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We use ex-McKinsey, BCG et al. partners to prepare you for case interviews at the most elite consulting firms.

We are the only firm worldwide using ex-partners. We do this because we believe only partners who make the final hiring decision in the final round case interview should be training you.

My name is Kris Safarova and I am the CEO FIRMSconsulting.com. I work with a network of eminent ex-McKinsey, BCG et al. partners, like Kevin, Bill, Michael and many others who produce all the content on the site.

Since 2010, when FIRMSconsulting.com was founded, I have assembled a universe of digital platforms teaching case interviews and business strategy. Our goal is not only to get you into McKinsey but to help you succeed far beyond the firm. We see McKinsey and BCG as mere stepping stones and while we focus on case interviews, we use ex-partners to equip clients with the broader thinking skills to solve mankind’s toughest problems.

I have noticed one thing in common with everyone who either comments on FIRMSconsulting.com or our case interviews podcast channel which is ranked #1 in the world for case interviews: everyone is unsure of what to do and/or starting with little… Click To Tweet

I know it can be scary. It can seem overwhelming and intimidating. You may not even live in a country with a McKinsey office. I am here to tell you that with focus, the right attitude and deliberate preparation you can do very well.

  • I know this to be true since we have coached >1,200 clients into elite consulting firms, with an 80% success rate for McKinsey, Bain, and BCG. We coach clients trying to enter McKinsey and BCG at all levels from business analyst to equity partner.
  • We also run the unique TCO program where partners take real participants and coach them for McKinsey, BCG et al. interviews. We record this process and make it available to clients. We have always successfully placed a participant in every season and we are now in the 6th season.

Successful coaching and TCO candidates have typically failed in their past attempts into MBB, before working with us. We selected such clients with challenging backgrounds because it allows us to show clients that anyone can get in. If they can do well, so can you if you put in the required effort with sufficient time.

My final advice is to have fun doing this. Do it for the right reasons. Do it to learn the skills to solve really complex business problems and make a genuine difference in the world. Click To Tweet

Management consulting is such a tough field that if you are doing it for just the money or prestige, it is unlikely you will last long. Our goal is not to get you into McKinsey. Our goal is to prepare you for a great career that comes within and after McKinsey.

 


What is a case interview?

Here is our definition of a case interview, which is one part of the overall process.

Different websites will offer different definitions for a case interview. I am going to offer you the explanations our partners use when training TCO participants, coaching case interview clients or producing the numerous podcasts and Youtube videos we produce.

This is meant to be a practical definition that you can use to improve your results in actual interviews.

A case interview is one part of the interview process that consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain etc., use to determine if you should be hired, but it is not the overall interview process. Click To Tweet

This is an important definition.

Newcomers to the case interview process or casual readers use the term case interview to collectively refer to the entire interview process when the case component is actually just one part of the overall interview process.

Other common parts of the overall interview process built around the case interview include:

(1) PST (Problem Solving Test)

(2) PEI/FIT Interviews (Personal Experience Interview)

(3) General small talk where fit is being assessed

(4) Estimation questions

(5) Brainstorming questions

(6) Brainteasers (uncommon at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain)

Below you can see the type of interview you will have is determined by your educational level.

For someone joining as a Business Analyst at McKinsey, you may never receive a full case interview. Your interview experience may only comprise the 6 steps above.

PhDs and some other advanced degree holders like lawyers will go through all 6 steps above but may also go through more than one case interview, including a group case interview.

Your interview format can also be driven by the seniority you wish to join.

Someone hoping to join McKinsey as a Principal will go through all 6 steps plus case interviews, including interviews with more than one partner and senior partner.

Someone hoping to join McKinsey as an Equity Partner (Director) will usually only meet other partners and senior partners. There will be no cases, no PST and it’s largely PEI.

Your interview format can also be driven by the part of McKinsey, BCG or Bain you intend to join

McKinsey Implementation applicants go through more detailed FIT/PEI questions to see how they were able to influence colleagues to change their behavior on critical path tasks, without alienating or sidelining the colleague.

McKinsey Solutions applicants will receive cases but the structure and approach are unique to that part of solutions. The case may look nothing like a typical case or may resemble a typical case. In some parts, you may need to build a model as part of the interview.

So here is another definition of a case interview.

A case interview is that part of the interview process where the firm tests your ability to solve a general business problem where there is either so much information or paths to the solution, that the interview must bring some order/structure to co-solve the problem with the interviewer.

The part about co-solving is important. Interviewers always have tips, data, hints, and guidance to offer, but they will slowly release it over the duration of the case interview. The role of the interviewee is to manage the case interview so that the interviewer offers this advice. This is what we mean by co-solving. The interviewee must find ways to extract this information versus trying to do everything by themselves.

FIRMSconsulting.com teaches all steps of the overall case interview process, including the case interview itself.

 


Our values.

We are not trying to be the biggest or sell anything. We try to be the best and rely entirely on referrals.

We practice seven values. We impart seven values.

Our values define us and our independence is sacrosanct. Every decision we make at FIRMSconsulting and every action we take is always in keeping with our curated value system. We always place our clients’ interest first and do not disclose client identities. We treat client information as if it were our own. We make recommendations which we would personally follow, no matter how unpopular or controversial they may be.

We are not a business. We are a philosophy practiced by professionals who view ethical business as the highest calling. We use a simple test to determine if we are honoring our principles: can we routinely cite instances were we declined a potentially lucrative deal because it was not in keeping with our value system? We believe there is no point in having principles if we refuse to follow them when it counts the most.

As a member of the FIRMSconsulting community, users and readers must adhere to our value system.

Our decisions do not compromise our values.

We are not a value-driven organization pursuing profits. We are a values-driven organization following an internal code of conduct which we always place before monetary gain. Our independence allows us to routinely disagree with clients and share unpopular ideas when doing so places a client’s best interests before our own. We build long-term client relationships and champion counter-intuitive views which may be unpopular to hear, and difficult to execute, but are required to bring about the required changes in clients.

We display the highest standards of professional integrity.

Both during our pursuit of your goals and thereafter, we hold ourselves to the highest standards of professional conduct. We honor our commitments. We hold our clients to equally high standards.

We manage our clients’ resources and reputations as if they were our own.

We bring the best of the Firm to every client relationship and may take unpopular steps to enhance our clients’ reputations. We take great pride in refusing to follow conventional wisdom when the data suggests a different approach.

We practice intellectual humility.

We generously dispense advice while engaging stakeholders on the belief that respect is a right. It need not be earned. We treat all clients in a manner demonstrating our belief they will one day take a leadership role.

We keep all information confidential.

We do not advertise nor market ourselves nor disclose confidential information. We best serve our clients by only enacting discrete initiatives to support their ambitions.

We let our impact speak for itself.

We do not advertise. We do not sell. We do not solicit clients. We strictly work on a referral basis. Our intentions and results will determine our destiny.

We strive to develop balanced consulting leaders.

We will develop our clients’ will, character, capacity, and capability to accomplish their goals.

 


How to interpret offer decisions.

Knowing how to interpret an offer decision by a firm helps you develop a case interview preparation approach.

Every client in both coaching and TCO is always unsure of their performance on the day of the last interview. This has been consistent across all the years, countries, degrees and entry levels. Clients may be optimistic but they are just not sure. And how can they know what will happen? Much is outside their control.

What do you think happens after they receive an offer?

While they may initially be unsure, we find that almost all clients eventually decide that they know with absolute certainty why they received an offer.

Some believe it was because their PEI was excellent.

Others believe it was their networking.

Some believe it was because they practiced 120 cases.

Everyone believes they know exactly why they received an offer with a great degree of confidence.

They take this knowledge, from just one experience and some anecdotal evidence from colleagues, and begin extrapolating it when they offer advice to everyone.

If Ekta did not have a problem getting an interview, she will assume all interviews are very easy to obtain.

If Rohan faced an interviewee-led case at McKinsey, he assumes everyone should expect this.

If Zifei shared the same background as the interviewer, then that must be the reason she received the offer and she will assume everyone should look for similarities with their interviewer.

Consultants and ex-consultants tend to take their singular experience and assume it is representative of all experiences that all case interview applicants will go through.

Firms and even offices are not homogenous. That is a mistake many applicants make. What works in one office will loosely work everywhere but there are huge differences.

Firms are also legally risk averse in stating the real reason an applicant was denied. Firms always present reasons for a denial or offer in language that is legally defensible even if it may not be the correct reason.

Let’s explain this in a different way, and why you should be critical in any advice you receive, no matter how well weaning.

If Ekta received an offer at Bain it is very possible that Bain’s first choice for that role, Rajesh, took another offer and Ekta was the backup offer.

Bain would never tell her this but of course, this happens very often. In general, if you do not receive a call within 5 minutes of leaving the interview, you were not the first choice since the firm had to think about the decision.

In her mind, any advice Ekta offers would be about how she was good enough for the role. However, the reality is her advice is really about how to be the lucky one who was the backup.

There is a cultural ranking of the firms where many assume McKinsey is better than BCG which is better than Bain which is better than etc. When someone tells you why they selected a firm it is usually a case where they had no offers from their first choice firm and had to settle for just one offer. It was not really in their control.

When someone says I chose to work at BCG because of the culture, it is usually the case they ended up with BCG because McKinsey declined them. It is the rare applicant who receives offers from 2 or 3 firms and is making a true choice.

Firms do not know if you will succeed when they hire you. That is why they have an up and out policy. Think about being hired as an audition to be a partner. If the firms do not know if a successful hire will succeed, how can the hire know?

The point is to be very careful with the advice you receive from consultants and ex-consultants because no one really and truly knows why they received the offer, no matter their convictions about why they received the offer.

Without really knowing why and how an offer was extended (or declined) do not try to precisely follow and understand feedback and advice. There are just a few things you need to do well and it better to focus on that.

 


5 ways to prepare for case interviews.

Each of the 5 ways will result in a different outcome for your long term career.

Across TCO and coaching >1,200 clients, we find the initial goal you have in mind determines how you prepare and how far you will go. There is nothing wrong with simply wanting to join McKinsey and hoping for the best. You may get lucky and pick up great mentors who broaden your horizons. For most, however, you will have little control over the long-term unless your goals and progress are deliberate.

We also find that it is difficult to change the long-term outcome later if you started with the wrong goal in mind. And the long-term outcome is the only outcome that matters. Click To Tweet

#1 Almost making it to McKinsey.

People who tried really hard and just did not make are rarely lacking in intellect and skill. They did not fail because they were not smart. They did not fail because they did not try. They did not fail because they did not follow best-practice. They did not fail because they’re bad.

Applicants who do all of the above and just fail to get an offer usually did not know what to do and how to do it. It’s not that they were bad at doing the right things. It usually because they did not do something.

This is an important distinction. If you have followed the profiles of clients like Sveta, Irina, Sanda etc., you know they had challenging backgrounds with no support. They knew nothing about business, nothing about the western world and nothing about elite strategy consulting. What they did have is a coach who knew what they needed to know and taught them these skills.

