Editors Note: This is quite a special client. He was the first person from his school’s EMBA program to be placed at BCG and graduated from a non-target state school in North America. In terms of performance, through the course of the program he went from being a good candidate to arguably within the top-5 of all Firmsconsulting clients in terms of his skills, commitment and abilities. He had a flawless interview with practically no improvement areas suggested by the interviewers.
Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?
I was a non-target executive EMBA from a large North American public school targeting just BCG. I really enjoyed working with Michael over the course of two months. The program pushed me to improve every single aspect of my case skills, CV / CL and fit preparation. I am a type of person who loves criticism, because receiving it is the fastest way to grow, and Michael made sure to give lots of it!
Did the program meet your expectations? If yes, how?
I started the program with two expectations: receiving resume + cover letter support and becoming completely comfortable in doing cases so that I can go into the interviews with absolute confidence.
Michael helped me completely re-write my resume and bring out the most important and effective parts of my past experience. The process took more than 10 revisions, but it ultimately also allowed me to be very effective in the fit portion of the interview, because I was quickly able to answer the interviewer’s questions about my past experiences and answer the “so what?” aspect of it.
The case preparation was second to none. By the end of the program I was relaxed, confident and didn’t have too many doubts. I knew I would be able to handle almost anything that came my way. The cases I was given in my interview process seemed very easy, not because they were objectively easy, but because of Michael’s preparation.
What was the most important learning’s from the program?
Michael taught me something that no other program teaches: how to think and communicate like a consultant. He broke down the way one should do estimation questions, brainstorm, read exhibits, synthesize and answer fit questions. These basic essential skills are not taught (at least beyond a vague high level) in any other case preparation program or books, and I have pretty much tried them all.
He also gave me advice on the “intangibles”, things such as body language, tone of voice, choice of vocabulary and demeanor. This is important to establish rapport with the interviewer with the goal of being liked. It doesn’t matter how great one’s case performance is, if the candidate is not likable and the interviewer doesn’t feel like they can work with the person, no offer will be given!
Do you feel the program provided an advantage for you versus your own/other preparation? If so, in what way?
The biggest advantages versus my other preparation, with other popular case prep programs, were:
Honest, often brutal, feedback
Development of basic principles aka the ability to think.
Intangibles, mentioned above
Resume / Cover letter writing
Can you recall any memorable moments?
I enjoyed the moments when I thought I would give a good answer, and Michael would respond with two words “Immediate fail!”. My first thoughts were “this is impossible to solve, how can one possibly give a better answer!?” Michael would continue: “I would definitely fail you if you said this during a case interview. You are completely wrong, and here is why….” It’s those moments that pushed me to really learn the basic principles of critical thinking and brainstorming.
What would you like changed in the program?
Firmsconsulting has 330 case solution videos, 44 coaching videos and written guides to all 233 videos. So that is essentially written frameworks to 233 different cases. Yet, they do not allow you to download them. I understand why they would do this but it is better if at least the transcripts could be downloaded. The learning curve would have been steeper if I could download with notes on the major case types and the things that one should consider when solving each one.
Michael is generally very against any type of frameworks, and instead prefers that his students learn how to “think” and apply a more intuitive approach to solving cases. I agree with this method, but I also took it a step further, went through all the material and extract a general “plan of attack” for the following case types:
Profitability – ways to cut variable / fixed costs and/or shifting mix towards higher margin products
Profitability – company in distress / imminent bankruptcy
Strategic – new business / market entry
Strategic – new product introduction
Strategic – merger / acquisition
Strategic – asset purchase
Strategic – vertical integration
Operations / breaking down processes
Customer retention strategies
Note: Many of these overlapped and/or needed to be used together to solve the case.
I developed all of these frameworks through practicing with Michael and watching his videos and powerpoints, and used them ONLY in order to get me started more quickly. They were not the main part of my solution.
In the interviews, when most people take a “minute to gather their thoughts”, I began talking immediately and outlining my framework while involving the interviewer. I later received great feedback from my interviewers because there was never an awkward silence, and in the real world, a consultant talking to a client wouldn’t be saying, “hold on a minute” while they figure out how to analyze the client’s business problem.
Having pre-prepared frameworks that I know will work in most situations allowed me to use the “saved time” to begin thinking critically about the issue and its solution, and not waste any time considering the different “buckets” to look at. However I do stress that it is important to be very flexible, even with pre-prepared frameworks. Every case is different and requires its own unique solution. Be like water, taking the shape of whatever container it is poured in. Only use frameworks if you can be flexible!
Also, I want to mention that the above case types that I outlined only apply to structured cases. Very often a second round interviewer will ask things that no framework will help with. In that situation, you must use the brainstorming skills that Michael teaches to deconstruct the problem.
Do you believe your coach was effective?
The results speak for themselves.
Do you personally believe the sessions were tailored for your own development?
Yes. By the third or fourth session I proved that I was quite strong at doing the typical round 1, structured cases, with one main issue that is to be discovered and solved. Michael then shifted his efforts to developing my brainstorming skills, solving unorthodox or unstructured cases that one would be typically given by a partner.
This was a very smart thing to do because I could always practice the structured cases from the hundreds of case books that are available online, while there is no other place where I could have received the round 2 type case preparation, especially from a partner.
What are your thoughts on using former McKinsey/BCG worldwide practice leaders to coach clients?
I think it definitely adds credibility to the program and it is always best to be taught by the type of people who will be interviewing you. However, I also have to add that there is a difference between being able to do something and being able to teach it. Michael is a natural teacher, as well as a very experienced and successful consultant. It is those two things combined with his honesty that make his coaching very effective.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Michael’s brainstorming method has not only helped me in the interview process, but also in my MBA courses. I am now taking a course on a subject that I know very little about, but yet am able to participate in class discussions with other students specializing in this field as if I am a specialist as well. The ability to think as taught by Michael can be used in many places.
I also plan to keep using the services of Firmsconsulting after I start working as a consultant. I believe that it will give me a distinct advantage in my new role.
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