We use ex-McKinsey, BCG et al. partners to prepare you for case interviews at the most elite consulting firms.
We are the only firm worldwide using ex-partners. We do this because we believe only partners who make the final hiring decision in the final round case interview should be training you.
My name is Kris Safarova and I am the CEO FIRMSconsulting.com. I work with a network of eminent ex-McKinsey, BCG et al. partners, like Kevin, Bill, Michael and many others who produce all the content on the site.
Since 2010, when FIRMSconsulting.com was founded, I have assembled a universe of digital platforms teaching case interviews and business strategy. Our goal is not only to get you into McKinsey but to help you succeed far beyond the firm. We see McKinsey and BCG as mere stepping stones and while we focus on case interviews, we use ex-partners to equip clients with the broader thinking skills to solve mankind’s toughest problems.I have noticed one thing in common with everyone who either comments on FIRMSconsulting.com or our case interviews podcast channel which is ranked #1 in the world for case interviews: everyone is unsure of what to do and/or starting with little… Click To Tweet
I know it can be scary. It can seem overwhelming and intimidating. You may not even live in a country with a McKinsey office. I am here to tell you that with focus, the right attitude and deliberate preparation you can do very well.
- I know this to be true since we have coached >1,200 clients into elite consulting firms, with an 80% success rate for McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. We coach clients trying to enter McKinsey and BCG at all levels from business analyst to equity partner.
- We also run the unique TCO program where partners take real participants and coach them for McKinsey, BCG et al. interviews. We record this process and make it available to clients. We have always successfully placed a participant in every season and we are now in the 6th season.
Successful coaching and TCO candidates have typically failed in their past attempts into MBB, before working with us. We selected such clients with challenging backgrounds because it allows us to show clients that anyone can get in. If they can do well, so can you if you put in the required effort with sufficient time.My final advice is to have fun doing this. Do it for the right reasons. Do it to learn the skills to solve really complex business problems and make a genuine difference in the world. Click To Tweet
Management consulting is such a tough field that if you are doing it for just the money or prestige, it is unlikely you will last long. Our goal is not to get you into McKinsey. Our goal is to prepare you for a great career that comes within and after McKinsey.
What is a case interview?
Here is our definition of a case interview, which is one part of the overall process.
Different websites will offer different definitions for a case interview. I am going to offer you the explanations our partners use when training TCO participants, coaching case interview clients or producing the numerous podcasts and Youtube videos we produce.
This is meant to be a practical definition that you can use to improve your results in actual interviews.A case interview is one part of the interview process that consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain etc., use to determine if you should be hired, but it is not the overall interview process. Click To Tweet
This is an important definition.
Newcomers to the case interview process or casual readers use the term case interview to collectively refer to the entire interview process when the case component is actually just one part of the overall interview process.
Other common parts of the overall interview process built around the case interview include:
(1) PST (Problem Solving Test)
(2) PEI/FIT Interviews (Personal Experience Interview)
(3) General small talk where fit is being assessed
(4) Estimation questions
(5) Brainstorming questions
(6) Brainteasers (uncommon at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain)
Below you can see the type of interview you will have is determined by your educational level.
For someone joining as a Business Analyst at McKinsey, you may never receive a full case interview. Your interview experience may only comprise the 6 steps above.
PhDs and some other advanced degree holders like lawyers will go through all 6 steps above but may also go through more than one case interview, including a group case interview.
Your interview format can also be driven by the seniority you wish to join.
Someone hoping to join McKinsey as a Principal will go through all 6 steps plus case interviews, including interviews with more than one partner and senior partner.
Someone hoping to join McKinsey as an Equity Partner (Director) will usually only meet other partners and senior partners. There will be no cases, no PST and it’s largely PEI.
Your interview format can also be driven by the part of McKinsey, BCG or Bain you intend to join
McKinsey Implementation applicants go through more detailed FIT/PEI questions to see how they were able to influence colleagues to change their behavior on critical path tasks, without alienating or sidelining the colleague.
McKinsey Solutions applicants will receive cases but the structure and approach are unique to that part of solutions. The case may look nothing like a typical case or may resemble a typical case. In some parts, you may need to build a model as part of the interview.
So here is another definition of a case interview.
A case interview is that part of the interview process where the firm tests your ability to solve a general business problem where there is either so much information or paths to the solution, that the interview must bring some order/structure to co-solve the problem with the interviewer.
The part about co-solving is important. Interviewers always have tips, data, hints, and guidance to offer, but they will slowly release it over the duration of the case interview. The role of the interviewee is to manage the case interview so that the interviewer offers this advice. This is what we mean by co-solving. The interviewee must find ways to extract this information versus trying to do everything by themselves.
FIRMSconsulting.com teaches all steps of the overall case interview process, including the case interview itself.
We are not trying to be the biggest or sell anything. We try to be the best and rely entirely on referrals.
We practice seven values. We impart seven values.
Our values define us and our independence is sacrosanct. Every decision we make at FIRMSconsulting and every action we take is always in keeping with our curated value system. We always place our clients’ interest first and do not disclose client identities. We treat client information as if it were our own. We make recommendations which we would personally follow, no matter how unpopular or controversial they may be.
We are not a business. We are a philosophy practiced by professionals who view ethical business as the highest calling. We use a simple test to determine if we are honoring our principles: can we routinely cite instances were we declined a potentially lucrative deal because it was not in keeping with our value system? We believe there is no point in having principles if we refuse to follow them when it counts the most.
As a member of the FIRMSconsulting community, users and readers must adhere to our value system.
Our decisions do not compromise our values.
We are not a value-driven organization pursuing profits. We are a values-driven organization following an internal code of conduct which we always place before monetary gain. Our independence allows us to routinely disagree with clients and share unpopular ideas when doing so places a client’s best interests before our own. We build long-term client relationships and champion counter-intuitive views which may be unpopular to hear, and difficult to execute, but are required to bring about the required changes in clients.
We display the highest standards of professional integrity.
Both during our pursuit of your goals and thereafter, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of professional conduct. We honor our commitments. We hold our clients to equally high standards.
We manage our clients’ resources and reputations as if they were our own.
We bring the best of the Firm to every client relationship and may take unpopular steps to enhance our clients’ reputations. We take great pride in refusing to follow conventional wisdom when the data suggests a different approach.
We practice intellectual humility.
We generously dispense advice while engaging stakeholders on the belief that respect is a right. It need not be earned. We treat all clients in a manner demonstrating our belief they will one day take a leadership role.
We keep all information confidential.
We do not advertise nor market ourselves nor disclose confidential information. We best serve our clients by only enacting discrete initiatives to support their ambitions.
We let our impact speak for itself.
We do not advertise. We do not sell. We do not solicit clients. We strictly work on a referral basis. Our intentions and results will determine our destiny.
We strive to develop balanced consulting leaders.
We will develop our clients’ will, character, capacity, and capability to accomplish their goals.
How to interpret offer decisions.
Knowing how to interpret an offer decision by a firm helps you develop a case interview preparation approach.
Every client in both coaching and TCO is always unsure of their performance on the day of the last interview. This has been consistent across all the years, countries, degrees and entry levels. Clients may be optimistic but they are just not sure. And how can they know what will happen? Much is outside their control.
What do you think happens after they receive an offer?
While they may initially be unsure, we find that almost all clients eventually decide that they know with absolute certainty why they received an offer.
Some believe it was because their PEI was excellent.
Others believe it was their networking.
Some believe it was because they practiced 120 cases.
Everyone believes they know exactly why they received an offer with a great degree of confidence.
They take this knowledge, from just one experience and some anecdotal evidence from colleagues, and begin extrapolating it when they offer advice to everyone.
If Ekta did not have a problem getting an interview, she will assume all interviews are very easy to obtain.
If Rohan faced an interviewee-led case at McKinsey, he assumes everyone should expect this.
If Zifei shared the same background as the interviewer, then that must be the reason she received the offer and she will assume everyone should look for similarities with their interviewer.
Consultants and ex-consultants tend to take their singular experience and assume it is representative of all experiences that all case interview applicants will go through.
Firms and even offices are not homogenous. That is a mistake many applicants make. What works in one office will loosely work everywhere but there are huge differences.
Firms are also legally risk averse in stating the real reason an applicant was denied. Firms always present reasons for a denial or offer in language that is legally defensible even if it may not be the correct reason.
Let’s explain this in a different way, and why you should be critical in any advice you receive, no matter how well weaning.
If Ekta received an offer at Bain it is very possible that Bain’s first choice for that role, Rajesh, took another offer and Ekta was the backup offer.
Bain would never tell her this but of course, this happens very often. In general, if you do not receive a call within 5 minutes of leaving the interview, you were not the first choice since the firm had to think about the decision.
In her mind, any advice Ekta offers would be about how she was good enough for the role. However, the reality is her advice is really about how to be the lucky one who was the backup.
There is a cultural ranking of the firms where many assume McKinsey is better than BCG which is better than Bain which is better than etc. When someone tells you why they selected a firm it is usually a case where they had no offers from their first choice firm and had to settle for just one offer. It was not really in their control.
When someone says I chose to work at BCG because of the culture, it is usually the case they ended up with BCG because McKinsey declined them. It is the rare applicant who receives offers from 2 or 3 firms and is making a true choice.
Firms do not know if you will succeed when they hire you. That is why they have an up and out policy. Think about being hired as an audition to be a partner. If the firms do not know if a successful hire will succeed, how can the hire know?
The point is to be very careful with the advice you receive from consultants and ex-consultants because no one really and truly knows why they received the offer, no matter their convictions about why they received the offer.
Without really knowing why and how an offer was extended (or declined) do not try to precisely follow and understand feedback and advice. There are just a few things you need to do well and it better to focus on that.
5 ways to prepare for case interviews.
Each of the 5 ways will result in a different outcome for your long term career.
Across TCO and coaching >1,200 clients, we find the initial goal you have in mind determines how you prepare and how far you will go. There is nothing wrong with simply wanting to join McKinsey and hoping for the best. You may get lucky and pick up great mentors who broaden your horizons. For most, however, you will have little control over the long-term unless your goals and progress are deliberate.We also find that it is difficult to change the long-term outcome later if you started with the wrong goal in mind. And the long-term outcome is the only outcome that matters. Click To Tweet
#1 Almost making it to McKinsey.
People who tried really hard and just did not make are rarely lacking in intellect and skill. They did not fail because they were not smart. They did not fail because they did not try. They did not fail because they did not follow best-practice. They did not fail because they’re bad.
Applicants who do all of the above and just fail to get an offer usually did not know what to do and how to do it. It’s not that they were bad at doing the right things. It usually because they did not do something.
This is an important distinction. If you have followed the profiles of clients like Sveta, Irina, Sanda etc., you know they had challenging backgrounds with no support. They knew nothing about business, nothing about the western world and nothing about elite strategy consulting. What they did have is a coach who knew what they needed to know and taught them these skills.
He filled the gaps in what they did not know. It’s not as if they knew what to do and needed help improving it.
Applicants who fall into this group simply lack good guidance. You need to focus on finding the right guidance. Without the right guidance, they are forced to search on Google, sift through thousands of pieces of feedback and ultimately rely on the most popular tips even if it may not work.Relying on the most popular case interview advice online is the equivalent of noticing that the Toyota Corolla is the most prevalent car on the roads, assuming it has the best design and designing all cars to look like a Toyota Corolla. If you… Click To Tweet
#2 Joining McKinsey but never getting Promoted
The majority of applicants just want to join McKinsey. They believe that if they just joined McKinsey everything would take care of itself. The firm will guide them through the promotions to partner, they will succeed in the industry and retire as a successful business person.
