BTU 143: Active Duty to Consultant at Bain & Co. (Trevor Miller)

"He said, ‘You could probably make the jump right away’. Then I started to look more into what management consulting was. I just found myself remembering the difference in my personal development from my time in graduate school compared with my time in the Marine Corps. So I came to the conclusion that If I could make the leap directly, I would.”- Trevor Miller

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Trevor Miller is a Consultant at Bain & Company in their Boston office. He started out at the US Naval Academy, after which he earned his Master of Public Administration at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served in the Marine Corps as a Force Reconnaissance Officer for six years, before transitioning to Bain.

Why to Listen: 

Trevor managed to go directly from Active Duty military to Bain & Company, something that less than 7% of military veterans in Management Consulting are able to do. He talks about preparing for one's transition to a civilian career as early as possible, and also being willing to take a step back and take the longview on one's career.

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Selected Resources: 

Transcript & Time Stamps: 


Today is Episode #143 with Trevor Miller. I hope 2018 has gotten off to a great start for all of you. I’m excited about my interview with Trevor Miller today. Trevor is one of the three panelists for the Veterans in Consulting seminar I’ll be hosting on January 17th.


Trevor went directly from active duty to Bain & Company in their Boston office. He talks about starting your transition preparation early, while you’re still on active duty. He also talks about being willing to take a step back in your career as you transition out of active duty. Of course, this is a great episode if you’re considering consulting.


One last thing, a plug for leaving Beyond the Uniform a review on iTunes. I would very much appreciate if you’re able to leave us a positive review. It really helps us reach more veterans. With that, let’s dive in to my interview with Trevor Miller.


Joining me today from Boston, Massachusetts is Trevor Miller. Special thanks to Kristen Sproat Colley for introducing me to Trevor. Trevor is also going to be on our panel for veterans in consulting that is coming up in a couple weeks. Trevor is a consultant at Bain & Company at its’ Boston office. Trevor started off at the Naval Academy and then went on to earn his Master’s of Public Administration from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. He served in the Marine Corps as a Force Reconnaissance Officer for six years and then transitioned directly into Bain. I’ve been diving into some data surrounding veterans in consulting. Only something like 5% of veterans are able to go directly from military service into consulting. And Bain is by far the most difficult to get into. So I’m really excited to have Trevor on the show because he has done what statistically is very difficult to do.


Trevor, how would you explain what you do for a living?

That’s a great question that I thought I knew the answer to but now that I’m here doing it every day, my perspective has evolved. At the most basic level, a management consultant is an advisor. The role that you take as an advisor can vary significantly in terms of function or industry. But generally speaking, Bain focuses on helping clients with strategy level questions. If you're making a military analogy, you’re talking about strategy planning. These are plans that have the potential to be implemented over several years but could have even longer time horizons. They’re generally thorny issues which is a reason why consultants are brought in. There are many cases where it helps to get a third party’s point of view. So that’s what we do - we take a very data driven look at an issue and then provide recommendations for ways forward. Sometimes, we’ll help them action it but really they are set up to be able to do that themselves.


What does the structure of your day-to-day or month-to-month look like?

There’s a high degree of variance. I would put the typical day into two categories - one in which you’re at the office and one in which you’re away working on a case. In my experience, the day tends to be a bit earlier if you’re away on a case. You usually have a team meeting in the morning to get everyone on the same page. You might be working on some sort of analysis or doing phone calls from the client site. You could be meeting with clients. In the afternoon, you generally check in with your team and see what kind of progress everyone is making. The majority of my cases have been local cases. Usually with these cases, there’s less client interaction and you might be working at your desk in the office for most of the time. You truly are an individual contributor in many ways and there might be less team and client interaction than you may think.


I can see how that might be appealing or unappealing depending upon your personality. Some people might like that occasional team get together and then breaking off and working on your individual piece while for the extreme extrovert, he or she may wish there was more interaction among the team.

I have two children so most people that talk to me think that I gravitate toward local work because the hours tend to be a bit more reliable as far as getting home. But in many ways I actually prefer travel cases because you get more of that team experience. Even if you’re all not working on the exact same thing, you’re there with your team and it’s a bit like a war room mentality. I get energy out of that type of work.


What is your schedule like during weekends? Do you find yourself working?