He filled the gaps in what they did not know. It’s not as if they knew what to do and needed help improving it.

Applicants who fall into this group simply lack good guidance. You need to focus on finding the right guidance. Without the right guidance, they are forced to search on Google, sift through thousands of pieces of feedback and ultimately rely on the most popular tips even if it may not work.

Relying on the most popular case interview advice online is the equivalent of noticing that the Toyota Corolla is the most prevalent car on the roads, assuming it has the best design and designing all cars to look like a Toyota Corolla. If you… Click To Tweet

#2 Joining McKinsey but never getting Promoted

The majority of applicants just want to join McKinsey. They believe that if they just joined McKinsey everything would take care of itself. The firm will guide them through the promotions to partner, they will succeed in the industry and retire as a successful business person.

Think of it this way. When you are were trying to join McKinsey you were up against a pool of applicants with a range of skills. Most were weak, some average and a small number were good, and an even smaller number were exceptional to receive an offer.

Even within that weaker pool, it was hard. Getting the offer was not easy.

Once you join McKinsey you are up only against the good and exceptional pool who received offers. If case interviews were hard, imagine how hard real engagements must be? If you needed help to join McKinsey, shouldn’t you have a deliberate plan to excel at McKinsey beyond simply going with the flow?

All the training you receive at McKinsey is the same as all the training everyone else receives so the training’s positive impact cancels itself out. You are all by yourself.

To get promoted you need to have the mindset of understanding joining McKinsey confers no advantages on you with respect to excelling at the firm. You are essentially at the starting point again.

You need to tailor your case interview preparation not only to receive an offer, but to excel once you receive an offer. We focus on both. Click To Tweet

#3 Joining McKinsey and rising to EM

An Engagement Manager is essentially someone whom a partner trusts to understand the analyses and complete the analyses. In addition, they can complete the analyses not by doing it all by themselves, but by parceling out work to associates and controlling the final result.

Engagement managers essentially have such a mastery of the analyses that they can guide associates and spot problems without digging into the details or owning the details of analyses.

The inflection point most clients reach is that mastery of the analyses led to the engagement manager level, but it is not enough to move to senior engagement manager and associate manager.

Soft skills like building followers at the firm who want to be on your engagement, becoming part of a family (not a typo) within the firm, building client relationships, defending revenue streams etc., are things not explicitly taught anywhere.

Many clients believe since analytic skills took them to the engagement manager level, they try to build on this skill to get to the next level. It will not work unless a partner mentors you to the next level.

We use ex-partners to train our clients so you can see how partners work and learn to work with them. Yet, you need to explicitly start out your preparation knowing that you need a range of skills to progress.

#4 Joining McKinsey and Rising to Partner

Partners sell work. Period.

If you find partners who write books, write articles, present at conferences, host events, appear on TV or do none of the above, know that they all have one thing in common. They know how to use the activities listed earlier to convince clients to give them a lot of money to solve problems.

So you can see there are different ways to sell aka become a partner.

We do well here and focus here since FIRMSconsulting exclusively uses ex-partners of McKinsey, BCG et al., to prepare all our content and run our coaching programs. We know how to move all the way from business analyst/associate to the partnership.

The challenge in rising to the partnership is not about knowing how to sell. That is the mistake most clients make.

Both Michael and Kevin teach separate programs on sales and they both stress this point in different ways. It’s best to think of McKinsey, BCG, and Bain as made up of mini-consulting firms each headed by a senior partner. All these senior partners choose to work together under one brand and share resources.

When you join McKinsey as an associate or business analyst, you are hired by the firm. You are then auditioning to join one of these mini-consulting firms within McKinsey that will groom you in their unique approach to selling.

Your job is to figure out how to join this mini-consulting firm and that is what we teach.

It is that mini-consulting firm headed by a senior partner that nominates you to the firm-wide partnership. The firm does not nominate you to join a senior partners’ mini-consulting team.

Knowing this and knowing how to join those senior partners’ mini-consulting firm at the junior levels is how you become good at sales at the senior level. Far too many clients focus on sales when it is far too late.

#5 Succeeding as an ex-McKinsey Partner.

Do you think becoming a partner at McKinsey is an achievement? You would say yes if you are an associate.

What would you say on the day you were nominated a partner? Probably, still yes.

What would you say after having served as a McKinsey senior partner for 12 years? It’s probably less of an achievement.

What about 10 years after leaving McKinsey as a senior partner? It’s probably not much of an achievement.

The partnership is like the summit of a mountain. From where you are standing as an associate it seems like the final remarkable goal. As you climb it, it is all you can see. Once you get to the top and look around, you realize there are other… Click To Tweet

Even as you are climbing the mountain your aspirations and dreams adjust. They become bigger.

Would you brag about climbing the highest peak in Wales when many others have conquered K2 and Everest?

That’s just the point being made. If you assume becoming a partner at McKinsey is the greatest prize and plan your life such that you assume things will automatically work after the partnership, it’s going to be a bleak few decades after.

Again, don’t think about the value of the partnership from your associate lens. It’s all relative to the lens you will have once you get to the partnership. Imagine the value of the partnership when you have been a partner for a few years, other more successful partners operate at the firm and younger less successful partners have gone on to become captains of industry.

We all know about the partners who become captains of industry. Many more are not so successful and end up serving on boards, starting boutique firms that eventually close or try their hands at other things that don’t do as well.

If a McKinsey partnership is the peak in your mind, then what comes next is always a descent from the peak.

Our goal is to prepare you for what comes after McKinsey. Our training is to give you the skills to join McKinsey, along with the viewpoint to understand and prepare your yourself for life after McKinsey.

We take a lifetime view of clients and try to prepare them for success in their lifetime.

 


Where we focus our case interview training.

Ex-partners want to train ambitious and capable people who want to go on to solve mankind’s toughest problems

We exclusively use ex-partners to prepare all our content and conduct all our coaching. Given high partner salaries, it is fair to assume they don’t need the money and don’t do this for the money. They do it because we have the platform reach literally hundreds of thousands of podcast listeners, Youtube followers, paid subscribers and coaching clients who want to change the world.

They do it because they want to scale their impact by helping others.

The partners are less enthusiastic about someone who wants to join McKinsey and sees that as the pinnacle of their career.

The partners are not just focused on finding those people whom they can pass their skills onto, but whom want to use these skills to join McKinsey as the starting point to solve ambitious, inspiring and challenging problems. Click To Tweet

We focus on those clients.

We want to offer you the best possible experience and value. To do that, we need to decide whom we will serve as clients and whom we will not serve. We focus all our resources on giving the clients we choose to serve the tools they need to be successful. This is actually a good thing for everyone.

Our content tends to be longer since we explain how and why we did things. We do not provide answers but teach you how to arrive at answers by yourself.

I know we are choosing not to serve some clients. That is okay. We cannot be everything to everyone and its better for everyone, especially you, if we clearly define our ideal client.

The clients we choose to serve share several characteristics.

They understand the responsibility of being a strategy consultant. They understand it is not their right to serve a client. It is a privilege that is unregulated, non-transparent and leads to decisions that can move markets. They need to possess a strong internal compass and code of conduct. They will not abuse their power and privilege for monetary gain.

They understand that excellence takes effort, and being the best in a field does not happen overnight. There is a reason we don’t admit clients with just a few months to go before interviews. We believe it takes time to transfer all our skills to clients. It cannot be rushed and even if we could get you into McKinsey in a few weeks, which we have done very often, we want to help you succeed in the long term. Transferring a value system cannot be done quickly.

They are good people with a solid value system. We only admit applicants to our coaching programs, our flagship program, who have received a non-solicited referral from a past coaching client. We could significantly raise our revenue by accepting all applications but in this model, we know that someone we know and trust, a past client, is vetting and recommending a future client.

They want to become partners. There are some skills that only partners learn and have, that even the most gifted engagement manager will never have. We use partners. And they want to train future partners. They want to give you the skills needed to solve complex problems after you leave McKinsey or BCG.

They don’t look for shortcuts. There is a reason we don’t teach you to memorize frameworks, rather teaching you to create bespoke frameworks. Many applicants join McKinsey by memorizing frameworks, but we know that in the long term the lack of a skill to develop bespoke solutions will be an impediment. And we always take the long term view.

So there it is. That is our target audience. It is perfectly fine if you need something else that we do not offer. I feel that by being fully transparent about this, you will not be disappointed.

 


Where should you start?

Start with the worlds #1 ranked Case Interview and Management Consulting podcast

 

Case Interview Podcast

Case Interview Podcast

 

You do not need to spend any money, and should not spend any money, to initially develop a deep understanding of case interviews and even receive an offer. Many listeners just use our podcasts.

Our podcast channel on iTunes is ranked #1 in the world for case interviews and management consulting. It has 370 episodes and counting. It is free. Start there. Avoid complex casebooks and guides. You are not ready for that. Start simply and learn at your own pace.

Here are some tips for you when starting your preparation with our podcasts.

Start with the podcasts with sufficient time to spare. If you start early you can take your time and learn how the partners think versus skipping to all the episodes that seem important. If you are new to case interviews, you generally will not know what is important. Let the partners hosting the podcasts decide this for you.

Also, if the thought of learning about case interviews over 6 months of podcasts fatigues you, then it is generally a sign management consulting may not be a good fit for you.

Don’t take notes. Internalize and immediately practice the concepts from the podcasts. Note taking rarely works since very few people ever refer to them. Notes are there should you ever need them, but most times we lose them or ignore them. If you must take notes, jot down just a few points but immediately start applying them.

Pay attention to the non-technical episodes. The episodes about values, ethics, consulting rules etc., will help you understand management consulting in broader terms. You want to succeed and knowing this will set you up for the future.

We focus on ethics, values, and culture. This is the DNA of a successful partner and firm. You can certainly join McKinsey without knowing all of this, but the question is whether can you be the best at McKinsey and your field without knowing this?

Make it fun. Don’t set aside time to sit at a table with a notepad and pencil. The podcasts are designed to be consumed on the go. Case interviews should be fun. Test the ideas with your friends and family. Don’t turn this into tedious work. You are learning a valuable skill. It should be a fun experience.

If learning cases are difficult it is almost always because you are trying to do things you don’t understand.

Trying to learn cases without understanding the material is like trying to assemble IKEA furniture without the guide. You will not succeed. In this case, step back and focus on slowly building your skills.

Above all avoid any source that makes you feel bad about yourself. Even if you made a terrible mistake and were completely at fault it’s important to keep things in context. Anyone can get into any firm provided you have sufficient time to fix problems and sufficient will power to go out and find the right advice and apply it.

 


Things you will need

To start you need to get a few things going.

There are some building blocks to your application. If you want them to be good enough then you can prepare them in 2 to 4 weeks. But if you want to excel and are doing this all by yourself, then it makes sense to start on them as early as possible. Resume editing in particular takes a very long time.

