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The Fine Art of MBA Application

With nine (9) fully-funded offers, 5 out of which also included monthly stipends, from fourteen (14) applications to top 10 – 50 MBA programs in the US and Canada, I have learned that business schools’ MBA application is a fine art that should be honed. If you are not new to Firmsconsulting, you will have heard Michael talk about how networking isn’t different from dating. The same is true here. Now, before you call me Casanova (I assure you I am not) who courted fourteen different ladies, let me tell you a story. A story that puts the above in context.

MBA Application: my first attempt

Late 2018, I had applied to six MBA programs – Harvard (HBS), MIT (Sloan), Michigan (Ross), Toronto (Rotman), Washington (Olin) and Maryland (Robert Smith). I applied to HBS and MIT because I didn’t want to live a life wondering if I could have gotten in (looking back now, I guess I applied for the honor of getting rejected. hahaha). It didn’t take long for me to get a response – NO.

Maryland, I suspect, didn’t think I was going to accept their offer after I told them about the schools I applied to (wrong move). I knew my journey with Olin ended when I attended my admission interview with a baseball cap and polo shirt (I was as unprepared as anyone could have been; I should have just postponed the interview). I got into Ross with a 40% scholarship long after I had said Yes to Rotman’s 20% scholarship offer. Who does that?

Rotman stood out majorly because Canada, in my opinion, is a calmer society compared to the US. Now I know that that is opened to debate depending on how you define “calm”, but let us try not to argue because that is not the essence of this article. Remember, we are discussing the fine art of the MBA application? Right, let’s stick to that.

So I approached Prodigy Finance, an international loan company, to cover for the rest of the funds I couldn’t raise on my own. And they said yes. I quit my job to be a primary caregiver to my ailing mother. That way, my siblings could focus on their education while my mom received the medical help she needed. Everything seemed set until in June 2019, the Canadian Embassy said NO. They didn’t think I was going to return to my home country. Being my first visa denial (and hopefully the last), I was devastated. After a week considering all my options, including re-applying for a study permit, I decided to wait one more year and expand my list of schools using a different strategy.

I think the above story is very important because it taught me two hard lessons: one was on the significance of bottlenecks outside of your control. A beautifully crafted plan that doesn’t take into consideration that one piece you can’t control is bounded to fail. So when I applied again, I carefully considered the bottleneck to my MBA application – the Embassy.

In factoring the embassy into my application, I asked: “what does the embassy need to be convinced of, to know that I want to study and not migrate illegally?” The answer? You’d have to fund your MBA through scholarships and not loans. Now, I understand that not everyone can relate to this, but in my case, I had no rich parent or a well-paying job for that matter. Also, a few Nigerians had set unfavorable precedence that raised the bar for obtaining visas. Which leads me into the second lesson: in life, your actions will undoubtedly affect those that come after you. You create an impression that either aids or inhibits those behind you with a similar profile. The impact of your actions often goes beyond you and your selfish needs.

My MBA Application profile for context

Here is a brief overview of my pre-MBA application profile. I believe it is important that you know this as it would allow you to put this article in perspective.

Name: Chinedu Adegoke (Real name withheld)

Nationality: Nigerian

GRE: 321/340 (V: 159; Q: 162)

TOEFL: 110/120

Highest Academic Qualification: BSc. Civil Engineering

Grade: First Class Honour (Magna Cum Laude, top 15%: class of 32)

Pre-MBA Experience: Equally distributed between Tech entrepreneurship, Civil Engineering Consulting

Years of Work Experience pre-MBA: 5 years

Why my first MBA Application attempt failed

My first business school attempt failed not because of the visa denial. It was only a symptom of a flawed strategy. In retrospect, my first MBA attempt failed because one, my strategy was shallow, focused heavily on the business school’s brand. Second, I also didn’t understand the fine art of MBA application. I will briefly discuss the first reason before attempting to address the second reason later on.

