Our placement rate: We have the highest placement rate in the industry. We have placed ~78% of all our clients at McKinsey, Bain and BCG, and 93% of all clients, if firms like Deloitte, Accenture, Booz etc are included. See a detailed, older, infographic.
Who does the training? Candidates are only trained by ex- partners. We do not use analysts, associates, engagement managers nor associate principals.
Screening process: There are up to three rounds of mandatory assessment taking approximately 10 days to complete. We do not fast-track applications and unsuccessful applicants must wait 12 months before re-applying. .
Firms: We specialize in McKinsey & Company, Bain and The Boston Consulting Group. We cannot admit clients who are not applying to these firms.
Contents of the program: Clients will receive access to 12 hours of coaching in total. While the allocation of time differs between clients we typically spend the majority of time on case interviews. Since most clients require networking to secure interviews, we will also substantially edit resumes and cover letters alongside the client, as well as offer networking advice, office selection guidance, grade guidance and general consulting career coaching.
Read about the extensive support we provide for the significant-others of alumni.
Timelines: Please be aware of the following timelines:
• Resume screening ~2 days to receive an invite/decline after submission
• Possible online testing ~1 day to receive invite/decline after completion
• Interview ~7 days to receive feedback and admission/decline after the interview
$10,000 is a comprehensive program which includes 12 hours of case, PEI, fit and communication training + resume and cover letter editing, and networking support.
No refunds are offered.
Applicants must have been a Premium subscriber for a minimum 3 months before applying to the program. To maximize the benefit of working with ex-partners, we find clients who have the core skills taught in our online programs perform best. Our program is competitive to join and we admit no more than ~5% of applicants in a single year. We seek applicants aspiring to one day become partners by demonstrating the innate attributes and values of a future partner.
While we maintain a >70% placement rate for McKinsey & BCG, we must caution applicants that the program is difficult and requires a significant time commitment. Overall, when applying we further advise all applicants to have alternative preparation plans should your application to our program prove unsuccessful.
There are four concepts around which we built our approach to find and nurture tomorrow’s management leaders: challenging best practices, exclusively using partners, values and the long-term view.
First, there are numerous ‘best practices’ on case interviews and McKinsey/BCG applications. At a tactical level we strive to challenge the notion of what a ‘best practice’ is, vs what’s just familiar. For example, every case training book we have seen teaches estimation questions as demand side problems. They are not. Every case books teaches frameworks. About 50% of McKinsey cases cannot be solved with any type of framework. These are just a sampling of poor teaching techniques packaged as best-practices.
We address this problem head-on by only using ex-senior partners and partners of McKinsey, Bain and BCG to train our clients. Therefore, we know the ideas we are using come directly from some of the most influential and senior former partners of the firms. If you listen to Felix’s mentoring with Kevin Coyne you can listen to him teaching her some of these counter-intuitive techniques. The techniques we use to train clients on estimation questions, brainstorming, McKinsey framework cases, McKinsey cases without a framework etc. do not exist anywhere else. We protect them via the use of an extensive NDA with clients. Moreover, we only work with ex-senior partners who display the same, if not greater, value system after leaving McKinsey or BCG. We aspire to have the highest standards of professional conduct in everything we do and that means being sincerely vested in the outcome.
On a related point, to radically alter a clients career path, we have to think about what kinds of creative ideas can shift the current career trajectory. That means taking risks. It means being counter-intuitive. It means having no set plan since we cannot use the same approach for everyone. We do take risks by experimenting with new ways to help clients.
We do not focus on being different for the sake of it. We think about opportunities we can capitalize on and where we can use a client’s unique attribute to make them stand-out in a positive way. It should always be in context to what success looks like for the client. And sometimes, even clients cannot see the value of what we have planned for them until they actually execute our plan. The more creative the plan, the less obvious it may be to the client. We need clients to trust us at times.
When we brought Irina into the program and started her program it was a long-term approach which we had never done before. It was fraught with risks and managing numerous obstacles we could never have foreseen. For example, she joined the program and began her evening undergraduate degree. What would have happened if she did poorly at her GMAT or did not enter the right MBA program? What would have happened if she had struggled under the pressure and expectations? What happens when she suffers from burn-out? These are real problems we had to manage and control.
Controlling the outcome is difficult and requires a lot of trust between the client and coach. In this experimental model, planning only works so far, but the ability to respond quickly and in real-time becomes vital. In these situations we insist on daily updates from clients. If we know what is happening when it is happening, we can guide a client.
Part of taking risks means managing the downside of that risk. It means we tend to get intimately involved with those clients where we have used an unconventional approach. That means having access to more versus less data. Like knowing the courses selected so we can think about the impact on grades. Understanding the extracurricular choices so we can predict the leadership profile. We insist on much more information. Some experiments fail and others work.
However, even in failure we learn a lot and can use those lessons to tweak the rest of the program. In some cases, the lessons are so poignant, we will completely overhaul the training program. That has happened a few times in the past: in Nov 2010 when we stopped group training, Nov 2011 when we started using self-practice videos, August 2012 when we shifted to The Consulting Offer, Nov 2011 when we rebuilt the program around communication etc.
Third, we can and will take a very long-term view on clients. This means several things, not all of which are obvious. At its core, we are not focused on placing clients at McKinsey or BCG. That is not the end goal of this program. The end goal is to look at an applicant and decide if this person has the potential to go on and make a distinctive mark in leadership and management in the next 5, 10 or 15 years. McKinsey and BCG should be stepping stones and not the final destination. Therefore, applicants who could very well be a great fit for McKinsey may not be admitted to our program because we feel they lack sufficiently compelling visions of the future. Now, they do not need to know how to get there, but they should have this vision. Our job is to groom a client to first place them on the right path and ultimately move them along this path.
Another way to look at the long-term lens is our approach to grooming future clients. We like investing significant time in understanding future clients years before they become clients. That means engaging, advising and motivating readers 2 to 3 years before they begin the program. It is not unusual for us to be engaged by a reader while they are working, advise them on the best study options and talk them through their MBA applications – sometimes reading and vetting essays – and continuing the discussion through their first-half of the studies and then, if they apply, taking them through our screening process. In this approach we have a much better understanding of the client we are likely to have. Yet, it is a 2 to 3 year communication cycle.
Finally, values are important considerations for us. At the end of the day, it is the overriding filter we use to make decisions on applicants and clients. We find that the earlier we engage clients, the easier it is to teach them outstanding values. Early for us means engaging potential future clients well before they adapt to the views of peers in their work environment or studies. In some cases we have started taking on clients immediately after high-school graduation and working with them to understand business, business ethics, management and leadership. This is primarily the model used in the Firmsconsulting Emerging Fellows program and the results are striking. The earlier we can engage clients, the better leaders they become.
We select candidates from a wide variety of schools: the Ivy League schools to regional schools outside the U.S. and have worked with clients from over 50 different educational programs. We have a policy of balancing each month’s intake with stronger candidates and Firmsconsulting Emerging Fellows. At least half the intake is from the emerging markets and is female. Our most important criteria is whether a candidate could be taught the skills to obtain an offer, maintain our very strong value systems and rise to leadership in consulting or their chosen field. Yet, it is not that straightforward because we only admit 7 clients per a partner-coach per month. That means that we invariably have to decline far more capable clients than those who apply.
We think very carefully about the message we want to send when we admit a client into the program, or alter the mix of the intake. For example, we altered our mix of clients in late 2011 to focus on Eastern Europe, Central Asia and South East Asia, at a time when those regions contributed less than 5% of combined clients. Such a decision, forced us to learn about the unique challenge faced by students either interviewing in those offices or from those regions and and interviewing in the west. Similarly we do not allow clients from any one country to dominate an intake. We seek diversity.
In another example, in Nov 2011 we decided 50% of all clients will be female in the program. It was a risky, bold and costly decision at the time. At a practical level, we would need to consider several areas: What happens if we do not get sufficient female applicants to take the reserved spots? Do we lower the intake standards just to meet our numbers? What happens if the numbers never balance?
Making these decision are difficult. In the example above we had to cut our intake per month from about Dec 2011 to May 2012 as the numbers increased. That means, we did not simply take more female clients unless they completely met all the screening criteria. Effectively taking in fewer students was necessary because it allowed us the time to adjust our training program to cater for the unique needs of female clients.
In early 2012 we formally decided to expand the Firmsconsulting Emerging Fellows program. In this program we find students in some of the impoverished regions in the world and work to place them in elite universities and ultimately BCG or McKinsey. The program had existed in an ad-hoc format for the prior year but the success we had , encouraged us to expand it. Again, the messages we send and trade-offs are crucial and we have to bear the costs of our values. For example, what impact does bringing an Hmong, Sakha or Roma client into the program have on our ability to build a program which can use the lessons to help all clients? In most countries these minorities are barred from studying or only allowed into poorly funded remedial programs. It is significantly challenging and time consuming to help these clients navigate their way to outstanding schools and integrate. Yet, we feel the program becomes stronger when stress-tested with the challenges these clients face.