Resume

This is going to be hard. Editing a resume is tough. It took us about 6 hours to edit the resumes of TCO participants and this was while they were on a video call with us, and excludes the time they spent between calls making the changes.

It is our firm belief that resume editing services work only in cases where someone has a good profile requiring little editing help. If you are struggling with your profile, then you will have to edit it yourself. No amount of money is going to create a service where three rounds of edits can create the perfect resume that truly understands your strengths and reflect them on paper.

Alice’s before-our-editing-resume and the after-our-editing-resume from TCO 2 provides a great example of good resumes. These resumes were tailored to her. So focus on the style and structure but use content specific to what you are trying to demonstrate and the weaknesses you need to mitigate.

Cover Letter

The cover letter always comes after networking. Once you have your resume and networking done, you know what gaps people see in your resume. You can thereafter address those gaps in your cover letter.

The cover letter we edited for Alice from TCO 2 is good example. It was written to show her strengths and mitigate the weaknesses firms assume Ph.D.’s to have.

Podcast Player

Download a good podcast player like Acast or Spotify so that you can download our podcasts and listen to them at 1.5x or 2x speed. Even the iTunes podcast player will do.

 


Tackling some myths.

There are many myths, but we covered both the most common and hurtful here.

 

1

 

Getting into an elite school like INSEAD and Harvard will get me into McKinsey. Going to Harvard only increases your probability of receiving an interview invite. Once you receive the interview you still have to do well in the interviews and that is completely separate from the Harvard halo.

It is not as if the interviewer thinks your answer is superior because you went to Harvard.

You will be assessed like everyone else. On your merits and not your pending degree.

If you assume getting into Harvard somehow makes you think and act smarter, than that is possible but unlikely.

 

2

 

I need analytic subjects like math, statistics to show my thinking abilities. There is a difference between analytic and mathematical. And there is a difference between quantitative and analytic. You can be incredibly insightful and analytic in non-math subjects like art, history, law etc. Most applicants confuse analytic with quantitative.

You can major in a quantitative field and lack analytic skills and vice-versa. Lawyers can be very analytic. All Supreme Court and Federal Judges are impressively analytic.

Federal judges who analyze and decide major M&A, anti-trust and competition law are incredibly analytic. This piece on Amazon by a legal scholar is one of the defining pieces of insightful and brilliant business analytics.

Those judges and the legal scholar did not major in quantitative fields.

If all quantitative fields produced analytic thinkers then McKinsey would be dominated by MIT graduates. It does not and they do not.

Don't believe the myth that only business and engineering majors have the permission and skills to be analytic. You have to change that mindset. Click To Tweet

It is more important for you to be analytical and obtain very good grades than to be quantitative. You have to be good at basic math. That is all. Do not sacrifice grades for quantitative majors that you incorrectly assume will improve your analytic skills. Grades are incredibly important. Never ever sacrifice them since they will trail you forever.

Having “With Distinction” behind your degree is going to be the gift that keeps on giving.

 

3

 

I have an unusual profile and should explain my situation to a recruiter or associate. Recruiters and junior consultants are focused on identifying and bringing in the 80% of people who fit the average profile.

If you are different from that average profile then you need someone who can understand the difference, the value of that difference and motivate for you to be brought it.

That is a partner.

A recruiter and associate are busy. They do not have the time nor abilities to determine if unusual profile XP45 can fit into McKinsey. How could they have that ability? The time to evaluate that one unusual profile means they are not able to evaluate 15 normal profiles that are easier to hire. If your profile is unusual, go to the one person who can override recruiting interview decisions. The partner.

That is not to say it is easy, but it is the best route you have to an interview. Since we actively focus on challenging/unusual profiles, almost all our clients network with partners to secure an interview.

 

4

 

All the firms want me to apply on campus. So I will. Firms and universities want you to apply during the recruitment period since it is easier for them. For the firms, they have a system set up and have already assigned consultants and partners to campuses. It is a fixed cost. They need to push volume through it and that makes it efficient.

Universities need large numbers of applications to justify encouraging consulting firms to run their interviews on campus or close to campus.

You can apply outside the normal recruiting schedule.

It is, of course, harder to get an interviewer, because there are fewer dedicated interviewers and few open positions, but your odds of getting an offer are roughly the same. Most of our coaching clients apply off-cycle by design.

The most important factor in deciding when to interview is determining when you are ready. Do not apply until you are ready because you will not be successful.

 

5

 

I will only apply to McKinsey Strategy. McKinsey only hires generalists for their main consulting practice. So if you join McKinsey on the generalist path you could end up being staffed in strategy, operations, organizational design or many other types of studies. It is not possible to exclusively join the strategy practice.

Most McKinsey consultants do very little strategy work and it is the rare consultant who is lucky to be staffed onto one, let alone several corporate strategy engagements. Click To Tweet

And do not be too obsessed with strategy. Some of the best partners in the history of consulting like Tom Peters etc. were not even in the strategy practice. Since strategy has such a powerful pull to it, many applicants just assume a famous partner was a strategy partner when most were not.

Don’t believe myths on the internet. Just because many believe something and repeat it often enough, it tends to become the de-facto truth when it is not. In 1997 the book Dangerous Company was published. The book summarized that BCG focused on analytics, McKinsey focused on influence and Bain on implementation. From that book, those sound-bites became the way each firm was described up until today.

People love sound-bites. But are they true?

Is BCG really superior to McKinsey on analytics?

Is Bain the leading firm on implementation?

Always apply common sense and judgment because this is your life and career. Make the right decisions and make smart decisions.

 


How do you know if consulting is a good fit for you?

The best way is to follow an engagement to find out.

 

Case interviews are not like a real engagement with a real client. Real engagements are harder and messy. They are far from the perfect experiences many assume them to be.

If your goal is to join McKinsey and leave after 2 years, then it does not matter if consulting is not going to work for you.

If you want to commit for the long term than you can follow a real engagement narrated by a partner.

Strategy Skills Podcast

This is a free program for you to follow and explains how real engagements work. The entire podcast series just follow one engagement.

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In Phase 1, a 3.5-month study, the consulting team recommended Empire International refocuses on the core business of Designing-Building-Operating-Maintaining (DBOM) Gx-Tx-Dx infrastructure.

Empire International is a power company created to invest in non-regulated businesses. All these investment markets exist outside of the parent company’s local market.

Since Empire Int.’s founding, that core/local market has undergone a shift where there is a renewed focus on expanding and maintaining the crumbling and outdated infrastructure base to meet surging electricity demand.

Unless Empire Energy, Empire International’s parent company, focuses on meeting rapidly growing energy demand, electricity blackouts remain a real threat that will impact the country’s productivity and attractiveness for FDI.

Yet Empire Energy does not have the skills to do all the DBOM work and does see the emergency of rebuilding the infrastructure.

Therefore, Empire Int. Is recommended to become the in-house construction arm of Empire Energy to build new power stations and transmission lines, and prepare for a smart-grid increasingly powered by wind, solar and other renewables, while the parent company does not endorse the plan – yet.

 


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We have listed some of the most common reasons applicants fail to get traction during consulting applications and during their networking as well.

Does not understand management consulting. This is very, very common. A candidate attended a business school dinner or presentation by BCG and was dazzled by the prestige, power, lifestyle, salaries, respect and awe inspired by the firm. Excited to be part of this establishment, the candidate wants to get in. There is nothing wrong with wanting to join the top firms for this reason. Yet it is not enough. It is like wanting to marry a woman just because she is beautiful. That is slightly insulting. Life in management consulting is tough and brutal.

There is nothing wrong with wanting to join the top firms for this reason. Yet it is not enough. It is like wanting to marry a woman just because she is beautiful. That is slightly insulting.

 

Candidates need to understand that the glamour is not a lifestyle but an outcome of doing demanding and not-so-glamorous work. See some behind the scenes stories here and here. The candidate needs to do proper research and understand the company. They need to understand the values and what the firms are looking for. If your reason for wanting to join the top firms is because they hire the best people, then you do not really understand management consulting. Have you thought about how this will impact your career trajectory, lifestyle, family planning, further education and so on? Candidates who can answer these reasons make it.

Does not know why they want to be in management consulting. This is linked to the point above but slightly different. Top firms are looking for people who are creative thinkers and can make up their own minds. They have sketched out a future of where they want to be and feel strongly that management consulting is part of this future and can state several clear reasons why they want to be in management consulting. The following reasons will likely lead to a rejection in your real interview:

• I saw the presentation and was impressed with the work you do.

• I think I can do the work and I am a fast learner.

• I studied marketing in school and this area is appealing to me.

• In my business studies we had a discussion about management consulting and I found it interesting.

• I like helping businesses succeed.

• I want to be a strategist. [Do you know the difference between strategy and operations? ]

• My friends work at Bain and I liked what they discussed.

These are all high-school answers. They sound like a teenager who knows nothing about the world and is just coasting through. You need to distinguish yourself from the pack, and have a reason for wanting to join. If you do not have a clear answer, then maybe you should not be in management consulting. Have you considered an investment bank, corporate or something else?

These are all high-school answers. They sound like a teenager who knows nothing about the world and is just coasting through.

Does not have the core attributes. We meet some really nice people. Unfortunately we find that some really nice people are that way in the hopes of making up for missing core attributes. You must have the following skills and track record to get in. Knowing a consultant or partner will not really help you. If you do not have the following, ask yourself again why you want to get in:

• A disciplined problem solving mindset. Management consultants solve problems. All kinds of problems and the ability to structure problem solving is a fundamental skill. See our video guides here. Could you do this?

• A track record of academic excellence. If someone spent 4 years undertaking an engineering degree and graduated with a C or B average I would like to know why. Why would this person be willing to spend 10% of their working life on something and not give it their all? Where is their pride? A track record of excellence demonstrates to the interviewer you can commit your mind to excelling even when you do not particularly like something.

• Balance. Top consulting firms do not want people who required every waking hour of available time to study and never had a life. They want people who were smart, but balanced this with a life outside of studies, developed social skills and learnt how to manage multiple things. Those who needed to study all the time just to make the grade will not make it.

Curiosity is a critical characteristic. It is a trait which separates the consultant who takes things at face value and the one who digs behind the scenes.

• Curiosity. Do you know how many times we meet candidates who are not curious? Curiosity is a critical characteristic. It is a trait which separates the consultant who takes things at face value and the one who digs behind the scenes. It separates the consultant who needs to be constantly told to do things and those who take the initiative. In 2008 we once met a US candidate who had never heard of Sarah Palin! Where did she live? In a vacuum! If you cannot pick up information that is being forced upon you, you have no hope of finding things. Moreover, it shows she is not aware of important issues happening around her.

