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This article is a discussion with a reader of our site, an experienced IT executive, on his journey to BCG. Italic sentences are from Firmsconsulting.

Thanks for maintaining such superb information at your site and allowing potential consultants to ask questions!

I tried to look if this question was answered in your forum but could not find it hence the question. The question is representative of many experienced professionals from top IT consulting firms who are looking to make a career change. I would like to mention that these firms also derive 5% of their revenues from management consulting, examples being Infosys, TCS, IBM, Cognizant, Wipro.

The type of consulting work done at these firms is totally different from McKinsey, BCG or Bain. Even where you are doing IT strategy, the technique, values and approaches you use are totally different. They are not comparable at all.

I am currently employed with one of these firms as a business consultant. Now Accenture, Deloitte, E&Y and KPMG also have advisory services/management consulting arm which is as big as their core audit or IT services.

My first question is what is the difference in recruitment methods in the BBM + other top pure consulting firms and the firms noted above?

The recruitment methods are different because BBM does different kind of work, hires different kinds of people and conducts IT strategy work in a different way. BBM is looking for very talented, quantitatively strong people who have a track record of excellence. When you are young, that means graduating with distinction from a good undergraduate program and a good MBA school. In older candidates they want to see rapid progress, demonstrated understanding of your field, and demonstrated ability to solve problems using the BBM approach. So recruitment is heavily focused on demonstrated competencies: strong case, fit and sector knowledge, as well as strong profile, image and communication skills.

Do we have to prepare our cover letter and resume in the same way for Accenture, Deloitte, E&Y and KPMG management consulting as we would do for BBM + other top pure consulting firms.

If you mean write it like the Harvard, Wharton, Ivey, Kellogg etc. MBA format, then I would say yes. Same with the cover letter. You don’t have to network if you have a very strong background. A good resume and cover letter will get you an interview provided you apply for the appropriate role.

My next question is whether I am eligible and appropriate for applying to BBM? I ask this because I have an MBA from India, hence no GMAT/SAT scores. But I am working in US for the last 4 years in (overall 8 years of experience) in IT business consulting where I am often a consumer of the recommendations of these top consulting firms. I am now a permanent resident of US and would like to apply for consulting firms in their US offices.

Your GMAT score, undergraduate schools, MBA school name, grades, actual work experience etc. are important to know to answer this question. I cannot do this on the information you provide. Age is also important. Once the “paper” screening is done, it is also not enough. I would need to speak to you to see how well you communicate and present yourself. So my advice is to get someone in consulting to provide this feedback. Though, I will point out that the more usual your profile, the more useful it would be to get feedback from partners who are better equipped to find value in such unusual profiles.

I tried to network my way to get an interview and the biggest challenge is on how to convince them that we do a very similar work to management consulting and regularly, and at the senior levels of managing client relations for top Fortune 500 companies.

Right here is the biggest problem. You do not do similar work. Trying to convince them you do is a direct indication to BBM that you are unwilling to be retrained and unwilling to learn new techniques. If you think your work was the same as BBM, why would you be willing to make the effort to learn? That is the biggest fear when hiring an experienced executive. When considering experienced hires, the main concerns are energy levels and the ability to quickly learn the right approach to conduct engagements. So going with this approach of trying to convince them you already do the right work is going to fail. Better to explain you have a good background and willing/able to learn the BBM approach to solving problems.

They seem to view our role as more technical.

That is because the work is more technical – and that is perfectly fine. Embrace your strength versus trying to massage it into something else! Of course Tata is trying to leverage their programming strength as a differentiator into consulting work. I have spoken to well over 200 IT professional trying to make the jump into BBM. All think they understand IT strategy, but some really do not. It takes a LOT of time re-educating and training these professionals to get ready for a BBM interview. One very popular video we have is “What is IT strategy?” and when IT professionals see this, then only do they realize why BBM does things differently and why their own work is so different. The video is a jarring eye-opener. We prepared this for the CIO (one of our corporate clients) of a media company in Spain who came from Accenture as a senior manager equivalent. It was a learning experience for him as well, and totally changed his view on his role. It is difficult to know the difference until you see it. BBM work is so different it requires a fundamental shift in the way you think and approach problems.

To break this barrier can we use quotes of independent research firms like Forrester and Gartner who are saying “MBA consultants at company X” are their prime differentiator and excellence in the resume footnotes?

