basis of the talks I had with people here, thought a lot about trying to get into private equity as well and even worked part time at a PE company and eventually decided that a general management role is the thing that I’m passionate most about, at least at this point in my life. So, my recommendation is try to come into Booth with some idea of what you want to do, I based it a lot on stuff that I liked about the military and talks with MBA alums, and then absorb everything the school has to offer in order to shape your view on the multiple industries and roles available, some of them you probably knew very few about before..

Guest: Thanks for hosting this chat guys. I'm three years older than the typical MBA applicant/student (seems like this may be true for some other vets as well). Is recruiting more difficult if you're a bit older than the typical student?
* Lior Sahaf: Like you said, it’s true about most vets. The age range in my year for vets is probably around 28-36 so I think you definitely won’t be the oldest in your class coming in. About recruiting, I felt that for vets it seemed that the process is less stressful than for other people, perhaps because you’ve been through some stressful stuff before. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll do better or worse than other students but keeping your calm and composure during the recruiting process definitely helps. I think the two main things that are harder for vets in the recruiting process is knowledge about the different industries in order to choose your path and basic business knowledge. The first one could be mitigated either by trying to learn about the options available before you start school (although coming in with little knowledge and learn about it once you’re here works as well) and the second one is mitigated through the school’s intensive recruiting preparation process by the school’s career services. Over

Guest: Hi - appreciate you taking the time to answer questions today.  How well do you think Booth exposed you to the broad range of options in the civilian business world?  I'm concerned coming out of the military that I'm at a disadvantage compared to my peers who have been operating in an industry for quite some time.  How did Booth catch you up, so to speak, and how did that influence your applications for internships and thoughts on career in general?
* Ben Winston: That’s a totally valid concern but I assure you that you have nothing to be concerned about. We all have something unique to bring to the table and share with our teammates here at b-school – that’s part of what makes this experience so valuable. You’re going to pick up tons of new skills through classroom, networking and other experiences here at Booth. Most importantly, everyone here seems to look after one another and is usually more than happy to take time out of their day to catch you up to speed. I had that experience when prepping for a final exam once and ended up having a good friend double as a private tutor! “Paying it forward” is a huge part of our culture here at Booth.

Guest: Thanks for volunteering for this panel everyone. Could you describe how Booth prepared you as a business leader after graduation? Any difference between normal recruiting and veteran recruiting?
* Katie Wurzbach: Thanks for joining us! Booth has really helped me in two distinct ways . First, a great foundation in business knowledge. The faculty here is top notch and they are really great at teaching you what is current in the industry, but also the underlying theories associated with what is being practiced.  The knowledge is practical, applicable, and interesting. I felt confident in my general understanding of marketing, operations, and finance after my first year at Booth, and felt it put me ahead of peers during the summer.  Second, Booth really prepares you well for dealing with ambiguity. Similar to the military, Booth understands that every situation is unique, and that there is no "formula" for success everytime. Booth helps you to understand what the important questions to ask in any situation is, and to move forward confidently in the face of uncertainty with the tools they have taught you. No major difference in recruiting for us vs. peers; however, the veteran network is a huge value add

Guest: Katie, since you mentioned our direct leadership experience as military personnel, I wonder if you (and the other panelists) could elaborate on how you communicated those experiences in your applications and, perhaps, interview experiences for internships and jobs after graduation.
* Katie Wurzbach: My approach, and it is similar to the other panelists, was to come up with 7-8 leadership stories/scenarios that I felt illustrated times when I demonstrated certain leadership skills or attributes.  These stories could be used to answer behavioral questions ("Tell me about a time when...") that are common during interviews (both for school and jobs). Just make sure that you craft your stories in a way that anyone could understand them; it is hard to remove the acronyms of military-isms sometimes, but try to practice explaining stories as if the person had no prior knowledge of the military.

Guest: Building off of Ben's question, how quickly do you begin interviewing? Is there much time to explore and determine your field or should you have a pretty good idea going in.
* Ben Winston: You’ll definitely have some time to explore career options before you start interviewing, but the better idea you have of what you want to do, the more successful you’ll typically be in getting offers. Corporate presentations and networking events usually begin about a month after school starts, followed by applications due a couple months later. Interviews usually start in January but can go all the way through the spring depending on your intended career path.

Guest: Is there any general application advice you would give to military applicants? 
* Lior Sahaf: So, your job in your application is to demonstrate your strengths by giving good examples from your experience. The hard thing is to keep those examples very specific and avoiding using general terms such as “I demonstrated top team work skills to solve this problem..” and to make sure the language you use can be understood by civilians. To do that there are a couple of ways, the first is to try to find civilian equivalents to the roles you did and the second is to quantify your achievements while always making sure you are providing a benchmark to demonstrate why what you did was impressive. For example, saying: “I was promoted to X after six months in role” is less impressive than “I was promoted to X after six months in role compared to an average promotion period of 1.5 years”.

