Thanks to the strong ties they forged in the service, those considering M.B.A. degrees tend to flock to institutions with robust veteran communities. That’s what sold U.S. Navy Lieutenant Scott Poitevent on the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, where veterans comprise about 7% of the M.B.A. population.
Mr. Poitevent is president of the Darden Military Association, which holds recruiting events for veterans, arranges talks with top executives who have military backgrounds and schedules social events.
A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School, the nine-year veteran served two tours each in Iraq and Afghanistan, most recently as platoon officer-in-charge for a laboratory that analyzed bomb parts. His next mission: a full-time position with the Parthenon Group, a strategy consulting firm, after he graduates next year.
In a recent interview, the 33-year-old talked about settling back into campus life and why veterans make valuable classmates. Edited excerpts:
WSJ: Why did you want to attend business school?
Mr. Poitevent: I thought it would be a good place to put some thought behind choosing a career. I knew what I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t interested in banking. There was a decent pull for consulting, as well as general management. I also wanted to research entrepreneurship.
[At Darden], there were a lot of parallels to the community experience I had in the military. Hardworking and high-performing, but also fun and social.
WSJ: What skills do veterans bring to the classroom?
Mr. Poitevent: We know how to plug into a team environment and cut through personal differences, cultural differences.
People with military experience have more stories about how they had to use influence rather than authority to achieve a goal in an organization, whereas everybody thinks we just tell people to do [something] and they jump to it.
WSJ: To whom did you turn for advice on the admission process?
Mr. Poitevent: I mostly talked with friends [from the Navy]. Nobody could speak from a mentorship perspective, but when I started looking at Darden, the military association here reached out and provided that dialogue that might have been missing from the more formal environment in the Navy.
It’s a little bit harder to say in an application, “This is where I see myself going, this is how an M.B.A. fits in my overall plan.” Obviously, we’re not going back into the service. It’s about crafting that story.
WSJ: Were there challenges in settling back into school?
Mr. Poitevent: The thing for me was recognizing that I’m in a very deep minority now as a veteran. It was my responsibility to figure out how to work on a team in a civilian setting.
There’s a lack of perspective that can sometimes be a little frustrating. This isn’t unique to an M.B.A. program but rather a more general transition challenge. We’ve spent the last however many years [deployed], we lose some really important people, and some [civilians] don’t even realize that we still have people in Afghanistan. It can come in very isolated moments, but bringing diplomacy to that can be a challenge.
WSJ: What does the Darden Military Association do to support other veterans?
Mr. Poitevent: We do interview workshops, we get folks on the phone with alumni, and we work on recruiting the next class.
[We brought] the student body together to film a Veterans Day hello video for one of our classmates [last month]. He had to put his M.B.A. pursuits on hold to go on a yearlong deployment for the Army National Guard.
WSJ: Did the veteran network play a role in your job hunt?
Mr. Poitevent: I met with consultants, general managers, and also vets who started their own companies. They gave me the perspective on what it’s like being a veteran in that industry.
It’s hard to find a company that says that they don’t like vets, but some are stronger supporters than others. Finding a vet in an organization that can validate that stance is important.
Write to Melissa Korn at email@example.com