• Experienced Professionals

A Veteran's Guide to Launching a Career in Financial Services

Here are some insights and advice from veterans at Morgan Stanley on how to prepare for a move from a military career into a corporate one.

“The military is very good around execution,” says Jeff McMillan, veteran and Managing Director in the Data & Analytics division of Morgan Stanley's Wealth Management business. “If you want to be a General, there is a document that tells you all the things you need to do, all the schools you need to attend, the ratings you need to receive, the jobs you need to accomplish. It lays out the exact path to success. I’m still waiting for someone to hand that book to me for the civilian world.”

There may be no manual, but here are some insights and advice from veterans at Morgan Stanley, who found it's a lot easier than it might initially feel to segue from a military career into a corporate one:

Know Your Skills

Veterans  usually have the kind of skills that corporate recruiters look for, like:

  • Decision-Making: “There are a lot of veterans who underestimate the value of their experience,” says Laura King, Vice President in Risk Management. “The experience of handling difficult, ambiguous situations where you have to make a decision at the spur of the moment.”
  • Leadership: “There is no institution in the world that I know of that teaches you leadership like the military,” says McMillan. “I was 23 years old and stationed in Korea as a scout platoon leader and had 128 people deployed to me when we went to the field. You very rarely get that kind of experience in the civilian world at that age.”
  • Determination: “Imagine your platoon having no sleep for three days, it hasn't stopped raining for a week, and you get a call saying you have to move immediately to a destination 50 miles away.” adds McMillan. “That's a unique experience that prepares you for any kind of challenge you could face in financial services.”
  • Organizational Skills: “So many jobs in the military revolve around logistics and require meticulous attention to detail and deadlines,” says Brian Hall, a Commodities Product Controller in the Finance Division. “There are tons of jobs in financial services that are a perfect fit for veterans as a result—jobs in divisions like Operations, Compliance, Risk Management and Technology.”
  • Focus and Discipline: “Vets are very good at focusing on the mission and they have a very strong set of principles that form the basis of how they conduct themselves,” says Joe Purcell, veteran and Managing Director in Investment Banking. “They also have a high degree of discipline and attention to detail learned on active duty, and these kinds of attributes are highly transferable to Morgan Stanley.”

Update Your Resume

Once you know your skills, tailor your resume accordingly, by clarifying how your military experience is transferable to a financial services role. “We'll see a line item in a military resume that says “S4, NCO Brigade Officer in charge of synchronization, logistics and personnel,” says one human resources recruiter. In the corporate world that would translate to “Extensive leadership experience managing transportation for up to 1500 people, including mapping travel routes and scheduling times for departure using a matrix structure.”

Use Your Military Network

There are veterans everywhere willing to help, including veterans in Morgan Stanley's Veterans Employment Networking Group. Tap into these networks in different parts of the finance industry, and "literally have 25 conversations with people in different companies in different jobs, and I'm not exaggerating,” says McMillan. “You need to ask these people what they do, what they like about it and what skills they learned in the military that help them in their civilian careers.” There are also multiple veterans networking groups online, specific to veterans. 

Determine the Right Job Fit

“There are plenty of jobs in financial services firms  that are  similar to jobs in the military, and then there are those that have a much less structured environment and require a lot more nuance than what you would be used to if you've just come out of the service,” says King. “I started out in Operations as a project manager, for instance, and that's a perfect first job to have as a veteran. They have a chain of command that very much parallels that of the military. It's very structured and your job brief is very specific.”

“Now I work in Risk Management, where the management structure is very flat, it's more collaborative and it's required an adjustment on my part, but it's been a great experience and I was ready for a new challenge.” 

Learn the Language and the Basic Tools

It always helps to know the most common terms and acronyms used in the finance industry. Start with our jargon buster. Read the finance news and look up words or terms you are unfamiliar with. Follow the banking industry and the issues affecting it. Try to familiarize yourself with the day-to-day applications used in corporations - Word, PowerPoint and Excel. There are plenty of resources online to get you up to speed.  

Get Smart About Companies and Culture

Every financial services firm is different. Learn about each one by reading company websites and following news about a firm’s position in the industry. Knowing a company's culture will help determine if it's the right place for you. How much do they support their employees? Do you get a chance to move around if you find you want a bigger challenge or don't find your first position a good fit? How much emphasis does the firm put on giving back and diversity and inclusion? How collegial is everyone, and is it a place where people sincerely put the success of the team ahead of their own personal gain?

Get Your Career Started At Morgan Stanley