Poor resumes. This is still far too common. Any cursory search on Google will pull up tons of information on the correct way to prepare resumes. Sending badly formatted resumes tells us this candidate is not serious. While we offer a résumé service, we would rather polish a good resume than convert a Lada into a Lamborghini. And what happens if you sent this bad resume directly to BCG? If your résumé shows a lack of pride and basic grammar, you will be rejected. Badly formatted resumes are a common, fatal and unnecessary mistake.

Does not understand the meaning of “experience”. Frankly speaking, management consulting firms understand problem solving better than anyone else and most likely do not need your experience. Candidates love waxing lyrical about the ‘experience’ they gained at Wal-Mart, Nabisco or some investment bank when they interned there. It’s okay to put this in, but do not for a second think this experience will make up for a lack of problem solving skills. Experience shows you can work in a corporate environment. That’s about it. You still need to show problem solving skills.

Not dressing the part. Frilly suits, glitter nail polish, colored hair, strappy high heel shoes with open toes, poorly fitting suits, overdone makeup and chino’s should only ever come out for a 70’s Show reunion or Halloween. You need to dress the part. When we coach candidates everyone is so brand obsessed. The brand is good, but the cut of the clothing is far more important. If you do not know what cut is, go to a suit store and ask them for two suits. One which is fitted and one which is not fitted or has a basic cut. Try them on, take a photo and look at which is more professional.

Not learning the case method. There is not a lot to say here. If you do not understand the case method perfectly you are doomed. You will not get an offer. MECE, 80/20, hypotheses, decision trees, logic tests and brain-teasers should be perfectly comfortable to you. Ignore this at your peril.

Lacking values and integrity. I particularly find it annoying when a candidate does not understand the importance of values in management consulting. Fortune 500 companies trust consulting firms with their deepest secrets. How can values not be important?

Unwilling to learn. This actually ties up many of the comments above. Business schools, engineering schools, investment banks and even Fortune 100 companies do not teach you the fundamental problem solving skills you need. Be willing to learn this. Do not be arrogant. If you want to make it in management consulting be ready to learn the core skills. Just because you were a top-notch lawyer from Harvard law does not at all imply you have all the skills. Create the right, positive attitude and be ready to learn.

Below you will find a list of 10 rapid fire case interview tips. This ten case interview tips provide a general overview of some key concepts and important advice to help you prepare for consulting case interview process.

1) Know different types of cases that can come up in a case interview

You need to know different types of cases that can come up in a case interview. The information provided below is most applicable for general business cases, which are the most common and toughest to solve. To solve brain teasers and logic questions you will need to apply a different approach.

2) Know the definitions of the common techniques

Every single candidate we coached misunderstands at least one of the key concepts or techniques, and applies it incorrectly. If you do not know concept’s definition, how can you use it? Some examples of the key concepts are listed below.

MECE – means mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive. It means you have listed every single option available and each option is independent of the other. That means you can isolate one option and test it without impacting the other options.

Decision tree – A decision tree takes an issue, decision or question and logically breaks it down into sub-questions. When you do this correctly, it looks like a tree lying on its side with the top on the left and the base on the right.

80/20 – It means focusing your time and effort on that part of the problem or solution which will generate the majority of the answer. Usually 20% of the issues impact 80% of the desired outcome. It means ignoring, or dedicating less time, to problems which are real but have a smaller or negligible impact.

Hypothesis – This is one that is widely focused upon and used. It has become a cliché but is widely used incorrectly. A hypothesis is not the problem. A hypothesis is also not the reason. It is both: it is a statement containing both.

For example: The store lost out on peak summer shopping times because the trucking strike meant that merchandise was delivered too late to be unpacked. Can you see the reason (also called observable phenomenon) and the problem?

3) Know how to apply key concepts during a case interview

Just about everyone gets this wrong. They do not know how key concepts fit together or when and how to use them during a case interview. They all fit together and should not be used in isolation.

Below you will find a few points to showcase how a few key concepts can be applied during a case interview, and how they fit together:

• In every case, the first thing you need to do is confirm the problem statement you are solving. This may sound obvious, but about 50% of candidates do not do this and fail the case since they solve the incorrect problem.

• Next, develop the framework you will apply. Irrespective of the framework you choose, you will need to build the framework using a decision tree and by applying the rules of MECE. If this is not clear to you, look at our video guides. Or read our book which explains this in excessive detail using a live example.

• As you build the framework out using the decision tree, see which branch will have the largest impact on the problem. That branch is the one you analyze first and in greatest detail. That is how you apply the 80/20 principle.

4) Never ever blurt out answers during the case interview

McKinsey, Bain, BCG or any of the other top consulting firms do not want people who have the answers. You can never have all the answers. They want people who can solve a problem even if they know nothing about the sector.

So never blurt out the answer. If you do, you will fail. Always follow the methodical steps we teach you to take to develop the correct answer.

The final answer is not important. How you developed the answer, and the reasoning and logic you applied, are critical. How you engaged the interviewer to extract the information is also vital.

5) Do not mismanage your interviewer during the case interview

In the case interview, your interviewers are judging everything you do. Do not ignore them, do not make them uncomfortable and do not leave them in the dark. As you develop the case solution, make sure you explain why you are doing what you do and ask for additional details and confirmation of the steps you are taking.

Work with them. Have a conversation with them and make it entertaining.

6) Specific case interview tips for solving cases

When solving the case, it is worth doing the following:

• Do not ever revert to things you know about the industry or what you have seen on TV. Work only with the data provided. Use common sense.

• Explain what you are doing as you build the framework.

• Explain why you built the framework.

• If you do not understand a phrase or information point provided to you, ask for an explnanation.

• As you build each branch of the framework, ask the interviewer if there are parts missing or if she can divulge additional information. Do not make this robotic. Do not become stuck if she provides no additional information. Just move on.

• Seek confirmation as you move further along the analyses. Does the interviewer agree with your prioritization? Also use additional information to test how this information changes your answer or thinking.

• Ensure everything you do is clearly sketched on a sheet of paper, in clear writing so that you can explain it.

• Don’t say you are applying the 80/20 rule or any other concept. Just do it.

• As you move ahead in each step of your analyses, do a sanity check:

• Does this make sense?

• Does the interviewer understands what you are doing? Does she agree?

• Is this analysis a priority?

• Are you solving the overall case problem?

• At the end make sure you have explained how you have solved the case problem.

7) You do not need to apply sector or industry specific skills when solving cases

If you are reading up about different sectors, stop right there! You have not understood the management consulting approach to case problem solving.

The problem solving approach is specifically designed to solve cases of which you have little or no prior knowledge. You should better spend your time understanding this approach and practicing for your case interviews.

8) Not all cases have obvious frameworks

Sometimes, you get lucky and the case problem requires you to improve revenue, cut costs or increase profits. Then the framework is easy. You simply break-down the income statement.

But what happens if you need to improve productivity? This is slightly harder. What about fixing an organizational structure? This is much tougher.

Therefore, do not memorize frameworks. It is better to learn how to define the problem statement and solve the case from first principles.

9) Do not quit and do not rush

This is a big one. Candidates often get stuck and throw their hands up in resignation. How you respond under pressure is just as important as your problem solving and analytical abilities.

If you make a mistake, it’s fine to start over or ask for a blank piece of paper. Work in pencil and accept that you will make mistakes. Do not rush and do not give up.

10) Convey yourself as a professional

Do not mumble. Do not make self-deprecating comments. Do not tell the interviewer how tough the case interview was and that you are not sure if you made it. This is not high-school. There are no cliques for drama-queens at management consulting firms.

Be polished and professional. If you get rejected at Bain, leave with dignity and learn from your mistakes. Do not complain or try to find faults with the interviewers and process. Move on. Learn. You still have a shot at McKinsey and the BCG.

Preparing for the case interview process is tough, but not at all impossible. Make sure you are prepared before you go in.

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Start well. Ensure you have your two pieces of paper, pencil, a watch and are seated comfortably. Arrive early to avoid stress and have a glass of water close by.

In a case interview, the interview assesses fit as well; do you speak clearly, would you look good in front of a client, are you a team player, do you project calm confidence?

Understand the interviewer is there to help you. You must ask them questions to extract information from them. If you ask no questions, you will get no information.

The interviewer ALWAYS has hidden information. It is your job to ask questions to get it out of them.

This is facilitated problem solving. You must work with the interviewer to solve the case. You CANNOT solve the case alone.

Take the interviewer through your thinking. Do not leave them in the dark or make them guess why you did anything. If they have to guess your reasons, it will work against you.

Be very professional, speak clearly and articulately, be friendly and make it fun for the interviewer. They REALLY want to work with confident and fun people.

Treat the interviewer as you would treat a client. Even if you get stuck, phrase your question such that you ask for information without letting them know you are stuck. This is a powerful skill which will set you apart. Everyone gets stuck but only a few can move forward elegantly.

Do not try to be too smart. The interviewer does not want someone to work in isolation and present the answer at the end of the 30 minute case. They want you to work with them and together develop an answer. If you work in isolation then you are not a team player and will be rejected. Think of it as facilitated brainstorming.

Be logical. Have a reason for doing things and explain what they are at all times. But keep your explanation concise.

Write very neatly and logically. All they can see about how you think is what you say and what you write. Practice writing neatly and logically. To the interview, it says much about the way you think.

This also helps you not forget things. If you forget key information or do not write down important things, they see this as a sign of weak thinking or disorganization. It is also disrespectful.

Image counts. Look and act professional but be friendly. Do not confuse excitement for interest. You want to show the latter.

Prioritize. Use the 80/20 rule and always start with the most important parts of the case.

Always use MECE to test all the branches at a level.

After building each level of branches, think about MECE, and if are you solving the case and working with the interviewer.

If you get stuck DO NOT offer a solution. Ask general questions to help you continue building the case or kick-start your thinking.

ALWAYS frame your recommendation within the challenges of implementation. This shows maturity.

Do not assume things are going bad because the interviewer is unfriendly. It is your job to fill pauses and make the case work.

You are not given all the required information upfront to solve the case. You will need to ask probing questions to extract the information held by the interviewer.

The case will always contain either too little or too much information. It is your job to determine which information is necessary and use it wisely. The problem with memorizing frameworks is that it does not teach you to distinguish between necessary and superfluous data, nor how to extract relevant data.

While the structured approach you use is just as important as the answer, if you fail to arrive at the correct answer, it does not matter how logical your reason was. You still fail.

You cannot hope to solve the case unless you are good at solving problems in front of people. If you are person who likes to hide in a room and beaver away, then you need to change your style and become accustomed to working with people.

Reading body language and verbal nuances is crucial. The interviewer is always giving you signals through their body language and use of words. You need to be able to read this.

Critically, there are two parts to solving a case. Both are important. Part one is breaking down the problem and collecting all the necessary data. Part two, involves analyzing all the facts to arrive at a set of recommendations. Learning how to do both is essential.

The interviewer wants to see what you do. A logical layout of the analyses on your sheet of paper is used as a proxy for a logical mind. Untidy or difficult to follow analyses on a sheet of paper leads the interview to think you are unstructured.