Not all selection decisions deal with female or emerging markets issues. At a more immediate level do we admit someone who has a stunning track record of success all the way from high-school to their MBA program? Would this person not be successful without us ? On the other hand, should we penalize the applicant for maintaining this remarkable track record by denying them a place in the program? If we admit stellar applicants does it not negate the need to constantly adapt and improve the program to manage challenging profiles? If we take on too many challenging programs, how does their need for extra attention impact our ability to find time to invest and improve the program?
Our philosophy is to reward those who have worked hard and find ways to help those who have potential. We do not always get the balance right, but strive to do so.Listen to Podcast
MBA clients are the dominant group we train at approximately 36% of all clients. We serve clients from over 30 MBA programs worldwide with a wide range of backgrounds. The majority of our teaching techniques are designed with this group in mind and tested with our core clients at the Harvard Business School. “The Consulting Offer” for example, was designed and tested with this group, and modified for all clients.
MBA applicants are urged to consider their full profile prior to applying. Undergraduate GPA remains a key barometer of success irrespective of the GMAT score, on average, and leadership positions are vital. Serving as VP of a club, joining the consulting club, winning a case competition etc will have less than zero positive impact in joining McKinsey or BCG. Timing is also crucial. We like working with clients months before their application deadline and especially like networking before it is required. In very rare cases is networking not necessary, or easy, and in the average situation it takes 3 months to build traction with partners. The reality is that if you lack a leadership profile, we need the time to help close this gap and this is best done well before recruiting season begins.
The greatest challenge MBA applicants face is avoiding the surge of rumors and “best-practices” discussed among colleagues and friends. Advice must be contextual and simply following someone else’s advice without understanding why it worked/failed is a poor strategy. The reality is that most students will not know what works and even those who received offers will rarely know why they were successful. It may very well be that your friend X received an offer since McKinsey’s preferred choice took a BCG offer. Yet, your friend X will never know that.
Finally, be very careful of basing decisions on anecdotes. Always use hard data and think strategically about when, how and where to apply. Sometimes, it is better to not pursue McKinsey today, but to join a bank and attempt the interview in 9 months when you have more time to prepare. This is just one example of a strategy, but there are many others.Listen to Podcast
We admit no less than 50% of female candidates per month’s intake. This is a Firmsconsulting decision to improve the placement rate of female candidates. We apply the same screening standards as that applied for all applicants while using a broader screening pool. Our training for female clients is tailored to cater for the obstacles/challenges female consultants will encounter. We have been successful in delivering bespoke techniques and approaches to help female applicants. Much of this is discussed in our theme, The Women Premium, profiled in The Quarterly.
Female applicants face unique challenges and we have learned through a process of working with many female clients over extended periods what will and what will not work. The reality is that the deck is stacked against female applicants. No one will say it but it is a fact. We like to hire representations of ourselves and since most partners are male, more offers are made to males. We spend large parts of our time teaching females strategic patience. Basically that means getting what you want without going after it directly. The outcome is far more effective based on the results we have seen. Tough and aggressive females tend to get stereotyped as having “sharp edges” or being “anxious” when male colleagues are routinely rewarded for such behaviour. Many times, it comes down to teaching female clients that being smart is not nearly enough to succeed. You need to be influential at the same time and that means learning how to read people and manage people.
A significant part of this comes down to confidence and wanting to succeed. If you want to succeed, you will succeed. It is a matter, however, of learning that content superiority rarely will win the day and you need to be cognizant of building much deeper communication skills.
For example, when we place female applicants at consulting firms, we have a count-down to the point when the smartest clients realize their inherent intelligence is not gaining them any fans. They struggle and flounder since it is the only weapon they have to deploy. Intelligence alone usually fails to win influence. We thereafter, need to build up their other skills. This is a painful and difficult transition of clients.Listen to Podcast
Experienced hires will have the longest training program, due to the longer networking cycles. Approximately 11% of our clients are experienced hires and they work with us for between 3 to 8 months. This is a broad group including entrepreneurs, graduates with a few months experience to senior executives in Fortune 500 corporations. Our oldest client is in this group was 45 with 15 years of experience in banking. Cases tend to be heavily focused around office choices and sector specialization like BTO. Though this does not apply to younger experienced hires whom we will position as generalists.
Experienced-hires tend to be the group with the widest range of attributes. We routinely classify experienced-hires into two groups related to their level of business exposure. An experienced-hire client who is more comfortable with uncertainty, has years of experience, is calmer and yet open to learning is the ideal candidate. We have worked with experienced-hires who have quit their prior jobs, are working from home, running large divisions to stay-at-home dads. Provided they have the attributes listed earlier, they tend to do very well. Maturity and calmness are crucial.
Experienced-hires who are younger, desperate to leave and starting too late tend to be the most challenging group since they find it hard to follow advice. They say and do things which advertises their apprehension and they try to follow pre-set plans versus learning from a trial and error approach. And it is a trial and error approach. No two candidates, in general, will follow the same path. For experienced hires it is even more extreme – firms do not have a path for experienced-hires and this path needs to be created for them. That usually means talking to a partner who is interested in their background. In only the rarest of cases do experienced hires simply go through the recruiters planned process in response to an advertisement.
The largest challenge experienced have is that 99% of information on forums, blogs, websites and firm websites is for MBA’s and undergraduate. None of this will apply to an experienced profile. It is very difficult to know which information is relevant and which should be ignored.
Experienced-hires need to show that they can blend the vast experience they already posses with the analytic skills to solve problem. In other words, they should have incredible business judgement on a subject but not substitute analytics with judgement. They also need to show they can reach partnership in an accelerated time, work with younger managers and quickly grasp the material.Listen to Podcast
Approximately 21% of our clients at any one time are PhD candidates. The training program is designed to teach PhD’s skills for the team-based cases, handling estimation questions, brainstorming and full cases. Networking is another area we spend much time grooming PhD clients to handle. PhD’s have become one of the most important client segments we have developed, by building bespoke tools and techniques to mitigate the challenges faced by doctoral-level candidates.
It is no secret that Firmsconsulting has invested much time and effort to understand the challenges PhD’s face. We are proud of this. Season 1 of The Consulting Offer has 2 PhD’s and we had to design special cases to teach Felix to speak with ease, speak succinctly and handle cases where she lacked business judgement. Season 2 of The Consulting Offer also has a major PhD focus.
Strangely enough, the value of a PhD to management consulting is vastly misunderstood, especially in the US. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s most McKinsey and BCG office managers worldwide were Americans – with MBA’s. Today the dominant nationality for McKinsey and BCG office managers outside the US is German. The German’s run management consulting worldwide and the German offices are very competitive, with high standards. Yet, most of those German office managers have PhDs and not MBAs. That single fact alone, should indicate that a PhD does lead to partnership, and PhD’s play a significant role in shaping management consulting. This is an argument PhDs need to make in their application process, especially in the US and UK.
Philosophy aside, practical hurdles matter. The simplest thing, like getting time away from the lab to serve an internship, an opportunity which MBA’s take for granted, has no routinized policy at any doctoral program anywhere in the world. Therefore, PhD’s have to find a way to serve out an internship which indicates they want to leave research, and then come back to the research environment to complete defending their thesis. This one example explains some of the challenges PhD’s face.
PhD’s are always torn between showing deep specialization in their chosen field or pivoting away to spend time taking business courses, attending cases competitions, leading clubs or even launching start-ups. Which combination will yield the most attractive profile? It is always context dependent at the end of the day, and it is best to not do things which take too much time unless you are very sure it builds your profile.
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Undergraduate clients constitute ~11% of our clients at any one time. Our youngest client in this group was 18 when she joined. A key feature of our training for this client group is helping them understand the real-world implications of consulting cases by explaining our own engagement experience. Undergraduate students tend to be weaker at brainstorming and hypotheses development which becomes a focus for this group, though they have traditionally been stronger at quantitative analyses.
Given the younger age of undergraduate applicants, leadership and maturity become very important. Consulting firms are very careful to interview those who exhibit both leadership and analytic brilliance. The last thing a firm wants is to only hire someone who had a 4.00 GPA but never built the skills to influence people. Therefore, having the highest grades will only help if you can show you lived a balanced life and did not need to work all the time to obtain those high grades.
Although it is rare for a client with such high a high GPA to not receive an interview invitation, it does happen when the client assumes the high GPA is sufficient by itself, and under-invests in building out the rest of the resume to show leadership.
We prefer working with clients as early in their undergraduate degrees as possible and have accepted clients straight from high school in some cases. It is now more common for Firmsconsulting to accept undergraduate applicants from 1st and 2nd year students. We rarely accept 3rd or final year undergraduates. We find having a longer communication cycle helps us fix conversational and influence gaps.Listen to Podcast
~10% of our client base is associate lawyers or graduates of law programs. This is a successful group yet our focus is heavy on teaching basic business principles and techniques. We use our own strategy libraries and finance courses to prepare law students with the foundation skills to tackle cases.