No, that will not work. BBM is all about demonstrated competency. Quotes will not help. You will need to demonstrate you understand the difference between your previous experiences and demonstrate you have the skills to be at BBM.

Let me know how can I take my best shot while applying and interviewing for BBM firms.

First, your mindset needs to change. You need to understand how the work is different and how much more you need to learn and be comfortable with this. Last year, we placed about 28 people in McKinsey BTO. All very capable people, but they also needed to make this jump. As well, rewrite your resume.

I think my odds are higher with Accenture and Deloitte because they have a technology flavor. But If I go for Accenture, I read in your blog that I cannot go to BBM firm – is that true and why is that?

The more time you spend at Accenture, the more ingrained you become in the Accenture culture. The more ingrained you are in the Accenture culture, the less easy it is to relearn the BBM culture. That is why spending more time at Accenture makes it harder to break into BBM. In fact, the largest problem when dealing with E&Y, Deloitte (to some extent), PWC and Accenture clients is teaching them to speak and write English. They tend to use excessive jargon in their work – jargon which no one understands. Take 10 Accenture IT strategy resumes and count the number of times the word “transformation” appears. I am going to guess about 20 times! Transformation has a special meaning at Accenture, Deloitte and even Capgemini. Accenture people forget this and use it. If the word has different meaning what does it really mean? Write in English!

What’s my best course action here?

Rewrite your resume in the Harvard format, get someone to explain the differences between BCG/McKinsey IT strategy work and your work, and then prepare a strategy of NOT trying to show you already know everything. It must be a strategy of demonstrating you know enough to make the transition to BBM, understand the differences and willing/able to learn the new way of conducting IT strategy work. And do not give up or feel worried about my blunt feedback. I think it better to get this feedback now before you start preparing for interviews and realize things are much harder than you anticipated. McKinsey BTO is competitive but I would strongly urge you to try and join. Just do it.

Michael,

I listened to your podcasts about McKinsey, BCG et al versus the so-called second-tier of Deloitte, Accenture etc.

My focus is IT strategy and I have offers from both McKinsey and Deloitte IT in the North-Eastern USA. I am obviously keen to take McKinsey but I have had coffee chats with the partners from Deloitte and seem to be doing much more strategic and exciting work than McKinsey. The people are also great and went to some amazing schools. The Deloitte recruiting partner is also Harvard alum and I cannot see any differences between her and the McKinsey partners

Maybe you could shed some light on how this decision should be made?

Alex

***

Hi Alex,

Thank you for your email.

I am going to respond to your email in several ways. First, I am going to walk you through an IT strategy engagement which I led as a Principal when I was at BBM. As always, expect lots of details. Second, I want to talk through the differences between BBM and Deloitte on IT strategy and finally, in third place, I want to offer some questions you can ask Deloitte and McKinsey to expose some of the differences I will explore.

In general, it is better not to use the term tier-2 since it is derogatory and the differences between the firms are not that one is good or bad, they just do things in different ways.

I led a few IT strategy projects when I was a principal and worked on one both as a consultant and engagement manager. Moreover, when I left BBM as a principal both Deloitte and Accenture offered me full partner positions. Deloitte S&O designates their full partners as Principals, and I spent a good deal of time having discussions with the corporate strategy and IT strategy guys in the San Francisco think-tanks.

I declined for reasons I will explain and ended up taking over and managing a boutique strategy firm of 300 people across 14 offices, which we then grew and merged with a Fortune 500 company to serve as their internal strategy team.

When I ran the boutique firm, my strategy was to avoid China, USA and Europe. At the time everyone was smitten with China and wanted to be there. From my BBM time, I knew the economics of Chinese projects were not great and it would take an enormous amount of resources to build a presence in China. Resources a 300-person firm does not have, assuming they want to do great work, and really, was China going to disappear in 5 years? No. So we had time to get there.

My strategy was to target Central Asia for a variety of reasons.

First, I knew first hand that BCG was not as established in the region, which is a massive and highly fragmented region. Nor was McKinsey actively seeking to build a presence.

Second, it played to my and the boutiques strength in banking, utilities and resources.

Third, it was a very relationship-driven region where knowing someone could open more doors then having the right brand and I believed that was my strength and that of the other partners.