If you solve the case, but show immaturity in your body language, mannerisms, phrases or even demeanor, you will fail. Consulting firms want adults in front of clients. We know of people who were declined even though they solved the case perfectly.

You may be surprised to hear this, but there are actually just a few frameworks you need to know. The challenge is, therefore, not in knowing the frameworks, but in knowing when and how to apply them.

You can solve cases using decision trees, logic trees, hypotheses or a combination of them all. We tend to teach decision trees and hypotheses since these can help you through all situations.

It helps to know the basic layout of an income statement, balance sheet and cash-flow statement. Most questions link back to these concepts.

It helps to read business magazines and newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times Business or even Fortune. You then become familiar with the terminology.

Too many people complicate a case question. Cases are really simple if you use logic. In our experience, many people try to force fit a framework to a case than simply using logic. We teach logic so that you can tackle any case approach.

Step 1

Let the interviewer ask you the case question, or give you the written case question. Ensure you understand the question and have received all the information. Be careful of terms like production, value etc since they have numerous meanings.

Have two sheets of paper, one for the framework development and one for assumptions and calculations. It is better to work with a pencil.

Imagine the interviewer is the client, and treat him as such.

Step 2

Ask for a few minutes (3-4) to think about the case. In this time doe the following:

1 – Think about what type of case is this?

2 – Write 3-4 questions to help you determine the key question in the case.

The KEY QUESTION is the question you are solving in the question. It is not always apparent and you need to determine this.

Ask questions to ensure you understand all words/information presented. Assume nothing.

Always ask “Why.” There may be another simpler way to achieve the same result. And the rest of the case is testing if the proposed action allows this objective to be accomplished.

Always ask general questions to understand the market and company position. Context is very important when solving cases.

Ask questions to understand the case and arrive at the key question. Never get lost and ask too many questions to solve the case. Follow the process.

Step 3

Once you have developed your 3-4 questions over 3-4 minutes in step 2, ask your the interviewer your questions. Ask clarifying questions to the interviewer’s responses.

Carefully listen and capture notes. Write neatly so you can use the information later.

Step 4

Using the responses provided, write a simple key question to solve. Ensure you place a question mark at the end.

If you can identify the type of case, think about the framework to use.

Also think about what you need to know to solve the key question since this forms the Level1 branches .Merge this with your framework to develop Level1 branches.

Step 5

Use the 80/20 rule to determine the most important L1 branch.

Break down the most important branch into sub-branches. Build an hypotheses if it makes sense to do so immediately.

Always ask clarifying questions and collect information. Write out the decision tree clearly and ensure it is designed to reflect data like % and #’s. That is, if you can add data or percentages to each branch, do it. For example, when breaking down costs, you can write the percentage fixed costs next to the fixed cost branch!

Continue asking for information to develop the decision tree.

You must develop the tree WITH the interviewer, but with you leading. The interviewer always has data. It is your job to find it. So work WITH the interviewer. Solving a case is like ball-room dancing for men. The man leads but needs to signal to his partner what she needs to do. If you do not communicate your signals, expect a horrible dance experience.

Step 6

At the L3 or L4 branch, develop a hypothesis. General rule of thumb is that the number of hypotheses must equal the number of level-one branches.

You can sometimes solve a case without hypotheses. Only use hypotheses if the tree is not generating an answer quickly.

Here is an example of an hypothesis. ALMOST everyone does not know how to write an hypothesis.

“Due to snow on the road (event causing the observable phenomenon), the trucks are running late (observable phenomenon), causing a shortage of clothing (event caused by the observable phenomenon).”

Expect to have about 2 to 3 good hypotheses.

Step 7

Tell the interview what tests (graphs) you will need to draw to test the hypotheses. Be practical and reduce it to the x-axis and y-axis data needed. You do not need to be so precise but the graphs help you to be concise and focused.

The interviewer will either tell you the answer or give you data to test the hypotheses.

Use their response or data to answer the hypotheses.

Step 8

Step back and think if you have solved the case. If not, think what is missing and ask for more information.

Step 9

Follow your steps from the Key Question all the way to the hypotheses answers to summarize your analyses and solutions. This should be short, articulate and very clear. Recommend solutions to the case. Speak clearly and state exactly what you propose, why and what will be the likely impact. Offer practical solutions but also be very creative.

In recommending solutions think very carefully about the challenges of implementation and the culture of the organization.

Melike, an aspiring consultant, is about to have interviews with BCG Istanbul and McKinsey Boston. She emailed Firmsconsulting for advice. 

“Dear Michael,

Thank you for the wonderful discussion about management consulting in Turkey.

If you recall, I am very likely to have case interviews with BCG Istanbul & McKinsey Boston. I worked for another major consulting firm in Dubai prior to pursuing my MBA. While I like my current firm and it is highly regarded, I am keen to go back to Turkey and join a larger firm.

It would be great if you could offer me any advice in making this decision.

Melike*”

(This article is not what you are looking for about BCG? Try here: BCG careers collection, an index page for our 20+ BCG articles, podcasts and stories.)

***

Dear Melike,

Thank you for the email. I met many people from Istanbul but I do recall you and the discussion we had, very well. I recall that at the time you were set on Boston. Something must have changed your mind, so I will be happy to elaborate on management consulting in Turkey.

As you know, even though I worked my way up from business analyst to principal, I am most fortunate to have built my career in the major emerging economies. So, any questions on Russia, Eastern Europe, Chile, Brazil, South Africa, Sub-Saharan Africa, India, and South-East Asia are perfect for me. That said, I did spend the latter part of my career in London, New York and Toronto so I can address topics on these major regions as well. This cross-comparison knowledge will be useful for making comparisons, without which, any advice will naturally be one-sided and misleading.

I will draw heavily on my own experience of working in Turkey.

1 – The fact that we spoke earlier and extensively gives me some confidence in ensuring I address the points important to you. I recall a degree from Stanford, now Ivy League MBA, and 3 years in management consulting along with some start-up experience. I do recall your concern about which location will best allow you to leverage your skills 5 to 10 years down the line. I also remember you want to move into corporate roles at some point in your career. You mentioned the specific role you sought but I cannot recall immediately recall this without my notebook.

2 – In providing this answer, we need to make some assumptions or at the very least look at some important considerations. The first consideration is your background, followed by what you want to achieve by working in a consulting firm or corporate environment, followed by when you want to achieve these milestones and finally where you intend for all this to happen. None of them can be looked at in isolation and please do not simply read forums for advice. Each person is unique and most forums are usually written by consultants who, with all due respect since I once was one, could never provide much perspective beyond their own experience.

Exit opportunities differ at all levels and I do find management consultants are unrealistic about them. Yes, you will get better opportunities after working at McKinsey or BCG, but there are only so many plum internal strategy roles at banks, insurance companies and Fortune 500 firms.

3 – We spoke about your background already so let’s talk about what you want to achieve. When you say corporate role I vaguely recall us discussing a move into business after reaching at least the associate principal level. Exit opportunities differ at all levels and I do find management consultants are unrealistic about them. Yes, you will get better opportunities after working at McKinsey or BCG, but there are only so many plum internal strategy roles at banks, insurance companies and Fortune 500 firms.

Leaving as a consultant/associate, after spending just 2 years at McKinsey is only advisable if you just wanted to pick up the skills to break down a problem. You need to work at least as a more experienced engagement manager level to learn how to put together the broken pieces of the problem to develop a strategy. Terance discusses this extensively in his which you can search upon here or read the lengthy preview of this book under our “Books” section. A strategist is not just a data jockey who can do fancy analyses. Putting it all together, the hard part, is a skill which comes with much more experience and mostly having worked at the higher levels of a consulting firm. So in your case, you do want to make the push for engagement manager at the very least.

Here things get a bit dicey.

If you leave as an engagement manager the likely role you will get is head of strategy or strategy manager. A larger firm like GE or Citigroup is obviously going to bring a full partner in for that role, which is what they did with many BCG alums. So let’s assume you left as a manager and get the strategy manager title at a larger firm, or strategy director role at a smaller firm. You will have to prove yourself again, because you are still a strategy person who is now in an operating company. That is, a completely different skill set must be developed to thrive in this environment. The title may sound great, but in a corporation you really want access and control to a P&L, and unless you get it, being Manager of Strategy is not really influential or glamorous. Even being EVP of Strategy for GE is not that glamorous. Most strategy directors tend to do M&A/Business development work and McKinsey/Bain/BCG will almost always get called in for the major strategy projects.

You will have to prove yourself again, because you are still a strategy person who is now in an operating company. That is, a completely different skill set must be developed to thrive in this environment.

So, what this means is you need to exit at a level which dramatically increase your chances of being given a P&L, or takes you as close to a P&L as possible. Again, the assumption is made you want success in a corporate role, and to be successful in a corporate role, you need to control and build a business. Principal/Partner or Director is where you want to exit. Especially in Turkey where is not a shortage of talent for the roles you want, and only the best will get the plum roles. My advice is stick to it until at least this senior level, then transition to control a P&L. As much as you can, avoid internal strategy roles unless you can absolutely see a bridge to a P&L.

4 – If you want to make the push into corporate in less than 6 years after your MBA, then clearly pushing for partnership is going to be possible but tough, and you may need to enter corporate as a manager. 6 years to partnership is fast. If you are considering a corporate role earlier than six years, then you will most likely have to assume a role as manager of strategy somewhere, prove yourself and take up a P&L role in time. There are many exit points here, you can join an established corporate, smaller firm, start-up and then get acquired. My guess is you will either, if you go to BCG Istanbul and leave after a few years, join a bank or family owned business. In Turkey, they could very well be the same.

In a bank, power lies with the P&L leader and strategy teams have close to zero traction.

Working in internal strategy in a bank is a less than attractive option. In a bank, power lies with the P&L leader and strategy teams have close to zero traction. There will always be exceptions but we are looking at the general experiences. That said, consulting firms tend to like candidates who serve in internal banking consulting roles. So my advice to Melike applies if you are going in the other direction from consulting to banking, and not from banking to consulting. So I would think carefully about this. Of the people we have placed in Turkey who have now exited into family-owned conglomerates the reaction has been mixed. The bottom-line is that they feel they are glorified analysts and not influencing the organizational direction in any way.

That said, the managing partner of BCG Istanbul went through this route – senior team leader to EVP Strategy to Partner at BCG. He spent 5 years at the bank as EVP Strategy and did not obtain a P&L role, though he was clearly exceptionally talented and capable. Burak, the partner, was not pleased with this. The culture is also one of having to prove one-self and unfortunately someone with just a few years at McKinsey will need to prove themselves over time. In other words, you have to earn respect either at McKinsey, by leaving as a partner, or in corporate over time – but you have to do it somewhere at some time.

Exit opportunities in Boston are not all that great: same problems, limitations and frustrations. That said, if you want to be an executive, you should pursue the partnership route. I find that the coaching, development, mentoring and skills development I learned as a principal set me up to one day work for a listed company as an executive officer. That is almost impossible to speedily replicate in a corporate environment.