Lawyers face a number of unique hurdles. First, unlike a number of high profile PhDs who have blazed a trail through McKinsey and BCG in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and have strong advocates at the partner and operating committee levels, partners with a law background have not really made a case for the unique attributes lawyers have. So each law applicant is in a sense having to reinvent the wheel in terms of making his or her case. This is a failing of partners with a law background. They should be laying the groundwork for those with a similar background.
Second, there is a wide spectrum of lawyers: litigation, M&A, patent, dispute resolution etc., and each of these not only require different content, but teach different skills. Not all lawyers can or should be expected to stand up and speak eloquently on a subject. Litigation lawyers probably could do that but they are a fragment of the pool. So, a law applicant faces this misunderstanding of what skills they should have versus what skills they do have.
Third, and finally, lawyers need to be better at taking the time to explain the benefits of the work they do. It is always a challenge to translate resumes of lawyers because they like to say, “everyone in the law profession knows this journal so lets keep it in.” However, a lawyer is not reading your resume and a partner with a PhD or MBA could not care less about the prestige of a journal unless it is obvious or the benefit of appearing there is clear. The challenge is writing for the audience you have versus the audience you expect to have.
These are just some of the hurdles we need to help lawyers overcome.
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~18% of all clients are consultants typically looking to move from Deloitte, Accenture etc. ~30% of this group are ex-MBB consultants who are trying to rejoin the firm in other parts of the world, or a consultant within MBB trying to move within this group to another firm. We treat both groups differently since their development areas tend to be very different.
Consultants of Deloitte, Accenture, Grant Thornton etc. trying to join McKinsey face the culture curve problem. Imagine a graph with time on the x-axis and level of proficiency on the y-axis. The more time you spend at Deloitte in the S&O practice, the more experience you have doing S&O projects. That is fairly obvious. So your level of proficiency is correlated to the time you spend at the firm.
Here is the main challenge. The more time you spend at Deloitte, you also pick up their culture, way of speaking, views on clients etc., and that may not be compatible with McKinsey. It is not a right or wrong issue, but simply compatibility. So cultural inflexibility is correlated to the time you spend at the firm. So let’s show you how we play around with this graph to analyse applicants.
Applicants who spend little time at Deloitte S&O do not have much S&O skills and have had no time to absorb the culture. That is good since Deloitte does S&O differently from BCG and McKinsey and the interviewer thinks this person, provided they have a great profile, can be blended into McKinsey culturally
Applicants who spend lots of time at Deloitte S&O can pick up too much of the culture and may not be able to adjust to McKinsey. Moreover, if you were 5 years in S&O you would have picked up a different type of strategy skill to what McKinsey does so the interviewer sees someone with lots of Deloitte DNA but little useful skills. Therefore, there is greater emphasis on the part of the applicant to prove they can adjust to the culture but also prove they are not going to merely solve cases the way Deloitte will do so.
Now, if you spend a long time at Deloitte and learn a sector skill or unusual functional skill like restructuring that is useful. However, the interviewer will only hire you if you can show that despite your years at the firm, you can adapt to and easily adopt the McKinsey philosophy. This philosophy hurdle is intangible but the main hurdle faced by applicants.Listen to Podcast
~10% of all clients have non-quantitative degrees such as in literature, history, the arts etc. This is one of the most successful clients groups because we have the ability to teach all the skills required from a zero-base. That said, clients in this group typically take longer than normal and usually work with us for a minimum of 3 months before the interview.
Non-quant. does not equal non-analytic. The disciplines of economics, philosophy and politics are bundled into this group and some of our most distinguished alums have majored in these disciplines. The challenge with this segment is that it is so large and encompasses so many academic disciplines that it becomes tough to build a generic profile to describe clients in this group. We have placed pianists, painters, policy majors and linguists at McKinsey and BCG. There are no similarities in their profile, except for one common attribute. A important attribute.
The successful applicants in this group, more than any other, tend to have a clear and strong track record of excellence in their chosen discipline. We can track success all the way from high school to their current activities. In a manner of speaking, successful applicants in this group are somewhat more focused than others and that is very easy to see in the interviews.
There is another way of saying this. They chose a non-quant. discipline. It did not chose them. In other words they chose to study economics since they enjoyed the subject and wanted to excel at it, versus selecting it because it was an easier or popular major. This considered motivation and selection process is something we look for in non-quant. majors. Those who chose the discipline tend to do much better.Listen to Podcast
Listen to Sanda’s experiences in Client Conversations to learn more about this program. Sanda was the very first Firmsconsulting Emerging Fellow, and the success of this client encouraged the expansion of the Program.
The Firmsconsulting Emerging Fellows program has been active for 2 years. The Fellows program does not support popular or news-making causes. It supports worthy causes which may not receive media attention. The intent is more important than the return.
This program replicates the strategies adopted by the states of Israel and Singapore in the 1950’s and 1960’s. The work of Daron Acemoğlu et al indicates that disenfranchised / marginalized groups will struggle to prosper if they are only provided aid, even it is long-term aid.While this aid is useful, it does not change the underlying mechanics of the problem. The DNA of the problem must be altered.
Disenfranchised/marginalized groups can only prosper if they are sufficiently educated such that they can learn new ideas, bring those home, and crucially, represent their interests, on the basis of their earned right through their education and the influential networks this affords, at international organizations which can assist them. In simpler words, this means creating a middle class which has both economic and voting influence. Israel and Singapore are outstanding examples of this model.
In selecting Fellows we look for marginalized groups and try to find a fellow within those marginalized groups to catalyze this process of self-determination. We try to work with them earlier in the process, preferably in high school and manage their entire journey all the way into an elite consulting firm.
The process is a long-term investment where the recipients only see benefits over 3 to 7 years. We help them think through their long-term plans and work backwards to get to that point. Fellows need not enter politics, return home or engage in charity. We expect them to be outstanding role models and ambassadors of Firmsconsulting. The only 3 requirements for fellows is that they (a) truly excel at their chosen studies and are resolute in joining McKinsey or BCG, (b) refer new fellows to the program and (c) mentor admitted fellows. Furthermore, Fellows are strongly encouraged to complete at least a portion of their studies at Chinese institutes such as Tsinhgua University, CEIBS or Peking University.
Former Fellows include an Hmong female, Roma female, Northern Thailand female, a Sakha female, and 3 male students from South Africa, Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Emerging Fellows Program has one of the highest placement rates at Firmsconsulting. Note, that we do not accept applications to this program. Fellows may only be nominated by previous or current Fellows, and by Firmsconsulting clients.
To understand more about our underlying strategy / philosophy for the Emerging Fellows Program, please read:Listen to Podcast
Since we personally work with each candidate, we collect extensive data on their case preparation. We track 241 different variables per a client. We therefore make decisions based on measurable statistics from the client in question and the general trends we observed with all other candidates. This provides an unusual advantage in being able to support our decisions on your training with numbers and correlations. You can review a limited sample of our data-intensive approach in The Consulting Offer – Infographics.
If you are practicing cases, graduating or preparing for interviews, you are likely doing or about to do one if not all of the following to improve your chances of obtaining an offer:
Entering a case competition hoping to win the event.
Working on practicing your math speed.
Networking aggressively with past and current consultants.
Neglecting grades a little to focus on networking.
Neglecting grades to meet the September application deadline.
Hoping to get a high GMAT score to join a great MBA program to negate a poor undergraduate GPA.
Lets attach some numbers to these myths which are widely followed by most applicants. We are going to compare this to our 279 past clients and also what we see reported by schools. All of the below only apply to McKinsey, Bain or BCG:
Entering a case competition hoping to win the event. Fact: Only 3% of case competitions winners from our clients have joined McKinsey, Bain or BCG. This number is approximately the same at the major schools like Ross, Wharton, Harvard, IESE etc. Preparing for case competitions is time consuming and inefficient. The majority of hires are not case competition winners.
Working on practicing your math speed. Fact: Doing more math problems, using the same poor technique, simply ingrains the poor technique. More practice, makes you better at being worse. If you look at The Consulting Offer Season I Infographics you will clearly see Felix improving by focusing on her technique and ignoring the speed. This is consistent across most clients.
Networking aggressively with past and current consultants. Fact: Networking rarely helps. In a few rare cases, someone may get an interview, but 95% of invites come from the strength of the profile. This, however, changes for experienced hires. Networking with partners will probably lead to a 50% improvement in the probability of receiving an interview.
Neglecting grades a little to focus on networking. Fact: Students should focus on building very strong resumes: leadership, grades, achievements etc and written in a clear and compelling format. If this resume building is done well, the need for networking dissapears. It is usually not stated as bluntly, but the amount of networking needed is inversely correlated to the strength of your profile.
Neglecting grades to meet the September application deadline. Fact: This is a very bad idea. It is far more efficient to focus on grades and apply to McKinsey after graduating than trying to do too much in a too short a space of time. About 20% of clients insist on managing the workload to push through an application. None receive offers and they need to reapply. Patience matters.