Think of it this way. When you are were trying to join McKinsey you were up against a pool of applicants with a range of skills. Most were weak, some average and a small number were good, and an even smaller number were exceptional to receive an offer.
Even within that weaker pool, it was hard. Getting the offer was not easy.
Once you join McKinsey you are up only against the good and exceptional pool who received offers. If case interviews were hard, imagine how hard real engagements must be? If you needed help to join McKinsey, shouldn’t you have a deliberate plan to excel at McKinsey beyond simply going with the flow?
All the training you receive at McKinsey is the same as all the training everyone else receives so the training’s positive impact cancels itself out. You are all by yourself.
To get promoted you need to have the mindset of understanding joining McKinsey confers no advantages on you with respect to excelling at the firm. You are essentially at the starting point again.You need to tailor your case interview preparation not only to receive an offer, but to excel once you receive an offer. We focus on both. Click To Tweet
#3 Joining McKinsey and rising to EM
An Engagement Manager is essentially someone whom a partner trusts to understand the analyses and complete the analyses. In addition, they can complete the analyses not by doing it all by themselves, but by parceling out work to associates and controlling the final result.
Engagement managers essentially have such a mastery of the analyses that they can guide associates and spot problems without digging into the details or owning the details of analyses.
The inflection point most clients reach is that mastery of the analyses led to the engagement manager level, but it is not enough to move to senior engagement manager and associate manager.
Soft skills like building followers at the firm who want to be on your engagement, becoming part of a family (not a typo) within the firm, building client relationships, defending revenue streams etc., are things not explicitly taught anywhere.
Many clients believe since analytic skills took them to the engagement manager level, they try to build on this skill to get to the next level. It will not work unless a partner mentors you to the next level.
We use ex-partners to train our clients so you can see how partners work and learn to work with them. Yet, you need to explicitly start out your preparation knowing that you need a range of skills to progress.
#4 Joining McKinsey and Rising to Partner
Partners sell work. Period.
If you find partners who write books, write articles, present at conferences, host events, appear on TV or do none of the above, know that they all have one thing in common. They know how to use the activities listed earlier to convince clients to give them a lot of money to solve problems.
So you can see there are different ways to sell aka become a partner.
We do well here and focus here since FIRMSconsulting exclusively uses ex-partners of McKinsey, BCG et al., to prepare all our content and run our coaching programs. We know how to move all the way from business analyst/associate to the partnership.
The challenge in rising to the partnership is not about knowing how to sell. That is the mistake most clients make.
Both Michael and Kevin teach separate programs on sales and they both stress this point in different ways. It’s best to think of McKinsey, BCG, and Bain as made up of mini-consulting firms each headed by a senior partner. All these senior partners choose to work together under one brand and share resources.
When you join McKinsey as an associate or business analyst, you are hired by the firm. You are then auditioning to join one of these mini-consulting firms within McKinsey that will groom you in their unique approach to selling.
Your job is to figure out how to join this mini-consulting firm and that is what we teach.
It is that mini-consulting firm headed by a senior partner that nominates you to the firm-wide partnership. The firm does not nominate you to join a senior partners’ mini-consulting team.
Knowing this and knowing how to join those senior partners’ mini-consulting firm at the junior levels is how you become good at sales at the senior level. Far too many clients focus on sales when it is far too late.
#5 Succeeding as an ex-McKinsey Partner.
Do you think becoming a partner at McKinsey is an achievement? You would say yes if you are an associate.
What would you say on the day you were nominated a partner? Probably, still yes.
What would you say after having served as a McKinsey senior partner for 12 years? It’s probably less of an achievement.
What about 10 years after leaving McKinsey as a senior partner? It’s probably not much of an achievement.The partnership is like the summit of a mountain. From where you are standing as an associate it seems like the final remarkable goal. As you climb it, it is all you can see. Once you get to the top and look around, you realize there are other… Click To Tweet
Even as you are climbing the mountain your aspirations and dreams adjust. They become bigger.
Would you brag about climbing the highest peak in Wales when many others have conquered K2 and Everest?
That’s just the point being made. If you assume becoming a partner at McKinsey is the greatest prize and plan your life such that you assume things will automatically work after the partnership, it’s going to be a bleak few decades after.
Again, don’t think about the value of the partnership from your associate lens. It’s all relative to the lens you will have once you get to the partnership. Imagine the value of the partnership when you have been a partner for a few years, other more successful partners operate at the firm and younger less successful partners have gone on to become captains of industry.
We all know about the partners who become captains of industry. Many more are not so successful and end up serving on boards, starting boutique firms that eventually close or try their hands at other things that don’t do as well.
If a McKinsey partnership is the peak in your mind, then what comes next is always a descent from the peak.
Our goal is to prepare you for what comes after McKinsey. Our training is to give you the skills to join McKinsey, along with the viewpoint to understand and prepare your yourself for life after McKinsey.
We take a lifetime view of clients and try to prepare them for success in their lifetime.
Where we focus our case interview training.
Ex-partners want to train ambitious and capable people who want to go on to solve mankind’s toughest problems
We exclusively use ex-partners to prepare all our content and conduct all our coaching. Given high partner salaries, it is fair to assume they don’t need the money and don’t do this for the money. They do it because we have the platform reach literally hundreds of thousands of podcast listeners, Youtube followers, paid subscribers and coaching clients who want to change the world.
They do it because they want to scale their impact by helping others.
The partners are less enthusiastic about someone who wants to join McKinsey and sees that as the pinnacle of their career.The partners are not just focused on finding those people whom they can pass their skills onto, but whom want to use these skills to join McKinsey as the starting point to solve ambitious, inspiring and challenging problems. Click To Tweet
We focus on those clients.
We want to offer you the best possible experience and value. To do that, we need to decide whom we will serve as clients and whom we will not serve. We focus all our resources on giving the clients we choose to serve the tools they need to be successful. This is actually a good thing for everyone.
Our content tends to be longer since we explain how and why we did things. We do not provide answers but teach you how to arrive at answers by yourself.
I know we are choosing not to serve some clients. That is okay. We cannot be everything to everyone and its better for everyone, especially you, if we clearly define our ideal client.
The clients we choose to serve share several characteristics.
They understand the responsibility of being a strategy consultant. They understand it is not their right to serve a client. It is a privilege that is unregulated, non-transparent and leads to decisions that can move markets. They need to possess a strong internal compass and code of conduct. They will not abuse their power and privilege for monetary gain.
They understand that excellence takes effort, and being the best in a field does not happen overnight. There is a reason we don’t admit clients with just a few months to go before interviews. We believe it takes time to transfer all our skills to clients. It cannot be rushed and even if we could get you into McKinsey in a few weeks, which we have done very often, we want to help you succeed in the long term. Transferring a value system cannot be done quickly.
They are good people with a solid value system. We only admit applicants to our coaching programs, our flagship program, who have received a non-solicited referral from a past coaching client. We could significantly raise our revenue by accepting all applications but in this model, we know that someone we know and trust, a past client, is vetting and recommending a future client.
They want to become partners. There are some skills that only partners learn and have, that even the most gifted engagement manager will never have. We use partners. And they want to train future partners. They want to give you the skills needed to solve complex problems after you leave McKinsey or BCG.
They don’t look for shortcuts. There is a reason we don’t teach you to memorize frameworks, rather teaching you to create bespoke frameworks. Many applicants join McKinsey by memorizing frameworks, but we know that in the long term the lack of a skill to develop bespoke solutions will be an impediment. And we always take the long term view.
So there it is. That is our target audience. It is perfectly fine if you need something else that we do not offer. I feel that by being fully transparent about this, you will not be disappointed.
Where should you start?
Start with the worlds #1 ranked Case Interview and Management Consulting podcast
You do not need to spend any money, and should not spend any money, to initially develop a deep understanding of case interviews and even receive an offer. Many listeners just use our podcasts.
Our podcast channel on iTunes is ranked #1 in the world for case interviews and management consulting. It has 370 episodes and counting. It is free. Start there. Avoid complex casebooks and guides. You are not ready for that. Start simply and learn at your own pace.
Here are some tips for you when starting your preparation with our podcasts.
Start with the podcasts with sufficient time to spare. If you start early you can take your time and learn how the partners think versus skipping to all the episodes that seem important. If you are new to case interviews, you generally will not know what is important. Let the partners hosting the podcasts decide this for you.
Also, if the thought of learning about case interviews over 6 months of podcasts fatigues you, then it is generally a sign management consulting may not be a good fit for you.
Don’t take notes. Internalize and immediately practice the concepts from the podcasts. Note taking rarely works since very few people ever refer to them. Notes are there should you ever need them, but most times we lose them or ignore them. If you must take notes, jot down just a few points but immediately start applying them.
Pay attention to the non-technical episodes. The episodes about values, ethics, consulting rules etc., will help you understand management consulting in broader terms. You want to succeed and knowing this will set you up for the future.
We focus on ethics, values, and culture. This is the DNA of a successful partner and firm. You can certainly join McKinsey without knowing all of this, but the question is whether can you be the best at McKinsey and your field without knowing this?
Make it fun. Don’t set aside time to sit at a table with a notepad and pencil. The podcasts are designed to be consumed on the go. Case interviews should be fun. Test the ideas with your friends and family. Don’t turn this into tedious work. You are learning a valuable skill. It should be a fun experience.
If learning cases are difficult it is almost always because you are trying to do things you don’t understand.
Trying to learn cases without understanding the material is like trying to assemble IKEA furniture without the guide. You will not succeed. In this case, step back and focus on slowly building your skills.
Above all avoid any source that makes you feel bad about yourself. Even if you made a terrible mistake and were completely at fault it’s important to keep things in context. Anyone can get into any firm provided you have sufficient time to fix problems and sufficient will power to go out and find the right advice and apply it.
Things you will need
To start you need to get a few things going.
There are some building blocks to your application. If you want them to be good enough then you can prepare them in 2 to 4 weeks. But if you want to excel and are doing this all by yourself, then it makes sense to start on them as early as possible. Resume editing in particular takes a very long time.
This is going to be hard. Editing a resume is tough. It took us about 6 hours to edit the resumes of TCO participants and this was while they were on a video call with us, and excludes the time they spent between calls making the changes.
It is our firm belief that resume editing services work only in cases where someone has a good profile requiring little editing help. If you are struggling with your profile, then you will have to edit it yourself. No amount of money is going to create a service where three rounds of edits can create the perfect resume that truly understands your strengths and reflect them on paper.
Alice’s before-our-editing-resume and the after-our-editing-resume from TCO 2 provides a great example of good resumes. These resumes were tailored to her. So focus on the style and structure but use content specific to what you are trying to demonstrate and the weaknesses you need to mitigate.
The cover letter always comes after networking. Once you have your resume and networking done, you know what gaps people see in your resume. You can thereafter address those gaps in your cover letter.
The cover letter we edited for Alice from TCO 2 is good example. It was written to show her strengths and mitigate the weaknesses firms assume Ph.D.’s to have.
Download a good podcast player like Acast or Spotify so that you can download our podcasts and listen to them at 1.5x or 2x speed. Even the iTunes podcast player will do.