The reason I discuss Central Asia is because the IT strategy project I want to discuss is one I did in the region, while I was in BBM. It was for a large integrated power utility. Most of my IT strategy experience, not much might I add since I was in corporate strategy, was in utilities and banking so I will draw some lessons across sectors.

Overview of an IT Strategy Study

The context of IT strategy projects for large integrated utilities is sadly consistent around the world, though broadly different between developed and developing world utilities. We were brought in to help the national utility of a larger Central Asian country. It was a behemoth and moved like one. Some of those dreary offices also smelled like one. The integrated dinosaur pumped out 90% of the country’s electricity and 38% of the regions electricity.

With no plan in place, IT developed as crises appeared and 15 years later, when the new CEO decided to reorganize the company and pulled back the blinds on this department, he was surprised by what he found.

It had generation, transmission and distribution arms and operated coal, hydro and nuclear power plants. Most of the assets were antiquated and the last new facility had been built in the 1969 and one power plant actually stood incomplete having lost funding when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of the 1980’s. The problem at the company was that IT had evolved to respond to the needs of the utility. With no plan in place, IT developed as crises appeared and 15 years later, when the new CEO decided to reorganize the company and pulled back the blinds on this department, he was surprised by what he found.

First, no one could define the IT department. It did many things but no one person could explain what they were. There was no formal structure in place, no teams with designated roles and no formal leadership. The head of IT was a nice guy – how bad can a guy really be when he offers you vodka at every meeting – but he had no control over what he ran.

Second, the IT department ran the grid control for some of the southern power plants. Grid control is not an IT issue. It is an engineering problem managed by systems control specialists. In other words, where IT started and ended was not clear. This is a big problem since the competencies to manager IT systems are diametrically opposite to running systems control. Sadly, a common problem in just about every utility I have seen.

Third, IT did not have a budget. I unfortunately remember the agony of pushing the consultant leading this analysis to go out and build me a budget. It was hard and painful, working off data that just did not exist and needed to be constructed from invoices and payment improperly filed.

Fourth, like any aging asset, performance issues had slowly crept up over the last few years. They were now getting to be catastrophic. You had a situation where the engineers where blaming IT for the problem and IT agreeing. In one memorable case, the head of IT agreed their engineers were at fault for a distribution problem at a plant. How can IT possibly be responsible for an engineering problem at the plant? Even if by some strange accountability issue IT was managing this asset, they should have been doing so.

However, IT had no personnel at that plant and it was a maintenance issues on transformers. In effect, no one knew enough to call out the right people for right real issues and IT management seemed to be under siege and unwilling or unable to respond.

And if he refused to spend the money where they wanted it spent, he would not get it. So he ended up taking the money and spending it in an uncoordinated manner since the line divisions where uncoordinated.

Finally, fifth, IT was badly governed. The nominal head of IT was appointed by representatives from each of the line divisions. He had no budget and needed to get separate budget requisitions approved from each department. The man spent half his life trying to get $5,000 from person x, $2,000 from person y and $10,000 from person z just to buy proper equipment. And if he refused to spend the money where they wanted it spent, he would not get it. So he ended up taking the money and spending it in an uncoordinated manner since the line divisions where uncoordinated.

At the time, as a youngish principal, I took the assignment since I wanted to go to someplace very exciting, but also work under a senior partner who would afford me greater latitude to get things done. As a completely new client of the firm, I also saw it as a chance to do something truly unique, and that is rare in management consulting. Typically, principals work with clients where the senior partner has a long-standing relationship and much work has already been done for the client.

I was able to assemble my own crack team for the engagement; managers, associates and consultants I had used on many previous engagements and whom I had personally trained. I have very high expectations of people and train them well. Many, many partners would send people to work with me just to ensure they were well drilled on the core areas of management consulting.

The phrase “strategy boot camp” was used more than once and I will take that as a compliment. Yet, more than the basics, I trained people to be able to parachute in and hit the ground running. I am the kind of person who feels it is completely normal to call an associate at 3pm on a Saturday and have a 40 minute call about a piece of analyses. My team learned their phones can never be off – ever.

So, I had a great team and grand problem. Despite the size of this utility and the numerous issues at play, I summarized them down to the four above. The CEO had a list of 21 issues, but I felt many were derivatives of the same theme. Therefore I structured the team in the following manner:

Governance: we needed to get a handle for how the IT department was presently run and how it should be run. Governance is not a theoretical construct. Some refer to this work as organizational design, but to me, governance is a better word since one builds a structure to improve governance and results. This was a tough area of analyses as well since it required understanding the organizational structure, decisions required, processes used in the decisions and management of the department. I had a great consultant leading this: super friendly and super smart.