Hoping to get a high GMAT score to join a great MBA program to negate a poor undergraduate GPA. Fact: This is a very costly mistake. Many candidates hope to join elite programs and overcome poor undergraduate GPA scores. Unfortunately, GPA matters more than the GMAT score. We have yet to place someone with an undergraduate GPA lower than 3.5 and as partners we have personally never hired applicants with GPAs lower than 3.7. If it happens, it is again an outlier, and not a trend applicants should hope to replicate.Listen to Podcast
Firmsconsulting is distinctive and distinguished by our sole use of former senior partners, practice leaders and principals of McKinsey, BCG & Bain. All our training, coaching, mentoring and material is developed by ex-partners.
While we have great respect for analysts, associates, engagement managers and even associate principals – we were in these roles at some point in time, we strongly believe that only partners understand the full career arc in management consulting and only someone who has had that experience can advise on the path to partnership. That is a crucial distinction since it speaks to our mission – we want to find and nurture tomorrows management leaders. We are not looking to merely find tomorrow’s McKinsey associates. While somewhat of an accomplishment, it would be anti-climatic, tragic really, if that was your largest accomplishment in life.
We use a very simple analogy to explain why we prefer using former partners. It is the same as asking a P&G associate-brand manager (ABM) to comment on the strategy and executive decision making of the company. While the ABM may very well be accomplished and exceptional they are very limited in their views. The do not have much, if any, oversight into how decisions are made at the management or board level. An ABM, like a former associate, will only be able to provide one perspective and from his limited role. Using the ABM’s views to gain an understanding of P&G’s overall thinking would be unwise, irrespective of the caliber of the person.
Moreover, associates and recruiters may screen resumes and conduct early round interviews, but they are never responsible for the final recruiting decision. That responsibility rests solely with the partner and therefore only a partner fully understands the final decision making process. Furthermore, consulting maturity is a hallmark of great business advisers. It is difficult to understand or have that attribute, let alone teach it, unless you have been through the journey from associate to partner.
Our client-facing model is unique. In most professional firms, greater seniority implies dealing with growth and strategy issues – internal issues, while delegating client and operational minutiae to associates and professional assistants. We are unique in ensuring that clients only deal with our ex-partners. In fact, clients rarely speak to our associates. We consider managing clients to be the most important role and never delegate that responsibility.
Engagement and career lessons can only be provided by ex-partners who have actually been in those very same situations. None of our analogies are hypothetical. When we discuss the Hunter Strategy, SWAT Teams etc., we are talking about real clients where we have helped them manage real issues. Firmsconsulting partners have managed a minimum of ~100 strategy engagements each for Fortune 500 clients, and usually for Fortune 100 clients. In fact, that is a hallmark of Firmsconsulting. We do not need to discuss career scenarios. We can discuss our own and explain the mistakes we have made and successes we have achieved.
Integrity lies at the core of our decision to use ex-partners. We will tell you the truth as we see it since we have already been partners and retired. We have little to prove and no incentive to “market” any firm. We are brutally honest on female career development, minorities in consulting and consulting career management. With the facts, we believe clients can be better prepared,We have always had a reputation for writing tough pieces on management consulting and asking tough questions of firms. That level of independence is important. At the end of the day, we want you to succeed, and not merely feel good about yourself while receiving the wrong advice.Listen to Podcast
What is the mentorship program?
In addition to their coaches, clients who perform in the top 20% of all clients worldwide at their midpoint stage – session 6 – may also be awarded a mentor, who was a former senior partner and worldwide practice leader at McKinsey, Bain or BCG.
It is important to understand that we use the most eminent ex-worldwide practice leaders like Kevin Coyne who, though not employed by Firmsconsulting, believe in our model and graciously make themselves available to train our top-performing clients.
It is a unique privilege and honor to be selected for the highly selective mentoring program.
Mentors may only be assigned after a client receives their case training program mid-point feedback at session 6. This will allow clients approximately six sessions to incorporate feedback from their coach and mentor while possessing sufficient basic consulting skills to benefit from the mentoring. After session 6, selected clients may therefore have two ex-partners guiding them – a mentor and a coach.
Selected clients will initially be awarded one session with a mentor. If the session goes well, as solely determined by the coach and mentor, more sessions will be awarded. Allocations are always merit based and must be earned. That is, a session cannot be bought. It is awarded at the sole discretion of Firmsconsulting.
Discussions with mentors should focus on career planning and positioning. We believe that the case training provided by a client’s coach is best complemented by the career planning provided by the mentor.
Why do we have mentors and coaches?
Talented future consulting leaders do not always graduate from Ivy League schools, hang out in Harvard Business Review chat-groups or read Bloomberg. We hold the rare distinction of placing the first McKinsey, Bain and BCG hires from several countries in Africa, the Middle East and South-East-Asia.
We are proud of that record and understand the significance of the role we play in nurturing talented individuals and providing opportunities they may not have easily had by themselves.
We want to find such people who have the intellect to succeed in management consulting, but not the easiest path to get there. A good example of such a candidate was a young lady from a tiny, war-wracked country in Greater Asia who once wrote to us and asked for help. She clearly did not expect a positive reply and we took some time in responding as we assessed her profile. She did not fit the image of a typical consultant and the firms did not have even have an office in her home country. She had no relationships into management consulting, came from a very poor background and barely had a working laptop to be coached.
Those were some difficult coaching sessions as her laptop regularly stopped working; the Skype connection dropped repeatedly and we were unable to share screens. In fact, she borrowed money for her interview preparation and travelling expenses.
Yet, she secured an offer at McKinsey; the first person from her country to do so.
We are always looking for such outstanding hidden talent, and both coaches and mentors will work to ensure worthy clients have as many advantages as possible going into the interview. With our mentors, we hope to be able to guide such candidates further in their careers.
Clients in all our programs may be paired with mentors. Aspiring consultants, as described above, will make up the majority of mentees. However, current consultants at McKinsey, BCG and Bain are also a part of this program and will comprise a substantial percentage of all mentees.
Who are the mentors?
All mentors were former-senior partners/directors of only McKinsey, BCG or Bain, and former co-leaders/leaders of their respective global practices. We could not find more eminent leaders in the consulting field. Three mentors currently serve as executive officers of Fortune 500 companies, including a bank.
Each mentor specializes in one of four functions: strategy, corporate finance, business technology or operations. All have broad domain expertise across multiple sectors. Our mentors have both US and non-US experiences – Latin America, Asia and Europe – to help clients pursuing consulting careers outside the US.
For confidentiality reasons, biographies of mentors who are current executive officers of listed companies will not be made public. However, full resumes of the assigned mentor will be available to our clients, whom would have signed our extensive NDA agreement – a standard requirement to work with us.
• Kevin Coyne is the former McKinsey & Co. worldwide strategy practice co-leader and CEO transitions practice co-leader. Kevin’s biography and interview for Firmsconsulting may be viewed in our podcast section.
• Former regional financial institutions group practice co-leader who is an executive officer of a listed Fortune 500 company and served as a senior executive of a bulge-bracket investment bank after leaving management consulting.
• Former regional business technology practice co-leader and special-counsel to the CEO of a listed US Fortune 500 company.
• Former senior partner and regional operations practice leader and an executive officer of a listed Fortune 500 company.
We may use different mentors from those listed above when this is required to augment a client’s specific goals. For example, in Japan we are working with a media executive over 3 weeks to position him as an experienced-hire and will thereafter pair him with a former McKinsey director, head of an Asian hub-office and practice leader to round out his leadership profile.
All interaction with mentors, as with coaches, is bound by our NDA agreements and should be treated as confidential at all times. We value discretion.
What are the logistics for the mentoring sessions?
Clients will receive invites on a rolling basis. There is no deadline and all clients of Firmsconsulting are automatically eligible.
We advise clients to only proceed with follow-up mentoring sessions when they are prepared. Your mentor and coach will decide if/when it would be the appropriate time to have the next session.
Please note that, rescheduling mentoring meetings will not be permitted once a date and time are mutually agreed with your mentor.
Clients who are appointed a mentor and reside in Atlanta, Boston, Seoul or London may, pending mutual availability, meet their mentor.
That said, upon selection to this competitive program, clients should make the adequate preparation to engage their mentors. Researching mentors, having a clear agenda and confidence in one’s abilities will go a long way towards creating a strong impression, and developing a mutually-beneficial relationship. The best mentors are those who take a personal interest in a client’s development, and mentors will do so if the client comes prepared. Listen to our podcast on “Influencing the interviewer” to understand how to build a compelling profile to sustain the relationship.
How do we select clients for this program?
All clients in our program are treated equal. We have a thorough screening process to find, invite and groom tomorrow’s consulting leaders. You are in the program because you have passed our rigorous screening process – which has a 15% acceptance rate – and have the attributes required to succeed in management consulting, irrespective of your background or perceived weaknesses.
Therefore, your educational background, ranking of your school, GMAT scores and GPA or resume strength will not influence your chances of being selected for mentoring once you have joined the program.