Reason 1: I focused heavily on the business school’s brand name

Now, there is no problem doing this if you are in the 1% bracket of intelligent people, or if money isn’t a problem for you. In my case, my profile didn’t match my level of intelligence (which I do judge to be uniquely high). Also, my parents barely finished high school and that heavily limited their earning capacity, and in turn, my earning capacity (working hard to change that narrative).

Focusing on school’s brand also propagated a subtle but self-defeating misconception – success was only guaranteed at a top 10 business school. I am glad that Michael helped uproot that misconception in many podcasts and articles. I wish I found out about “Firmsconsulting University” before my first attempt. I would have realized that top 10 MBA program in US/Canada/Europe wasn’t the only way to get into MBB, and certainly not an assurance that I will get the job. I soon realized after reading many FC’s article and listening to many podcasts (some of which I list below), that I would only end up paying >150k for a consulting interview. A move that made no sense to me after listening to alternatives Michael presented.

This article titled “Is Harvard MBA enough for McKinsey?” also completely changed my outlook on the concept of elite schools, addressed many inherent misconceptions I had, and laid bare the reality many current and past MBA candidates at elite schools rarely talk about.

Reason 2: I didn’t understand the fine art of MBA application

I didn’t fully understand the benefits of networking and attending business school fairs; I didn’t reach out to admission officers/current MBA students in the program; I didn’t carefully evaluate the funding limitations each school had; I trusted MBA ranking – perhaps, I should call it advertisement – with all my heart; I didn’t follow-up with my application; I didn’t even try to negotiate offers. I was what you call, a perfect MBA novice: applying to schools people and ranking system say are great schools, hit submit, wait, get decisions and just say yes without attempting to negotiate.

The fine art of MBA application: it starts with the strategy right for you

I believe I succeeded in my second attempt because I immediately said goodbye to brand names and focused on schools that could provide full MBA scholarships. If they couldn’t, I didn’t bother applying. It was as simple as that and it made my life easier.

Now I understand that this strategy isn’t one-size-fits-all. I have friends who have rightly argued for the benefits of taking a loan to attend an M7 business school. There is no right or wrong strategy. What many fail to understand is that the enemy of better here, is not bad, but what is good for everyone. You are not everyone, you are YOU. I hope that by sharing the thought process behind my MBA decisions and choice, you may be able to fashion out a strategy that works for you.

I call it “fine art” because it takes some level of finesse to apply successfully to an MBA program. Every single part should be controlled, nothing within your sphere of influence should be left to chance. And that starts with the factors that influence the kind of school you apply to.

MBA Application graduation-2

MBA Application Step 1: think deeply and categorize factors that affect your MBA program choice

Yes, split it into primary and secondary factors (you may even add a tertiary list!). In my case, I split it into two buckets: primary and secondary factors. On no occasion did I wavier on my primary list: if a good school (and there are many of them if you open your mind beyond top 20 business schools) fail to check the box on all my primary factors, I wasn’t going to apply. It was a no-brainer.

It is important that you first compile all the factors that will impact your MBA decision. Once that is done, critically examine each, based on your peculiarities, and categorize them into the primary and secondary categories.

Below is what that list looked like for me. I then used each of these factors to create my ranking pulling data from numerous ranking sources. My favorite being the Poets and Quants ranking system.

Despite having a very strong consulting post-MBA goal, I didn’t list it as a determining factor on my list. The reason is simple: I am already attending the “Firmsconsulting University” – renowned for its practical education on problem-solving. What else do I want if I carefully follow the well-curated courses it offers? In another article, I will expound on this for those who are not subscribers yet.

MBA Application Step 2: identify the shools and decide on whether to apply 

I admit this involves a lot of research. Research that could span into months if you are looking to increase your odds by applying to many schools. In my case, I identified a ridiculous amount of schools – probably about 23 of them. And this spanned one (1) month and three (3) business school fairs: the MBA Tour, Education USA Fair, and the UK Business Schools’ fair.

Of these 23 schools, I streamlined it down to 15 and eventually applied to 14. The number of Reach, Match and Safety Schools I applied to were four (4), nine (9) and two (2) respectively.