Financial analyses: it is rather impossible to develop any strategy without financial analyses. This was a tough stream as well. The company’s financial statements were an absolute mess. Numbers we wanted were just not available. Moreover, a lot needed to be done here. The financials for the department had to be constructed and analyzed.

Thereafter the financials needed to be benchmarked against peers and finally an IT investment process had to be developed. A really nice young lady from INSEAD was running with this whom I personally liked a lot, but from performance discussions, knew had had troubles on other engagements. I pretended like she was a star – it is amazing what people will do if they think you have high expectations of them. You over delivered on this and was a star in the study.

Strategy: it is unusual to have a work stream called strategy but I wanted to understand how the business strategy should pull the IT strategy. So I had this area led by a talented Wharton graduate who was also quite funny since he wore bow ties to the office. He had a tough job to do since the IT strategy could only be built to support the corporate strategy and he needed to flesh this out even though the CEO was not exactly sure what this could be, and it would likely even change over time. Not the easiest job in the world, and it lent itself to scope creep since the CEO could easily have asked him to help with the corporate strategy work. I had to step in a few times to prevent this, and of course, we did do the corporate strategy work shortly thereafter, which was a separate study.

Market analyses: was an area I insisted we have and have it well staffed. My belief was that there was layers of uncertainty we needed to pin down. Yes, the corporate strategy was fluid, but that corporate strategy was fluid because no one really knew what legislation was coming down the pipeline, who would be building station and how the market would be regulated.

We needed to understand this, and look at how other countries/utilities had evolved down the same path. It always shocks me how few people actually read the items on which they have emotional opinions. This was no different. In a think-tank of 12 PhD’s advising the CEO, not a single person had actually read the pending energy legislation, but of course, everyone had an opinion.

And then there was me. My strengths have always been communication skills, ability to know all the numbers and tie it to the big picture, an important skill discussed more here, and the ability to make friends with literally anyone. In fact, the firm used to send me into engagements where they were having difficulties with tough clients. I tended to have a way to bond with people, generally because I tend to leave my ego at the door and avoid judging people. Even when clients screamed at me, I would find a way to turn things around, quickly and painlessly. In fact, my closest friends today tend to be clients who were painfully difficult in the past.

On any engagement I always find out what the firm considers to be the best work ever done in that sector or function. I hunt down the study and people involved and make sure they spend time with my team and I discussing what had gone well or poorly in the previous study. No matter what people say, something always went wrong and I want to avoid that.

I then sit the team down and we decide how we will raise the bar on this earlier study. It is not about doing more, but about the impact we will have. Sometimes we fail to achieve this goal and fail miserably. Yet, the bar has been set so high that even failure looks like success to someone looking in.

Unlike most principals, I tend to take a very active role upfront. I spend a lot of time with each team member discussing their plans, setting clear expectations and reviewing work. I recalled my own experiences with partners who would only give you time after you had reached a roadblock or failed. I did not want that to happen to my team for several reasons. If an engagement is set up well, the rest will go smoothly, thereby freeing me up to focus on the strategy issues.

You also cannot plan everything in a study. You should always expect that something will happen for which you have never planned and discipline early in the engagement creates additional time later to deal with these issues. Finally, the best way to teach someone is to directly work with them. My role was to develop managers, associates and consultants and that was best done via personal interaction.

Differences between McKinsey and Deloitte

In talking through how I ran this engagement, I want to draw contrasts to what I saw as the differences at Deloitte and Accenture when I discussed a leadership role at these firms. I will draw a few contrasts to Accenture as well since they were doing a system implementation pilot at the utility. Though, I am wary of drawing too many conclusions from just this one Accenture engagement.

There are many significant differences between Deloitte/Accenture and McKinsey et al which are covered extensively in previous posts, podcasts and videos. I will merely focus on the IT strategy differences here, though they will be similar in other parts of the organization as well.

The first difference relates to the way people had been trained. While I knew most of my team well, the young lady leading the financial analyses was new to me and from the French office. She had worked in different regions, sectors and with different partners. She had completely different experiences from me. However, when we sat down to discuss the financial analyses; it was as if we had known each other for years. She spoke the same language, had the same approach to breaking down the financials, was easily able to brainstorm out the issues and construct a rough storyboard all in a 60 minute meeting over coffee.

