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BCG & Bain turned down by Brazilian client

A female client turned down all the interviews from BCG, Bain, Booz and Roland Berger in the worst recession in recent Brazilian memory and takes on an investment banking role at Goldman Sachs. This is her story as recounted in her words.

“I turned down the interviews from BCG et al was because I thought the consulting firms were just so arrogant. I mean these guys came to my school cocktail events and did not even want to be there. They had these fake smiles and gave fake answers. And they were just so rude and misleading. I don’t have a green card. So don’t lead me on with interviews and then ding me in the final round.

Just be honest up front. I just could not do it anymore. The interviews were usually [with] weak first-year associates who were in my position just 9 months ago! And they did not even know their cases well. I worked in management consulting as an analyst. I know the game and what is the lifestyle. I did not need these boring and lame stories to mislead foreign students and bolster turnout.

I actually believed Accenture and turned down a Morgan Stanley cocktail event to attend the Accenture event. That was the worst decision I ever made. I checked with 4 Accenture recruiting managers if my lack of a green card would be a problem and everyone said it would be fine. Then, after a final round where I was told I “I was a superstar,” they declined me since I was not a US citizen.

That was the last straw for me. I was so disgusted, I withdrew from my other interview invites and just went with the bankers. I went to business school adamant I would enter management consulting. I was shocked by the poor value system in the US. I even heard one interviewer say, “Goddamit, that girl is hot,” and he was not even out of sight, and I could hear him.

I sometimes clearly felt people read my resume and just invited me to look at me. It was demeaning. One interviewer told me he liked my accent and then wanted to discuss my prior career. I walked down a ramp. That was it. There was not much to discuss. When it comes to arrogance, consultants are worse than bankers!”

Alanna, delivers some strong words and feedback here. I wanted to add some commentary for context and feedback by touching on the highlighted points above. I do not agree with all of Alanna’s interpretation, but I do understand why she may have interpreted her experience as she did.

There is no like-for-like comparison: Alanna is not making a like-for-like comparison, to her disadvantage. Within that, she is making three mistakes.

First, because she has consulting experience in Brazil, she is able to understand more about management consulting than her MBA peers, who likely have no experience. Therefore, she is able to know when something is not realistic or is mere marketing spin. At least, what she thinks is marketing spin based on her experience.

If she had worked in investment banking for a year or two, it is highly conceivable she would see the investment banking presentation through this fresh pair of eyes and also think it was fake or misleading. Therefore, she is more critical on management consulting because she can be, but is not equipped to be critical on investment banking. The investment banking presentations may be just as bad, though, she just cannot see it.

It is like the first time you date someone. You pretty much believe everything they say. By the 10th person you date and the experience you gain, you are far more critical and, hopefully, do not fall for the spin.

Second, Alanna forgets she is not the target audience of the elite firms. McKinsey, BCG et al do not focus on hiring ex-consultants from other firms. They do not tailor their presentations, discussions and recruiting to this group. They prefer recruiting employees who are not ingrained in the cultures of the other firms.

Therefore, it is very possible, the presentation was not appealing to her since it was not meant to be appealing to her.

It is like an avid Rugby fan watching a Hannah Montana concert. If you asked for his feedback, he would probably hate it. That does not mean the target audience hated the concert.

Third, Alanna talks about lame and misleading stories, yet she does not provide any examples. From my experiences as a partner recruiting at business school, I do know that almost 100% of students want to hear stories about the analyses and analytic skills. When we talk about values, culture and the client’s interests, they feel it is “lame” and misleading. In fact, they frankly cannot believe it.

The presentations at McKinsey, for example, may very well have been poor in that year, but it is hard to see how BCG, Bain and McKinsey were all so poor at the very same time. When everything unrelated seems wrong, and you are the only constant in that unrelated set of circumstances, the problem is usually not the circumstances.

99% of people trying to join McKinsey and BCG or trying to compete against McKinsey and BCG frankly refuse to believe the source of their competitive advantage is their culture and values. These two core attributes are the cause which leads to the highly analytic work. Yet, most people trying to copy the highly analytic work only.

That is like trying to replicate a Ferrari and ignoring the engine. No matter how good it looks, the core is missing.

Weak 1st year students: If I called a 1st-year associate weak, I would have a rational basis for doing that since I was a partner. I can make those comparisons. Again, Alanna does not provide many examples for us to compare so I can only speculate. Though I can speculate three things clearly.

First, how does Alanna know they are weak if she is not yet a consultant at the firm and therefore not trained to understand what makes a good consultant, let alone a good interviewer? Again, she is applying her frame of reference from her past employer who may very well have taught her the wrong skills or wrong value system.