If my profile was significantly lower than the school’s profile average/mean in GRE/GMAT, Academic grade, and age, such school was considered my “Reach School”. If it was slightly lower or higher, those schools became my “Match Schools” and if it was significantly higher than the school’s average, it became by “Safety School”.

I went for the >5 business schools strategy because my first attempt taught me that 7 MBA applications could quickly, in a matter of weeks, become only one (1) real option, with no room for you to negotiate and make choices. I wanted to have options right down until the end.

MBA Application Step 3: now its time to start courting the admission officers and current students

You see, this is where the date nights start. There are many ways to approach this. You could decide to go via LinkedIn (this article explains how to leverage LinkedIn for this), or actual MBA School fairs (or in this case, virtual webinars), or you email the school directly and ask them to link you up with an admission officer and/or current student as you would like to learn more about the MBA program and MBA application process.

This process is incredibly important as it does two key things for you. One, it shows the school that you are genuinely interested and trust me, an MBA application is indeed a very personal process. With all the objectivity schools claim to have, there is a significant amount of sentiment/subjectivity involved in the decision-making process. Secondly, it also allows you to get a feel for what the admission committee is looking for in a candidate. This makes your life easier. I once spoke to a student who told me if I failed to mention the school’s location in my essay, my chances of getting in will get slim. In another conversation, I learned that if I failed to use the word “innovation”, or its variation, in the interview, I will lose the interviewer quickly. You don’t get this information online. And yes, I got into both schools with the best scholarship offer they could give.

MBA Application Step 4: continue to engage

Even after your application, continue to keep the admission officer and students posted about the progress of your application and important milestone or achievement at work. Don’t wait for the final decision before you engage again. In another article, I will explain the dos and don’ts of these calls. You don’t want to sound needy in these calls. Instead, approach it from the genuine stances of wanting to learn more about the program. And even when you get waitlisted or rejected, still email and thank these contact people for their effort. I once learned about an aspiring MBA candidate who did this after being rejected from a top 30 MBA program. She emailed her contact people and thanked them for the help. This contact person (funny enough, a student) walked up to the admission office to enquire about the candidate’s candidacy. You can guess what happened next.

You just never know, always stay in touch. Don’t be a pest, but stay in touch.

MBA application Step 5: you are allowed to negotiate. It is expected

This is where your multiple offers come in handy. I was spoilt for choice that I negotiated freely with the schools I wanted to attend. Now, here is where many people miss it. When they here negotiate they think I am referring to that proud approach where you say “give me more or I leave”. Nahhh, that’s never going to work. If for some reason, it does, and you would have still successfully alienated people who would otherwise be very useful to your overall MBA experience. In a different article, I can expound on how to negotiate, without negotiating. But know this, let the negotiation be about what the school wants, and not what you want. Show them how what you want can help them get what they need.

MBA Application MBA admission decision

MBA Application Step 6: speak to more students before you decide

I always go for a fellow country/continent person, where I can. There is some level of subtle understanding of a shared background that allows the conversation to be down-to-earth. Now I am not saying that someone with a different experience from you can’t advise you well. They can and I have received great advice from someone from a different alignment. What I am saying is try both sides, but if you only have one shot, go for the former.

This is especially useful for International MBA Candidates who don’t have the luxury of flying to the school’s location to experience its campus and people. If you have been already speaking to these students, you will have no problem getting them to tell you the truth about their experience. I once spoke to a candidate in an MBA program I liked and was considering. He said to me “If I am going to be honest with you, diversity is not as great as the school claims on its website. They are not even make any effort.” My decision was easy afterwards.

In conclusion

To round up this article, success at MBA programs is heavily influenced by your networking skills, this is even more important if you hope to become a management consultant at the Big 3. There is a fine art to these things, horn it even from your MBA application process. Start early, learn as you go and constantly evaluate your successes and failures for lessons you could use in future. There is a finesse to networking that is applicable everywhere. If you already know how to network in a different scenario, bring that fine art into your business school MBA applications. And if you don’t, I hope this article exposes you to just enough to get the admission and scholarship offer you so desire.

