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Career options & life after Military retirement for Army, Navy, Air Force veterans

MBA after 40

We got an email from a commanding officer in the Indian Navy, with a request on behalf of retired military veterans (‘vets’). Here’s a gist of what he said:

In the western world, the military veteran network is very strong. They have good websites, channels and consulting services for veterans.

In contrast, our Indian veterans lag far behind. Our network though strong doesn’t have a corporate touch. So, we turn for advice to our fellow officers who also don’t have much corporate experience.

Most Indian veterans are compactly packed in the world of operations & supply chain management. There is no guidance for us to enter the world of finance, consulting or strategy.

We have been told that an MBA is one way ahead for us, but rarely told what to do with an MBA and how it helps.

Coming to my request, if you search online you won't find a single helpful resource giving guidance to Indian veterans for their transition, how MBA can help them and the post MBA goals they can explore.

I kindly implore you to take on this job and a create a guide specifically for veterans.

At MBA Crystal Ball, we’ve helped military applicants get into MBA programs. So we were aware of the hardships and confusion they face. But the realities outlined in the email got us thinking once again – what else can we could do to help our military veterans?

A few weeks later, our good ol’ friend Shyam Nambiar reached out. The former Navy officer had shared his experience on how he used an MBA to change his career after retiring from the Indian Navy.

Five years after we published his blog, his career graph has been phenomenal. His success story makes him a terrific role model for vets looking forward to a productive life after retiring from the armed forces.

So we asked him if he’d be willing to share more insights to help other veterans hoping to manage a career change like he did. And as always, he was more than willing to help.

Life after retirement from the Military

Careers and Courses after Army, Navy and Air Force

by Shyam Nambiar

Is it difficult to manage a career change after retiring from the military difficult?

Short answer: It is not difficult!

The world outside won’t change to accommodate us, so we need to change and adapt; the faster, the better.

That said, the first thing that will hit you is that someone half your age will walk up to you and call you by name and ask you a direct question (and maybe a tad colourful too, if in Hindi!).

The next is, your boss and perhaps a few levels up, may all be way younger than you, but will still be ‘above’ you, in the military thought process bred on hierarchy.

The third is, decisions in the military are often gut driven, based on instinct and practice honed over decades for the specific task at hand.

Outside, every decision is likely to have a cost attached, and hence, is expected to be based on data.

To set up a tent, why are four people needed and not one (depending on other associated conditions), will help germinate the data and metric-driven thought process, for a start!

If you feel none of these are a ‘big deal’ and can be handled in your stride, without an ego making you trip over, then go for it!

What are the best career options after retiring from the Army, Navy and Air Force?

That is like asking “what food can I have at a buffet at a 5-star hotel?”.

‘Popular’ does not necessarily mean ‘mandatory’. I know of the choices veterans have made spanning domains as diverse as teaching, admin officers, operations, project/program management, logistics and supply chain, data analysis, training, executive coaching, stand-up comedy, research, sustainability and entrepreneurship, with varying degrees of success, recognition and satisfaction.

So how do you pick one to get started with?

Putting pen to paper may be a good first step. What tangible core skill sets are your strengths and what do you suck at?

While at it, please note and remember that “managing people/operations/HR” is not a default setting – if in doubt, think of those you know in the military who were senior to you but totally sucked at it.

If you can count none, either you were plain lucky or, have a high threshold to ‘bear pain’.

Next, list out what your environmental constraints are – spouse, children, parents, geographies, language, finances, risk taking and failure bearing capability.

Then decide what you would like to see yourself as/in, in two, five and ten years. Be realistic – think of what you would chart for Satya Nadella if he were to join the Army (as a Major?), for context.

Then list down which companies, own ventures or other activities post the change would allow the track to be realized.

Against each, list down (other than for entrepreneurial debuts) reasons why you identify that those companies would love to hire you and grow you based on your plan.

The latter is best based on individual catch-ups, or at least, web research of those from similar backgrounds who made identical switches and progress.

Do remember, just “Navy & PC” is not ‘background’, but “Navy, PC, Engineer, M.Tech and handled civilian and military personnel” would be good.

What are the best courses for retired military officers?

If you have done project management in service, then the PMP certification will give you a good mechanism to execute, whether inside or outside.

If you thought MS Excel was used to make nominal rolls and department leave planners (I did, till I joined B-School and realized otherwise, the hard way), then acquire at least an intermediate level of skills in it – the world outside loves and thrives on it.

If you are super comfortable with numbers and mental math, you will just ace it, with the Excel skills thrown in (again, discovered after my forced MS Excel upgrade at ISB!).

Doing an analytics course will be great add-on, if you are excited by the last bit. If you are into SQL, Python etc, brushing up will hone up ‘in demand’ skills.

Cloud certifications also can help, if you can have an intelligent discussion comparing Azure with AWS.

If you are not already dreading the thought of ‘adult education’, and also want to spend some big amounts to get three letters against your name, then first read “Beyond the MBA Hype” by Sameer Kamat.

The book and my interactions with Sameer have been a major factor in my second innings.