She is applying this expectation of what makes a good consultant to the interviewer, and judging him/her on this, and her expectation may be wrong.

A classic example of this is political elections. We always want someone with “experience” because we have no way of judging someone without experience. Remember that junior Senator from Illinois, with no experience and black heritage?

There was time almost no one thought he could win because he did not fit our preconceived notion of what success should look like.

Before he came along, all we knew is that you had to have tremendous experience, be part of the establishment, generally white to become a president.

A person’s frame of reference is usually their greatest hurdle to success. There is reason it is called a frame. It is usually tough and constrictive, like a psychological prison cell.

Second, to what extent is Alanna angry that her past experience is not counted and she is almost repeating things. She focuses extensively on the words “1-st year” “9 months in my position” which implies that she assumes given this person’s similarity to her, they could not judge her skills. There may be some truth in that, but she should give some clear examples of why she believes this versus focusing on age and timing issues.

This is a little like dismissing a CEO because he is 39, merely because he looks too young. Agism is still discrimination.

We do that all the time. There are too many examples of where we judge someone on superficial factors, and because we have pre-judged them we do not open ourselves to listening to their ideas and judging the ideas on their merit.

Think about this, how many times have you considered someone unimpressive simply because they did not go to an Ivy-League or equivalent school? And because of this, you automatically dismiss their ideas.

Third, I will throw this out there, and probably be attacked, but my feeling is that Alanna is also upset that since she was a senior consultant in her previous firm she should be considered for manager in McKinsey and BCG.

This would also explain some of her comments. Because she does not understand what McKinsey and BCG are looking for, and their approach to development, she feels slighted to join the firm at the same level she had before her MBA. She expected her MBA would position her for better things.

My guess is that this is the main problem.

An example of this is purely picking jobs based on the title. Weaker firms typically inflate titles. They do this so employees take the role, for a present lower salary, thinking that the better-sounding title will allow them to get a better future salary when they leave the firm.

Titles mean little. Make sure you understand the demands of the role, expectations etc. Make decisions based on this foundation.

Reasons for being declined: Without a doubt, Accenture is wrong if they have a firm policy of not hiring those without a Green Card, and took her through the interview process.

That said, they do not have a firm policy. “Firm” here refers to the ambiguity of the policy versus being a company policy. It is a soft policy. Accenture interviews non green-card holders in the hopes that someone is so good and so unique that they can waive this requirement. And they have done that. In fact, in Alanna’s graduating class in her school in that year Accenture made offers to two foreigners.

We know this as a fact since those two foreigners were also clients.

Now, for the main insight. Firms rarely tell you the real reason they were declined. There are many reasons for this. Legal reasons are one of them, and usually the main reason. It is better for a firm to provide a safe reason than to provide a reason that can be open to litigation.

Simple statistics would indicate this is true. Of the thousands of MBAs who interview not a single one will receive the following feedback for being declined:

– Mentally unstable.

– Very aggressive behavior.

– Difficult personality.

We know many people have these problems but the fact that no one gets this feedback tells us that firms do not want to open themselves to litigation.

In fact, some of the behaviour above can only be diagnosed by a trained clinician and a firm putting this feedback in writing, opens itself to extensive litigation since the interviewers are probably not trained clinicians.

Firms give misleading feedback for more benign reasons. Maybe the interviewer was not paying attention in the interview and therefore did not know what to write. Maybe Alanna’s performance was so bad that it was easier to give this reason versus typing up a page of feedback. Maybe Alanna’s performance was so good that it was a gut-feel decision to go with someone else versus her. How can they write “gut-feel” as a reason?

Maybe she lacked “core” experience? What is core? How do you define it? Is it an absolute or relative term?

Terms like “core” and “gut-feel” may and have been hauled before a US State Supreme Court as a reason females are being discriminated against in a case involving a McKinsey consultant in Texas. Ambiguity is a tort-lawyers dream.

My guess is that Accenture gave this reason because it was easy to provide it. It cannot be debated by anyone since it is a fact.

That girl is hot: Okay, there is no way to interpret this accept that it was wrong. It should not have happened and it is not allowed. It is unprofessional and inappropriate. Even if Alanna was flirting with him, a possibility, the interviewer should not have said this.

The bottom line is to be very careful when you read interview feedback from candidates. The candidate may very well be right, the truth is more likely that they think they are right, but have failed to present the entire picture.

This does not diminish the way Alanna feels, and she may very well be right, but we have to remain open to the possibility of alternate interpretations.

Image from Marcos Leal “Ponte Estaiada – São Paulo – Brazil” under Creative Commons.

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