Tackling some myths.
There are many myths, but we covered both the most common and hurtful here.
Getting into an elite school like INSEAD and Harvard will get me into McKinsey. Going to Harvard only increases your probability of receiving an interview invite. Once you receive the interview you still have to do well in the interviews and that is completely separate from the Harvard halo.
It is not as if the interviewer thinks your answer is superior because you went to Harvard.
You will be assessed like everyone else. On your merits and not your pending degree.
If you assume getting into Harvard somehow makes you think and act smarter, than that is possible but unlikely.
I need analytic subjects like math, statistics to show my thinking abilities. There is a difference between analytic and mathematical. And there is a difference between quantitative and analytic. You can be incredibly insightful and analytic in non-math subjects like art, history, law etc. Most applicants confuse analytic with quantitative.
You can major in a quantitative field and lack analytic skills and vice-versa. Lawyers can be very analytic. All Supreme Court and Federal Judges are impressively analytic.
Federal judges who analyze and decide major M&A, anti-trust and competition law are incredibly analytic. This piece on Amazon by a legal scholar is one of the defining pieces of insightful and brilliant business analytics.
Those judges and the legal scholar did not major in quantitative fields.
Don't believe the myth that only business and engineering majors have the permission and skills to be analytic. You have to change that mindset. Click To Tweet
If all quantitative fields produced analytic thinkers then McKinsey would be dominated by MIT graduates. It does not and they do not.
It is more important for you to be analytical and obtain very good grades than to be quantitative. You have to be good at basic math. That is all. Do not sacrifice grades for quantitative majors that you incorrectly assume will improve your analytic skills. Grades are incredibly important. Never ever sacrifice them since they will trail you forever.
Having “With Distinction” behind your degree is going to be the gift that keeps on giving.
I have an unusual profile and should explain my situation to a recruiter or associate. Recruiters and junior consultants are focused on identifying and bringing in the 80% of people who fit the average profile.
If you are different from that average profile then you need someone who can understand the difference, the value of that difference and motivate for you to be brought it.
That is a partner.
A recruiter and associate are busy. They do not have the time nor abilities to determine if unusual profile XP45 can fit into McKinsey. How could they have that ability? The time to evaluate that one unusual profile means they are not able to evaluate 15 normal profiles that are easier to hire. If your profile is unusual, go to the one person who can override recruiting interview decisions. The partner.
That is not to say it is easy, but it is the best route you have to an interview. Since we actively focus on challenging/unusual profiles, almost all our clients network with partners to secure an interview.
All the firms want me to apply on campus. So I will. Firms and universities want you to apply during the recruitment period since it is easier for them. For the firms, they have a system set up and have already assigned consultants and partners to campuses. It is a fixed cost. They need to push volume through it and that makes it efficient.
Universities need large numbers of applications to justify encouraging consulting firms to run their interviews on campus or close to campus.
You can apply outside the normal recruiting schedule.
It is, of course, harder to get an interviewer, because there are fewer dedicated interviewers and few open positions, but your odds of getting an offer are roughly the same. Most of our coaching clients apply off-cycle by design.
The most important factor in deciding when to interview is determining when you are ready. Do not apply until you are ready because you will not be successful.
I will only apply to McKinsey Strategy. McKinsey only hires generalists for their main consulting practice. So if you join McKinsey on the generalist path you could end up being staffed in strategy, operations, organizational design or many other types of studies. It is not possible to exclusively join the strategy practice.Most McKinsey consultants do very little strategy work and it is the rare consultant who is lucky to be staffed onto one, let alone several corporate strategy engagements. Click To Tweet
And do not be too obsessed with strategy. Some of the best partners in the history of consulting like Tom Peters etc. were not even in the strategy practice. Since strategy has such a powerful pull to it, many applicants just assume a famous partner was a strategy partner when most were not.
Don’t believe myths on the internet. Just because many believe something and repeat it often enough, it tends to become the de-facto truth when it is not. In 1997 the book Dangerous Company was published. The book summarized that BCG focused on analytics, McKinsey focused on influence and Bain on implementation. From that book, those sound-bites became the way each firm was described up until today.
People love sound-bites. But are they true?
Is BCG really superior to McKinsey on analytics?
Is Bain the leading firm on implementation?
Always apply common sense and judgment because this is your life and career. Make the right decisions and make smart decisions.
How do you know if consulting is a good fit for you?
The best way is to follow an engagement to find out.
Case interviews are not like a real engagement with a real client. Real engagements are harder and messy. They are far from the perfect experiences many assume them to be.
If your goal is to join McKinsey and leave after 2 years, then it does not matter if consulting is not going to work for you.
If you want to commit for the long term than you can follow a real engagement narrated by a partner.
Strategy Skills Podcast
This is a free program for you to follow and explains how real engagements work. The entire podcast series just follow one engagement.
In Phase 1, a 3.5-month study, the consulting team recommended Empire International refocuses on the core business of Designing-Building-Operating-Maintaining (DBOM) Gx-Tx-Dx infrastructure.
Empire International is a power company created to invest in non-regulated businesses. All these investment markets exist outside of the parent company’s local market.
Since Empire Int.’s founding, that core/local market has undergone a shift where there is a renewed focus on expanding and maintaining the crumbling and outdated infrastructure base to meet surging electricity demand.
Unless Empire Energy, Empire International’s parent company, focuses on meeting rapidly growing energy demand, electricity blackouts remain a real threat that will impact the country’s productivity and attractiveness for FDI.
Yet Empire Energy does not have the skills to do all the DBOM work and does see the emergency of rebuilding the infrastructure.
Therefore, Empire Int. Is recommended to become the in-house construction arm of Empire Energy to build new power stations and transmission lines, and prepare for a smart-grid increasingly powered by wind, solar and other renewables, while the parent company does not endorse the plan – yet.
Getting started: email newsletter
Exclusive case interview podcasts and articles.
If you are new to case interviews or just struggling to show any real improvement, that is okay. Not everyone learns at the same pace nor finds the right type of material that they need.
We publish new podcasts and articles about case interviews monthly and sometimes weekly: all prepared by ex-partners. If you would like to be notified of those podcasts and articles then register on this site for free or opt-in to any email prompt you find on the website.
We may also send you updates on other content we produce or samples of our more advanced strategy programs.
The newsletter is the only way to get updates on the podcasts and articles.
I wish you the best in this journey and look forward to hearing some great news soon.
Private Coaching with Kris (Pilot)
We had a number of clients and customers requesting one-on-one coaching with Kris, our CEO. Kris decided to offer coaching to selected clients as a pilot initiative. You are welcome to apply for private coaching with Kris. Kris’s coaching fees are generally the same as Michael’s private coaching fees, but she decided to cap the fee at 997$ for 50-minutes session during the pilot to help make it more affordable for FC Insiders. The fee per session for the pilot program at this time is as follows:
Career coaching: $997 per 50-minutes session
Starting a business coaching: $997 per 50-minutes session
Executive presence, communications & public speaking coaching: $997 per 50-minutes session
If you would like to apply for a 1-on-1 private coaching session or a coaching program (joining as a long-term private one-on-one client) with Kris, do not hesitate to email us at [email protected] with 1 paragraph description of your specific challenge/goal you would like to accomplish and let us know if you are applying for 1 session or for a coaching program. When spots are allocated, preference is given to FC Insiders and our coaching clients from coaching programs such as The MasterPlan Acceleration Program, but new monthly Premium members are eligible to apply.
Recorded Advice Sessions Initiative with Michael (Pilot)
Michael currently has over three years of waiting list for private coaching, so temporarily, we are not accepting more applications for private coaching with Michael. However, we do have a new initiative that still allows Insiders to apply to get individual guidance from Michael.
To ensure this initiative is a win-win, the session is recorded and made available to the FIRMSconsulting community and/or becomes part of the Firmsconsulting training library.
Audio-only option is available ($300 per session fee applies).
Don’t want to be on audio/video? If you prefer to submit your question in a written format (you are welcome to change some details and names, if needed), you can also do so. In this situation, Michael will read your submission/question at the beginning of the session so our members can understand why certain advice is given and can better adjust the advice given to their particular situation. Then the rest of the session will be focused on providing advice based on the information you provided in your written submission. Some Insiders asked us to introduce such an advice session option for situations where they would prefer not to be on audio or video but rather submit their questions in a written format. There is no extra charge for using this format.
Advice sessions fee:
A fee is charged to ensure the seriousness of applicants. The fees per session for the pilot program at this time are as follows:
- Executive, start-up, and career development, or case interviews for the manager and up levels 1-on-1 advice session: $1797 (300$ add-on if you prefer an audio-only call)
- Case interviews 1-on-1 advice session (below manager level): $1297 (300$ add-on if you prefer an audio only call)
Application criteria for advice sessions coaching is much less stringent, so it’s a fantastic opportunity for Insiders (long-term premium members) to get guidance from Michael. As we mentioned, we have a >3-years waiting period for private coaching with Michael and a very stringent selection process (e.g. referral from a prior private coaching client is mandatory). So this is a rare opportunity to do a 1-on-1 session with Michael.
This is also a significant saving compared to our current private 1-on-1 coaching fees with Michael.
To better understand the 1-on-1 private sessions, please follow Andrew's journey from senior manager to senior partner in 3-yrs and Amrit's experience increasing revenue 977% and profits 842% for his boutique strategy firm. Click To Tweet
Andrew generated >$30M in sales revenue, and Amrit grew his firm in one of the most competitive cities globally for consultants.
The duration of each advice session is 50 minutes. If you would like to apply for a 1-on-1 advice session with Michael, do not hesitate to email us to [email protected] with 1 paragraph description of your specific challenge and, if your application is selected, we will send you the required documentation to sign (our standard media release allowing us to publish the episode).
You can initially apply for up to 3 sessions, and after your first session, you can apply for additional sessions, subject to availability and your progress in the program. When spots are allocated, preference is given to FC Insiders and our coaching clients from programs such as The MasterPlan Acceleration Program, but new monthly Premium members are eligible to apply.
Thank you for being a part of the FIRMSconsulting community.
Fridays were the worst days for me. You would think they were the best days. Yet, I was so exhausted from the previous four days that I would simply drag myself through the day. I usually ended up getting home by 6pm and falling asleep on my couch. This were clear signs of burnout.
I would then wake at 8pm, have a shower and eat dinner at home while watching a movie. I was far too tired to go out. Of course, this can be a real problem if your partner wants to go out. So that raises a whole host of complications on the home front.
Schedule that led to burnout
My Monday to Thursday schedule was punishing. It usually started at around 8am when I would get into the office and there would be other partners and engagement managers waiting to discuss different engagements and proposals. I had an open door policy. If my door was open, then people knew it was okay to interrupt me.
This continued non-stop throughout the day. I also needed to fit in client meetings and internal meetings. I usually finished my client meetings by 6pm, and if I had no dinner plans, I could get home. However, home was not an area to relax. Given my tight diary, I rarely did any work on my laptop during the day. I left this for the evening. When I did get home early, I would work on my laptop from 7pm to at least 10pm. Heaven forbid if I had a client dinner. Then I would only be getting home at around 10pm and I would then need to spend at least 2 hours catching up with my work.