In other words, you have to earn respect either at McKinsey, by leaving as a partner, or in corporate over time – but you have to do it somewhere at some time.

5 – Let’s talk about the “where.” BCG Istanbul and McKinsey Boston will be completely different experiences. Though, likely not for the reasons you would have expected. Moreover, Istanbul and Ankara will be dramatically different experiences as you well know.

Turkey is a relatively rapidly growing economy which is stable, and with sufficient development needs to ensure both large government expenditure and infrastructure spending. However, the Turkish economy is noted for several usual and unusual concentrations. For one, the number of family owned businesses is very high. Given the size of the economy, the number may be too high. This raises some problems. In my work in Turkey I have advised both the holding companies for families and the individual businesses owned by the holding company. Most of my work was in retail and commercial banking.

Here, I found that while Turkish executives were highly trained, open to new ideas and did not hesitate to call for help, this group is a minority and the level below tends to not like external help. Moreover, there was a definite struggle to gain traction as a foreign partner. I noticed that local consultants on the team were treated differently unless they had foreign degrees and/or experience. So there is definitely this pull for foreign talent. While there are many large businesses to cater to, as a proportion of the economy there are not nearly enough. So government work plays a very large role outside of banking, holding companies and textiles. If you do not like public sector work, you would need to think carefully about this.

There is another reason to consider Turkey as well. Women have an unusually high representation in all levels of the consulting structure. This has always surprised me about this country.

Moreover, most public sector work is in Ankara which is vastly more conservative than Istanbul. I found that it was much easier to work in Istanbul than Ankara. Though relatively conservative, Turkey is doing some very innovative work in public sector strategy. In particular, the government strategy to identify and support leading local businesses is very forward thinking, especially the way it is being implemented, and this has served as blueprint in other emerging economies. If you want to do work for banks, holding companies, textiles and the government, then Turkey is a good choice.

There is another reason to consider Turkey as well. Women have an unusually high representation in all levels of the consulting structure. This has always surprised me about this country. While gender discrimination is undoubtedly a problem in parts of the country, I believe that Turkey has more senior women in management consulting than most other countries in which I have worked, including the west. Therein, is another anomaly. I noticed a lot of female partners, very few female senior managers/associate partners and then many more female consultants and analysts, than male peers. So it is a strange mix, but bodes well if you have the drive to succeed.

If you are ambitious and want to build a strong international name, working on important research pieces and publications is something you will have to consider. Up until possibly 2010, BCG Istanbul was never a “content export” office. That is a term I used as a principal to describe offices which have matured intellectually. When an office is young, it is focused mainly on building relationships and serving clients. It does not really have the time, resources or track record to generate significant new ideas for the global firm. As an office matures, it starts producing great ideas and reports. Istanbul has started to get to that point. This is good, because consultants involved in producing these ideas tend to be recognized much faster as experts, and this creates a huge demand for their skills.

Banking, textiles, holding companies and family businesses are not the dominant sectors in the US. So the concern you will rightly have is how portable is this knowledge. If you rose to partner in Turkey, I think your concern will be unfounded for several reasons.

First, you can easily transfer to another office if you have a skill which is in demand. Banking in the US is not all on Wall Street. Commercial banking in the US can learn a lot from their emerging markets peers and there is a massive effort to get this knowledge across. I recall doing several strategy engagements helping banks cater to low-income clients, and most of the best-practices came from Latin American banks.

The US has more family owned businesses than just about any other major economy. As a percentage of all businesses, it is smaller, but in terms of absolute numbers it is significant. So this skill is transferable, but these are not “crown jewel” clients. I think you also need to consider where the world will be 10 years from now. Turkey will continue to be a major economy and only continue growing. A long time ago, Boston and New York were the de facto head offices of a consulting firm. Today, the head office is where ever the managing partner sits, and that may very well be somewhere in Europe or Asia in the next few years.

If you are successful and capable, the firm will also move you around to provide development opportunities. So when people talk about location, I always caution them to consider short-term and long-term locations. In the short term, you will be roughly fixed to the broader region. In the case of Istanbul, that means serving the surrounding regions of Azerbaijan and other parts of Central Asia. To me, that is a very large region and interesting enough to keep anyone occupied for at least a few years. In other words, do not focus on the perceived limited opportunities of just working in Istanbul. The region is large and you will get lots of international exposure.

In the medium to long-term, assuming you reach partnership, the direction you set and regions you cover really come down to you. For example, I was an emerging markets specialist and did most of my work in energy, resources and banking over an 11 year period. I covered the odd engagement in pharmaceuticals, retail and so on but they are not my primary focus areas – strange combinations but it happened. In fact, for one glorious 18 month stretch of my consultant career, all 5 of my banking clients were on a 22 kilometer stretch of road and I lived at the end of the road. So, I had no travel at all and could be home in 40 minutes in peak traffic. That was a great time. This was when I was an associate though. I did not have any control on my projects and was just lucky.

When I became principal things changed. I was not content to just do work in the same sectors or regions. And this is the best part. At this level the firm completely encourages you to move around and build new ideas. I had more than one meeting with the senior partner and discussed my interest about doing more work in new regions. I found Chile, Dubai and Turkey appealing since the issues in the region could directly play off my past experience. I moved across to Chile for a few months and worked with the Santiago office to meet clients, discuss issues and eventually build strong enough client relationships to grow the office. This despite the fact I spoke no Spanish at all and did not really understand the culture. I completely enjoyed working in Santiago, drinking pisco sour and eating ceviche. Thereafter, I did the same thing in other offices. I moved across to Istanbul for a few months and repeated the process. The bottom-line is that if you build deep expertise in Istanbul, it can be leveraged to many other economies. It all comes down to how you can find the opportunities and leverage them.

I should now sum up all of this. Your background implies you could be successful anywhere in the world, but you have a direct link and experience in the broader Middle Eastern region. If we assume you want a senior corporate role with P&L responsibility I would strongly encourage pursuing a partnership route in Istanbul, since corporations are more likely to hire you if have this regional experience. You may be hired from Boston into Istanbul, but that is tougher to accomplish. I think timing is largely outside your control so you just need to progress as fast as you can, and all other things being equal, consulting firms are meritocracies and you will progress faster in this environment. You want to be in Istanbul, and frankly, that makes the most sense.

Finally, the “market” for assessing performance is efficient, so the best are quickly identified and groomed. I recall sitting in many update meetings with younger consultants and listening to their analyses of issues. In less than a minute I can fairly accurately see who is on top of things and who is not. If you do well, you will be noticed and the firm will develop you. That is guaranteed. So do not stress about the “perceived” advantages of Boston over Istanbul. There are none.

The question is not whether BCG Istanbul is better than McKinsey Boston.

The question is whether or not Istanbul is a good fit for your plans, and based on what I know, I would say yes.

Michael

If you enjoyed this article, you may be interested in reading other articles on BCG and careers at BCG.

* – name altered

“Dear Michael,

I have a question about case interview preparation which I was hoping you could answer for me. I provided some context and I am sorry if the email is far too long. I listened to the Firmsconsulting podcasts and articles I like the honest views provided.

I am currently a PhD candidate at Princeton, with an undergraduate degree from South Korea. I started casing about 6 months ago and completed about 120 cases with casing partners in my consulting club and over the internet. I bought several books and other programs. I paid to have my resume edited with an online service.

The problem is that I cased with a friend of a friend recently and it did not go well. He is a McKinsey manager. It was very, very bad and he really did not like my resume. I was embarrassed to explain to him that I did so much work. I am now a little confused and frustrated. I do not know what I did badly or correctly, and not sure what to do. I feel all my efforts have been wasted and concerned that if I continue, I will keep wasting my time.

Should I quit pursuing management consulting or am I using the wrong services?

SK”

***

Dear SK,

Thank you for your email and the context. I would have preferred slightly more information but this is good enough to post a detailed response. I plan to be brutally honest in this response, as always, so do not take the feedback personally. The feedback is important to help you understand where you stand on your career plans. It is after all, your life and lifestyle on the line.

It is important to understand that your situation is not uncommon. So you should not feel as if you are doing worse than others. We often speak to candidates who have done 50 to 120 cases and still struggling. Therefore, this is not a “weakness” about you, but possibly the techniques you are using which can be easily fixed.

My response is split into 4 parts: general immediate advice, your resume update, case interview preparation and next steps.

My first piece of advice is not to spend more money on case training, advice etc. This is the general advice I will provide for you. I am not saying you should never spend money, but for now, you should not. Go cut your credit cards. The two weeks it will take to get the replacements will help you reflect. There are several reasons for this.

Candidates like to look for that “magical” idea, approach or service that will push them over the top in case interviews. Do not fall for that trap.

First, it is clear the money you have already spent is not working. I am not sure if it is because of the services you used or your own application of the material, but that is irrelevant at this point because the outcome is what you should measure. Irrespective of when you bought the service, you should do well after 120 cases. So, I am guessing it is both things.

Candidates like to look for that “magical” idea, approach or service that will push them over the top in case interviews. Do not fall for that trap. If it looks too easy it usually is not going to help you. On the other hand case interview training should never feel painful. If it is, it could either be your learning style or even that the career is not ideal for you. That said, for anyone to prepare well, real effort is involved. If everyone could buy online services and get into McKinsey et al, things would be too easy.

Until you know why you have not improved, and it may have nothing to do with the services you use or everything to do with them, you should not make any more purchases. It helps to step back and take a fresh view on things. That can usually only happen once you have “forgotten” some of the reasons and tactics you applied in your previous case interview experience. This may sound counter-intuitive, but poor past reasoning will affect your current judgment unless you find a way to jettison this reasoning. Time usually does this.

When our own clients either fail to get an interview or fail to get an offer from the first firm with whom they interview, I ask them to take their foot off the accelerator, decouple from the training and come back after 2 to 3 weeks. No cases in this time, no planning, no reading – a complete vacation from cases. We regroup and re-plan upon their return. This is the opposite of what most candidates do.

You have unfortunately been hard-wired by millions of dollars of Nike and Adidas adverts to think that just a little more hard work will push you over the top. Therefore, most candidates work even harder when they are unsuccessful, merely doing more of the same and repeating the same mistakes. You have to be smart, not just work harder.

***

Let’s discuss resume services.

With all due respect to companies offering resume writing services I have nothing good to say about the idea of believing a resume can be edited electronically and be acceptable. We do not offer them and there is a reason for that. We do edit the resumes of our clients but that is not a simple process. To properly edit a resume takes a minimum of 4 sessions lasting about 30-60 minutes each, and in some cases we have taken 8-12 sessions to edit a resume. It is a critical, complete and detailed transformation. There are several reasons why it takes that long. I am writing out the steps so you can do them yourself.