This is a huge difference between McKinsey and BCG versus most other firms, especially Deloitte and Accenture. Consultants are trained to the same exacting standards worldwide. This makes it ridiculously easy to assemble a team and send them in. They are trained to work together seamlessly thereby increasing the international staffing on engagements, and reducing conflicts between offices.

Ironically, when he said firm, he meant just the US partnership. As a federation of practices which are legally independent, Deloitte is unable to enforce the same standards across regions, and this leads to differences in training, expectations and performance: perfect setting for the second difference.

On the other hand, I recall a Deloitte Principal clearly telling me that they were not keen to pursue work in Mexico, from California, since the Mexican Technology team was not as well trained in that region and it would hurt the firm’s reputation to do the work.

Ironically, when he said firm, he meant just the US partnership. As a federation of practices which are legally independent, Deloitte is unable to enforce the same standards across regions, and this leads to differences in training, expectations and performance: perfect setting for the second difference.

The second difference is that technology at Deloitte is just one arm of Consulting. Deloitte S&O, the rough equivalent to BCG, is another and separate arm run completely differently. At BCG, all consultants are hired in the same manner and to the same standards, and trained in the same way. They are first and foremost, a BCG consultant. Specialization be damned.

So let’s play this out. When I, a corporate strategy principal, meets an IT-sector focused manager, I do not treat him differently. I treat him the same because I know he had to meet the same hiring standards as everyone else, he was trained the same as everyone and he could easily be on a strategy engagement but chose to specialize in IT. There is mutual respect.

Do you have any idea how long it takes someone to understand hypotheses, decision trees etc.? Why would a technologist who does not even need to know these things, respect and or even follow them?

Deloitte S&O has its own hiring approach which is broadly case-based and sometimes involves written cases as well. It is a measured process. Deloitte Technology has its own recruitment process which wildly differs across regions and even within the US. Technology is bringing in coders who sit for weeks on end writing code and at the same time they bring in more general IT specialist. The former is absolutely important but is not the attribute of a successful management consultant. And yet these two wildly differing groups are expected to not only work together seamlessly, but also respect each other. It does work out that way, even though I think Deloitte has made a lot of strides in this area, and some firms like McKinsey and Booz have actually tried to emulate them in this regard.

Imagine putting these two groups together to work on an IT strategy engagement. Do you have any idea how long it takes someone to understand hypotheses, decision trees etc.? Why would a technologist who does not even need to know these things, respect and or even follow them? And let’s be honest, most MBA’s have a huge ego which cost them anywhere from $200K to $400K to attain, depending on the school they attended. How in the world will they even respect the important strengths the technologists will bring to the table?

I sat in such discussions with the technologists and MBA’s and I thought I had stepped into a time machine and was back in high school with the different cliques. This brings me to the third point.

Deloitte and Accenture believe they are better than BCG and McKinsey on IT strategy because they have these technical skills. It is their belief and it is no point debating with them since they have a religious fervor about it. Their major point of differentiation is that they can physically code, understand hardware implementation, therefore understand the technical/implementation issues and this makes them better at IT strategy.

There are three fundamental problems with this line of reasoning.

First, technologists cannot always do strategy since they are not trained to do so. I believe history is replete with such examples. I did not have to work in a utility or bank to do corporate strategy work at a bank.

Second, having experience in an IT issue merely means you were exposed to an idea. It does not mean you can analyses and develop a concept. The latter skill is far more important since all clients are different and one should never apply solutions from prior clients.

Third, I have seen the Deloitte S&O and Technology teams “work” together. It is a symphony of cacophony and mistrust. They do not even work in the same room together.

When Deloitte says they can deploy combined strategy and technology skills for clients, let me translate what that means: they will place 1 or 2 business case analysts from S&O to develop the business case for a system implementation. A business case is not strategy. Moreover, I have yet to see such a business case team actually conclude there is no case for the system. There is inherent bias at times and I am sure lots of pressure to “sell” the more lucrative implementation work.

The fourth difference is the definition of IT strategy at Deloitte and Accenture. The first time I asked a Deloitte Senior Manager, over coffee and while I was exploring taking the role, to explain IT strategy he went into this long and confusing soliloquy involving several confusing charts, diagrams and explanations.

