IMA Reservists as Consultants

  Reservists are not all the same. There are the traditional reservists, who work on a regular basis with other reservists, and then there’s the IMA reservists, who are attached to active duty units.  For the non-military folks, IMA reservists are basically consultants.

  Like consultants, IMA reservists come in as an outsider.  You have to build credibility and develop relationships, and that takes time. It’s like being new to a unit and having to prove yourself as a leader and as an officer, but you don’t have the luxury of time on your side. On the plus side, you get to swoop in and provide skills and experience to the unit that they might not otherwise have, and you get to choose when you come in. You have a lot of say in deciding what kind of work you do and the projects that you want to tackle. You’ll need a unique blend of analytical skills and communication skills. 

  However, IMA reservists face challenges that most consultants don’t have. You won’t have a team of people helping you. No case manager, no account/client specialist, no junior analyst…you’re it. A common saying among IMA reservists is that IMA stands for “I am alone.” To succeed, you have to be really proactive. You won’t necessarily get told what to do or how to do it. You might not have anyone walk up to you and hand you projects and assignments, or shepherd you through any processes. You have to learn these things on your own. Think of it as being a one-person consultancy. 

  I heard that in order for consultants to be really successful, you need to look beyond the project or particular task you’re being asked to do.  Find out *why* the client wants you to do this project – behind every project and task there’s a business problem that needs to be solved.  By just doing what you’re told and doing the project, it won’t necessarily solve the underlying problem that the client has.  I think this applies to the IMA Reservist case as well. You need to ask questions and do some searching to find out what the problem is, and then present yourself as an ally to the unit.  You can’t work “within” the program anymore, you have to work “on” the program and the organization itself. 

  The best thing about my MBA (so far) is that I’ve been able to rapidly expand my solution toolset, which will allow me to design better work projects. In my first IMA tour I saw more problems and projects than I knew how to solve by myself, and ended up being overcommitted. Now I have a much better feel for how much it’s going to take to accomplish a discrete task or project, and I now have more transferrable skills that can help me solve more problems and take on more projects. 

Opportunity Costs

option from Flickr via Wylio
© 2006 Bill Ohl, Flickr | CC-BY-ND | via Wylio

  The Full-time MBA Class of 2016 at UW is a little over two months into the MBA program and we have finals next week. It’s been a good run so far, but the fear of missing out is going to ramp up again next quarter.

  When you choose to go back to school, you sacrifice your time and the wages you’d be earning from another job. This is an explicit opportunity cost that my classmates have calculated to some degree. There’s also the ‘fear of missing out’ (FOMO), which we get from social media news feeds.  

  But as a MBA student, there is one more source of FOMO: the never-ending parade of optional activities and opportunities that present themselves to you.  There are meet-the-firms, independent study (consulting) projects, speaker series, case competitions, and networking events competing for your attention. If you’re in a student club (or two, or three, or eight), then you have club activities to attend or organize. You have the various centers (consulting, entrepreneurship, global business, etc) that host a ton of events and need your help. You have opportunities with career management to improve your public speaking skills, review your resume, practice your interviewing, etc. And this is all just for the business school. UW has a ton of events happening all over campus that could be interesting to you. Outside of the University, there are a ton of events happening in Seattle, too. Oh, and there’s the job hunt to worry about, too!

  At some point, you’ll have to prioritize your time around the activities that mean the most to you. You can try to overload your schedule, haphazardly going to each and every event that you might be interested in, so that you can find that one thing that will get you that dream job you’ve been hoping for. Do you feel pressure to go to as many events as you can, to maximize the effect of your shotgun approach? 

  This can certainly work, but remember why you decided to go back to school, and what you want to get out of it. Is it a network? Is it an education? Is it a job? Just make sure you’re not attending events or agreeing to meetings that don’t add enough value to you. You need to learn how to say no. Remember that there’s an opportunity cost to going back to school, and there’s an opportunity cost to pursue one opportunity over another. You’re going to have to consciously make tradeoffs.