Phil Caruso, JD/MBA '19, has served as a U.S. Air Force officer for seven years on active duty and four years in the reserve.  He continues to pay his luck forward as a Co-Director of the Harvard Veterans Organization and as the Corporate Secretary of The COMMIT Foundation, at which he helps veterans find personal and professional purpose after military service. In this three-part series, Phil Caruso discusses how to set career goals after the military, how to pursue a JD/MBA, and how to get the most out of your graduate education.  

Part 1: Setting Career Goals 

Thinking about leaving the military?  Thinking about what you will do next?  Consider a JD/MBA.  

I was once in your shoes.  I decided to leave the military after seven years of active duty service and landed at Harvard Law School in 2015 as a youthful 29-year-old.  My transition began over two years earlier when I enrolled in a LSAT course and applied to both HBS and HLS.  Now, in 2019, I confess that it is not over – and I’d be lying if I said it was easy. 

Having advised dozens of veterans applying to the JD/MBA program through Service2School and my personal network, I know that high performing veterans are attracted to the JD/MBA and typically jump quickly from considering separation or retirement to determining how to navigate the JD/MBA application process.  Although I discuss tactical considerations later in this piece, I urge veterans to first ask whether the program is the right path for them.  I advise veterans to also think strategically about careers, goals, and desired end states before determining what path they must take to get there.  The Harvard JD/MBA program is a versatile and immensely beneficial professional development program, but there are many other great options for veterans. 

How to Think About Your Next and Last Job(s) 

The first step in transition is to assess what’s out there.  I recommend veterans to research potential career paths extensively before determining what education or training experience is necessary; think of this as a massive personal intelligence collection and analysis operation.  Reach out to friends and acquaintances in your networks to better understand available careers.  You may have more success with cold messaging people on LinkedIn than you think (h/t to my fellow veteran Logan Leslie JD/MBA ’19 here).   

Take advantage of veterans transition programs offered by organizations like the COMMIT Foundation (full disclosure: I volunteer with COMMIT) and many private sector companies through which you can get exposed to those companies and jobs.  Read as many books as you can; I read books like Barbarians at the Gate and The Firm that informed my hypotheses about career interests and ultimately my decision to pursue the JD/MBA.  Keep in mind, however, that each person or book provides a certain point of view and beware of the herd mentality.  Don’t be afraid to chart your own course.  It is also important that you think about where you want to be five and ten years out of graduate school, and what will make you happy in ten years? 

Once you have an idea of what you might want to do (both short-term and long-term), determine what you need to do to get there.  Talk to more friends and do some more research.  Reflect honestly on your strengths and weaknesses.  In what areas do you need training, education, or experience?  Do those areas align with graduate school and the JD or the MBA, or both?  Consider whether you need a degree at all, and if you do, which one.  Think of professional degrees as either building upon an existing skillset and knowledge base that you have or a low-risk opportunity to pivot into an entirely new field, or both.  I came to the conclusion that the JD/MBA was best for me because I had dual career interests in private equity and national security/foreign policy-oriented public service that did not both align around one graduate degree.  I chose law school to further my education in both national security law and mergers & acquisitions.  I chose business school to further my education in finance, business, and management that would be useful to me in both private equity and government.