There is a simple, clean and crisp definition for IT strategy: it is the organizational structure, resources and skills needed by the IT department to explicitly help the company achieve its corporate strategy/objectives. You can add in processes if you want but I think we are then moving to operations.

The Accenture guys were no different.

Let’s be clear about this. There is a simple, clean and crisp definition for IT strategy: it is the organizational structure, resources and skills needed by the IT department to explicitly help the company achieve its corporate strategy/objectives. You can add in processes if you want but I think we are then moving to operations.

With that simple definition, IT strategy becomes ridiculously easy. Though, I was once told by an Accenture person that it was clear I was in corporate strategy, since my definition subsumes IT strategy to supporting the corporate strategy. In my mind, everything supports the corporate strategy, and if it does not, it should be changed, sold or fired.

Ironically, this painfully simple definition for IT strategy originates from an Accenture partner, who eventually went to Bain.

That said, he got the idea from an IT professor called Venkatraman who got the idea from IBM, who developed the idea from Cap Gemini Sogeti. Good ideas know no boundaries.

The fifth difference was alluded to earlier but I will explicitly state it here. If S&O and Technology cannot get along, how in the world can they work together seamlessly when they do not even speak the same language, or change tack as a team as the findings change. They cannot.

BCG teams work like a school of fish. They are so well trained that even though they may never agree everything up front, we will 9 times out of 10, move in the same direction when presented with data. Each area of analyses is feeding the other and updates must be communicated to allow each team member to adjust.

The idea of doing a business case which is never going to disqualify an IT implementation is now so common that even clients do not question it.

I recalled speaking to a technology senior manager explaining to me how easily Deloitte managed projects since he had 2 weeks to complete his systems study and then hand it to the S&O manager to put in his slides into the presentation. He had no hypotheses to work with, did not see any reason to update the project team often – which probably said something about the quality of his analyses – and did not believe anything needed to be changed in his work. No iterations, no storyboard, painful formatting and a final slide deck which looked like it came from two companies; it did – S&O and Technology.

Finally, I want to discuss conflicts. The idea of doing a business case which is never going to disqualify an IT implementation is now so common that even clients do not question it. They should. My problem is the business model. Implementation projects for Deloitte and Accenture pay far more fees than an S&O engagement would. S&O partners are remunerated on firm wide performance.

Finally, distinguish between what is strategic and what is strategy. Installing a sewage system in New York was a strategic decision by the then mayor to make the city more appealing vis-à-vis London. As strategic as this decision was, I think we can all agree that the installation itself was not strategy. It was engineering. Strategic projects are not strategy projects.

Why would they not recommend an implementation when not doing so will directly hit their pockets? Even if they could, would the technology partners allow it? Would the firm allow it? Would Deloitte S&O be willing to upset a client with the correct recommendation, at the risk of jeopardizing an IT implementation?

Things to ask an interviewer

When speaking to BCG, Deloitte, and McKinsey etc. people, it is wise to focus on a few questions:

• Where do alum’s typically end up when they eventually leave?

• Since I am a strategist, but just in IT for now, how often do I do strategy work in other areas?

• How are new consultants trained in hypotheses, brainstorming, storyboarding etc.?

• How do you ensure alignment with the technology teams who are not necessarily trained in hypotheses, brainstorming, storyboarding, but with whom we work?

Jeff, make a choice based on what you want to do in life in the long term. BCG and McKinsey are finishing schools for executives. Deloitte and Accenture are excellent at what they do, but do different things and teach you a different way to accomplish these tasks.

Finally, distinguish between what is strategic and what is strategy. Installing a sewage system in New York was a strategic decision by the then mayor to make the city more appealing vis-à-vis London. As strategic as this decision was, I think we can all agree that the installation itself was not strategy. It was engineering. Strategic projects are not strategy projects.

it professional consulting

An IT professional with 7 years of experience discusses the difference between IT strategy at Accenture, etc. and the work done at McKinsey BTO. He also comments on questions IT professionals and other industry candidates should ask themselves prior to going after consulting as well as the image and communication changes he is making.

I thought of putting together this post to help experienced IT professionals and other experienced candidates wishing to make a switch to management consulting.

As an IT professional, having spent about 7 years in the technology domain, my work involved implementing many packaged solutions, which are commonly termed as COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf Software). Most of these implementations were in fact a result of management consulting work streams although it was not always apparent.