Guest: Have you seen veterans generally be more adept at certain fields or struggle in any areas?
* Katie Wurzbach: Members of the AFG truly go into nearly every function and industry available at Booth!  We have folks going the entrepreneur route, banking, consulting, operations - you get the idea!  What I would say is that certain areas are harder to break into straight out of business school without prior experience in the business world (Private Equity / Venture Capital, for example), but it is not impossible to do, and one of the things the AFG can assist you with, should you come here, is crafting your strategy to reach your career goals.

Guest: Hi, I recently applied in the second round, and if I'm asked to interview, will there be an opportunity to meet with members of the AFG while I am on campus?
* Ben Winston: Absolutely! We'd love to meet up with you while you're here for your interview. Make sure go onto our Booth AFG website (http://www.boothafg.com/) and fill out the little questionnaire or shoot one of the co-chairs an email so that we can set up a time to get together

 Guest: Question: Good Afternoon, this is Elliot from Fort Hood! Do you know of any veterans at Booth that are currently still serving the Reserves? If so, would you mind discussing how that commitment factored into your time at Booth?
* Ben Winston: I was in the Reserves for my first year here and did just fine. There are a handful of us in all branches still doing that - I'd be happy to connect you with one of them, just shoot me an email afterwards or go onto the AFG website (http://www.boothafg.com/) and leave a message telling us you're interested in that

Guest: How involved are most student veterans with the AFG? A follow-up to that would be: what are the most popular aspects/ events of the AFG with the student veterans?
* Katie Wurzbach: Most members are heavily involved in helping either our prospective students or First Years (if they are Second Years) with recruiting. For prospective students we offer resume and essay review, phone calls to talk through Booth as a school/transitioning, etc. For First Years, Second Years volunteer their time to talk through their internship experiences and help prepare the First Years for interviews during recruiting season. In both of these areas we have a very high rate of participation from the group.  For social events it depends based on timing and schedules, but the Dining Out is consistently one our most popular events with nearly 90% participation.

Guest: Hi, what are the main advantages of joining the AFG? As an IDF veteran, are all the activities open to US army's veterans be available for me?
* Katie Wurzbach: Great questions.  AFG is open to all Armed Forces members from all countries so all of our events and assistance would be available to you.  The only caveat is that some companies that recruit on campus do not offer "work authorization" to non US Citizens or permanent work authorization, but that is independent of the AFG. As far as the advantages of the AFG, first, we provide assistance during the recruiting process both through preparation (assistance from the Second Years that are in the same career field you are interested in) and partnerships with sponsor companies.  On the AFG website you can see who we are sponsored with this year, and they provide specific attention and networking opportunities exclusive to the AFG.  Additionally, we are a great social network here at the school.  We have many events and get together that allow us to celebrate our shared military background in a fun setting (Dining Out, Paintball Event, Happy Hours, etc)

Guest: I understand Booth offers accounting and statistics prep classes in the week(s) prior to class starting. Do you have any experience with these and/or other recommendations on best practices to prepare yourself for some of the subjects that we haven’t studied in years? 
* Katie Wurzbach: Booth offers Pre-MBA Accounting prior to classes starting (5 day course) that is an additional fee, but will brush you up on accounting basics. Additionally, before matriculation, Booth provides a list of resources to you that will help you prepare for the foundation classes (if you feel the need).  I will say that even 5-8 years removed from Undergrad, that most veterans don't find they are "behind" as compared to their peers from an academic/knowledge standpoint.  The foundational classes (Micro, Accounting, Stats) assume no prior knowledge so you won't be behind.  

Guest: Besides the cold winters, how is the living situation? Do most students live on-campus/off-campus nearby?
* Ben Winston: I’m glad you asked. Compared to Hawaii, this is cold. Compared to Alaska, not so much. All joking aside, Chicago winters get a bad rap but 3+ million people still find a way to live well, even through these colder months, and we have a great time doing it. About 90-95% of full-time MBAs here live outside of Hyde Park - most of us actually live within about a half mile radius of one another in downtown Chicago. We usually commute to school on the days we have classes, but between the reliable public transportation system we have here and the large supply (and demand) for ride sharing, it only takes about 20 minutes and gives us a chance to catch up with our classmates. The benefit to doing it that way is that tons of employers are walking distance from where we live, and so are all the restaurants, events and activities that go hand-in-hand with living in a major metropolitan city.