Here is something to ponder. If resume writing experts where so good, the analogy would be that a publishing company’s greatest assets would be the editors who transform moribund author transcripts. Yet, that is not how things work.

First, imagine I sent my resume to have it edited by an expert. That expert assumes that I mean exactly what I say in my resume and there is perfect clarity in my statements. So he/she edits the resume based on what he/she reads in that resume. The obvious problem here is that people rarely mean what they say, and most people cannot write well. So you have an expert trying to produce perfect prose, capturing all the details of the role, benefits, data, numerical dollars values etc., off poorly written input. It can never be correct. Bad input, from the resume owner, will only equal bad output.

Here is something to ponder. If resume writing experts where so good, the analogy would be that a publishing company’s greatest assets would be the editors who transform moribund author transcripts. Yet, that is not how things work. Editors cannot create best-sellers from weak material and need excellent work from authors. That is why the rejection rate on manuscripts is so high. The editors will only work one-on-one with the writer who has a solid manuscript.

Second, the expert can only edit what you have provided to him/her. What if something really important and valuable from your past, has been deliberately left of your resume? How will the expert know this? How will the expert include this? The resume writer cannot know this, and what you end up having is the resume writer’s interpretation of your interpretation of events. When we write resumes, we go line by line, in every call through the resume. I ask all kinds of questions to completely understand what the owner of the resume means when they say certain things. Rarely is the intent and original phrasing correct.

In fact, if you look at the amount of edits we ask for in every single line, it can be overwhelming. We need to be speaking to clients and working with them to accomplish this. It is the only way.

Third, your resume needs to reflect your spike. Your spike is that one thing you are good at and which will get you remembered by the interviewer. When I read an early resume, I sometimes see the apparent spike. Usually that early interpretation of a candidates spike changes. It takes several sessions of speaking to someone to really dig into every line on their resume and flesh out unwritten extra-curricular activities and/or other roles.

Understanding and using your spike is such a vital part of the resume writing process, but how in the world can someone deduce that from your resume without having spoken to you? Moreover, why obtain this service unless you explicitly answer this question – what is your spike?

In other words, you are impressed with the improvement on your resume, which the interviewer never sees. So do not do this. You should rather compare your best attempt to that of a top candidate from Wharton, Harvard etc.

Fourth, every client of a resume writing service merely looks at the resume they sent in and the version they receive back. If their new resume looks better, they are pleased. I say looks better, because for the reasons above, it really cannot be much better in terms of content. Form is only important if the resume content is great. Excellent formatting with poor content is still a disaster. Comparing your new resume to your old resume is a flawed approach to measure quality.

The interviewer does not see your before and after version. What the interviewer sees is your best attempt and compares this to the other candidate’s best attempts. In other words, you are impressed with the improvement on your resume, which the interviewer never sees. So do not do this. You should rather compare your best attempt to that of a top candidate from Wharton, Harvard etc. It may make you cry when you see the competition but at least you have time to fix things.

Fifth, editing resumes is a process of formatting, accumulation and then attrition. In terms of formatting, some resume formats just look better, and therefore make you look better. Format counts because it creates an impression that you are prepared well, or at least had people from the elite schools helping you prepare. Both can only help your image. In the accumulation phase, I ask every client to add as much information about themselves that they can. I don’t care if they won a prize for the three-legged race in their freshmen year, add it in.

I never rely on clients to filter their own life details, since they cannot always know what is important. Attrition is an important choice of words. We next cut out the obvious clutter. The three-legged race will be edited out unless you ran it with Bono to raise money to save orphaned children in Somalia; unlikely, but not impossible considering Bono’s schedule and proclivities. The next step is critical. Rather than making massive cuts in just 1 or 2 edits, we make small changes to see how it looks. If you make large cuts to the content, it is very tough to add it back, because you forget what was cut out, and you end up perfecting what is left versus what should be left. This editing-by-attrition-process is important since it prevent mistakes, encourages discussions which uncovers your spike and leads to a better resume. As expected, the editing by attrition process cannot happen in 2 sessions, no matter who is editing the resume.

***

Now let’s discuss case training.

As mentioned above, it is tough to know if the problems reside with the services you used or your own use of them. There are surely good firms, good people and well-meaning people. Note that well-meaning does not correlate to competence. That said, case interview training is the Wild West in many ways. It is unregulated. Services shamelessly promote themselves, and people do buy into the hype. How do you know if someone is a good coach or know what they are talking about? You cannot know. Testimonials mean less than nothing. Let’s be honest, who is going to put up bad testimonials? What about unsolicited testimonials in forums etc.

When I read unsolicited testimonials about anything, let alone an unregulated sector, I fondly think of Enron. Just 12 years ago EVERYONE was singing the praises of Enron. It was a multiple company-of-the-year winner in Fortune Magazine no less, and everyone believed the hype. It was true then and will always be true today – people will believe whatever you tell them, despite glaring evidence in the annual reports. Doctored reports, yes, but there was more than enough evidence to see through the charade. From just the Enron debacle we can deduce that the majority of people are not analytical enough to deduce what works and what does not. We can also deduce 99% of people, even those with finance MBA’s, cannot read a balance sheet. Yet, that is for a different discussion.

The point is that people will believe what they want to believe and when they want to believe it. People will believe there is a 1% hope of achieving something even if all the data indicates otherwise. And everyone wants to believe that it is easy to get in Bain, BCG and McKinsey. That could not be further from the truth. It takes discipline and effort.

It always amuses that when I ask candidates immediately after their interviews how they think they did, they are never completely confident, but after getting an offer, they are adamant that it was due to x, y and z. And those reasons always paint the candidate in the best light.

Moreover, since most people cannot deduce quality, they rely on the collective wisdom of others. They read forums, usually populated by people who never got in, and have less than a 5% of chance of getting in. We receive so many emails about “a friend who got in from my school with only a 3.7 GPA and he told me that I must focus on my leadership to differentiate myself.” That is from an actual email. The problem here is that the friend is an outlier. Moreover, the friend, with all due respect, cannot know why he got it.

It always amuses that when I ask candidates immediately after their interviews how they think they did, they are never completely confident, but after getting an offer, they are adamant that it was due to x, y and z. And those reasons always paint the candidate in the best light. A candidate will never admit, or know, that McKinsey’s preferred choice turned them down and the candidate was the 3rd person on the list for the oil and gas practice. People bend the truth to make themselves look good. You need to unbend the distortion.

If you extrapolate this willingness to follow the mass consensus to case preparation information on the internet, do not buy into the hype, and do not follow the crowd. Unless you can clearly understand the value of doing/buying something, do not do it – ever. If you are relying on others feedback, then you are delegating critical reasoning to others. And if others were sufficiently analytical, they would not be using case interview preparation services in the first place. Ergo, they are not analytical and you should not be listening to them.

I am potentially talking about our own client base here, but we also insist that our own clients take accountability for their careers and not delegate decisions to the wisdom of the masses in forums. Just to be clear, if you do not see the benefit yourself, run. I insist our own clients ask tough questions as well.

If you insist on listening to others, get a large enough sample size and ignore people who went to Booz, ATK, and Deloitte S&O etc. With all due respect to these firms, they are not the same as the big three and we only focus on McKinsey and BCG, and to some extent Bain.

From where should you obtain information?

You need to win-with-winners. Translated to case interview preparation, it means listen to and work with people who are successful in consulting firms. Getting into McKinsey et al does not make you successful. About 70% to 80% of people who get an offer will be managed out, which is a euphemism for being fired. Staying and getting promoted makes you successful.

When I see someone with about 5 months to 2 years at Bain-BCG-McKinsey on their resume and no promotion, I immediately think they were managed out – usually because they were managed out, though not in all cases, but definitely the majority. Very, very few ambitious people will leave the ultimate CEO-finishing schools, consulting firms, without trying to progress up the ranks.

Why would you listen to someone who could not succeed at your target firm?

***

Before getting into your case interview performance, I have two assumptions to state.

The first assumption is that you actually did very badly in the mock case interview with the McKinsey manager. Some candidates tend to exaggerate their actual performance deficit; either by design, upbringing or for attention. For example, my physics lab partner used to have panic attacks every time we scored less that 95% on an exam. It was a crisis for her, and we once actually did not have the highest grade in the class. Oh, the horror! She had to go home that weekend to be consoled by her mom. I am assuming that is not your case, even though no details are provided.

The second assumption I am making is that your manager was interested in your performance and gave honest feedback. Poor interviewers default to giving “improvement” areas if they have not been paying attention in the case. At least this way, by providing improvement areas, they at least appear to have added value to your life. If an interviewer tells you any of the following or some derivation thereof, without explaining it to you, then he/she was probably not listening to you and you need to think carefully about what your performance actually was:

• “You must be more structured.”

• “You need better hypotheses.”

• “You need to be faster at math.”

• “You should be more MECE.”

This is rather obvious and if you could do it, you would do it. So getting this feedback is really a waste of time to you and rather disrespectful. It is a little like berating a homeless person for not having enough money to change his/her life.

Now let’s discuss your preparation. I can quickly see a few major mistakes you are making.

If you have poor technique to solve a case and you repeat that poor technique 120 times, you are simply ingraining a poor technique.

I noticed that the most important data piece in your feedback was doing “120 cases.” You are discussing quantity of cases over the quality of the sessions. Firmsconsulting has worked with just over 350 clients in the last 3 years. We keep detailed records in each person. I can tell you how many cases they did with us, how many questions they asked us, how many people practiced with case partners, how many times they practiced, how many math mistakes per session, communication gaps etc.

I can also tell you that the number of sessions you do is inversely correlated to your success.

That is very counter-intuitive so let me explain it. If you have poor technique to solve a case and you repeat that poor technique 120 times, you are simply ingraining a poor technique. If you had a good technique, you would have done well, but since you did not, we can assume the technique is at least part of the problem. Technique refers to the way you solve cases, and I am guessing you are framework obsessed since that is the way most people work. We hate frameworks since they prepare you for nothing useful. You need to focus on understanding cases from first principles and building frameworks from nothing but the original case interview question/information.

The other point is that 120 cases over 6 months are tiring to do. I cannot image you are giving them all sufficient attention to extract the appropriate lessons. We have an online library of cases and when a client rushes ahead to do many unnecessary cases well before our sessions, the system automatically converts their file to a bright crimson red. Rushing ahead is indeed such a major indicator of failure.

I want to tear my hair out when I see case books immediately starting candidates off from tough questions case interview questions. You need to layer the difficulty. You have to start with simpler cases and slowly work into more and more complex cases.

You should therefore make sure you have a good technique and then understand the concepts rather than trying to do as many cases in the hope of finding a familiar case in the interview. That is ultimately the flawed strategy of anyone who pursues quantity over quantity. Those pursuing quantity believe it is more important to see as many different types of cases as possible, versus understanding the underlying principles.

It is like doing math. A great math student will do a few cases and learn the core principles. They will then learn to apply it. A bad student does not really understand the underlying principles but hopes that if they do more, eventually, they would either understand everything or at least see a similar question in an exam. That is a bad strategy.