I’ve been here since July and I have yet to work a weekend. I would say that in some people’s case, that hasn’t been the same. For me, I make it a point. One of the things that we do here when a team starts is that you share your priorities. For me it’s a hard line that I’m not even going to look at my email over the weekend. I used to think about this mentality about being lazy or unmotivated. But it’s something that I’ve committed myself during my time here and I’ve been able to strengthen my relationship with my wife and kids. I think it even improves the quality of my work during the week because I know I have to focus on what I need to get done.  


I think sharing your priorities with one another at the onset of a project is a great practice. That way you’re all able to have your needs be met while still accomplishing your goals for the project.

And I think it’s iterative too. Whether it’s management consulting or many other jobs, as a project goes on, people can start to lose sight of their goals. This is a way to keep people honest. It’s something I wish I had done more of in the military.


How were you able to go directly from the military to Bain?

Nothing was done deliberately to make that possible. The most immediate thing that helped was that I went to graduate school immediately after the Naval Academy. For those looking into consulting, a graduate degree can be almost mandatory.  I think this is a reason a lot of veterans go to business school if they are interested in pursuing consulting.


While my graduate degree was important, the things that I happened to do as an Infantry Officer and as a Force Reconnaissance Officer helped build skills that parallel what I now do as a consultant. Particularly during my time as a Force Reconnaissance Officer, we weren’t doing those deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq anymore. We were doing a lot of going to other countries and training with their Special Operations units. We would exchange techniques and also improve their processes and make them more effective allies of the United States. It was a pretty similar process to management consulting. It’s going in, listening to what the problem or issue is, helping people think through them and communicate a solution.


What was the application process like when you decided to get into consulting?

For me, I wanted to make the biggest impact I could, no matter what that was. I wanted to be as close to the tip of the spear as possible. That’s why I chose the Marine Corps out of the Academy and then Infantry and finally Force Reconnaissance. But the way my career played out against geopolitics, I always felt like i was showing up a year late. That left me feeling unfulfilled. I looked into working in security with other government agencies that I had worked with during my time in the Marines. However, these positions came with huge time commitments. Most positions would have you gone at least 50% of the year. I’ve very proud I served my country but eventually I decided that there were other things I was interested in outside the military.


I actually thought about going to business school. It seemed like a path a lot of people took after the military. In particular, I was interested in Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. I thought, ‘this is the place for me’. I was interested in entrepreneurship and starting my own business. I called up a friend of mine who went to the Kennedy School with me. He later went on to Stanford GSB. He said to me, ‘well what do you want to do after business school’. My first thought was management consulting because I would have the opportunity to learn first hand everything I had learned in business school. My friend told me that I could make the jump right away. I just found myself remembering the difference in my personal development from my time in graduate school compared with my time in the Marine Corps. So I came to the conclusion that If i could make the jump, I wanted to do that. I’m lucky, I had resources like Kristen Colley to ask about the industry and the application process.


How did you choose Bain over other consulting firms?

I did some research and learned that Bain, McKinsey, and Boston Consulting Group were the top firms so I wanted to try to get in with one of them. I also looked into Deloitte and other highly respected firms. In terms of choosing Bain, it was driven by people I met along the way. Bain struck me as analogous to the Marine Corps. Bain is the smallest of the Top 3 consulting firms. To me, it felt very close knit. The other veterans I came across at Bain were genuinely interested in me as a person. I also really liked their home staffing model because you got close with the people you were working with.


How can an applicant prepare and stand out during the application process?

For veterans, the single biggest hurdle is translating your accomplishments from what you did in the  military to what you want to do in the civilian sector. You take for granted that other people will understand what you have done. Being in the military for any amount of time, you assume that people will know for example, what a deployment is like. But that’s not normally general knowledge. So being able to take those experiences and translate that is key. The other piece is that your resume has to be tailored to both the role and the company that you are going after. Not only are you describing things in a what that makes sense to them but you’re also highlighting things that are important to that company.


An example of this is being able to highlight your leadership impacts, especially as an officer. At a very young age, you get the opportunity to lead large amounts of people. So I would encourage people to focus on highlighting those types of things.


As far as interviews, I would say that the biggest thing is repetitions. I read four different book including Case in Point and Crack the Case. I also ran 60 practice cases before I did my first interview. If I hadn’t done that much preparation, I think I would have failed.