Recommended books:

business ethics succeeding as a management consultantSucceeding as a Management Consultant

When people think about the business strategy we often think about the field of strategy consulting/management consulting and firms like McKinsey, BCG, et al. If you are interested in learning how to conduct a management consulting engagement, you will likely enjoy this book. Succeeding as a Management Consultant is a book set in the Brazilian interior. This book follows an engagement team as they assist Goldy, a large Brazilian gold miner, in diagnosing and fixing deep and persistent organizational issues. This book follows an engagement team over an 8-week assignment and explains how they successfully navigate a challenging client environment, develop hypotheses, build the analyses, and provide the final recommendations. It is written so the reader may understand, follow, and replicate the process. It is the only book laying out a consulting assignment step-by-step. (Published by FIRMSconsulting.) One of the best business books if you are interested in management consulting and strategy. This book will be very useful as well if you are a small business consultant. If you were searching for answers to questions about consulting, this book is a gold mine, according to many readers.

business ethics Marketing saves the worldMarketing Saves the World, Bill Matassoni’s Memoir 

Bill Matassoni’s (Ex-McKinsey and Ex-BCG Senior Partner) Marketing Saves The World is a truly unique book. Never before has a McKinsey partner published his memoir publicly. This book is a rare opportunity – a true exclusive – to see what shapes the thought process of a partner and learn about marketing and strategy. The memoir essentially lays out McKinsey’s competitive advantage and explains how it can be neutralized. (Published by FIRMSconsulting.) One of the best business books if you are interested in marketing, strategy, how McKinsey and BCG operate, and overall in management consulting. 

business ethics Turquoise eyesTurquoise Eyes: A Novel about Problem Solving & Critical Thinking

Turquoise Eyes started off the groundbreaking new genre developed by FIRMSconsulting that combines compelling narrative while teaching problem solving and critical thinking skills. Set after a bank begins implementing a new retail banking strategy, we follow Teresa García Ramírez de Arroyo, a director-general in the Mexican government, who has received some disturbing news. A whistleblower has emailed Teresa with troubling news about a mistake in the loan default calculations and reserve ratios. The numbers do not add up. The book loosely uses the logic and financial analyses in A Typical McKinsey Engagement, >270 videos.

WHAT IS NEXT? We hope you found the “The Fine Art of MBA Application” post helpful. This article was contributed by a member of FC community. Sign up for our email updates on FIRMSconsulting.com/promo. This way you will not miss exclusive free training episodes and updates which we only share with the Firmsconsulting community. And if you have any questions about our membership training programs (StrategyTV.com/Apps & StrategyTraining.com/Apps) do not hesitate to reach out to us at support @ firmsconsulting.com. You can also get access to selected episodes when you sign-up for our newsletter above. Continue developing your strategy skills.

Cheers, Kris

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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.

My Michael Moment took place in my first session. I had had a long week working on a new assignment, coming home around 11pm every night and procrastinating my case preparation.

For my first session at 9pm on Friday night I decided to wing it with no practice and I did not watch the videos.

How bad could it be? Very bad.

Michael stopped my session 5 minutes in and explained that it was clear I had not watched the videos or done any practising. He did it in a nice way and did not blame me for anything. He also explained that he gets a printout from of my video watching patterns so he knew what I did and did not watch, and which parts of the video I had skipped over.

Yikes!

He just explained that I needed to be better prepared or the sessions will focus on simple things I could learn by myself. We continued chatting for another 15 minutes as Michael suggested changes to my preparation and planning.

Anyone else would have billed me for that time and accused me of wasting time. Michael did not even talk about that. We just cancelled the time and started the first session the following week. Those small acts always reminded me that Michael had my best interests in mind.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

I requested Michael to speak to me before my McKinsey interview.

So, one day before the interview he tried to find time but could not accommodate me. At about 9:00pm, my phone rings and least of all I am expecting to hear Michael’s voice on the other side;

I am surprised as hell, because Michael is available on Skype only.