Keeping on the math theme, no one learns calculus without a fairly solid foundation in math. You need to build up to the point of taking on calculus. I want to tear my hair out when I see case books immediately starting candidates off from tough questions case interview questions. You need to layer the difficulty. You have to start with simpler cases and slowly work into more and more complex cases. It is like waking up and immediately going to run a marathon. It will not be pleasant experience since your body is not conditioned to handle the harsher pressures it will face.

Fatigue is another problem I see and for several reasons as well. 120 cases is a lot of cases. That alone will tire you. Imagine if you did the cases in the wrong order. Let’s assume you started with the tougher ones first since you did not know better. Can you imagine how difficult and frustrating that will be? You just keep going up against a tough problem and not sure why you are failing. Lack of success will lead to fatigue. Moreover, when you practice with peers, they tend to have little experience. They will blindly follow the case book and refuse to let you move on unless you tell them exactly what the case books lists. Doing this 120 times is painful.

There is another type of fatigue as well. If you constantly do easy cases, you start to simply go through the motions since you assume you will easily solve the case, and really, the case is not teaching you much to begin with. This is a very common problem. You then simply end up counting cases, since you assume the more you do the better you become. You should ensure that you always raise the difficulty level of cases each week. This keeps you challenged, encourages learning, keeps you on your toes and forces you not to take things for granted.

I kept this for the end since it is most important. You need good technique in 6 areas: communication, estimations/calculations, brainstorming, fit questions, BCG approach and answer-first approach. You have to be good in these areas.

The myth of demand side estimation cases is the greatest mistake taught in case books worldwide and is probably the worst technique a candidate should be using.

Communication is a huge problem across almost all candidates we have seen, including our own. Candidates are so technically focused on cases that they never think about how they will communicate their brilliant insights. I cannot stress how important communication can be and how central it is to cases. Cases are easy to teach. Delivering your solution in a manner which does not make you look like you are in pain is a very different issue altogether. We cover communication extensively in several podcasts, so please go through them all.

Watching candidates conduct estimation cases is a little painful. The myth of demand side estimation cases is the greatest mistake taught in case books worldwide and is probably the worst technique a candidate should be using. Fortunately, it is easy to fix. Again, I will not repeat things here. Simply listen to the podcasts. When trying to speed up your calculations, do not merely try to be faster. Look at the way you do calculations and see if it is an efficient way. Most candidates have a weak structuring of math problems which hurts them. Speed is an outcome of good structuring. I am sure if you could be faster you would. So if you are not, you are bumping against the limits of your technique, and not the limits of your memory to remind yourself to be faster. Becoming faster at arithmetic means redesigning your math approach, and that is tougher than it looks.

Brainstorming is well explained in several previous podcasts and many videos. I am going to include some commentary we previously discussed on brainstorming. Candidates who can brainstorm well will never need to memorize a case framework for the rest of their lives, or get stuck in a case when they cannot recall a framework. No matter how many frameworks they memorize there is bound to be a case which requires a type of analyses they have never seen before, and if they cannot brainstorm, they cannot develop the required analyses approach. Moreover, comfort with this technique plays a major role with confidence building since the candidate never needs to worry about facing a case without a bag full of frameworks. They will not need them.

Firmsconsulting does not teach frameworks. There are no high-five’s for using the correct framework. We encourage candidates to learn to solve cases from first principles and if a framework is ever used, we spend an inordinate amount of time testing their understanding of the approach. This understanding and the candidate’s ability to explain their reasons for using the approach, are far more important than the approach itself. In a simple test, we get candidates to introduce the 4P’s framework to us. Rarely does that go well.

Go ahead and watch Kevin Coyne, the ex-McKinsey worldwide strategy leader do cases in this format in Season 2 of The Consulting Offer – throwing frameworks at him just does not work.

Too many students are obsessed with memorizing frameworks to get offers. Too many online resources present frameworks as the only way to go ahead. Candidates must realize that about 50% of all McKinsey cases cannot be solved using a framework. Go ahead and watch Kevin Coyne, the ex-McKinsey strategy leader do cases in this format in Season 2 of The Consulting Offer – throwing frameworks at him just does not work.

We encourage our clients not to be someone who just does enough to get an offer. You really want to learn the correct approaches so that you can succeed after you join, and never get managed out. So do not just do enough to get the offer, use the effort expended preparing for consulting interviews to learn the correct techniques. That means brainstorming, decision trees and hypotheses development must be studied carefully. We find that candidates generally brainstorm in a very haphazard way. Most simply throw out ideas/solutions which they think best solve the problem they are brainstorming.

I am not going to discuss fit here since it is covered in numerous podcasts and does not appear to be an issue for you. All I can say is that every single student I have ever met tells us their fit is under control and they are weakest at cases. The reality is that they are much, much worse at fit. You need to really focus on understanding the detail around your stories.

The interviewer led and interviewee led approaches are different from the decision tree and answer-first approach. Do not confuse them. It is possible to do a both an interviewee-led and interviewer-led approach for both McKinsey and BCG. Read that line again since it is almost certainly the opposite of what you believe. So really take the time to understand the basics and do them well.

My concluding remarks are to remind you that your position is not unique. Most candidates find themselves in your position. Take a vacation, forget about cases and read this email again. When you start case interview practice again, start from the beginning and assume everything you did before was incorrect. If you do not make that assumption, you will likely retain some techniques which will hurt you – again.

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.

Big trends

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.

PhD performance

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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:

• age,

• school,

• grades,

• GMAT,

• nationality,

• ethnicity,

• 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.

“From the first day of working in industry she realized that management consulting is her true calling “

Ali emigrated from the Former Soviet Union with nothing. Ten years later she holds undergraduate and MBA degrees, having achieved both cum laude with highest distinctions. She is a director in a Fortune 200 company. From the first day of working in industry she realized that management consulting is her true calling and is the best reflection of who she is. She aims to go back to consulting within a few years, after serving out her current role so as to depart on “good terms.”

Between Sep 2013 and Sep 2014, Firmsconsulting is running The Women Premium theme. This article is part of our Sunday Routine series focusing on the theme by exploring the lives of some remarkable female clients in our program.

***

RISE AND SHINE I wake up between 6-8am, depending on how late I went to bed the night before. The first thing I do is make myself a cup of green tea and I have it with few pieces of dark chocolate while reading the New York Times for about an hour.

CARDIO, YOGA AND PODCASTS Next I put on my gym clothes and do a cardio workout, usually aerobics, for about 45 minutes followed by yoga for about 15 minutes. I don’t enjoy doing cardio. I do it because I have to. I listen to podcasts while I am doing it. The podcasts I am now listening to are usually some combination of HBR Ideacast, the McKinsey Quarterly, McKinsey on Finance, BCG Perspectives, Econ Talk, Economist, and some podcasts targeted at financial services professionals. On the other hand, I love doing yoga. I try to do sun salutations later in the day as well. I feel my body needs it.

CHORES After a quick shower and grooming I do chores. I head to the convenience store to buy whatever we may need for the day. Sometimes I may walk to the office to pick up some work and bring it home. When I first joined the bank, I worked at the office every weekend from 8am until about 8pm, but recently we were given an option to have a laptop instead of a desktop and now I can work from home on weekends. I also no longer need to work such long hours as I cut back on my oversight of some internal projects, for the division leadership, I used to work on. The return on investment of my time and energy to assist with such projects was not sufficient to justify my further involvement.

WORK I try to finish my banking related work before 2pm, so I can get few hours to work on a strategy article that I am researching and writing, and for my general reading and professional development. I loved my previous job as a management consultant. After completing my MBA, I thought it would be an opportunity to get industry experience. I always loved financial services projects and thought banking will be a good fit. I could not have been more wrong. I felt deeply unhappy doing my job on every single day ever since I left management consulting. This switch also made me realize how lucky I was to find the work that I really love earlier in life. Now it is a trick of moving back to management consulting after serving in a demanding role that I committed to while trying to leave on exceptionally good terms. I am working on the strategy article because I miss management consulting work too much and this allows me to do consulting work of my own. I previously published two articles in prestigious journals and both were well received, so my fingers are crossed for the 3rd article which I think is my best piece so far.

This switch also made me realize how lucky I was to find the work that I really love earlier in life. 

LUNCH From 12 noon to 1pm my husband and I take a break as both of us work on weekends and we have lunch together. Usually it is some kind of baked dish as both of us don’t have time to cook. It is often crab cakes or chicken and some vegetable such as mushrooms or green beans. We try to eat healthy food so we try to stay away from red meat and pasta. We may have a half of a glass of wine with lunch.

BACK TO WORK From 1pm or shortly thereafter we are back to work. I am wrapping up my banking related work so I can start on my own work. At some point during the day, when I feel my mind is getting tired, I will do my weekly cleaning of the house which usually takes at least 1.5 hours. I clean the floors, bathrooms; do laundry, dusting and ironing. All the things that are an extreme waste of time but have to be done. I plan to hire someone to help with this in a few years. I listen to podcasts while cleaning the house. Then I am back to doing my work.

CALLING THE FAMILY In the afternoon I will call my family via video call on Skype. I wait for when they come online, and this is not always predictable. All of them are still back home, living in the same apartment as 10 years ago. I miss them very much. I have a big family, with 3 siblings and my parents. They gather around the computer and we talk about what happened during the week and what is ahead for the week to come. If my sister is at home, we always try to carve out some sister talk-time for just the two of us. My sister is almost 10 years younger than I and leaving her back home was probably the hardest thing I ever had to do. The plan was for her to come and join me, but life happened and she most likely will marry a local guy and build her life in my hometown.

DINNER At around 6pm we may have dinner. It may be just popcorn and a glass of wine. Both my husband and I don’t eat much. I suspect it is because both of us live in front of the computer due to our line of work. While eating we will watch something on TV. Usually it is a TV show such as Elementary, House of Cards, or The Good Wife. After dinner we usually will go for a walk in the city. We try to go and see different parts of the city. I am in constant search of a nice coffee shop but I could not find one for years. Maybe I need to lower my standards or open my own coffee shop. At the end of the walk we likely go to buy groceries for the week. The store is about 20 minutes walking distance away from our apartment, and if bags are not too heavy we will walk home. If we buy too much, we take a taxi.

FINAL TOUCHES AND UNWINDING At around 8.30pm or 9pm we will be back home. I do a couple of things to prepare for the week, such as ironing my clothing and packing my lunch for the next day. Then we will read in bed for a while. My husband will read news and magazines on the iPad and I will read HBR or some book. I usually read a few books at the same time. I love business books, especially memoirs of successful entrepreneurs or CEOs, such as “Tough Choices” by Carly Fiorina and “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson. The amount of time I spend reading certainly does not reflect how much I love it. We usually put the lights off around 10pm to get some sleep as I am up at 5.30am during the workweek.

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