There is a myth that technology implementation consultants are solving business problems where in effect what they do is implement an Enterprise Resource Planning, Customer Relationship Management, Business Intelligence or Data Ware House or similar software. There may be many instances of customized software that may be built to cater to business needs. Even though large technology firms such as Infosys, Cognizant, Accenture and the likes prefer to use technology implementation interchangeably with McKinsey BTO (Business Technology) type of work, this is not completely true.

In fact most of the firms mentioned above (including the others not mentioned) do up sell or cross sell technology implementation work in the guise of some high level consulting work. I have managed a few such large implementations and have worked with a couple of large consulting firms (implementation) as well on such projects and know it firsthand.

Solving business problems requires a very different mindset. As an aspiring management consultant I have realized that this skill is usually not inborn in everyone, although it can be developed like any other skill.

Many business school graduates from reputed schools end up working in technology implementation firms implementing the software or go in as business consultants implementing business processes, say for example inventory management or accounts receivables modules etc., but are they actually solving business problems? This is one question that they seldom ask of themselves.

There is another set of folks who have progressed and grown in their chosen industry and then decided to go to business school and switch to management consulting. Both sets of people need to understand that the mindset needed is very different and one needs to stop thinking, “I am an experienced IT professional (or another industry professional). I have xx years of IT (or any other industry) experience and can, therefore, switch over to management consulting and be treated at par with what I am doing now“.

I’d rather say they need to ask questions such as what sort of business issues have I helped solve given the experience I have. If the answer doesn’t lend itself to tangible responses, one needs to ask if she or he is willing to learn the skills of thinking like a management consultant and make the changes as needed.

ROCs (relatively older candidates) interviewing at BBM (BCG, Bain, McKinsey) tend to expect wide recognition for that which they have already accomplished. The calibration of their past achievements on the management consulting curve is a bit jarring. Most consulting firms generally are not as impressed with candidate’s achievements as the candidate thinks they should be. Is the ROC willing to accept this reality?

ROCs try to sell their experience versus their ability to logically analyze problems which are informed by their experience. This is particularly tough to swallow. One needs to learn how to solve problems like a management consultant. One, therefore, needs to ask if she or he can learn the core problem solving techniques and how to blend in one’s past experience.

ROCs think strategy is about ideas void of numbers. Strategy involves exceptionally thorough quantitative analyses. This is crucial. It requires back to basics knowledge of analyses and spreadsheets.

Most of consultants think strategy is all about high level talk and no in-depth analysis. I used to think the same until I decided to dive in and make the changes. Below are couple of questions IT professionals and other experienced candidates should ask prior to deciding to go after mangement consulting.

  • Can she or he be succinct and communicate with brevity?
  • Can one extract information and convert it to answer for the issues at hand?
  • Can one drill deeper into relevant issues and eliminate irrelevant information to arrive at possible solutions?
  • Can one disconnect from core industry specific jargon and simplify and communicate effectively?
  • Many people often ignore the fact that consulting firms often work in teams and one needs to ask questions such as – will I be liked?
  • Am I a person that my team members can spend hours with if and when stuck in an airport or a cab?
  • Do you have interesting stories to tell?
  • Are you humble enough?

There is a very interesting quote from an experienced management consultant who rightly said:

Many management consultants are into consulting by chance and they don’t know how they got there and still think that they are doing things right. It may be better to analyze oneself and gauge if you are suitable for such an undertaking versus just having a herd mentality. One needs to be genuinely interested to solve business issues“.

I’d urge IT professionals and other industry folks wishing to make a switch to management consulting to think about the subtler aspects as well. This is crucial as consulting firms do not wish to have senior executives interacting with someone who is not careful about these aspects.

I hope this helps clarify my thoughts on the many aspects an experienced IT professional who is considering consulting may have.

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Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?

This program was one of the most memorable experiences of my life. I have total admiration for Michael and he introduced me to Marvin Bower. Michael is the modern Marvin Bower. Values mean everything to him.

It was not always smooth sailing in the program but Michael and the team made a sincere effort to help me and they succeeded. There are many reasons why the program was pleasant for me but one reason stands out. I was not happy with my role at SAP and had quit. I had an MBA from a good school in the US, but was an Indian national and had never been able to break out of the technology field. I quit my job without telling Michael since I just could not think about going back into a technology role.