In his characteristic tone he says, “[Redacted] how are you”? And then goes on to say some of the most simple but profoundly motivating words for me. He says,

“[Redacted], good luck for tomorrow. You have it in you and you can make it, you just need to believe in yourself. If you were one of the mediocre candidates then I would have said, have a good time at the interview, we will teach you the networking skills and attempt to get you another interview next year.

But, you have the intellectual rigor needed for a McKinsey interview. All you need to go in is with extreme levels of self-confidence. And please do me a favor – Don’t talk to and listen to your friends, because they don’t know anything about what McKinsey wants in a candidate.

And that’s why I don’t have many friends, because I don’t listen to them. Go in the interview and demonstrate your rich experience, your unique family background, and the way you speak, and you will do fine. If you run in the interview, then they will chase you. So, don’t run, just believe in yourself.”

Next day, I went in to the interview thinking about Michael’s words. Michael is truly gifted and has a super worth ethic; this is an explosive combination. I love him as a mentor.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

My Michael Moment came right at the beginning. As a South African MBA student the program was approximately R[Redacted]. That was a lot of money and equal to 25% of the yearly cost of my MBA program.

It was a lot of money! It is a lot of money! It will always be a lot of money.

I had applied late in the cycle and given the sum involved, I would need about 3 to 4 weeks to beg, borrow and squeeze it out of my parents – who thought I was certifiably insane to spend so much money on this program.

The moment occurred when I wrote to Michael and asked if we could start before the payment was made. I knew it would be a no but thought I should ask. Michael’s response is pasted below and it is the reason I am such a strong believer in his views – well, that and I did get into MBB!

Dear [redacted]

We understand the funding challenges. We would be able to start the program before payment is made. We select clients heavily on values and ethics, and if there was any doubt you would not pay us, then you would not be a good candidate for this program and you would not have been granted a place.

Entering our program is not a function of your ability to make the payment. It is a function of your potential and values.

Michael

That blew me away to think Michael was so serious about values that he places revenue on the line to prove it. I have come to to find that Michael is probably the most ethical person I have ever met in my entire life.

You can kid around with Michael about anything, just don’t kid around about values. You are asking for trouble.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?

The program was one of the best journeys of my life! Well before doing my MBA I wrote to Michael and asked for his advice. He recommended INSEAD or Ivey for the 1-year program and several of the US programs for the 2-year programs. He strongly encouraged me to consider the limitations of a 1-year program and that I would not have any room for mistakes. I signed up and went with Ivey.

Big mistake? Hell Yeah!

My grades were tanking by September and I did not see any way out. I was struggling to prioritize and decided to major in finance modules to show off my analytic skills. Bob Whites course was killing me. At this stage Michael gave me some very useful advice which changed everything for me and put me back onto track:

1) I should ignore consulting in the September recruitment and join the internal strategy team at a bank. Consulting firms apparently liked this profile and I could apply to McKinsey the next year in December – in about a year’s time. If I applied in September and was declined it would be hard to ever get back in.

2) Use the limited interview preparation time to focus on grades.

3) Ignore the analytic subjects and select majors for grades. Grades matter!

4) Forget about networking. It only works if done correctly and will not compensate for weak case performance and weak grades.

I was the only one in my cohort that went for this strategy and it worked. Overall only about 6 people joined MBB in that year so we were not a great group for university placement stats! I joined a local bank in strategy and then applied to BCG & McKinsey a year later just as Michael had suggested, getting into both. I enjoyed the diligence and careful planning to find a way around problems.

Did the program meet your expectations? If yes, how?

The program exceeded my expectation on every level. Michael had super techniques to learn cases, estimation and brainstorming. I think I was the only person in my group practicing brainstorming and estimation cases. My case study partners smirked when I mentioned this to them. I must admit, I felt slightly stupid being the black sheep in the group. Michael still pushed for me to master this area and ensured I would be a guru on the basics.

Michael also seemed to have detailed knowledge on the placement rates at my school and the schools of my friends. Every time I mentioned a statistic he would correct me on the interpretation of the numbers. When I told him “Ivey was a strong consulting placement school” he said it depends on how you define “strong.” He was right. Ivey does not place as many people as I thought.