Do you have any examples of how you translated your military experience?

My last job in the Marines - I was a Force Reconnaissance Platoon Commander. One of our obligations was to be the Crisis Response Force for the Marine Corps in the Western Hemisphere. I was very proud to serve in that role but if I said that during an interview, it might not translate. So what I did was drill that down into more specific pieces. For example, I met with senior executives and described our status and mission plans. At the same time, I prepared my Marines and explained the mission to them. When I focused in on my comfort with communicating with senior leaders or with my team, I think that resonated much more in an interview.


Any other thoughts on interview preparation?

If you’re going down this road and preparing for a consulting interview, don’t be discouraged by feeling like you’re not good at the case interview. I went through the process myself and over the course of the past few months, I’ve helped others prepare as well. As far as I can tell, people aren’t really natural at the process. For me, I had moments where I thought my preparation might be a waste of time because I wasn’t smart enough to work in consulting. But the more you prepare, the more comfortable you will become. It starts to be formulaic. All the case interview is doing is simulating solving a problem collaboratively. It was not until I reached a certain point that I really felt comfortable and understood the framework.


I really like what you’re saying about not getting discouraged because I think a lot of veterans have very high standards for themselves and can get discouraged and frustrated when they’re not immediately good at something.

There’s a nugget in there too where veterans are by definition older than someone that goes straight into consulting after undergrad. Because of that, you want to be better and it can be very humbling when you’re not.


Any thoughts on why a career in consulting may appeal to a veteran?

A lot of the appeal of consulting is that you get to work on very interesting problems. Especially for veterans who may not know exactly what you want to go into, management consulting offers the opportunity to work on the cutting edge of many different companies. That was a reason why I pursued it so much. What I would caution people to also think about is to make sure that these types of problems and structures appeal to you. For example, does being an advisor rather than an operator appeal to you? You could offer a solution to a client but they might ultimately not go that route and you have no say in that. Another difficult thing is when a client says that they are going to pursue it and then you leave but you never get to stay and see how it turns out. For me, I like that process. But if you’re interested in learning about things in greater depth, it might not be the best fit for you.


I appreciate that answer because I think there’s a lot in conusluting as far as getting used to that planning process that might be uncomfortable for veterans and yet that discomfort is a real opportunity for growth and learning.

Yes, I’ve definitely learned in consulting that this is a valuable way to look at problems. To take a structured approach, take a step back, and look at your different options. It can be uncomfortable because it's not what veterans are used to but that discomfort can be very valuable.


Are there any resources you would recommend to veterans?

I recommend Military to Business. It’s an organization that offers advice on shaping your resume and preparing a business school application. They also have a blog that is very helpful. Even for me, someone that didn’t go to business school, the information was very helpful. I found it to be a very high quality and free resource.

I’m also a big Victor Cheng promoter. He also has a lot of great stuff that’s free.

I like your podcast as well. It’s truly a good place to learn about what other people have done. I think it’s so valuable to hear about other people's stories and the decisions they have made.


Is there anything else we haven’t covered that you would like to share?

First of all on a logistical level, start early. I was blown away by how much effort was required to transition. Don’t forget about how much time this will take to make these preparations. Many schools and jobs have timelines that are outside your control and if you don’t think about it early enough, you run the risk of missing a deadline.

I would also advise you not to sell yourself short. When I was writing my resume and in my early networking stages, I had a tendency to downplay my accomplishments because in the military there is a culture that your accomplishments are because of your team. So I didn’t feel comfortable always saying that we were the best at something. But in the business world that’s not perceived as humility, it’s perceived as not being successful. So I think it ends up hurting a lot of veterans who are afraid to speak about their accomplishments.


Can you make any recommendations about how to do this in a way that feels authentic?

Let’s face it - this is one of the reasons people hate applying for jobs. Because no matter what you do, at some point you feel like you’re bragging and that’s uncomfortable. For me, I try to put things with a numerical reference. Whether that was the budget you were in charge of or your ranking in comparison to your peer group. And then focusing on what you actually did. You can talk about counseling your people. Just by virtue of being in charge of people, that’s going to differentiate you from your peers that have been working in the corporate world.


Thanks so much Trevor. I really appreciate the time you took to speak with me today. I’m looking forward to having you on the Veterans in Consulting in a couple weeks.