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9 Consulting Industry

Session 9: Debrief

No matter how many times we implore a candidate to ask questions or to simply ask for advice, being under pressure to learn as much as possible, they struggle to do this in the coaching sessions. To rectify this we regularly set up debriefing sessions which have no agenda.

It is just a chance for the coach and candidate to get together and talk about anything. It is a chance for the coach and candidate to bond, and for the candidate to get more comfortable talking to a former consulting partner. In a sense, level the relationship to that of peers. We can talk about anything here, from the candidate’s current job, to their internship, or even the coaches’ own experiences.

Candidates can ask for these sessions whenever they would like to. We encourage it and track the questions asked, points made and ease of the candidate. Candidates never receive feedback on these debriefing sessions but we use it to assess their preparation. We want them to come out of their shell. We find providing feedback forces candidates to not be as candid – we definitely want to avoid this.

We find these sessions to be incredibly helpful to the candidate. We discuss the culture of the firms, business models, sample engagements etc., and start developing the candidate’s spike. Things the candidates are unlikely to find on forums but are really useful to shaping their decisions. We also always pivot between our partner-view and view from when we were younger associates, to provide anecdotes or explain concepts.

It should come as no surprise that we place calculated pressure on candidates to succeed. It is important that Samantha is not just able to handle cases in a soft-warm environment. Not all interviewers are friendly, and clients on engagements are often far from nice. It is important to us that she can handle really tough cases in a simulated environment.

Our standard technique to apply pressure is to use a scalpel and pin-point all critical errors. We do this in a very friendly way as well. It is an unusual way to apply pressure, but can be intimidating. Candidates get thrown-off by this technique since they assume a “tough-case” applies to just the tone of the discussion or the demeanour of the interviewer. It does not. We need to take the time to reinforce to Samantha that this is just a technique to help her manage her confidence in cases, and she needs to not be swayed by it. She must handle it since it is a test of her skills.

We also always discuss communication with non-English speaking students. Great communication never ever implies having perfect or even good English. When we say great communication, we mean a candidate getting across her ideas, even if the wording is not fantastic. The presence of logic is most important. As well, having the confidence to speak with weaker English is a significant signal of maturity.

With the resume now done, LinkedIn profile ready, and Samantha’s spike known, we encourage her to begin networking, but only with senior people. Networking with senior people shows confidence and leads to results. We do not encourage our candidates to network with junior people for a host of reasons: general lack of influence, relatively poorer understanding of consulting and sometimes unwillingness to help – this is a generalization since many younger consultants will be very knowledgeable and helpful. For female candidates, we present very specific guidance when networking with other females.

We are also very careful to keep the networking objectives focused on building respect and not appearing desperate. Timing and poise are important. It is expected we will brief Samantha before her first few networking calls/coffee/lunches she arranges and will rely on her to let us know when this happens. Usually, it means quick coaching calls anywhere from the night before to 30 minutes before a networking event. In the most extreme case, a candidate once contacted us between his interviews while waiting in the McKinsey interview room. We do a few of these to help a candidate prepare, before they feel comfortable to handle them alone.

Naturally, a networking call is a little like a simple fit interview. In some case, it can be a very tough fit interview where a partner will ask “why do you think you would be a good fit for the firm.” It is therefore vital to prepare well. We expect candidates to immediately begin working on their fit responses and loading practice podcasts for our review. We can then improve their answers iteratively at least to the point where they are ready for networking calls.

Like the cover letter, we expect this process of loading podcasts – receiving feedback – adjusting response – loading podcasts to continue over the next few months while the cover letter and case training continues. Attempting to address fit at the end will be too late and will not help the networking process. Despite what most candidates think, the vast majority fail to obtain offers due to poor communication. This is best addressed through communication coaching both in fit and case training.

To build confidence, we use a counter-intuitive strategy of selecting the networking targets.

No case preparation is required for this session, but candidates should take the time to ask useful questions or discuss material they may not have fully understood from a prior session.

In the session descriptions which follow, we are using one description for 4 different candidates. Yet candidates do not perform the same, and while the descriptions are mostly accurate, there will be some differences as a few cases are brought forward, others moved back or candidates fail to prepare adequately. While these differences are minor, they sometimes occur.

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