That is the importance of reading the details and not starring starry-eyed at the brochures a school sends out. I was also super-keen for Toronto and he told me to forget it. My profile would not fly because Toronto has very narrow criteria and I would be better off in London, Dubai or New York, given my background. When I started applying Michael pinpointed the partners in New York I should approach since he considered them friendlier.

I expected good case feedback and got a whole lot more. Far above my modest expectations

What was the most important learning’s from the program?

Right at the beginning Michael told me to ignore rumors and corridor chatter among my friends.

“Every year’s class seems to think they have discovered a new way to handle cases or discovered some new change in the recruitment process.”

It was very hard to do so. Ivey is a small program so everyone spends all their time together. This was even worse around July when the school was arranging trips to the consulting offices in downtown Toronto. How do you avoid rumors during a 2 hour bus ride?

Everyone I spoke to told me my idea of joining a bank and applying later was a bad idea, including my career counselor at Ivey, who on to start his own case interview training firm. I was apprehensive and I sent Michael a few emails asking him if he was sure this would work. I got a short one line email stating every solution for a client is unique and he is sure this is the best path for me. So much for trying to calm my anxieties!

Another great learning was selecting courses for grades. It never occurred to me that I should focus on grades and ignore the analytic subjects. I had a fairly large group of students looking at the consulting electives and another group trying to take as many quantitative subjects as possible, even through their grades were suffering.

Michael made me understand that consulting firms define analytic skills as reasoning and not math. I can only imagine how many people hurt their chances by misunderstanding this point. I would have helped my colleagues on this point but no one in my class wanted to listen to this novice!

Michael talked a lot about business judgement and I never thought about it until I made some embarrassing assumptions on cases. I was given a list of journals and magazines to read to improve my knowledge. I found it interesting that with all the useful case techniques I was learning, it would not matter if my assumptions were way off – I would not get the offer. I suppose the one advantage I had was pushing my interviews back, which gave me more time to read and prepare.

Do you feel the program provided an advantage for you versus your own/other preparation? If so, in what way?

If I look at the preparation of my colleagues, it was the blind leading the blind. Even with all the material on the internet and books and many other things, it was useful to have someone experienced guiding me through the process. I would have never thought up my strategy into BCG unless Michael had developed it for me. It was just too ridiculous in my opinion. Compared to what I had and would have done, this program pushed me all the way to the top.

As a foreign student in Canada, I found the culture at the school to be very abrasive, rude and almost poisoned. There was no team work, no help among students and fake leadership with everyone plunging ahead to get attention. It was like high school with the cool kids and the not-so-cool kids. Really nice people were bullied in teams and some just broke down. Those from Canada seemed to be more vocal than those from other countries where the culture was more reserved – like my own. So I ended up being pushed around a lot and it helped to have Michael teach me how to respond to these problems.

Can you recall any memorable moments?

There were many memorable moments –certainly more than I can remember. The Russian visa case was the very first case we did and that was stunning in its simplicity.

Michael wanted to prove to me that all the online material I was using to study estimation questions was wrong and that everyone was doing it wrong. He asked me to calculate the number of visas issued by the US embassy in Moscow and I arrived at some absurd answer like 400,000 per year. He then showed me a different way to do it and arrived at an answer of 20,000. The difference was night and day and the rules he used were so elegant and simple. At that point I stopped practicing with my Ivey colleagues – why give away the state secrets when you don’t have to?

What would you like changed in the program?

Michael should consider having his firm host live training in major business schools. I am sure many people would sign up for this superb service and I could see enormous value in spending a day with the Firmsconsulting coaches. The clients benefit, Firmsconsulting benefits and the school benefits from this model. I attended another training program in Toronto but I think Firmsconsulting has better material and they should get it out as quickly as they can.

Do you believe your coach was effective?

Michael is/was my guru! We speak often and I continue to benefit from Michael’s guidance. He always thinks very carefully before providing feedback and his suggestions are usually correct. I used Firmsconsulting during my first 6 months at BCG and found the advice perfect to set me apart from the other consultants.