Case performance in the first six sessions, potential displayed in the coaching sessions and adherence to our value system will be the three sole criteria used.
Clients can improve their chances of being awarded a mentor by doing the following.
• First, prepare well and perform well in the case coaching sessions. If you subscribe to the video libraries or The Consulting Offer it is imperative you use them to come adequately prepared. It is not enough to merely watch them, you have to understand them and apply the underlying principles. Listen carefully to feedback, take notes and use these notes. Ensure you are available to be contacted by your coach on Skype, arrive on time and ensure your equipment is tested before the session. The administrative details matter because image matters.
• Second, potential is measured in three ways. We initially look at your ability to extract the lessons from the videos, and use them in your lessons. We thereafter look at how much of the feedback we provide in the session is captured, and how much of it is used appropriately either immediately after the feedback is provided, or in the next session. For example, consistently repeating a mistake lowers your chances of being selected. Finally, communication is vital. You need to constantly demonstrate your intellect by holding a meaningful discussion with your coach: wear your brain on your sleeve.
• Third, but certainly not the last, is adherence to our value system. We select only the best candidates and groom future consulting leaders. We expect candidates to be ethical, respectful and professional at all times, be it in their interactions with us or decisions they make during the course of the program. Clients are regularly disqualified for mentoring, due to what many would consider minor ethical lapses.
First Application Step: Submitting an application, a resume, official grades transcript, recent cover letter and/or audio file.
Please use the form on the right (on a laptop or tablet) or below (on a mobile phone) to submit your application
Candidates with less than 4 weeks before their interviews are ineligible to apply. Think carefully about the following questions when submitting your application. Approximately 50% of applicants are declined due to answers which are not thoughtful.
We use the questionnaire below to evaluate three areas before inviting you to the next stage of the screening process: your profile, your understanding of management consulting and your level of deliberation prior to submitting an application to Firmsconsulting.
Why are you specifically applying to management consulting versus investment banking or a multinational’s leadership development program?
Describe an ethical lapse of judgement in your recent past?
Describe a situation where you led a team to overcome a challenging obstacle. Be specific about the context, your role, the team’s role and the outcome.
What is your most significant accomplishment and why?
Name any three differences between McKinsey, Bain or BCG?
Low grades do not disqualify you from the program since we consider a complete profile of the candidate. That said, high GPA’s do not guarantee a place in the program since we will consider your leadership profile, ability to improve your profile and non-academic activities as well.Listen to Podcast
Second Application Step: Online analyses and reasoning test
If your resume screening in step one above is successful, you will be invited to participate in an online analyses and reasoning test. This is purely a business judgement test. No preparation is required for the online test.
The test is not assessing your ability to pass a McKinsey PST or a BCG screening exam. Therefore, it is not a replica of either exam. We understand applicants to our program may not yet have the skills to pass these tests / case interviews and merely test for learning potential. The online exam has no pass mark and is used as one data point to assess your candidacy. The online system assesses why you performed as you did and the final mark is not relevant nor does a high score guarantee you will be invited to the final screening interview.
The test is randomized so that no two test takers will encounter the same question order. All tests are conducted in English and are done online. An internet access is required to complete the test. Once a test commences it must be completed in that seating or the test will need to be redone.Listen to Podcast
Third Application Step: Interview with an ex-Partner
No preparation is required for the final screening interview and it is the most important step in the screening process. The interview consists of 2 parts.
• In part a, applicants have an open-ended opportunity to ask us questions about their profile, resume, chosen offices etc. Candidates may ask any questions they would like to. We use this part to test the candidate’s communication and reasoning skills.
• In part b, we shift to typical case questions and questions we have about the candidate. We do not expect applicants to pass the screening interview cases, and are observing their ability to break down problems and their ability to be coached in the future. Candidates should not expect to have exceptional case solving skills in this interview or have practice cases.
Screening calls are recorded; require 60 minutes and we may conduct more than one screening call per candidate.Listen to Podcast
Final Step: Feedback and Decision Letter
Five days after the final screening call, candidates will receive an initial email indicating a decision has been rendered on their application. This email will not include our decision since we do not communicate decisions, containing personal information, via email. All decisions letter are sent via password protected emails requiring a login onto our website.
• Will receive password information to login and read a detailed letter, within 72 hours of the initial email. This detailed letter will outline their performance and list all areas they would need to develop.
• Successful clients have 48 hours to accept the offer to accept our invitation to join the program. An offer is automatically rescinded if it is not accepted within that timeline.
• The deadline to accept an offer cannot be extended and rescinded offers are never reinstated.
• Upon acceptance of the offer, clients will be expected to sign a binding non-disclosure agreement and will receive payment details.
• Will receive a shorter letter within 72 hours of the email.
• We only accept 10% to 15% of all applicants and due to the sheer volume of qualified applicants; we are unable to accept everyone. Therefore, do not view a “decline” decision as a judgement on your profile. Many outstanding candidates are declined from our program due to space limitations
• To maintain the highest standards, ensure our coaches can prepare well and maintain our high placements rates, we invariably must decline more candidates than those who apply.
• Declined applicants will not be permitted to reapply for at least 12 months but are encouraged to remain in contact with us, to update their resumes, practice cases etc.
• It is important to note that some declined candidates use our ongoing feedback and guidance to obtain offers at MBB.
Due to the detailed information we provide, we are unable provide any additional information about the screening process and/or letters.Listen to Podcast
Give our extensive screening process; we have a detailed file on clients before the program begins. The planning call sets the agenda, timetable and objectives for the next few weeks or months if needed. Very few candidates tend to work with us for less than a month and the majority are working with us for more than 6 months.
We introduce clients to an overview of the program, determine priority areas, discuss the feedback letter priorities only and explain how we work and the time/depth trade-offs we will be making as the training progresses. We specifically want to discuss the following major phases of the program:
Outside the 12 hours: this time allocated to clients is done at the sole discretion of Firmsconsulting and is subject to our availability and the performance of the client.
• Resume rewrite and cover letter rewrite process, timelines and expectations
• Updating LinkedIn and our views on professional photos
• The networking process and how we will work with clients as well as our expectations on the timelines and their commitment
• Our preferred real-time updates from clients and providing guidance in real-time while they are networking
• Developing an office and function application strategy, a pivotal step
• Advice on clothing; cut, color, suit type, shirt type, shoes, socks, hair etc. and how we would like to provide this advice
• Advice after an offer is made on negotiating, preparing for the role and guidance thereafter
Within the 12 hours: this is the minimum time allocated.
• Only the case training, communication and PEI preparation is covered within the 12 hours and is discussed in further details below
Clients should not expect additional time and coaching outside the 12 hours. That decision is at the discretion of the coach and while we strive to provide this advice, such time is not guaranteed.
There are always trade-offs and the client needs to guide us on their preferences. Clients will be given access to an online storage system where all session recordings are loaded, they can post and store notes and comments. This will be their private training folder. To consolidate privacy, clients are given a unique number for all communication.Listen to Podcast
For the majority of clients, the most important area is resume preparation. A poor resume leads to a poor LinkedIn profile which results in little if any networking when consultants view the weaker online profile. Our most successful clients take the time to build effective resumes. All time allocated in this part of the training is at the sole discretion of Firmsconsulting since it is not subtracted from the 12 hours of coaching.
It is not an exaggeration to say that we have an intense approach to writing resumes which many find tiring. Writing a resume cannot be outsourced or done for a client since only the client knows what really happened in each bullet. We interrogate each word in each line of each bullet to ensure that it is accurate, written in the best way and contributes to the overall profile of a client.
Resume writing done well is a 3 to 4 week process. In that time we will talk a client through all the changes which must be made to the resume. The client needs to take our advise and purposefully make the edits. It is generally concerning when clients edit resumes in a call and turn them around in a few hours. That usually indicates insufficient thought has been given to the required edits. Done correctly, resumes should be edited and reviewed between the coach and client approximately 3 to 4 days apart, with about 5 to 10 full edits before a final draft is ready.
Only then can the Linkedin profile be updated with contents taken verbatim from the resume. At this point, the Linkedin profile has sufficient depth to ensure networking attempts yield a meeting. No one will accept an invite from a weak Linkedin profile and profile cannot look professional until it has the right contents from a well written resume.Listen to Podcast
Networking will not lead to an interview in management consulting. That is because networking is very poorly done and treated merely as a process of asking for help and referrals. We have a very high success rate due to the unusual steps we take to prepare clients and the discipline we bring to ensuring effective communication. All time allocated in this part of the training is at the sole discretion of Firmsconsulting since it is not subtracted from the 12 hours of coaching.
We follow a unique model of only encouraging networking with partners. The rationale behind that strategy is built on ensuring interviews are obtained in the least possible time. There is a more profound rationale to this.
Someone with an outstanding resume and profile is going to obtain an interview simply by contacting the recruiter or applying online. Therefore, only an applicant with a slightly weaker profile in some areas needs to network. Therefore, candidates with strong profiles should ignore conventional wisdom and not network.
Those with a weaker profile can network with recruiters, associates/analysts/managers or partners.