Habits that led to burnout
When I was a business analyst this was so much easier to do. I would look at the older partners and wonder why they were so tired or intent on going home so quickly. I had so much energy then that I could do anything. Back in my younger days, it was not uncommon for me to work through the night on analyses. I distinctly remember sitting in the office working on a storyboard for a defense company client and watching the sunrise. I did not realize I had spent the whole night in the office. I dashed off home, had a shower and was back in the office for the 8am morning meeting. This was common for me and I managed to do this well, when I was younger.
Picking up this habit was a bad idea. I never really learnt how to manage my time well. Of course, I got the work done on time and to the right standards, but I always seemed to need all the time that was available. I also never learnt to switch off. If I left the office and something was bothering me, I would simply work on it at home or until the problem was solved. Not switching off and not managing one’s time becomes a bigger and bigger problem as you progress through the ranks and leads to a burnout. The heavy hours, limited vacations, poor diet, rare exercise and inefficient work habits eventually took their toll.
The gradual worsening of burnout
This brings me to my Friday conundrum. At first, I thought it was just an issue of it being the end of the week. It certainly seemed that way at first. Then I slowly noticed my 6pm naps where failing to have any effect. I then shifted to the idea of not working on Saturdays. At first, this worked. Shortly afterwards, it didn’t. My burnout was becoming progressively worse.
My mind and body were exposed to the joys of waking later on Saturday, sipping cappuccino and having quiet breakfasts. Soon, I needed to take Sundays off as well. It’s not that I did anything useful on these two days. I simply lounged around and ate food, went for walks in the park or surveyed the city.
Pretty soon, having free weekends was not enough. I just could not break the fog in my mind. The burnout was reaching a critical level. The striking irony is that articles about burnout refer to tiredness and lethargy. They are all there, but these are things I could break out off. The part they do not mention is the loss of energy and the will to move on. It’s like you are driving up the Alps and your car switches from 2nd gear to 4th gear. No matter how much you hit the gas, everything moves faster but you seem to make no progress.
Getting through burnout
Getting through burnout as a management consultant is tough. It is a badge of honor to be able to put in the long hours and no one admits they are going through such energy sapping problems. I found that more breaks and a better work-life balance were at this point insufficient to help recover from the burnout.
I think there are two types of burnout. One is physical and the other is emotional. In the latter, you no longer believe in what you are doing. You slowly think that there must be more to life than this.
I think that while I suffered from both, I suffered from the latter more than from the former. If you suffer from the latter, it’s much more difficult to pivot your life. Getting through this is not easy. In essence, you are questioning your life, decisions and your reason for being. There is no guide, no course book or map to get you out of this. You need to find the meaning in work.
I found my meaning at home. Let’s be clear I work worse hours than before but I like the ability to work where, when and with whom I would like to. I had a family which I never spent much time with. I was always travelling and on the road. As I started spending less time in the office, on week nights and weekends, I spent more time with them. I started enjoying my days more and looking forward to getting up in the morning. It always amazes me that the best things in life are free and right in front of you. Over time, I did find something I enjoyed doing: spending time at home and spending more time with my family.
If you are, like I was, navigating yourself out of burnout, I know no better path to wellbeing than to design your life so that you have complete control over where you work, how you work, what you work on and with whom you work. Therefore, this is not advice about quitting corporate hours and corporate life to being with one’s family. This is about how you can work longer and harder if you like what you are doing and have control over how and where you spend your days.
SPREAD THE WORD! Like this? Please share it.
Also, remember to visit our iTunes account to rate us and post comments on what more you would like to see.
COME HANG OUT WITH US: Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn
I was talking to my family recently who know about my diligent preparation efforts to build my management consulting skills and they asked me “what is management consulting?” Although they were aware of my previous career in consulting they did not had a good understanding of what this line of work entails and why I am so interested in pursuing it.
In fact they have never heard about it before I brought it up. I looked back at my own experience and realized that this question, what is management consulting, is not rare and I had to answer it at least few times in my life. In fact, there was a moment many years ago when I asked this very question to myself.
Management consulting is not as well known as law, banking or engineering. Even many of my MBA classmates only learned about this line of work once there were in the MBA program. So what is management consulting?
I would say it is a practice of helping organizations to identify and solve their key problems, and to pinpoint and seize most promising opportunities. If done right, this work is valuable to clients, and deeply satisfying and impactful at a personal level.
In a way though, unless you were exposed to management consulting, it is hard to understand how rewarding this work can be.
This is my 7th post and I hope you are finding it to be useful.
Preparation before the session:
Networking with management consulting partners: This week I met with two consulting partners from two different firms. I met with the first partner for lunch. He suggested we meet for lunch though I only asked for an opportunity to speak, as per Firmsconsulting advice.
We met in in a downtown restaurant and the partner was very professional and helpful. We spoke about his career, opportunities within the firm for experienced hires and my career path up to now. At the end he kindly offered to submit my resume and put me through the process the recruitment process
The meeting with the other partner from another firm was over coffee. Similarly, we discussed his career, his goals going forward, my career progression up to now, my education and he offered to pass along my resume to the right person.
Both partners asked one question: “Why this firm?”
Therefore, my advice is be really prepared for this question. The answer should be specific to the firm. If the partner takes the time to meet with you, you should take the time to learn about the firm and that particular office.
Another observation is, if you are an experienced hire, partners expect you to look at the job postings for their firm and see if there are any positions available that are aligned with your skills and interests. I think this is important because it makes it easier for a partner to pass your resume to his or her recruitment colleagues who are trying to fill in specific available spots.
Building general knowledge: In addition to reading New York Times (4-5 articles a day), I also read McKinsey Quarterly articles and practice reading graphs the way it was recommended by Firmsconsulting. I also read HBR, Washington post, Economist and Wall Street Journal.
The Mind of the Strategist, chapter 6: I continue reading this book, which is a great read for those who would like to gain a deeper understanding of strategy and management consulting engagements in general.
The book is written by one of the most eminent strategists of our time. I am quite excited to be watching Season 2 of The Consulting Offer since it has another great strategist, Kevin Coyne from McKinsey. Hopefully, I can learn everything they are teaching.
This chapter is entitled “Exploiting Strategic Degrees of Freedom”. The author explains in more detail the 4th basic strategy explained in chapter 2, which is business strategy based on strategic degrees of freedom. This strategy places focus on innovation, developing new markets or creating new products.
There are some useful points. Degrees for strategic freedom refer to independent factors surrounding those KFS that the company can control. The question is how much freedom around a KFS does a company have a strategic move.
The author introduces the concept of “objective function”, a variable that one wants to maximize. For example, for consumers of coffee the objective function is often taste. It is important to question whether there are available or imaginable better ways to satisfy customer’s true objective.
It makes sense to segment the market based on objective function of each group of customers and group different segments with the same objective. It is also important to remember that objective function of customers may change with time.
Items accomplished during this session:
Felix’s case interview preparation, session 13, Japanese tire case (estimation case): One adjustment I suggest to make to the proposed solution is to write out one equation for both segments (buy and own) as follows:
Population * % adults * % drivers license * % afford cars * % have cars (will buy (replace) this year or currently own).
After this point, I suggest to segment it. So out of people who have cars, lets say 20% (assuming cars are on average replaced every 5 years) will buy cars this year and 80% own cars. I suggest thereafter continuing the calculation for each segment.
I think another approach could be to look at the % of households who have cars and the average number of cars per household (for those households that have cars), instead of % of adults * % adults with drivers license.
I think it is easier to come up with reasonable assumption for cars per household versus “percentage of adults * percentage of adults with drivers license”.
How Cherry can improve quality of its cars? (Brainstorming case): The key here was to correctly define quality. I defined quality of the car as safety, look & feel and level of prestige.
However, the correct definition was smaller in scope and certainly did not include the level of prestige. Consequently, my analysis included an area that was not supposed to be part of the analysis.
I was surprised that so little emphasis was placed on safety of the car in terms of survival rates during accidents. For me as a consumer this will be a primary factor that I will be looking for when determining the quality of the car.
Audi (Operations, full case): My first level of drivers were as follows:
Facilities (is there sufficient electricity and heating to handle the work),
Equipment (quality and reliability of equipment),
Labor (level of skill, hours they work, motivation etc.),
and suppliers (time to deliver goods and accuracy of items delivered).
My calculations to test if 30 minutes per day of training per employee contributed to loss in production of 4,000 cars per annum was as follows: 1,200 employees * 8 hours per week * 5 days in a week * 12 (for simplicity I looked at production per quarter, assuming they produce the same number of cars every quarter).
We knew that the target production was 120,000 cars per year and therefore 30,000 cars per quarter.
This means that approximately 19 hours are required to produce one car (576K/30K). We knew that 6.25% of the production time was spent on training (30 minutes out of 8 hours day) and 6.25% of 576,000 is 36,000 (hours spent on training).
So 36K/19 = 1.89K cars per quarter could have been produced if workers did not have to do training.
Next we annualize this number, which results in 7.579K cars per year that could have been produced without training. This means that not only is our hypothesis (that training of workers led to decrease in production) correct but it also seems that after training will be completed China’s factory will produce 3.578K (7.579K – 4K) more cars per year versus its German counterpart.
It seems the value of training will pay off in the long term for the Chinese!
Trend in luxury car segment: This is another instance of excellent structure offered for cases with no data and no objective. All candidates like me have to do is to actually use it. Sometimes I forget!
Data cases: I thought this sessions’ data case was the easiest one so far, as it was very straightforward and intuitive and focus was on area that is easy to analyze and understand.
Score out of 10: 8
Strengths: Strong general knowledge and strong business knowledge.
Opportunities: Have to follow the structure and advice. Do not deviate from what Firmsconsulting recommends, as they placed many people weaker than me in McKinsey and I should not try to reinvent the wheel.
Cause and Effect: When Not to Choose Consulting
Cause and effect are discussed to help readers understand when working for P&G, GE, Nestle etc., may be a better career path versus working for McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, etc.
Misunderstanding Cause and Effect
Do you remember the days when it was cool to roll out software and stick a beta sign on it? There was a time between 2004 and 2008 when it was a badge of honor to roll out broken software and expect the beta sign to make up for the poor performance. Companies loved saying they were in beta-mode. Some start-ups actually rolled out software in this format just to have the beta sign up, even when they could have easily waited for a more refined version.
Why did this happen?
There is a one-word answer: Google.
Google may not have pioneered the beta idea but they certainly made it acceptable. After Google started doing it, betas became famous for three reasons.
First, Google was becoming cool and everyone wanted to be cool so they wanted to be like Google. If Google was releasing beta software, then they said, “What the heck, I should do it too.”
Second, Google was this mythical company that no one really understood. People just assumed that if Google did it and it worked, they should do it as well, since it will probably lead to the same results.
Third, and the basis of this post, is that Google was supposedly this company encouraging employees to work on fancy new projects in their spare time and roll them out for testing. This, the pundits claimed, was the secret to their success.
Well, betas died. Apple killed that by showing that well designed and integrated products matter. Now, you would look slightly ridiculous if you rolled out anything in beta. Yet many companies still do it, although they tend to give it more fancy names like fail-fast or lean-start-up.
Most people misunderstood cause and effect by getting sucked up in the whole beta craze.
In Google’s case, its incredibly successful and profitable search engine business allowed it to tinker with many ridiculous projects, which may or may not work in the future. The point is, existing success in the search business allowed Google to experiment in new areas.
Not the other way around.