Michael did not agree with my decision but was very sympathetic to my personal and financial constraints. We would speak around my availability and I was also given many free sessions which generously helped me. I sincerely felt that Michael was committed to helping me succeed.

The McKinsey BTO action plan we developed was 100% focused on getting me a job within 2 months. We spoke every 2 days to ensure I could handle all the recruiter screening calls, the McKinsey alum mock interview and the final interviews.

Michael’s knowledge on IT strategy is good – much better than my own exposure at SAP – he could link operational, financial and strategy issues in a simple way. We spent an entire hour discussing an IT strategy project he had led – that was an amazing session!

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

My expectations were easily exceeded: both personally and professionally. I really mean that. I got into McKinsey BTO in a role which I know was being courted by well qualified colleagues at Microsoft and SAP. Michael taught me 2 very valuable techniques to develop BTO strategy engagements and his focus on values is evident from the very first discussion.

Michael is so friendly and you can discuss anything with him, but if you step out of line on ethics he will quickly and firmly bring you back in line. It was very interesting to see values in action in a professional services firm. I read about these things, but the Bower books is very abstract. You see it in action at FC.

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

I was impressed that Michael could solve such complex BTO type cases in such a lucid manner without having a strong IT background. This proved to me that knowledge in IT was useful, but an understanding of effective case solving techniques was a bigger competitive advantage.

A session which I enjoyed so much was when Michael showed me how the principles of operations could solve IT scheduling problems. I was blown away with the “Venkat” approach I was taught for BTO strategy cases. No one at SAP was using this. That was useful when I joined McKinsey. We use the same principles to tackle BTO issues.

Anyone who speaks to Michael knows that he is a highly effective communicator. I have since tried to emulate his precision and clarity of speech. It is easy to talk to Michael. He has a way of drawing you out and this is a skill I intend developing.

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

Yes. I searched everywhere for advice on McKinsey BTO and found none. I was applying for a tough role and struggled to prepare myself. If I was not working with FC I would be using the general advice on the internet. Having been through the process, I now know that would not have worked.

I may be very enthusiastic about this program, and I admit I may have missed better programmes on the internet, but the two FC BTO clients I managed to find also had good things to say. On the V-model I can easily say that is something very unique.

Can you recall any memorable moments?

There were lots of memorable moments. Michael’s advice on how to handle the recruiter, alum interview and final interviews were very unusual and I needed lots of guidance before I was willing to adopt his recommended strategy.

Michael basically pointed out where/how the alum and recruiter could and could not assess me. Michael’s suggestion was that I should not focus heavily on cases for the recruiter and McKinsey BTO alum since they were going to both check for my career intent and if I knew the basics of cases. Their sessions would not be tough for me.

I thought this was a dangerous strategy because if these screening interviews did not go well, everything was over for me. I trusted Michael and he was right on the mark. The recruiter asked a few questions about my background and focused on my expectations of the role. The interviewer asked me a simple healthcare profit case and was happy to see I knew how to structure it.

FC helped me focus for the main interviews and the delay ensured I “peaked” at the right time. A memorable moment but scary at the time.

What would you like changed in the program?

Michael and his team are exceptional and the most professional team I have ever met. I continue to use FC as my coaches after I joined McKinsey so I have no suggestions for the program. Keep up the excellent work and focus on values – the world needs more people like you.

Do you believe your coach was effective?

Michael is a phenomenal coach because he cares and knows what he is doing. After some hard sessions he would call me up on my mobile phone to make sure I was fine with everything and not disappointed with my performance. He showed an interest in my personal life and the quality of his advice only improved since I joined McKinsey.

Michael is a straight-shooter. He refused to tell me things which would make me happy. All his feedback was honest, direct – sometimes too direct – and very sincere. I always knew that no matter what someone told me in a practice session, I should check with Michael first and listen carefully to the feedback. Being an ex-partner he knew how to navigate the corridors and the advice was sometimes hard to swallow, but always right.

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

I don’t know about that. I know it was effective. Looking at the books I used and other websites I used, the FC advice is not what you find out there – it is unique. Though, I don’t know if this was unique to just me or all FC clients.

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

I am sure they will be just like Michael and this is good news for aspiring management consultants. I never got a chance to work with any of the senior partners but hope to get this opportunity as a consulting client.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you 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.

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