A recruiter can merely compare your profile against the requirements of the firm. They cannot and will not evaluate your resume in that call, nor will they commit themselves to anything. They cannot commit themselves to anything since the final decision is that of the partner. That is why most applicants find networking with recruiters frustrating. The recruiter can merely be positive and offer the applicant to submit a complete package.
Associates/analysts/managers are in a similar position. At best they may refer your application. However, even with a referral, the recruiter will have the final decision on whether or not the interview will proceed. Nothing is guaranteed in this process. Moreover, consultants at these levels usually do not fully understand the recruiting process. It is widely expected you will hear different things from different associates, even those within the same office. Therefore the process is inefficient. If you speak to one person, you may receive poor advice and even if you speak to many people with conflicting, it is hard to know who is correct, even though there intentions are surely sincere.
Networking with partners is a high return / high risk strategy. On the one hand if you speak to a partner and demonstrate your fit and competence well, you can be quickly placed in the recruitment process. On the other hand, if you do not manage the call well, you are likely to have hurt your chances of getting an interview at that office. That said, it is a highly efficient process since you are speaking to the final decision maker. Moreover, we “build” clients to the point of networking with partners. We do not expect that will be the first person with whom they network.
That said, the strategy is highly efficient. If you cannot impress the partner in the networking call, it is obvious to conclude you would not impress them in the final round assuming you went as far. Therefore, testing for this early, gives you ample time to adjust your preparation.Listen to Podcast
To understand the types of cases, clients should read the guides in the “About The Show” section from “The Consulting Offer”. Applicants are strongly encouraged to watch The Consulting Offer to fully understand how we teach, the cases used and the results we achieve. Applicants are also advised to watch the Case Video Library.
Foundation Sessions: case differ but objectives are usually focused on learning core skills
• Session 1: All types of estimation/math cases: with markets, supply-side cases, demand-side cases, top-down cases, button-up cases and non-market cases are taught. We introduce clients to a simple 5-step approach to solve these cases. These cases are also known as guesstimates or brainteasers.
• Session 2: Brainstorming is taught via a 4-step process. This very important session teaches clients the ability to build frameworks and negates the need to memorize structures or learn generic structures: arguably the most important session in the program.
• Session 3: Interviewee-led cases are taught using basic issues trees. Clients are taught how to identify, prioritize and breakdown issues with issue trees and use them to structure case solutions. This is also known as the BCG approach, as it is interviewee-led.
• Session 4: We remain on interviewee-led cases with clients solving progressively tougher cases. We tend to shift to volume-based growth cases where candidates are given more complex cases to solve. In rare situations we may introduce McKinsey style cases in this training session and change the program order. The order and pace is dependent on the client’s progression.
• Session 5: We remain on interviewee-led cases with clients moving to more complex market entry cases and market analyses. We teach a very flexible approach in this case which can be applied to most strategy decisions. In rare situations we may introduce McKinsey style cases in this training session and change the program order. The order and pace is dependent on the client’s progression.
• Session 6: We switch to answer-first / interviewer-led / McKinsey + Bain style cases and focus on operations cases. We teach an effective technique to build hypotheses off decision trees. After session 2, this is the most important session. All the training hereafter is done with the answer-first and interviewer-led approach. We teach both types of McKinsey cases, those which can be solved with a framework, and those which cannot be solved with a framework.
There are two types of McKinsey cases. Those which can be solved with frameworks and those were frameworks cannot be used. Both are taught from hereon.
Bespoke Sessions: cases and objectives are client dependent
• Mid-point discussion: After session six we may offer clients an opportunity to have a candid discussion about their progress and discuss how we can improve their learning and preparation. Whether or not this discussion takes place, we adjust the training and re-design the objectives.
• Mentorship with ex-McKinsey, BCG or Bain senior partners: The top 20% – 25% of all clients are awarded an ex-MBB worldwide practice leader to provide mentorship prior to their application/interview. These are additional sessions from the time with the clients’ coach.
• Sessions 7-12: The remaining six sessions are unique to the client and their needs, and there is no generic guide. We will cover many different types of cases like strategy, BTO, marketing, investments, marginal pricing, data cases, trends analyses, hypotheses development under multiple scenarios, written tests etc. The focus will be determined by the client and office pursued. No two clients will go through the same training or use similar cases.
• Session 11 – 12: FIT is usually poorly done by most clients. From the mid-point we ask candidates to prepare for FIT interviews using an approach which forces clients to avoid memorizing answers and focus on the interrogation style used by McKinsey. This is one of the significant mistakes clients make – ignoring the interrogation style. The final two sessions are a combination of FIT and cases.Listen to Podcast
Given our highly selective admissions process we want to remain in contact with our clients after the training is completed. We maintain regular contact with over 80% of all our clients. That said, all time allocated to a client is at the sole discretion of Firmsconsulting. Support can occur in several ways:
• Before interviews: Most clients will complete their training well before interviews begin. We maintain contact with all clients and guide them through the process.
• Successfully placed candidates at MBB: We regularly offer advice and guidance to clients we have successfully placed in MBB. Approximately 80% sign up for our consulting training while we continue discussions with the remainder.
• Candidates placed in other firms: The majority of candidates placed outside MBB will make another attempt in the near future. We selectively guide them on decisions needed and initiatives they should take to enhance their profiles.Listen to Podcast
Analyzing our clients’ performance in the Sep/Oct 2012 Fulltime MBA Recruiting Cycle
Throughout these analyzes, we will refer to a model we use to analyze clients. It may be useful to scroll down to the very last section to read an overview of the model.
A big trend in this cycle was the outflow of traditional US-targeting clients going after foreign offices. This was a huge shift from last year. Fully, 67% of our successful clients placed in foreign offices. In fact, clients declined by a U.S. office were applying to Johannesburg, Dubai, Korea, Singapore, etc. and securing interviews, and ultimately offers. We are not saying foreign offices have necessarily an easier interview process, but the supply of quality candidates is lower. The PhD’s were a much larger group here.
The number of females was sharply higher in our Sep/Oct client group.
• Of the successful placements, 53% were female.
• Unlike male PhD’s and male MBA clients, females were predominantly from the traditionally strong placement schools like Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Wharton, Stanford etc.
• 76% of the 53% successful female placements originated from these schools.
• That said, the majority possessed undergraduate degrees from largely unknown schools, to us, or foreign schools.
Foreign students studying in the US dominated this group.
We fully expected and prepared for a weaker showing in the PhD group. We were wrong of course, but spent a long time analyzing the numbers and figuring out why our PhD clients did so much better when we expected worse results.
We have a good hypothesis.
For many PhD clients we hoped for the best, but planned for the worst. We expected weaker results and were counselling clients well into their final rounds that if things did not work out, there was always next year, or if a different office was an option, then just a 4-6 month delay if they knew how to navigate the system.
Our belief is that because we expected PhD clients to fare worse, we dramatically over compensated for this expectation, and this over compensation gave them an advantage.
This is an important point worth explaining. The U.S.A. churns out PhDs like a McDonalds restaurant’s first week of opening in an emerging market. Knowing this, we were significantly tougher on PhD’s writing resumes, cover letters and networking. We treated master’s students – non-MBA – and experienced hires in the same way. So when we say PhDs, we refer to this group as well.
Given the long networking lead time, we insisted most PhD clients create a 3-6 month preparation window with us.
Let’s explain this in another way. We felt PhD’s would do worse and gave them more work and lead times. When we inputted these variables into the model, we expected the model to say, “Yes”, they will do worse. However, the model says, based on historical patterns, stripping out emotion, the way we prepared PhD candidates means they would do better, not worse.
In hindsight this makes perfect sense. Since the model looks at past performance, it looks at a current client’s attributes and assigns them to a bucket of performance. The model does not know longer lead times will lead to a poorer performance unless we tell the model that it does. And of course, the “telling the model” part comes from past data which told it something else entirely.
The other surprise among PhD candidates was the strong showing of California. We normally do not expect California-based clients to dominate the final results. They did. 22% of successful PhD candidates were from California schools.
We personally do not see this as the rise of any underlying trend. Given the way we work, heavily referral-based, we typically expect a spike in a region a few months after a few successful placements the year before – clients unfortunately talk to others.
That said, the sheer number of PhD candidates on the East Coast and the increase in hiring, will mean that all other things being equal, California-based client placements as a percentage of the total will drop next year.
Great results without exceptional resumes
We have Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, and Fulbright Scholars etc. in our program. None of them were in the group which placed well. Every one of that group had their application dates or interviews pushed back for a variety of reasons.
That means the group which placed highly did not have extraordinary profiles. They were good, but not exceptionally so on paper. This is an important observation which the model supports and which we can concur through our placement and general client observations.
Clients with extraordinary backgrounds, like Rhodes scholars etc., fit into a binary pattern. They either come across extraordinarily well or extraordinarily poorly. There is very little “average” performance. This is a consistent trait we find.