The tinkering was merely collateral damage the company would bear on the path to hopefully finding something useful.
It is a mistake many people made, and still make. They assumed the tinkering led to enormous profits. Even large companies fell for this trap in their thinking.
Many years ago I was the corporate strategy partner in a discussion with the CEO of very large client company: US$15B in market capitalization. I liked this CEO and liked his leadership team. I felt they were trying to make a difference and create value for their employees.
In a strategy planning session, their head of planning had this entire presentation about how they should be more like Google and launch these unrelated and dubious ventures only tenuously related to their business. The CEO was taken with this idea and was almost going to go for it.
Some ideas were plain crazy. They had lots of land so they decided they could create low cost housing and that would be profitable. They used a lot of water so they wanted to recycle the water, clean it and go into the water bottling business. None of these were even remotely related to businesses they understood.
I had to explain to them why that would not work. It comes down to the core of strategy. Strategy is about making choices that allow a company to offer a distinctive value to customers. That is it. Sounds simple but it is very hard to do. It is worse when you have angry shareholders screaming for capital appreciation and you have nothing to show for it.
The easiest way to show a company why they should not do this is to demonstrate the strain on the balance sheet. You will find most executives and consultants do not understand a balance sheet. They leave it to the CFO and his minions. By showing the strain on the balance sheet, the need to create new supporting structures for unrelated business and the stress on employees, most CEO’s sober up.
They realize their crazy dreams cannot be built. So you see, even the smartest people confuse cause and effect.
Cause and Effect in Consulting Careers
How does cause and effect impact career choices in management consulting?
Candidates see (x) number of people joining McKinsey and BCG, and (x – y) of these people becoming CEOs?
Therefore, McKinsey and BCG must be the reason they were successful.
A better question would be: is this the only route for these people to be successful? The answer is an unequivocal no.
McKinsey and BCG, and to some extent Bain do have a very strong institutional system of training people, provided you stay there long enough, and by that I mean 4 years or more. If you stay for less than that, or heaven forbid was never promoted, it is questionable if you learned enough.
So even though these firms take very good people, they can, all other things being equal, make them better.
So, in this way, McKinsey and BCG are (were) the cause.
Yet, there has been a shift in recent years, and this is the part that matters.
In the 1980s and 1990s management consulting was more self-selecting. Not everyone wanted to be a management consultant. The firms were smaller. They had offices in fewer countries and they recruited from fewer schools. You were usually invited to interview versus having to submit an application.
This made recruiting eminently easier. The best applied and the best were selected.
Since 2000, the firms have become larger, expanded to new markets, expanded their services and are looking for newer skills. They have expanded their recruiting net exponentially.
The net has become so wide and placed such a strain on the system that several groups of people have been getting in. Not all of the people in this net should be there.
In this net, you have roughly two groups of candidates.
Group A: Confident and intelligent. They have a rough idea of how they will use management consulting as a launchpad for their careers.
Group B: Also intelligent and confident. They are, however, choosing management consulting because everyone is doing it. They do not really have a plan for consulting, think it will work out somehow and really are just hoping to “find themselves.”
I want to talk about the latter group because I do feel they are making horrendous choices and potentially damaging their careers. I personally feel management consulting is a great career choice. But it is not the only choice to be successful.
There is more to life than management consulting. There are companies that offer equally stunning career training for leadership roles. There are companies that pay far more money. There are companies doing more important things in the world.
Before blindly hitting the send button on your online application, have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and then decide.
Management Consulting Firms versus Multinationals
McKinsey and BCG are not the number one producers of CEOs. That is a widely held and incorrect myth. Procter & Gamble, Nestle, Coca Cola, Pepsi-Cola, GE etc., are the companies that dominate this group.
I know they never tell you this in glossy brochures but it is true. Sometimes GE, P&G etc., produce fewer CEOs in a year, but this is not because those companies have weaker talent. It is because rising share prices and rich stock options packages make it hard for senior executives to jump ship and head up another firm.
So why are people not falling over themselves to join the so-called multinational-enterprises (MNEs)?
Usually, it is due to a lack of good career advice and a focus on short-term gain.
To start, many candidates are driven by ego and salaries. McKinsey and BCG will pay more now, and it sounds nicer on your resume. Moreover, a consulting firm trains well so, on average, you will end up well. It is about playing the odds.
Now, lets look at a path through P&G or GE. Starting salaries are not great but not bad as well. You will also be one of literally hundreds hired in that year. Maybe thousands. The roles are not as glamorous. It is sales, marketing, R&D, operations or finance. I am simplifying things, of course, but that is more or less what will happen.
Yet, there are some profound differences between P&G and McKinsey that matter.
P&G hires a lot of people and not all of them are stellar or want to be promoted every year. McKinsey works on an up or out policy and P&G is more of a grow-or-go model. So the company is arranged for everyone to be happy. You need to be accepting of this. You need to get along with everyone and work your way up.
Exceptional people at firms like P&G and Nestle will go very far very quickly and have the same, if not better, career than at McKinsey or BCG. The mistake many candidates make is to assume that if they are struggling in their current roles in corporate, going to BCG will make them better.
That is not going to happen. The companies can only channel the skill you already have. They cannot create it for you.
If you are truly exceptional you probably do not need BCG on your resume. You will make it anyway.
Therein lies the issue with P&G or GE. While GE may have produced more executives in corporate America, it is doing it off a vastly larger base. In terms of percentages, more McKinsey and BCG partners will reach the c-suite. Most candidates are not happy with these odds. That is why they prefer consulting firms.
However, they are making a math mistake that is important. You should not compare yourself to all P&G employees.
With so many people who are happy to just get the job done, or at least have a job, there is room for someone truly exceptional to shine. So while P&G may have many more employees, the number that is truly competing with you is much lower. In other words, the percentage of P&G, GE etc., employees who end up in executive positions is far higher if we consider only those who wanted executive positions in the first place.
And that is what you should be considering: a like-for-like comparison.
You also need to consider the training and effort made to support those high-performing employees, which is substantially more than that for the average employee.
To thrive at a firm like GE you need to be a self-starter. A company of that size, with that amount of resources, has sufficient budget for training and sufficient challenges for a person willing to ask for it. But you need to prove you deserve it and ask for it since the company is not organized to find and coach stars as easily as McKinsey.
The training at these firms is very good. Yet, the training is more linked to the experience it affords you, versus distinctive problem-solving skills. If you join P&G as a brand manager in Russia, for example, given the skills shortage, you will be given lots of responsibility and control. Your growth traction is therefore much higher. So, the training comes from running a business versus advising a business.
In other words, you will learn the skills to run a large business in your sector, but you will likely not have the foundational skills to analyze any business in any sector. Though, to be fair and blunt, even an associate at McKinsey does not have those skills. They come with time at the firm, as you get more senior.
Most candidates fall into a simple logic trap at this point. They claim that joining McKinsey will teach them business problem-solving skills. That is true. A better question is: why do you want business problem-solving skills in the first place?
The answer to that question is more important. Most of you need those skills so that when you eventually leave McKinsey, you can hopefully run a business.
However, is that not what P&G or Nestle is teaching you in the first place? Granted, P&G has a different training program, longer training cycles and focused on a particular sector, but it is teaching you those skills.
I once spoke to a regional head of paper products for P&G in Switzerland who was adamant she wanted to join McKinsey. When I kept asking her, why, why, why… she realized she needed a different type of training to improve her corporate career. Leaving P&G to join McKinsey would take her further away from her corporate leadership role and would have led to a brutal cut in salary. More than a 50% cut.
She stayed at P&G and went through a different training program, which really helped her both lead teams and make better quantitative decisions.
It is crucial to understand when McKinsey, BCG or Bain helps your career because joining them on a whim can certainly hurt your career.
No matter how good you are as a consultant when you join a corporate you will need to prove you can manage a business operation. And that will not come easily. You will have to learn it. You will likely initially move into an internal strategy role and after a year or two, if you are really lucky, be given a small operating role.
Compare that with someone who joined Nestle at the same time you joined McKinsey. The roughly four-year gap since your MBA means the colleague joining Nestle could very well be a brand manager with significant operating responsibilities. In fact, if you joined Nestle from McKinsey, at the end of the 4 years, and assuming your colleague was as good as you, you will probably be reporting to them.
That is hard to believe but it is true.
Why would Nestle give a relatively junior consultant (associate to early engagement manager level) oversight of an operating team when the consultant has no operating experience?
The friend who went to Nestle is far more equipped to manage an operating team with profit and loss responsibility.
The type of training also matters. MNEs offer significant international experience, both in developed and developing economies. That is one of the critical reasons for these roles. You can manage business and understand operating conditions across a wide variety of industries. That is a really sought after skill in business.
Salaries are also worth discussing. They are not even comparable. Corporates pay more, much more. After 4 to 8 years at P&G, provided you do well and are promoted often, McKinsey could not match your salary. You would be taking a steep salary cut to satisfy your ego and work at McKinsey.
Moreover, as you get to Level 3 or 4, vice-president level, then you are earning significantly more, even if you exclude the likely stock options you will have.
So to bring back this article full circle be clear about what you want in your career and also get a clear understanding of cause and effect: realize there is more than one cause to generate the same effect.
In plain English, there is more than one path to be a c-suite executive.
I see a lot of good candidates with great roles in firms like P&G, GE etc., wanting to join McKinsey. Be very clear about when such a transition will benefit or harm you.
Thought-leadership versus Operating Skills
If you happen to be at Nestle, GE, P&G and so on and are reading this article, be wary of falling for the thought-leadership trap. I routinely receive emails from employees at these firms wanting advice on how to improve or demonstrate thought-leadership.
I have some bad news for you. In the corporate world thought-leadership is for people who have zero corporate future.
You have to think about this for a second to understand why this seemingly counter-intuitive point is eminently logical.
A consultant does not actually run anything. All we could do is generate ideas that help clients run their businesses better. Our currency of value is our ideas. We have to show a thought-leadership. In a corporate environment, how you run a business is what matters.
Let us look at an example to clarify this point. Let’s assume Norman headed one of GE’s turbine facilities and wrote an award-winning HBR article on factory management. Would Norman be lauded if his facility’s performance were in the gutter? The answer is a unanimous “no.”
Who is going to read that article or book if Norman cannot prove his skills in an operating environment? Even if the contents of the article are truly insightful, GE is not hiring Norman to write articles. He was hired to run a plant and that is what he needs to do.
The source of a consultant’s value is the ideas which clients implement in their operations to improve results.
The source of a corporate employee’s value is the operating results he/she achieves which leads to new ideas to help the business. So, do not model yourself on a management consultant if you work in a corporate environment. It is a bad idea.
You can certainly learn the analyses, team management, project management etc., skills of a management consultant but channel them towards achieving operating results.
SPREAD THE WORD! Like this? Please share it.
WHAT IS NEXT? Sign-up for email list above to get free access vaiours case interview and advanced programs episodes. Continue developing your case interviews skills or strategy skills. Want to learn more about FC? Read our CEO’s bio.
PODCASTS: If you enjoy our podcasts, we will appreciate if you visit our Case Interviews channel, Strategy Skills channel or The Business of Management Consulting channel on iTunes and leave a quick review. It helps more people find us.
COME HANG OUT WITH US: Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram
ENGAGE ON FC FACEBOOK AND LINKEDIN GROUPS: Strategy Skills / Case Interviews / Strategy Skills (LinkedIn) / Consulting Case Interviews (LinkedIn)
Image from Anirudh Koul under cc.