I found that Michael cared about my needs and did not drop me even though my choice of school and difficulty at handling the course load were my own challenges. He took on the burden of finding a way around the problem. I am grateful for that and no one else would have done that.

The best use of Michael’s time is discussing career strategy and life strategy. I cannot say this more strongly, but Michael is one of the wisest people I have ever met. He really should write a book, because nothing he says can be found anywhere. It is such clever material.

Do you personally believe the sessions were tailored for your own development?

Yes, I explain this when I describe the plan developed to delay my entry into consulting and move into banking first.

What are your thoughts on using former McKinsey/BCG worldwide practice leaders to coach clients?

Such a good idea! The fact that Firmsconsulting only uses ex-partner is what drew me to them and this increases the prestige factor of the firm – that and the scary entry requirements. Waiting for my Firmsconsulting admit reminded me of waiting for my MBA admit. The similarities are uncanny.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I enjoyed all my interactions with Firmsconsulting and look forward to keeping a close relationship. I am always happy to help with this great business and will wait for further guidance.

For non-clients, we also have 250+ open podcasts and 100+ quarterly articles.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

My Michael Moment happened after my first try at MBB. I applied to all three firms and secured interviews at all three, but did not make it past the final round.

I was obviously tired and frustrated. Bitter would be a better word since my class mates got in and they were poorly prepared relative to myself – my opinion but I think it is true. Michael’s first response was to brush off the failure and say we needed to regroup for the full-time hiring. I liked that he did not quit and pushed me to fix my development areas over the summer.

I am pretty sure if Michael showed any hesitation about my skills, I would have quit at that point. This story does not end with me getting into MBB in September. It is not that kind of happy ending, but it is very happy. Michael taught me not to quit and to think very carefully about what I wanted to achieve.

I still worked with Michael but we focused on investment banking and I ended up getting a coveted offer from one of the leading bulge-bracket M&A firms. In the economic environment at the time, that was more prestigious than securing an MBB role and Michael’s knowledge about corporate finance strategy was a big reason I secured the role. In one call we spent the entire session discussing the mechanics of a LBO model and a real world example which he knew very well. So I became adept, by mimicking Michael, at discussing financial arcana with practical examples. I just copied his style.

I am happier in Ibanking since I feel my technical financial skills coupled with the strategy skills Michael taught me has made me indispensable to my Managing Director. I don’t build models all day long but join dinners to discuss the actions the client should take. I have a very indispensable skill set of complex financial analyses, excellent strategy skills and good communication from the training.

That points me well above my peers. Thanks Michael.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

I have many great moments of working with Michael but the most far-reaching moment occurred when I received offers from McKinsey and a Fortune 500 company to join as a strategy manager.

I had been a Senior Consultant at Deloitte S&O in London and was wrapping up my MBA. I thought the decision was a no-brainer. All my friends were high-fiving me for getting into McKinsey – it was a bad year for recruiting and only a few people got in.

Michael provided a new perspective for me. He pointed out that by going to McKinsey as an associate I was actually taking a step back because I had already been the Deloitte equivalent in a fairly good office. He also showed me – which he proved via a simple LinkedIn search while sharing screens – that the role I was offered as strategy manager was something I may or may not get after McKinsey, and if I did, it could only happen after spending about 2 or 3 years as an associate.

He basically said that the strategy manager role is the role people take after working at McKinsey for a few years and I was being offered it right now. He said that choosing McKinsey only made sense if I wanted to stay there for many years, because I was being offered a short-cut to get into corporate and eventually join line management. Something I would eventually need to do after McKinsey.

Turning down McKinsey was very hard, but I trusted Michael and believe I made the right decision because ex-McKinsey associates now report to me and I am on track for a senior management role in the next 6 months. Thanks for always bucking the trend Michael. I can always count on you to challenge me.

We have published the most useful client feedback. Our commitment to confidentiality prevents us from disclosing the identity of our clients and other confidential information, and we may alter details to prevent such disclosure. Some client feedback may be lightly edited for grammar, spelling or prose, though we never alter or remove any information. Clients in our consultants coaching program are forbidden from sharing sensitive client data with us.

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