Therefore when screening candidates with superb paper credentials we don’t worry about the positive outliers, unless they are arrogant, which will also not go down well with partners, but more about those who either struggle to mirror their paper profile or struggle to communicate.
The communication hurdle is a huge problem and much harder to overcome.
Differences between candidates on their second attempt at MBB
Between 37% and 56% of our clients were on their second attempt at McKinsey et al, though their first time working with us. The range exists purely based on how you define the first attempt: failed PST, failed first round, failed final round etc. We do notice that candidates, who already have their first strike, if you really want to keep the California theme going, tend to be more disciplined and “mature” about the process.
There is a deeper and profound sense of urgency in most cases. I am not saying it is uniform, but someone who believes they can reapply in the future tends to assume failure is just temporary and should be shrugged off. This is supported by both the model and our own observations.
Again, this theme is far more pronounced among PhD’s and experienced hires versus MBA’s.
Causality is far easier to explain here.
A second-attempt for a PhD is going to be for someone who is 27, at the minimum, and possibly 38, at the upper limit. The majority sit at around 32 years which means there is far more at stake.
You tend to have a uniformly bleak view of the world when you are 32, sitting in a lab, earning $50K/annum or less, and you just have one shot with McKinsey.
The urgency arrives.
The same applies if you are in industry, have a family and have reached a career ceiling.
Negative trends in candidates
However, too much urgency quickly devolves into 4 trends which both the model and our own experience quickly validate.
The first negative trend is the inability to deduce what is important advice, and by default, creates the tendency to follow any and all advice. Of the candidates who do not get offers, about 50%, in our opinion, fall into this trap.
The model predicts a full 72% fell into trap. I would say here the model is probably more accurate since this is a common problem. Candidates who think they have only one chance or a small chance tend to believe there is some magical advice ricocheting through the corridors of their school or the dark alleys of their friendships.
They make every effort to find this advice, which is a tiring and confusing process of networking as heavily as possible, not filtering the advice received and then trying to follow all the advice even when it conflicting.
A common example of this is the MBA student who feels it is their patriotic duty, no, their family obligation, to partake in every mock interview offered in the day. Our advice on this is clear. If you have not been trained yet, you are not practicing; you are simply learning, and learning from people who should not be teaching – the blind following the blind.
Candidates end up tired – it is draining to do 3 cases with unprepared people – and confused since we have not explained even 1/10 of what they faced in those poorly managed sessions. There are many other examples of this, but if all advice is treated like special advice then no advice is truly special.
The second negative trend is too much pandering in the system. When a client refers to any of our coaches as “sir” or “madam” that sets off an immediate warning bell in the system.
This is a simple one and the model also tends to be quite accurate here. Consulting firms are not looking for people who do not have the confidence to build relationships at a peer level. When clients act like this with our partners, they tend to replicate this behaviour with interviewers.
Understandably, culture may be the reason. While that reason is valid, and should be respected, it does not change the outcome.
This leads to the third trend. Confidence is seen through every little thing you do or say. Our defining rule is never to look desperate. There is never an appropriate time when a strategy of desperation will work.
We can preach this as much as possible, but a full 90% of clients who do not make it exhibit this characteristic in one form or another. And here is a tip, being confident in 99 of your actions in an interview and showing lack of confidence in just 1, is usually enough, since it shows inconsistency.
The problem with confidence is that it is a cumulative degradation.
That means clients who lack confidence put themselves into worse positions, which breed greater desperation, generating less confidence and leading to more desperate behaviour which only worsens the situation.
The classic example: emailing a partner and asking if you are a fit for the firm and attaching your resume. 99% of clients seem pleased when the partner responds. You should not be. Asking if you deserve to be there implies you do not think you deserve to be there.
If you want to generate a conversation, do it in a way which does not sabotage your later plans.
The fourth trend here is a stunningly high number of people in the program, about 89% of those who do not make it seem to think that you need the poise and theatrical skills of a “movie star.” Consulting partners do not speak like this. We are not theatrical. We are analytical and professional.
If you want to work on communication focus on saying what you mean and meaning what you say: getting that part right is more important than merely sounding right.
New joiners to McKinsey et al need to show superior analytical skills and the ability to communicate in a simple manner. That means knowing what you want to say, and then figuring out how to say it.
Actors and actresses get told what to say and then do about 20 takes to get it right. The entire conversation is staged and scripted. You will not be like them and I dare you to find a partner who speaks like that.
Sounding good is not the same as being good. You need to work far more heavily on coming across naturally, but emphasizing strengths, versus being someone totally new.
The time needed to prepare
The model shows that clients who take 3 months or more to prepare have a 57% higher probability of getting an offer. Anecdotally, that makes perfect sense. Looking at the strong showing of PhD candidates, the vast majority were working with us between 3 to 9 months. Just one worked with us for 4 weeks, though she did get an offer at BCG.
The causality is very easy to outline here as well. Our strategy is always to create multiple paths for candidates. We call this having “options.” In our view, a candidate with just one or a few options is begging for disappointment. There are far too many variables outside our control to rely on a single option/path to an offer.
Candidates who start early with us can regroup when things go wrong – and things go wrong often.
The planned interview does not materialize, the PST is a hurdle too much, an office is not hiring, or the candidate becomes ill, gets married or has a kid. The more time you have, the easier it is to side-step these obstacles without taking desperate measures like emailing a partner and asking if you are a good fit etc.
Linked to this, candidates have more time to review lesson plans, listen to recordings, practice and share ideas with us. None of this is possible when the preparation timeline is short. We were personally happy when so many MBA clients signed up 6 months before interviews. That joy quickly dissipated when they only made themselves available 2 months before the interview, or did not allocate sufficient quality time when they did make themselves available.
You cannot predict the length of the figurative runway you need to prepare. Expect it to always be longer than needed.
The importance of rewriting the resume
The next lead indicator is linked to preparing early but still important to mention. The model shows those who made large changes to their resume, and made material improvements did better. However, the causal relationship is not what most would think. The improved resume helped, in some cases, it changed a smirk from the recruiter to “you must apply.”
However, the main benefit is because it allowed us to get to know a candidate very well before the coaching began and this helped them know what to expect when the sessions actually began.
Clients jumping straight into the coaching really struggle to understand the expectations we have of them, and the intensity of the program. The resume rewriting process leaves no doubts about the level of detail expected and the way we tackle things.
The model again shows this, and I believe this is one area where the model tends to be quite accurate. Though, the curve is far from normal. There are outliers, who are confident, and do well immediately in the coaching, but they are a minority.
Again a related lead indicator which the model shows to be heavily correlated to successful placements has to do with flexibility from the client with regard to coaching dates and times. This one is again easy to explain. Clients who start early have flexibility and those rushing do not. It is that simple. I don’t think we needed a model to tell us that, but we needed to know the relationship to model its impact on the final result.
Too many practice sessions do not help
Here is the most interesting finding in the model. The probability of getting an offer is inversely correlated to the number of coaching sessions and practice sessions done.
We find that candidates who have done more than 40-70 practice cases before we have trained them have reached a tipping point because they have learned too many bad habits. This is a statistically significant relationship.
Anecdotally, the causal relationship is again quite easy to understand. A candidate, who does not grasp the core consulting principles from the first six lessons, is then entering the next six sessions with a weak foundation. It is like building a huge mansion on a sink hole.
It’s not going to play out as we intended. Moreover, a client unable to understand the approach from the 12 sessions and the library of training videos is usually performing poorly due to weak study habits and basically inattentiveness.
Doing more sessions does not fix this problem. In fact, it makes the problem worse. It comes down to moral hazard. A client who believes they have a large supply of lessons or practice sessions will usually not develop the appropriate skills to extract all the lessons from the sessions they do have. We deliberately insist clients begin practicing soon and wean many off lessons.
No one likes it but it can only help them in the long term. This relationship was initially surprising from the model but the evidence clearly supports it. That said, some clients do benefit from longer sessions, provided they prepare well. They are easily the minority.
Wistia (the application hosting our files) generates a tonne of data for us on video usage. Again, the model and reality intersect well here. Clients who have access to the videos and do not use them well, almost always do not place well. This result in the model is almost perfectly correlated with reality.
However, this flag is not cast in stone. The videos are well explained, can be replayed countless times and clients who do not take the time or do not have the ability to understand them will fare poorly. In the latter case, they either just not attentive enough to put in the time or are unwilling to understand and use this competitive advantage.
Whenever a client enters a session unprepared we always try to understand why they were unprepared. The answer is almost always in the same areas: a) They watched the video a long time ago; b) They did not properly watch the videos which mean they typically skimmed through key parts or just looked at the structures, or c) they did not take the time to research and understand key ideas.
When a client enters a session without preparing appropriately, it indicates a problem outside of competence. It is a question of their focus, attitude and dedication. This is one of the largest red flags in the system.
This group who do not use the videos well can be broken down even further. Some clients are not sure how to regroup after a few weak starts. They end up doing badly. Another sub-group struggles, but takes the feedback and regroups well. A lot of PhDs fall into this group, even those who placed well. Therefore, poor use of the videos is not a bad sign if you can take feedback, go back and prepare. It requires more work and is not an easy route, but needs to be done.