We recently held our annual leadership meeting where we debated the future of Firmsconsulting and made some important decisions. We have come a long way since starting as a blog exactly 4.5 years ago. Yet, it seems like we are just getting started.
This is a special and deeply sincere thank you to all our readers who built a tiny blog into a full company operating around the world.
This update discusses the significant changes we will make. Some of these you would have deduced based on the changes to the website, though the others will be new.
All of the studies and shows we discussed in the February update will proceed as planned. There will be no changes to those commitments. The big decisions in this email simply explain what we are doing and why.
Most importantly, we want to be more focused. So when you read everything below, it does not mean we are doing more. We are actually going to do less and focus around just TCO + its spin-off shows and the consulting studies + related training. That is all.
Overall strategy in one word: crowdsourced
Why do we exist?
We will remain committed to our training objectives. We will remain the firm that teaches strategy, operations and implementation at all levels: from those trying to get into consulting to active consultants to executives. That will be our single goal.
How will we achieve that goal?
First, we will remain focused on finding and nurturing a new generation of consulting leaders. In that regard, all our work on TCO, case interviews and some new productions will continue. We will, in fact, expand the work we do here.
Second, the big change is that we will significantly build out our capabilty to solve significant and complex management consulting studies. In other words, we will be a consulting firm. However, you have to read on to see how we will do this very differently and why we will not be a typical consulting firm. It is more correct to say we are a training firm with consulting capabilities.
Why significant and complex studies you ask? It is simple. Life is too short to get up in the morning and help someone sell sugared water or pulverized potatoes. We want to solve problems that matter. We want to do things that push the world forward. We want to solve fundamental problems.
The principles to build out the consulting side
Values first: Our values have been the central reason for our progress. We want to be more stringent in applying our values. For example, we have not been as effective at promoting younger partners who are female or minorities. We will make changes here this year.
We will do more to find outstanding females and minorities, and offer them roles which develop them into leaders within our firm. Why should our internal policies matter to readers? When readers only see males as senior partners it creates a psychological barrier that this is a male profession. We need to change this.
Training first: Everything we do is done with the objective to record and publish it to train our subscribers. If we cannot publish anything on our website, to benefit subscribers, we will not do it. This is a fundamental principle we will follow.
B2C vs. B2B: We are a B2C firm in that we place the needs of our subscribers first. We will always be a B2C firm. We will not take on consulting clients, for any amount of fees, unless we are allowed to publish the studies on our website. The needs of our B2C clients trump those of B2B clients.
All other consulting firms are B2B firms. Their primary clients are businesses. Our primary clients are subscribers.
In other words, we place the needs of the key stakeholder first. This is crucial distinction, because the key stakeholder is the consumer and our subscribers are consumers. We work for the key stakeholder and not the CEO.
We believe this is a long-term trend where more power passes to the key stakeholder and stakeholders should be the group selecting and vetting consultants. The history of business in the last 100 years is one of increasing power to consumers and stakeholders. We believe this trend will continue and we want to be at the front of it.
As technology increases and stakeholders become more savvy, they will want to be involved in business decisions. This is a long-term bet on technology and the changing nature of corporate governance.
Not billing consulting clients: We will no longer bill consulting clients. We billed LAB and the Power Sector clients for the work done. This will no longer be the case and we have developed an approach which can work and avoid moral hazard.
All the big studies we conduct around the world will now be entirely funded from our subscription revenue.
This change is one reason we are asking readers to pick studies from our shortlist. Stakeholder / subscribers should select the issues that are important to them, and we will conduct the studies by negotiating with the client.
This flexibility gives us enormous advantages.
This is crowd-sourced management consulting. This model allows us to conduct high-end work in poor parts of the world without compromising quality standards. If we selected a non-profit model we would no be able to hire great people and invest in new ideas. Both are expensive to do. In the long-term a non-profit model would always see declining quality standards and that hurts clients.
If we charged the client, many worthy problems could not be fixed since the fees are too high for many clients.
By breaking-up the costs into tiny potions and passing it to subscribers, we can focus on fixing pressing problems for clients who do not have money to pay for consulting fees, but we can do so while maintaining the highest possible standards.
We will soon allow readers to suggest studies and vote on them. The studies with the most votes will be selected, and provided the client agrees to do the study after we approach them, we will undertake the study and publish it here.
Want to do a major study to restructure the economy of a poor but major city in Latin America? Want to undertake a climate study in a poor economy? Want to restructure an inner city hospital? We can now do that since the client need not pay for the study.
Crucially, we can deploy the best skills and invest in research because the client need not cover the costs. The stakeholder / subscriber / consumer does.
This is not to say that all our work will be done in emerging markets. We expect 60% of all studies to be in the US and Canada. The remaining 40% will be split among the BRICS + Turkey, Mexico, Indonesia & Nigeria. FYI – of those 9 countries, studies have already been scheduled in 5 of them.
Full transparency: Every slide, document, excel model and report in every study we undertake will be broken down into training videos and published on this website. We will never undertake a study that cannot be shared with our subscribers.
We will continue to make our entire intellectual base open to any subscriber and client. A great firm does not stay great by hoarding knowledge. It is about attracting and motivating the finest minds to solve business problems in more creative ways.
We are far from being a great firm, but that is what we aspire to be.
Invest ahead of the curve: We no longer want to attain parity with other consulting firms. We no longer want to be as good as they are. We no longer want to merely leverage our skills developed at the consulting firms. We will develop new ideas and analyses techniques in strategy, operations and implementation.
The basis of being competitive is taking an extreme position and investing in it substantially. That is how one becomes productive. You will see us invest in unusual but effective ways of doing things. We are not trying to do things other firms can do.
We will soon be rolling out centers of excellence to support the studies already published. That will be very exciting and we are looking forward to it.
Adhering to our principle of transparency above, we will share all intellectual property and teach you how to replicate exactly what we did.
Competing with McKinsey & BCG: In the LAB study and Power Sector Study we inadvertently “competed” against BCG and McKinsey to earn the right to serve those clients. We where very successful. As we work with important clients, we expect to bump up against these consulting firms often.
We will probably lose more opportunities to them than we win, but we are certainly going to not walk away when we believe our approach is best for the client.
Adhering to our principle of transparency, we will share all intellectual property including proposals, our concepts used and approaches to obtaining the work.
Changing Competitive Advantage: Since we where founded, we built our competitive advantage on the fact that we where ex-partners from the most elite firms.
That worked wonderfully when we where serving clients who could not afford nor had access to McKinsey or BCG. LAB and the Power Sector Studies showed us the stark limitations of that model.
This model fails abysmally for clients who can easily afford and have access to McKinsey. Why would a multi-billion dollar company hire a firm of ex-BCG and McKinsey partners when they could just as easily hire the current BCG and McKinsey partners?
Do you see the problem?
We have not yet developed a solution to this problem. Make no mistake, it is a problem.
Where we will work: Fortune 1,000 private companies like GE and Ford are not yet ready to share all their data in our transparent approach, even though we hide identities very carefully. In time they will get there as stakeholders become more powerful.
Yet, that will take time.
Governments on the other hand must share all data. We will focus on governments for this reason. Note, we do not say the public sector since governments own many large private businesses and this definition is narrower than the public sector. We will rarely do public sector work and currently have none planned.
We will advise businesses owned by governments: Etihad, Emirates, Codelco, USPS, Import-Export Bank etc.
Specializing in any one sector, the financial services sector, for example, drastically narrows our scope to that one sector. Subscribers would not want to see studies from just one sector. Governments, however, operate across sectors.
Governments own companies operating in every single sector in the world: banking, insurance, food, transport, aviation, autos, healthcare etc. Therefore, by focusing on the government we can publish studies across sectors.
This does not mean you will see no work for private companies. We are talking to a Fortune 100 firm to apply our open-approach to management consulting.
Nothing changes from what you have already seen, but this explains our thinking and rationale in far more detail.
We always welcome comments and suggestions.
A female client turned down all the interviews from BCG, Bain, Booz and Roland Berger in the worst recession in recent Brazilian memory and takes on an investment banking role at Goldman Sachs. This is her story as recounted in her words.
“I turned down the interviews from BCG et al was because I thought the consulting firms were just so arrogant. I mean these guys came to my school cocktail events and did not even want to be there. They had these fake smiles and gave fake answers. And they were just so rude and misleading. I don’t have a green card. So don’t lead me on with interviews and then ding me in the final round.
Just be honest up front. I just could not do it anymore. The interviews were usually [with] weak first-year associates who were in my position just 9 months ago! And they did not even know their cases well. I worked in management consulting as an analyst. I know the game and what is the lifestyle. I did not need these boring and lame stories to mislead foreign students and bolster turnout.
I actually believed Accenture and turned down a Morgan Stanley cocktail event to attend the Accenture event. That was the worst decision I ever made. I checked with 4 Accenture recruiting managers if my lack of a green card would be a problem and everyone said it would be fine. Then, after a final round where I was told I “I was a superstar,” they declined me since I was not a US citizen.
That was the last straw for me. I was so disgusted, I withdrew from my other interview invites and just went with the bankers. I went to business school adamant I would enter management consulting. I was shocked by the poor value system in the US. I even heard one interviewer say, “Goddamit, that girl is hot,” and he was not even out of sight, and I could hear him.
I sometimes clearly felt people read my resume and just invited me to look at me. It was demeaning. One interviewer told me he liked my accent and then wanted to discuss my prior career. I walked down a ramp. That was it. There was not much to discuss. When it comes to arrogance, consultants are worse than bankers!”
Alanna, delivers some strong words and feedback here. I wanted to add some commentary for context and feedback by touching on the highlighted points above. I do not agree with all of Alanna’s interpretation, but I do understand why she may have interpreted her experience as she did.
There is no like-for-like comparison: Alanna is not making a like-for-like comparison, to her disadvantage. Within that, she is making three mistakes.
First, because she has consulting experience in Brazil, she is able to understand more about management consulting than her MBA peers, who likely have no experience. Therefore, she is able to know when something is not realistic or is mere marketing spin. At least, what she thinks is marketing spin based on her experience.
If she had worked in investment banking for a year or two, it is highly conceivable she would see the investment banking presentation through this fresh pair of eyes and also think it was fake or misleading. Therefore, she is more critical on management consulting because she can be, but is not equipped to be critical on investment banking. The investment banking presentations may be just as bad, though, she just cannot see it.
It is like the first time you date someone. You pretty much believe everything they say. By the 10th person you date and the experience you gain, you are far more critical and, hopefully, do not fall for the spin.
Second, Alanna forgets she is not the target audience of the elite firms. McKinsey, BCG et al do not focus on hiring ex-consultants from other firms. They do not tailor their presentations, discussions and recruiting to this group. They prefer recruiting employees who are not ingrained in the cultures of the other firms.
Therefore, it is very possible, the presentation was not appealing to her since it was not meant to be appealing to her.
It is like an avid Rugby fan watching a Hannah Montana concert. If you asked for his feedback, he would probably hate it. That does not mean the target audience hated the concert.
Third, Alanna talks about lame and misleading stories, yet she does not provide any examples. From my experiences as a partner recruiting at business school, I do know that almost 100% of students want to hear stories about the analyses and analytic skills. When we talk about values, culture and the client’s interests, they feel it is “lame” and misleading. In fact, they frankly cannot believe it.