Still if the desire persists, think of what you would do and how you would feel if you spent that money, did an MBA, and did not manage a placement for a year.

If you are willing to take that risk without impacting financial or mental health, then go for it.

If you are hanging midway, then do a resettlement course at MDI or one of the IIMs.

If you are fully convinced, go for an MBA, opting for a weekend course if you are not starting it after you quit and are without a job. Otherwise, opt for a full-time course.

Remember, a one-year MBA allows ‘back to work’ in half the time as a 2-year MBA, but with no internship opportunities.

It is often less expensive too, since the realistic comparison will be between India (or EU) for 1-year, and North America for the latter.

Give up any thoughts of spending your own money in Euros or USD for a ‘foren’ MBA and then trying to get the RoI back in India.

My Life after MBA

It has taken me places and given me things I could never have imagined until my ISB graduation in April 2017, is a short way to put it.

It was a big risk I took, with no other income stream, but I guess hard work, some luck, strong family support and ability to connect with people at an individual level have been my key enablers, apart from sheer determination to succeed.

I started off as an Amazon Pathways (global leadership track hired from premier B schools) in Customer Service Operations in Hyderabad, went from leading a 120-people team to 530, and then met a senior Amazon leader who changed my life, at a Pathways conference in Luxembourg.

Thanks to that, I ended up in Dubai, in an M&A environment after Amazon acquired, the leading e-commerce playr in UAE, Saudi and Egypt.

I took on an Individual Contributor (IC, meaning you are it – no team below to delegate to!) role for the first time at the age of 44, but then grew the team to 20+ across four functions.

Whenever a challenge came up which I saw the senior leadership struggle with, I stepped up to own it, put my neck on the line and solve it.

After a while, the stepping up was no more needed, and things started to be assigned my way by the trusting and thankful leadership, and I delivered what they wanted.

That included three months in Amman, Jordan, leading a team of about 300 Jordanians, which then led me to a business critical assignment in Amazon logistics in the end of 2020 and then a shift to Fulfilment Centre as a Site leader, managing 24×7 operations to make sure customers got they had ordered, in time, with a smile.

While it was easy to be ‘a tiger’ in comfort zone after a while, I chose to take on challenges and high risks, and got rewarded for it.

I hence see myself now as a strong senior leader on the other side of the fence, with an excellent skill set in an MNC setting, and much in demand.

Much of it has been thanks to four years in Navy training and the twenty thereafter, the 11 roles in six cities and two countries, and the rest is how I leveraged it post the Navy.

Tips for getting the right job for military veterans looking for a career change

a) Stay humble and do not carry the ‘fauji’ baggage and hierarchical mindset. I did extremely well while in the Navy, but unfortunately did not get promoted when I thought I should have. Head held high, I moved out, re-attired, learnt fast and equipped myself, and transformed into a valuable asset in the corporate sector.

b) Learn from the lowest rung in the organization, then the next, and so on upwards, to build a strong foundation – don’t skim the surface and appear to know it all. Ask your questions, don’t assume, learn fast, and make sure not to repeat a mistake.

c) When you see a leader you admire, persevere to make them your mentor, and show them you value their feedback and time when they do. Retain bridges, irrespective of whether you need them, and generously help others in need, with no selfish motives.

d) Manage your time well and schedule everything that is important to you, including for learning, networking, building talent in your team and mentoring those following you. At the same time, learn to say ‘No’ firmly but politely where unable to accommodate. Don’t aim to please them all – you are not fighting the next election and you don’t have time.

e) Work for the right leaders, stay genuine, cheerful and positive and be the person of choice for your organization – upwards and down equally.

Also check out these blogs for military candidates looking for a career change:
MBA after 40 for former Navy officer and ISB grad
GMAT-based MBA abroad for Indian army officers
How can an MBA help with career change

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Sameer Kamat
About Sameer Kamat
Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here's more about me. Follow me on: Instagram | Linkedin | Youtube

3 thoughts on “Career options & life after Military retirement for Army, Navy, Air Force veterans”

  1. Hi, Shyam. You have succinctly highlighted the recommended transition roadmap for a Veteran. Having gone through a similar path, I would like to share a few things for the transitioning Veterans:
    – Acknowledge the skill gap. Remember the 5-stage competency model.
    – See an MBA as an investment to bridge the skill gap. MBA will not get a job; Networking and flexibility will!
    – Write Resume (Max 2-page) in Corporate language and not in Military language, keeping the resume style simple so that ATS reads it all. A good resume may take more than a month, so be patient and prepare early.
    – Pick your 5-6 Military achievements and build stories around them. Highlight Military career but, more importantly, substantiate your transferable skills with data.
    – No risk, no reward. Do not settle for anything and everything. Go for your passion!

  2. thank you Shyam, sir and Mbacrystalball for roping him back to share his thoughts and experiences on my request. It is indeed very helpful.

  3. Namaskar Sir,
    I have completed MBA in 2021. Can I hope for a job. I am searching a job urgently. I worked in hospitality. Please refer my CV LinkedIn profile, kindly help if any possibility,
    I am retired from Indian Navy in 2010,

    Thanks and regards,

    Virender Vats


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