Corporate finance clients
That said, one group is consistently strong on videos and their placement rates. Corporate finance clients have the highest video engagement numbers of any group and the single highest placement rate we have.
Though, we should caution this is a smaller group and this will ultimately normalize over time.
Moreover, this group has the highest referral score of all clients and corporate finance tends to be very technical so video guidance is required. That said, someone not understanding business would have the same relative deficit on general consulting issues and would need the general videos as well. Therefore, we still think it comes down to the attitude of this group. Fully 84% of corporate finance clients are referred which probably leads to like referring like. Corporate finance clients do however have the highest GPA’s of any client group, as well.
Over time we will refine the model and constantly update the data we extract from clients. As the relationships become clearer or sub-relationships are found, we hope to model that as well. That said, the model is not expected to replace human judgement but help us get a general feel of the bigger picture. Even where the model and our experience correlate perfectly, we still do not use the model output to draw unnecessary conclusions. It is simply an early warning device.
Understanding the model we built with client data:
Clients who worked with us know we ask for a lot of information throughout the interaction. We ask that every interaction be shared with us, and preferably a copy of any networking emails sent, be mailed to us as well. Basically, we want to know as much as the candidate.
We have now assembled all the data into one statistical model.
We track a significant amount of client data in this model, which allows us to run some very interesting statistical simulations.
We first track the easy-to-measure variables like:
• offices pursued,
• interviews secured,
• companies employed at,
• number of coaching sessions,
• performance in coaching sessions,
• length of coaching program,
• time before interviews,
• number of resume rewrites,
• number of cover letter rewrites,
• quality of rewrites,
• offices declined,
• types of emails received from offices,
• number of networking sessions,
• types of networking sessions,
• length of networking sessions,
• topic of networking sessions,
• level networked at,
• % leading to referrals,
• referrals leading to interviews, and
• the time before interviews etc.
We also track many smaller, but more important variables. All our coaching sessions are recorded and transcribed to text using Wistia. In many cases, clients also load practice sessions to Wistia. This is also transcribed to text. Wistia has some very interesting capabilities. Therefore, from the transcripts of each session can we can also electronically measure:
• the time to answer each question,
• number of mistakes made,
• type of mistakes made,
• language used,
• preparation of candidate,
• tone and energy of the call,
• number of questions asked,
• type of questions asked,
• length of time spent on training videos in the library,
• which sections of the videos were watched
• and how often parts of a video were skipped,
• podcasts listened to,
• how many times each podcast was listened to,
• Parts of podcasts skipped.
Finally we track administrative items, albeit subjectively, which provide vital clues to a candidate’s motivation:
• number of sessions a week,
• location of sessions,
• flexibility of sessions,
• decisiveness of decision making,
• comfort with decisions made,
• ability to take notes,
• quality of notes,
• ability to take and process feedback,
• number of additional sessions requested,
• tone in which requests are made,
• time to respond to emails,
• precision of communication,
• time set aside for practicing,
• quality of feedback from self-practicing etc.
We track many more variables. The point is that we now have what we consider to be a very interesting model to extract correlations between successful and less successful students. We admit it is far from perfect, but it is the most detailed database we have ever seen since we know each candidate personally and can verify all the data provided.
That is the most vital point, getting quality data.
Moreover, since all the recordings remain in our system, and we continue to track a candidate’s movement through the system well after the official coaching ends, the quality of the database can only improve as it collects more data.
We have looked at key variables which tend to have the greatest impact on obtaining an offer and tried to understand the nature of the relationship. We admit this is not an exact science and we constantly tweak the list of variables and the nature of the relationship. We have to go through substantial work to normalize the data, remove outliers etc.
Basically, it is the typical process to set up any social-science experiment.
That said, once we think the nature of the relationship is representative of the data, we can model a distribution curve for each variable, and they are not normal distributions at all. We then set limits to the distribution curves and determine the correlations between each distribution curve and the base variable.
We have determined the base variable to be a weighted average of grades and what we call a confidence index which we generate from data in the screening calls, and several other factors described below. So everything in the model is correlated back to these base variables.
We use a standard Monte Carlo “random” generator. As an aside, random is in inverted commas because the system is far from random. The point is that if we made the system random, the output would be spurious – statistical speak for wrong.
We remove the randomness by not using normal distributions/curves and also different limits for each curve we choose.
In simple terms the model works as follows. Let’s assume the base variables for one client is a GMAT score of 720, GPA of 3.80, from Princeton in economics, confidence index of 6/10 and just 3 weeks to go before interviews. The system then says, “Okay” the candidate now has 3 options, for example. They can prepare their cover letter and resume, ignore that step and move straight to an application or defer their application. Based on the candidates profile and past history of similar candidates in the database, it assigns a probability to each option and runs the simulation about 10,000 times. Overall, every possible path, even the lowest probability path, is modeled.
Assuming the model picked “moving straight to application” as the most probable option, it then lists the candidate’s exhaustive list of options at this stage. There can be anywhere from 3 to 8 mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive options. Some steps can have 15 options. It repeats the process of assigning probabilities and choosing an option. Eventually, the model works its way down this chain of options, a very large decision-tree if you may, and arrives at a list of likely outcomes and their probabilities.
Obviously, as we move down each stage of the process with a candidate, we can compare their actual results with the simulated results. The model works well for clients who tend towards a mean, the average candidate, but less so for outliers. This is expected. We need to use judgment to manage the outliers, not assume they do not exist.
By now, you can probably figure out it is a rather large model consisting of 251 data sets – client files – of which 187 are complete, since we started collecting detailed data much later and we have to make some assumptions on the early clients for whom we do not have all data. For each data set, client, there are 233 variables measured with the majority collected in the coaching session and via Wistia which analyses the coaching session transcripts for patterns and trends.
We used this model to test different phenotypes – observable characteristics or variables if you want to use that word – of a client. So each time a candidate applies to join or a client joins the program, we would run the model. The model was only completed in late August so we used it less them we would have liked to. And as a model, which is not perfect, we could not rely on it too much. The key was to see if the model output matched reality.
So we ran the distribution curves we found and have attempted to explain the causality. Where the correlation existed and causality was missing, or we just could not rationally explain it, we left it out since it was interesting but not necessarily insightful.
In summary, the model predicted an unusual result in late August. It predicted an unusually high placement rate among PhDs. The highest we have ever had.
We eventually did have a very high placement rate among PhDs. That does not mean the model is correct. For all we know, it is possible that since we built the model, and obviously know each client personally, we could accurately judge their performance and expected them to do well, thereby building in correlations which reflected this reality. The test will come if the model, without any major tweaks, is run for a new group of clients whom we have not yet coached, and then fairly accurately predicts their performance.
Personally, we would be surprised if any model could do that. There are just too many random variables at play which we could never know and compensate for. So, my hypothesis is there must be some measure of bias which we cannot compensate for, because we cannot understand the complete nature of the bias.
For the stats majors, I am not going to get into a discussion on auto-correlations, stripping out seasonality, adjusting @Risk, the hundreds of assumptions documented or even the challenges of listing every single permutation and combination of options at each step.
That said the results are still very interesting and very useful for us to map out and plan a strategy for each client before they begin with us. Just knowing all their options and the probabilities gives us a major advantage. It allows us to institutionalize all the learning’s from working with previous clients.
For example, as coaches, we always knew that clients who don’t watch the videos or watch them sporadically do much worse than those who do. Yet, keeping track of such relationships in our heads is not a good way to use that knowledge, nor is it sustainable.
It is just not possible to login and check all this information – over 200 variables – for each client before each session. That would be an inefficient use of time even if it were possible. And if we did it, how could we know what the impact of the relationships is?
Aggregating all this data means we can rely on our historical lessons to a greater extent and, hopefully, not repeat as many mistakes.
That can only be an improvement.
Applicants with less then 4 weeks before interviews are not eligible to apply. While we strive to successfully place every candidate, and are careful to select those with the highest potential, it would be negligent and misleading to guarantee any results.
The program has a 64% placement rate not because it is easy. We push and inspire clients to reinvent their profiles. Applicants should have clear expectations about the effort required.
Please complete the questions below with 300-500 words answers while emailing a copy of your latest resume, cover letter and academic transcripts. You may elect to send your answers as an audio file.
We are retained by McKinsey and BCG consultants for four reasons. First, very few McKinsey or BCG consultants rise to the partnership level and our role is to ensure consultants master the analytic, communication and management skills required to rise to tenure.
Second, it is not unusual for a new analyst or associate to be expected to generate hypotheses and storyboards in their first week in some offices, and we provide guidance unlikely to be received from engagement managers.
Third, as a new consultant, you are going to make mistakes in front of very senior partners and our clients work with our ex-MBB partners to refine their image.
Fourth, consulting training material teaches the technical pace and consultants are usually under-prepared for the cultural, communication and team-work requirements, which we provide.
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