The presentations at McKinsey, for example, may very well have been poor in that year, but it is hard to see how BCG, Bain and McKinsey were all so poor at the very same time. When everything unrelated seems wrong, and you are the only constant in that unrelated set of circumstances, the problem is usually not the circumstances.
99% of people trying to join McKinsey and BCG or trying to compete against McKinsey and BCG frankly refuse to believe the source of their competitive advantage is their culture and values. These two core attributes are the cause which leads to the highly analytic work. Yet, most people trying to copy the highly analytic work only.
That is like trying to replicate a Ferrari and ignoring the engine. No matter how good it looks, the core is missing.
Weak 1st year students: If I called a 1st-year associate weak, I would have a rational basis for doing that since I was a partner. I can make those comparisons. Again, Alanna does not provide many examples for us to compare so I can only speculate. Though I can speculate three things clearly.
First, how does Alanna know they are weak if she is not yet a consultant at the firm and therefore not trained to understand what makes a good consultant, let alone a good interviewer? Again, she is applying her frame of reference from her past employer who may very well have taught her the wrong skills or wrong value system.
She is applying this expectation of what makes a good consultant to the interviewer, and judging him/her on this, and her expectation may be wrong.
A classic example of this is political elections. We always want someone with “experience” because we have no way of judging someone without experience. Remember that junior Senator from Illinois, with no experience and black heritage?
There was time almost no one thought he could win because he did not fit our preconceived notion of what success should look like.
Before he came along, all we knew is that you had to have tremendous experience, be part of the establishment, generally white to become a president.
A person’s frame of reference is usually their greatest hurdle to success. There is reason it is called a frame. It is usually tough and constrictive, like a psychological prison cell.
Second, to what extent is Alanna angry that her past experience is not counted and she is almost repeating things. She focuses extensively on the words “1-st year” “9 months in my position” which implies that she assumes given this person’s similarity to her, they could not judge her skills. There may be some truth in that, but she should give some clear examples of why she believes this versus focusing on age and timing issues.
This is a little like dismissing a CEO because he is 39, merely because he looks too young. Agism is still discrimination.
We do that all the time. There are too many examples of where we judge someone on superficial factors, and because we have pre-judged them we do not open ourselves to listening to their ideas and judging the ideas on their merit.
Think about this, how many times have you considered someone unimpressive simply because they did not go to an Ivy-League or equivalent school? And because of this, you automatically dismiss their ideas.
Third, I will throw this out there, and probably be attacked, but my feeling is that Alanna is also upset that since she was a senior consultant in her previous firm she should be considered for manager in McKinsey and BCG.
This would also explain some of her comments. Because she does not understand what McKinsey and BCG are looking for, and their approach to development, she feels slighted to join the firm at the same level she had before her MBA. She expected her MBA would position her for better things.
My guess is that this is the main problem.
An example of this is purely picking jobs based on the title. Weaker firms typically inflate titles. They do this so employees take the role, for a present lower salary, thinking that the better-sounding title will allow them to get a better future salary when they leave the firm.
Titles mean little. Make sure you understand the demands of the role, expectations etc. Make decisions based on this foundation.
Reasons for being declined: Without a doubt, Accenture is wrong if they have a firm policy of not hiring those without a Green Card, and took her through the interview process.
That said, they do not have a firm policy. “Firm” here refers to the ambiguity of the policy versus being a company policy. It is a soft policy. Accenture interviews non green-card holders in the hopes that someone is so good and so unique that they can waive this requirement. And they have done that. In fact, in Alanna’s graduating class in her school in that year Accenture made offers to two foreigners.
We know this as a fact since those two foreigners were also clients.
Now, for the main insight. Firms rarely tell you the real reason they were declined. There are many reasons for this. Legal reasons are one of them, and usually the main reason. It is better for a firm to provide a safe reason than to provide a reason that can be open to litigation.
Simple statistics would indicate this is true. Of the thousands of MBAs who interview not a single one will receive the following feedback for being declined:
– Mentally unstable.
– Very aggressive behavior.
– Difficult personality.
We know many people have these problems but the fact that no one gets this feedback tells us that firms do not want to open themselves to litigation.
In fact, some of the behaviour above can only be diagnosed by a trained clinician and a firm putting this feedback in writing, opens itself to extensive litigation since the interviewers are probably not trained clinicians.
Firms give misleading feedback for more benign reasons. Maybe the interviewer was not paying attention in the interview and therefore did not know what to write. Maybe Alanna’s performance was so bad that it was easier to give this reason versus typing up a page of feedback. Maybe Alanna’s performance was so good that it was a gut-feel decision to go with someone else versus her. How can they write “gut-feel” as a reason?
Maybe she lacked “core” experience? What is core? How do you define it? Is it an absolute or relative term?
Terms like “core” and “gut-feel” may and have been hauled before a US State Supreme Court as a reason females are being discriminated against in a case involving a McKinsey consultant in Texas. Ambiguity is a tort-lawyers dream.
My guess is that Accenture gave this reason because it was easy to provide it. It cannot be debated by anyone since it is a fact.
That girl is hot: Okay, there is no way to interpret this accept that it was wrong. It should not have happened and it is not allowed. It is unprofessional and inappropriate. Even if Alanna was flirting with him, a possibility, the interviewer should not have said this.
The bottom line is to be very careful when you read interview feedback from candidates. The candidate may very well be right, the truth is more likely that they think they are right, but have failed to present the entire picture.
This does not diminish the way Alanna feels, and she may very well be right, but we have to remain open to the possibility of alternate interpretations.
Image from Marcos Leal “Ponte Estaiada – São Paulo – Brazil” under Creative Commons.
Why go into management consulting: 11 reasons
Management consulting, along with financial services, is among the top choices for most MBAs, other graduates, and even experienced professionals. This is despite the fact that the image of management consulting is not always positive. As some people say “management consultants take your watch and tell you what time it is”.
You may be thinking about making the switch to management consulting, but may not be sure if you are clear on why go into management consulting vs. pursuing other attractive career paths.
You may also be trying to figure out how to answer a possible consulting case interview question, “Why Consulting?”
I am here to share with you my 11 reasons why go into management consulting. Hope you will find it helpful.
Why I ended up joining a consulting firm
I came across management consulting by chance. My close friend was a management consultant and he used to tell me how interesting his work was. He routinely regaled me with stories about the client issues, analyses and impact they were having.
He also shared with me interesting books and articles, and forced me to take a more structured approach to my thinking.
I remember him warning me how difficult it is to get in. The outstanding grades one needs just to get invited for interviews, as well as case interview skills on estimations, brainstorming and hypotheses, plus the stamina and alertness required to successfully handle rounds of interviews.
Moreover, even once you are in, the work can be tough, especially when deadlines are approaching. This results in many people leaving management consulting to get a better work-life balance. The churn in consulting is very high.
I remember he sometimes would not sleep 2 days in a row, working 48 hours straight. Of course, this was not necessary and was driven by the study partner who wanted to prove to everyone how exceptional he was by working all-nighters and expecting the same from his team.
Still, he seemed to like the work very much.
So, despite all the negative information I really liked management consulting and committed to joining a management consulting firm one day.
When I finally got in, it was just as great as I expected it to be, if not better.
In the very beginning I was a business analyst so you could not be more junior than me unless you were an intern or an administrative staff. However, the work was interesting.
I worked with mostly amazing colleagues and eventually, after a lot of hard work, had exposure to very senior executives of large international organizations.
I would meet and even wine and dine with billionaires, present to the top political figures and travel internationally as part of my job.
11 reasons why go into management consulting
Overall, I would recommend management consulting as I think it is a great platform to start one’s career. And for many, it is a great platform to build one’s career.
So what are the key reasons why go into management consulting?
The answer is different for each person. I can’t speak for everyone but below will share with you what were the reasons why I chose management consulting and why I still love the work.
1. A wide variety of driven and intelligent coworkers.
In management consulting you always work on different engagement teams for different clients. You are a part of a massive organization with many exceptional people at each level, whether it is at the level of a business analyst, associate, engagement manager or associate principal. Working with so many people introduces a lot of diversity into your life and makes work more interesting and exciting.
It also allows you to build a network of individuals within the firm that you truly like, respect and trust. Those are like-minded individuals who are after similar goals to yours.
Moreover, you learn a lot from people you work with. And this is important because, after all, people say you are an average of 5 people you spend the most time with.
If you are driven individual, you may feel demotivated and isolated if you end up working outside of management consulting as the quality of your colleagues in most cases will not be as consistently high as in management consulting.
2. Your reputation reflects your performance.
This benefit is the result of benefit number one. If you are good, it will be well known in the firm. Because you work with so many different people, no one person can damage your reputation or take credit for your work, the situation which is more likely in other careers.
It does happen a few times, but it eventually evens out and is usually not so damaging. The culture does not permit it.
For example, if you join a bank after your MBA you will likely have one boss who may try to put as much work on you as possible and to give you as little credit as possible so he or she (and it is usually he) can keep more credit for himself.
Moreover, there is some envy involved. Many managers and senior executives in banking really had to work through the ranks to get the role you received by securing an MBA. There is a lot less of this in management consulting so you tend to be with more like-minded people.
3. In management consulting you have more control over your development.
If you are proactive you can get yourself onto the engagement which will allow you to develop the skills you want to develop.
Moreover, in management consulting you are the product of the firm. It is in the firm’s best interest to keep your skills level up to date and help you build yourself up as a professional.
In fact, this benefit is one of the most alluring when it comes to management consulting. I cannot think of any other line of work readily available to MBAs and other graduates, or even to experienced professionals, in which organization will be as incentivized to invest in your professional development.
You are in a relationship where both partners want to see the other succeed.
4. Management consulting culture is exceptional.
Consulting firms tend to have positive environments focused on developing people, with approachable leadership. It comes back to the organization’s view of you as an asset, not just as a resource. We spoke about this in an article Consulting vs Banking: 4 Key Differences. Hence, a lot is invested in your professional development and the organizational environment is usually more supportive.
5. You get to see the world.
The extent of this depends on the things like the management consulting firm you join, your efforts to network within the firm (so you know when opportunities to work in exciting places arise and people know that you are available and have the necessary skills to be picked for those opportunities), and your luck.
However, on average, you will get better opportunities to travel and see the world in management consulting versus in other organizations.
I remember when I was just starting out my career before my MBA. My friend wanted to cheer me up and invited me to tag along on a weekend business trip.
I was sitting in an airport catching a flight to a nearby city where my friend was attending a conference. We were in an airport cafe and I distinctly remember thinking that someday I want to live a life which will allow me to travel to different cities, countries, and cultures. This was before I realized I wanted to be a management consultant.
Fast-forward about 2 years, I was working for a large consulting firm, I was at the very same airport, at the very same café, catching a plane with an engagement partner to go to another continent where our client planned to build a new business.
6. You get to test-drive different jobs.
In management consulting you will end up working on various engagements, which often will be very different in nature. You will likely end up working on projects in different industries and even in various geographies.
You may be doing a study to enhance customer satisfaction for a media client, prior to being staffed on an engagement for a banking client helping them to determine if they should target a new segment, which may be followed by a study for a large retailer that plans to enter an emerging market.
Think about the exposure this level of diversity of work brings to your life. Especially if you are a young person who just graduated and not quite sure what you are passionate about.
