We used 7 techniques to train participants.
1 – Candidates are exposed to the three core principals at the heart of our coaching: solving cases from first-principles, demonstrated competency and ethics.
We teach candidates to solve any case by using a set of core problem-solving techniques, and then teaching them to apply this across any case problem. Coaching sessions are focused on teaching and understanding these core skills in cases. Moreover, until we see a candidate apply a skill they need to have, we assume they do not have it and consistently focus on this weakness. This is an important distinction. We assume nothing in the coaching and test everything. A candidate must demonstrate a competency for us to assume they have the skill.
We teach ethics through the stories we tell candidates about our own experiences – each coach has an average of 12 years consulting experience from associate to partner, while mentors have an average of 22 years experience – and the mistakes we made, and successes we had. There is no other way to teach ethics, besides setting the right example.
Firmsconsulting does not condone ethical lapses. We are training tomorrow’s businesses leaders and have the highest expectations of our alumni. We expect our clients to be defined by their beliefs and the willingness to bear the cost of their values.
2 – We use a layered approach to teach candidates. This is a fundamental difference in the way we teach. We assume the candidates in the program know very little when they begin. This assumption applies to all candidates irrespective of their grades, school or background.
The best way to explain the importance of this concept is to use the analogy of studying math in school. You should not begin your first math session by tackling the most complex calculus problem. That would be foolish, disappointing and painful for 99.999% of students. Rather, you should begin with simple problems teaching basic math concepts like addition, subtraction and multiplication.
From there, you should move into progressively more difficult concepts like trigonometry, ratios, proportions and fractions. Eventually, you build up the skills base to solve very simple rate-of-change and area-aggregation problems which are the basis of calculus. Unfortunately, most case candidates try to tackle the case equivalent of calculus problems first.
We avoid this problem in the way we teach. The first cases are relatively easier, and progressively build up in complexity over the sessions. The use of quizzes, written solution guides and the “perfect answer” videos of each case allow subscribers to slowly build up their capabilities.
3 – We also follow the cumulative learning process when teaching clients. In the cumulative process, every new approach or technique we teach a client is reviewed in every single session thereafter.
• For example, in session 4, we teach clients estimation cases.
• In session 5 we teach clients brainstorming AND also practice estimation cases.
• In session 6 we may teach clients full cases, WITH practice estimation AND brainstorming cases.
• In session 7 we may teach client’s data cases AND will still practice full cases, estimation cases and brainstorming cases in this session.
This makes the session more intense, but leaves nothing to chance since it forces the candidate to practice all the core skills in every single session. Learning is therefore cumulative.
4 – The start-to-offer format of this program is useful. Rather than doing a few cases with different candidates, we start at the beginning and navigate the candidate through every step a typical subscriber would undergo: resume rewriting, cover letter development, networking, application, improving business judgement, improving communication, all the way through to managing the interview process. We follow the arc of the process. That gives subscribers a very useful and unusual view into the application/interview process.
5 – Data drills become a consistent feature of the program from session 12 onward. In each case per candidate, we pick BCG, McKinsey, and sometimes, Bain data graphics and teach candidates how to analyse the graphics to extract hypotheses and build an analyses plan. This is a key skill. Furthermore, in each session, the data graphics are not selected at random. We pick themes like healthcare, auto and banking etc thereby ensuring candidates improve their knowledge of different sectors. This ensures the candidates gain deep sector skills to improve their ability to hold meaningful discussions in the interview.
6 – For candidates targeting specific sectors like healthcare or energy, we dedicate time from session 13 onwards to review key consulting studies on their chosen sector, hold executive level discussions, and discuss key issues etc., all in the effort to ensure they completely understand the sector they are targeting. Although most consultants would join as generalists, candidates with deep sector expertise or pursuing an office dominated by one sector would find this process very useful. It forces them to understand their chosen sector of interest, the way a consultant would. At the end of this process, we want them to not only discuss the sector issues, but do so in the manner of a management consultant.
7 – We carefully teach both the McKinsey cases which can be solved with frameworks and those which cannot be solved with frameworks. This makes the program unique by focusing on the latter which Kevin Coyne teaches Felix and they are fully recorded in the podcasts.
With this training philosophy in mind, how did we select the candidates?
We selected the candidates for season one to reflect the broad nature of our subscribers. Creating a group of Ivy League super stars would not be representative of 95% of applicants. We wanted to reflect the broad distribution of skills, gaps and strengths among subscribers, not to mention the many nationalities and office choices.
Three of the candidates are experienced hires: two have MBA’s and work experience in industry while the third is a postdoctoral fellow.
• We selected the first candidate to have a high probability of securing interview and an offer, but only if she targeted her native country office. She did not! This made her one of the most difficult candidates to place since she did not speak the local language of the office she was targeting nor did she have any past experience in the sectors covered in that office.
• The second candidate selected had a high probability of securing interviews but a low probability, assuming no improvement, of securing an offer.
• The third candidate had a low probability of securing an interview, but we felt a high probability of getting an offer, if we could get them in front of an interviewer.
• The fourth and final candidate had a low probability of gaining an interview and offer.
Our task was to see if we could work with the candidates to change their careers and probabilities of success. A lot of work was required from the candidates and we measured everything while providing extensive feedback.
All but one candidate had previously been declined by a consulting firm. Teaching them to network and navigate past this “first strike” was a major part of the program.
Choosing several non-MBA/business candidates with no case interview preparation would prove that someone with very little business skills could be prepared for cases in a relatively short time-frame, provided they took feedback we offered and acted on it. We wanted to find candidates with limited prior case experience or at least material improvement areas.
How did we choose which 3 candidates would exit the program?
Entering the program all candidates knew that only 2 of them would make it past the mid-point stage and possibly just one to the end of the program. We create this “filter” to ensure candidates who made the most progress in their development would be taken to the interview stage. Candidates need to work diligently and show improvement to earn the right to remain in the program. As well, the candidate ranked 1st at the mid-point stage would be mentored by Kevin Coyne, the ex-McKinsey director and former worldwide head of strategy. This was a reward for their efforts.
We used the following criteria to select the final two candidates:
• Quality of preparation in terms of watching the videos, learning the material, reviewing notes and following up on the advise we had provided.
• The ability to learn from mistakes.
• The ability to communicate concerns and development areas.
• Case performance was one element we considered. We also looked at the resume and networking preparation which should have taken place in the background, but under our guidance.
The 4 measures above allowed us to track the overall probability of success of being placed. For example, a candidate performing well in the cases but poorly in their networking preparation, will score poorly on their overall probability of success. That is the metric we measure and track.
Releasing two candidates 13 sessions into the program was not an easy decision, nor was releasing a candidate in session 21. Yet, it was in their best interests and we maintain strong relationships with all of them.