Guest: What are the types of networking events that the AFG organizes for its members?
* Lior Sahaf: The AFG have very strong relations with vet alums in a variety of industries and, like what we are doing right now, those vets are eager to help other vets who are currently in school. I would also say that a lot of companies have vets on their target list for desirable candidates. Those two create a lot of options for the AFG to make sure that Booth vets will be able to connect with vets who work in their target industry or company. The type of events organized by the group is very diversified, one type of event is intimate lunches on campus with representatives (vets in most cases) which provide a great opportunity to network with companies as part of small group (very valuable when the average consulting corporate event, for example, is probably 200 people large). Another event is called the “AFG Dining Out” which is basically a fancy dinner with about 150 vet students, SO’s, and vet reps from different companies. This event, besides being a lot of fun, allows you to connect with companies in a VERY infor

Guest: Katie - Thanks a ton for your response, I assume part of crafting that strategy is your internship following first year. How did you go about applying and selecting your internship?
* Katie Wurzbach:  For me personally, I had a general idea of the industry I wanted to enter (health/fitness/wellness) and began to search for companies that fit that bill.  Over a hundred unique companies come to Booth for recruiting, and the company I ended up interning at was one of them (I would not have found my internship without Booth!)  I picked my internship based on industry, but also because of the culture of the company. I found that the more people I talked with at the company the more excited I was to work with them, and I felt like it was a good "fit". Very similar reasoning to how I ended up at Booth!

Guest: Thanks for the response, Ben - I was a bit apprehensive that the culture might end up being a bit more competitive than collaborative, which might be tough given the experience deficit in the civilian world.
* Ben Winston: I would say this culture is about 10% competitive and 90% collaborative. That's part of the beauty of our grade non-disclosure policy - it allows you to challenge the heck out of yourself without worrying about failure (you won't fail!). This is also true during interview season; even if a company has limited hiring spots available for our class, we'll still work together to prepare in the hopes that either you or one of your friends lands the job. After all, it doesn't hurt to have friends in high places.

Guest: What did you find was the most challenging part of your transition from armed forces to Booth?
* Katie Wurzbach: Coming from the military where task prioritization and managing priorities are a daily occurrence, oddly enough it was managing my time!  More specifically, understanding how I wanted to balance academics, recruiting, social life, and what was right for me.  There are SO many amazing opportunities at Booth in all of those pillars and there is no way to take advantage of all them.  You have to know from the start where your priorities lie, and stick with them even when your peers may have different preferences and priorities.  Not following the crowd, and sticking with what was important to me/balancing those time commitments, was the most challenging!

Guest: In talking to friends and old platoon members who made a similar transition, they noted how different the military is in terms of daily conversations, jokes, interests, etc. from a civilian setting. Did any of you experience a culture shock upon getting to school?
* Katie Wurzbach: I would say that it definitely shifts because we tend to talk with others about topics that we share a common interest or experience with. At Booth, most of your classmates won't have military experience so you're right to anticipate different conversations, jokes, and interests upon arriving here.  However, what is awesome is you'll have plenty of shared experiences (Random Walk, LEAD, classes) and interests (career path, hobbies) that will tie you to your classmates. It is different, and it does take a little getting used to, but it exposes you to a great variety of people and perspectives that I think is great value added.  Plus, the AFG is here for those times you want to talk to someone who understands your background, and has those similar, very unique, experiences.

Guest: What has been your favorite class so far?
* Ben Winston: Negotiations. Definitely. The material is relevant to almost any career path on some level, classes are interactive and competitive (but fun), and every professor that teaches the course seems to get high satisfaction ratings from their students. Booth even offers an Advanced Negotiations course if you just can’t get enough (which I also recommend).

Guest: (Unrelated to military/veteran matters) Does Steven Levitt teach any classes that MBA students can take?
* Ben Winston: Good question. I don't know for sure, but as Booth students we can take up to 3 classes for credit outside of the business school. So even though Prof. Levitt is over at UChicago's Department of Economics, we may be able to take one of his classes. Depends how adventurous you are...

Guest: Thanks for the answers to my other questions - one final thing I was curious about: how did you spend the time between leaving the military and beginning at Booth? (assuming you didn't go straight from one to the other!) I'm curious to hear how you spent that time to help get ready for starting business school.
* Katie Wurzbach: Great question. I took terminal leave from 1 July - 24 August, and Orientation started right after Labor Day for us (first few days of September). I took that time to relax with family and friends, travel overseas twice, and get settled into Chicago before school kicked off. I highly recommend, if you can, taking time to relax and decompress after a hectic work/life balance in the military. Another option if you have more time off (say starting in early Spring), that some vets pursue, is finding an internship in the career field you think you're interested in. This tends to be on the banking/finance side, but there are some programs like Goldman Sachs Veterans Integration Program, that you might find interesting. My personal bias though - take time for you and your family to relax!

Guest: how can a prior enlisted current full-time undergraduate student strategize to apply to Booth. 
* Ben Winston: Hey Thomas. As far as I can tell, the Admissions Committee looks for the same qualities in any military candidate, regardless of whether they were enlisted or officer. Leadership, strong academic performance, goals, etc. So try to take challenging classes that pertain to your intended career path, do well in them, and study hard for that GMAT/GRE. It also helps to have a strong sense of what you want to do in life and how your career in the military thus far has set you on that path

Guest: I will also be graduating in December 2017 is there any advice that you would give on what to do with my time after I graduate before the start of the MBA program in fall 2018
* Ben Winston: If you only have a few months to work with, see if you can land an internship for a company you're interested in working for. Or lead a volunteer project, start a company, etc. - anything that shows initiative is a good thing.