During one of his last presentations, Steve Jobs said “It’s the intersection of technology and liberal arts that makes our hearts sing.”
Being exposed to so many projects in various industries is such a wonderful opportunity to try out things and see if you can find something that, in words of the legendary Steve Jobs, makes your heart sing.
After all, “the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you discover why”.
Many people never discover why they were born. I think management consulting can help you find what makes your heart sing.
7. Consultants get a lot of perks.
You accumulate a lot of air miles, which you can use for personal travel. Your cell phone cost is usually covered by the company. You can expense meals, travel and accommodation when you are out of the city on consulting engagements. Management consulting firms have well-oiled administration machines and onboarding teams that help consultants stay on top of everything.
8. Management consulting is known for its output-driven culture.
In management consulting the output you deliver is more important than face time. You usually have the flexibility to work remotely when needed as long as the work gets done.
When you are working from the client’s offices, the face–time culture becomes more important but still not to the extent it is abused in banking and other some industries.
9. Higher job satisfaction.
I worked in management consulting and worked outside of consulting and can say that a significantly higher proportion of my management consulting colleagues found their jobs interesting versus my colleagues in industry.
In fact, I only knew one person during my days in the industry who seemed to enjoy his job, or at least he told me he did. But he was in his role for a few months and he was in a coveted leadership position which probably any driven person will find interesting, at least for a while. Even I would find it interesting.
You also more likely to feel you are doing meaningful and impactful work. As Kevin Coyne (a former McKinsey worldwide strategy practice co-leader who leads a number of FIRMSconsulting programs such as The Consulting Offer II, How to Solve Big Problems, How to Become a McKinsey Partner etc.) mentioned in one of his interviews: “People don’t hire consultants to solve easy problems. Why would they pay our ridiculous fees?”
10. It makes negative elements that are common in any job more tolerable.
It is interesting how when you enjoy your work, negative things are more tolerable. I remember my project team landing in a different country for a series of meetings only to discover that our baggage was lost, and as a result we had no business clothes for our meetings.
Moreover, the airline had no idea when they could return it.
On another occasion, I found out around dinner-time that I had to write a business case that was due the next morning. I knew I had to pull an all-nighter. That was not what was stressing me out. I felt I needed more time and the time I had would be insufficient.
There was also a time when I was driving to a meeting on a highway in a storm at around 6.30 in the morning and was not able to see anything and yet was still driving since I had to get to an important meeting.
Those types of experiences would be highly painful in a job you hate or don’t care about. Yet those painful experiences exist in any job.
At least for me, management consulting work is so interesting most of the time that I was driven by an adrenalin rush during those difficult situations. So it was not pure logic or a sense of obligation that was driving me to suffer through those experiences, as it would be the case if you hate your job.
I actually had the energy to do difficult things. I had an internal drive, in addition to logic and a sense of obligation, which made these experiences significantly less painful.
11. Management consulting vacations are more relaxing.
As a consultant you can time your vacations so it takes place between engagements and you can completely disconnect from your work for 2-4 weeks. Comparatively, when I was working in industry, I never actually had a vacation.
When I was on vacation I was still “required” to check my emails. If there was a crisis I had to fix it. I basically worked remotely and whatever work was not done while I was away accumulated, which resulted in coming back to mountains of work in addition to already extremely heavy day to day workload.
Final thoughts on why go into management consulting
Management consulting is a good choice if you would like to learn a lot and are not sure which industry excites you the most. It’s a bonus if you are willing to be in a service job where you always have to be nice to clients who don’t have to be nice to you, can deal with uncertainty and lack of routine and willing to work harder than people do in average jobs.
I hope you found 11 points above on why go into management consulting helpful. My view is if you have a good enough profile to try out management consulting, go after it. In the worst-case scenario, you can stay for 1-2 years and learn a lot. In the best-case scenario, you will find a career that is so much better than most other alternatives available. You will find a career that will accelerate your professional development and your search for what makes your heart sing.
WHAT IS NEXT? If you have any questions about our membership training programs (StrategyTV.com/Apps & StrategyTraining.com/Apps) do not hesitate to reach out to us at support @ firmsconsulting.com. You can also get access to selected episodes when you sign-up for our newsletter above. Continue developing your strategy skills.
PODCASTS: If you enjoy our podcasts, we will appreciate if you visit our Case Interviews podcast or Strategy Skills podcast on iTunes and leave a quick review. It helps more people find us.
COME HANG OUT WITH US: Youtube / Facebook / Twitter / LinkedIn / Instagram
ENGAGE ON FC FACEBOOK AND LINKEDIN GROUPS: Strategy Skills (FB) / Case Interviews (FB) / Strategy Skills (LinkedIn) / Consulting Case Interviews (LinkedIn)
WANT TO LEARN FROM FORMER STRATEGY PARTNERS? BECOME A PREMIUM MEMBER
Your first 90 days at a management consulting firm are crucially important to establish your reputation with your colleagues and especially with the firm’s leadership.
Starting a new job is an adventure. You can be anyone you want. It is not easy but you can completely reinvent your life using your new consulting job as a platform. So it is a huge opportunity. Take it and make the most of it.
During the first few months, you are being constantly observed to see if you will measure up. Management consulting is tough and partners expect to constantly deal with hiring mistakes by counseling out those who will not make it. They want to make sure you are not one of them. Leave them with no doubt that you are one of the greatest people they have ever hired.
Below are some ideas to make your first 90 days at a management consulting firm count.
1. Get to know senior people.
During your first 90 days in consulting you have a perfectly valid reason to set up 30-minute chats with senior people, which for someone at the senior associate level will be engagement managers, principals, and partners.
Remember 8 months down the road it will be hard to explain why it took you 8 months to set up an introductory meeting. You will no longer be a newbie. Do it when it is perfectly acceptable to do so. In fact, in many management consulting firms after 8 months you will be considered as someone who “was around for a while,” due to the customarily high level of turnover.
You may get staffed on a project right away, in which case you will have barely enough time to sleep and eat. In such a situation you will still have some flexibility on one day of the week and this day is Friday.
Management consultants are typically expected to be at the clients’ offices Monday to Thursday and at the consulting firm’s office on Fridays. On some consulting projects, to further impress the client and get more business from the client, teams stay at the client’s office even on Fridays. However, Friday will be one day when it is generally easier to leave for 2 hours to go back to your office and get those introduction meetings going.
This may be very hard to do during the first 1-2 months because you are new and have no leg to stand on, but after a couple of deliverables, once you have earned some respect and some credit, you can start scheduling weekly introductory meetings to get your name out there.
Why this type of internal networking is important? In management consulting, you have to keep yourself on the right types of studies and these are not always easy to find. To be staffed on the right studies, partners need to know that you exist, they need to know the skills and experiences you bring to the table, and they need to know you are available and interested in the type of work partner is focusing on. No matter how much the staffing offices are involved, it is always better to have a partner asking for you. Moreover, the staffing coordinator may offer a partner a choice of a few people at your level, including you. In such situation it helps a lot if partner likes you and thinks having you on the project will make things eaiser not harder.
Spending some of your time during your first 90 days in consulting diligently getting to know managers, principals and partners will go a long way in helping you to put yourself on the map.
2. Figure out the performance metrics for your level.
In management consulting things often move with the speed of light. You join, you may be staffed on a project while you are still going through on boarding training and, the next thing you know, you are stuck at a client’s office Monday to Friday and have to deliver on tough deadlines.
However, you have to find time to figure out what metrics will be used to evaluate your performance at the end of the year, so you can tick off all the boxes. In the good firms, these tend to include intangible things like teamwork, image and so on. They may be intangible, but they are important to track. Do not get sucked into only worrying about the analyses and storyboards. Those are important but you need to be a good team player and that often counts for even more.
3. Do great work.
It is what leaders tell about you that counts, not what you say about yourself. Do an exceptional job and the word will spread.
Management consulting is hard. People will want you on their project team if you are good. You need to over-invest during your first few months with the consulting firm to establish a solid reputation. If you don’t do it, you may set yourself up to be labeled an average performer, or event worse, an under performer, and possibly a hiring mistake.
As Stephen King said, “Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work”.
4. Take care of yourself.
You will be pushing very hard to establish your reputation. However, you cannot afford to burn out. You are new and if you burn out you will be in a lot of trouble.
When you burn out after 2 years at the consulting firm, you can use some of the credit you developed over time to ask for time off or to skip working on weekends here and there so you can recover.
If you burn out when you just joined, you have no credit to use up. This is what I mean by saying that you cannot afford to burn out.
Start with taking very good care of yourself. Eat healthy food, exercise, take breaks and sleep well.
You also need to include in your life things that make you happy. Whatever that may be for you. I personally recharge by spending time with people I love while we are doing something relaxing such as going for walks, going out for meals or watching a nice TV show with some good snacks. I also find it very relaxing to read. Discover what makes you feel happy and relaxed, and find time to do it.
5. Display above average performance on your first consulting project.
Try to figure out what more senior people on the project you are staffed on care about the most and make sure you do those things. Different people value different things.
One thing to remember is to never drop the ball. Even if you are tired and feel you cannot finish the work you promised to deliver, either find someone to finish it instead of you or finish it no matter how tired you are. Refer to MANAGEMENT CONSULTING: 10 INSIGHTS FOR YOUR 1ST STUDY for 10 ideas on how to maximize your chances of being perceived as high performer after your first project.
6. Don’t rock the boat.
Even if you don’t like the project on which you were staffed, or people you were asked to work with, you should not make it known. If you do, you probably will not get what you want and your reputation will likely suffer a blow from which you may not recover.
Later, when you build up some credit within the firm, you can start influencing which projects you are staffed on and which people you work with. However, during your first few months with the firm don’t demand any special treatment. You will likely create negativity around your name. Your first 90 days is the easiest time to create such negativity because most people do not know you and few will give you the benefit of the doubt.
7. Emulate the actions and communication style of project leaders.
If you are new to the firm, and management consulting, when interacting with clients and senior firm leaders, copy the approach of the person on your team who you know is very successful, but keep in mind that it may need to be adjusted for your level. Use common sense. For example, if partner and a client executive are long-term friends and spend a lot of time making fun of each other, it does not mean this type of behaviour will be appropriate for you if you are a new business analyst who met this client executive yersterday.
But generally, people like people who are similar to them, so if you emulate your project manager, you will give your project manager more reasons to like you. In time you will develop your own style of delivering on projects, interacting with clients and the team. However, while you are new, just emulate those who have already done this many times before, to get a better idea of what works and what does not work.
Beyond the first 90 days with the consulting firm:
I know it is not easy to start a new job, especially if you are new to consulting. You have no leg to stand on, no allies and no credit. You will need to learn fast, not make bad waves around your name and keep steering forward. You will be amazed at how important these first 90 days in consulting really are. If you work incredibly hard and smart, the rest of your ride will be much easier.
Beyond the first 90 days in consulting, I would say the first 9 months are crucial, provided you are not stuck on one long project which can happen in rare cases at even BCG and any other strategy firm. Basically enough people need to know that you are amazing for about 9 months before your reputation crystallizes.
Over-investing during the first few months really pays off. You are establishing your reputation. Take care of yourself so you don’t burn out but push hard in the beginning so you can build momentum for the rest of your career at the firm. You will want that momentum if you want to be a top performer.
Image from Martin Fisch under cc.