Founded in 2009, the MBA Veterans Network® is a professional networking and advocacy organization for military veterans and alumni. The organization’s flagship event is the MBA Veterans Conference, which connects first- and second-year MBA students, all of whom are military veterans, with dozens of America’s leading MBA employers. Every fall, a group of Vanderbilt Business veterans attend the conference, building relationships with employers as well as veterans at other schools.
This year’s conference was held from October 10 to 11 in Chicago, IL. Three of Owen’s attendees — Severin Walstead, Kara Davis, and Will Szymczak — share their thoughts on the experience below.
Severin Walstead (MBA’21)
Before even attending one class at Vanderbilt, I registered for the MBA Veterans Conference. I had no idea then what a good decision that would turn out to be. After nearly two months of being out of the service, I was getting to spend some time with veterans from all around the country. The conference was a phenomenal weekend that brought back a flood of memories and a reminder of the camaraderie I felt in the Navy. We are all now on a different part of our journey through life, and just speaking with each other was a comfort. You don’t realize until you have it again just how much you missed being a part of something bigger.
The recruiting aspect of the conference was amazing, because it was an opportunity to interact with companies that don’t recruit on-campus at Vanderbilt. This added to the already great opportunities that Owen offers. Whether it was speaking with Google or defense contractors or consultants, there were a ton of veterans on both sides of the recruiting coin to help attendees figure out what their next career was going to be.
I left the conference feeling like I had a better idea of what I wanted to do. Furthermore, I came back closer with my fellow veterans at Vandy. I can’t wait to go back one day and be a recruiter myself. I was really impressed with how much the people there wanted to help each one of us, and I want to be able to return that favor. You aren’t going to find a better conference that will provide you with endless candid conversations and great perspectives on making this transition to the private sector. I’m excited for what comes next (hopefully a job)! —Severin Walstead
Kara Davis (MBA’21)
When choosing an MBA conference to attend, I selected the MBA Veterans Conference knowing the companies attending already valued military experience and were there specifically to recruit individuals with that foundation. This took the pressure off my ability to communicate how my skills and experiences are transferable in a short amount of time.
Looking back, that just scratched the surface of the benefit of the conference. For me, the true value was hearing over 30 company presentations where veteran representatives explained their transitions from the service into successful civilian careers. They shed light on the ways a veteran skill set applied to their successful professional journeys at their current companies. As a candidate, I was able to see the application of military experience across industries and at specific companies in which I had an interest. The personal accounts helped further my understanding of how my skills and experiences transferred in ways I had not yet identified.
The aspect of the conference I appreciated most was the way it connected candidates and companies online well before the day of the conference. Showing interest in job postings and connecting with companies beforehand helped me capitalize on the time and money I invested in the conference; I arrived with interviews already scheduled and access to a list of the specific internships and jobs for which companies were recruiting. At events like this, time is limited, so I appreciated being able to plan how to prioritize my time networking.
Another benefit was networking with veterans representing companies I had never considered before the conference. Networking can be intimidating, so meeting a fellow veteran made it less intimidating and easier to connect. I highly recommend the conference to all Owen veterans. It was an enjoyable event which opened the door to multiple opportunities. —Kara Davis
Will Szymczak (MBA’20)
As a second-year MBA student, I returned to the MBA Veterans Conference due to a great experience the previous year. Before the conference, I was able to express interest in potential employers and job postings. If the company was also interested, they could setup interviews well in advance, allowing me ample time to prepare. Interested companies also offer networking opportunities for happy hour, dinner, and breakfast the following day.
While the school does a great job giving students access to desirable employers, the MBA Veterans Conference offers a plethora of new companies I otherwise would not have access to. Additionally, the companies who do recruit on campus often send veterans to interview applicants at the conference, which enabled me to better connect my military experience to the roles I had applied for.
For me, the biggest benefit was the size of the conference. There were only about 500 participants and 65 companies. This facilitated my networking experience and allowed me to get the most out of the job fair. I never felt rushed when speaking with a company’s representative and was able to secure an additional interview from these added interactions. The shared experience of company representatives and conference participants made these interactions more meaningful and led to deeper connections in my opinion.
All-in-all, the conference was a valuable experience for me. The advice and candid feedback I received were invaluable. I would recommend attendance to any veteran seeking off-campus opportunities or who would feel more comfortable speaking with veterans as they begin their transition. —Will Szymczak