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Rhodes scholar to McKinsey Europe

Did you enjoy the program? If yes, how?

This was a well designed program with excellent material and my coach, Michael, was very professional and knowledgeable about the offices I pursued. I had spent my summer preparing with a colleague and was very good at cases.

All my practice interviews with friends at McKinsey, Bain and BCG received excellent feedback. Despite this warm reception, I was concerned about my preparation since the New York and London offices are competitive, and my plan was to find a coach who could push me over the top to guarantee I would obtain an offer.

Michael designed an entertaining and challenging program. We spent 1 session covering simple techniques and I found this very useful. The next 10 sessions I found delightfully challenging and this was what I needed. We worked on the Baby Bell case which taught me how to build mind-images of the cases. The Juventus and Universal Studios cases were two of my favorite cases.

There were so many clever ways to build hypotheses and analyse data cases and I enjoyed them all. One thing I liked is that we went through about 20 articles from BCG Perspectives and the McKinsey Quarterly which made it very easy for me to handle exhibits in the final interview.

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

I chose Firmsconsulting because it was not easy to join. I received a referral from a colleague and Michael still had 2 screening interviews with me despite my Rhodes Scholar status. This was slightly strange at first – until the process was explained to me.

Those small things – not small to me though – made me pay even more attention to the program. The program was similar but not the same to the training my friend had received. She wanted the basic coaching and although she was successful, my needs were different. I have never had a chance to network since we thought that was unnecessary and moved immediately into heavy case preparation.

My training lasted 2 weeks since McKinsey moved my interviews forward to manage my internship departure deadlines. Overall, a good program where I achieved all my goals. I would say that the Firmsconsulting teaching style is a perfect fit for McKinsey and BCG and slightly less perfect for Bain which tended to focus more on fit, at least for me, and we did not have time to cover fit preparation.

I did not receive an offer from Bain. However, I do not blame Firmsconsulting for this since I was not the best fit for that firm. I had no chemistry with any of my interviewers and believe I was quite possibly invited to the final round purely because of my Rhodes Scholar status.

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

My independent case preparation received excellent feedback but I was not enjoying cases. Michael made the cases very exciting and interesting. One the one hand he really let me have it and on the other hand he kind of patted me on the back and protected me. He used humor and a library of the funniest stories to make the cases exciting. I think this helped me more than I knew at the time since I was getting fatigued from 2 months of preparation and struggling to keep my motivation levels up: the humor helped dissipate the fatigue very quickly.

The nice thing about Michael is that he could bring his experience to the training. In every case we did, he referred to a real-world example or his own consulting experience and provided very clear explanations of the concept in practice. We looked at the high-level impact of a railway turnaround case and Michael would follow this up with minutiae on the operations of the rail stock yard. One was necessary and the other added valuable context for me.

At a case structuring level, the main lesson was the use of brainstorming to drive anything and everything. This was very clever since it helped me handle any problem with just a 4/5 step process. I probably could have memorized and used all the necessary frameworks but I quickly switched to his method.

I wanted to join by learning the right techniques and not just to get a job.

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

I do believe so. All online training I had seen taught candidates the very simple skills to move from a novice to average or possibly good. I am not saying Firmsconsulting does not do this, but in my case they definitely pushed me from very good to excellent.

The most important part is that I felt I was learning in every case. It was never a question of revising or reviewing things I already knew. I always was pushed and challenged to apply my skills further and further.

Can you recall any memorable moments?

We did a case on an ODM’s decision to become a branded mobile-phone manufacturer. The case opened my mind to new ways of thinking. It was such a brilliant way to analyze a case that case books always turn into this boring exercise around market-entry..

I had practiced expansion strategy cases before but had used generic frameworks like JV’s, M&A etc. This case showed me what a company should do before considering M&A and JV’s. We examined the costing and revenue implications of pursuing licensing and outsourcing deals.

It was a “Eureka” moment when Michael showed me how licensing is the mirror image of outsourcing but with different risks and intellectual property implications! That was impressive because I tried Googling it and found only 3 academic papers on the subject so this was not common knowledge. It should be.

In my second BCG case interview I was given an oil technology licensing case and my interviewer, a senior partner, was excited and impressed when I talked him through the alternatives to licensing and the cost changes. It certainly played a role in my getting an offer from BCG.

What would you like changed in the program?

I am not qualified to answer this question with authority. I worked with Michael for just 2 weeks. I believe many things from the training may have been removed to accommodate my tight schedule.

For example, I was told not to use the video library and we worked on different cases. My only advice is that candidates need to give Michael feedback on whether or not they are being challenged. I learned some clever estimation and brainstorming techniques in session one but I was not challenged.

Only after explaining this to Michael did I see tougher cases introduced in session two. Clients should not rely on their coach to know everything. I think Michael is great but I had to take accountability for constantly providing updates on my learning levels, enjoyment levels and levels of being challenged.

Do you believe your coach was effective?

Michael is effective in many ways. I listed several reasons to support this opinion:

• He is takes control of the program and does not let the client assume control and bear the consequences. Therefore, when things go well or poorly, I did sense he took it personally. This personal accountability made me feel better about the program since I had no relative means of making a comparison beyond the feedback from my colleague. I had the feeling that he was thinking about me outside the sessions and he would send me short messages at odd hours to follow up on this. I initially found this unusual but soon came to the realization this was pretty standard for him. We once had a 3 hour Skype chat from about 2 AM to about 5 AM on a variety of business topics and issues. The caring factor is definitely there.

• Michael is empathetic and sympathetic but does not dwell on non-constructive discussions. This is a crucial skill in a coach. Time was tight for my preparation and every minute spent on dwelling about my mistakes was time drawn away from learning. Michael kept a hard line on this and that helped. It is easy to wallow in self-pity at times.

• Michael REALLY believes in values and we once spent 90 minutes discussing professional values and why they are so important. This was probably the most insightful discussion I have ever had about values. I was often chastised for reading free versions of textbooks online until he goaded me into buying the official copies of the books.

• Michael was a partner and having worked with him gave me enormous confidence in my final rounds. I believe Michael was about 3 times as tough as the most challenging interviewer I faced. Deliberate or not, this strategy made the real cases seem much easier.

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

As explained above, the training was different from that a colleague had been through and we definitely covered material I had never seen in any case books. The validity of this approach was proven when I could use about 50%, of the unique material from Firmsconsulting training in my case interviews.

I am unaware what would be the appropriate applicability ratio but 50% seems high to me. In at least one case I know a partner was interested enough to explore my ideas and commented on the creativity and pragmatic thinking I had applied.

Now at McKinsey, I receive many invites to coach students and I try to use Michael’s techniques. There is always surprise from colleagues about the depth of the material I apply, all from the program, so this is another confirmation data point.

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

I had the opportunity to work with a senior partner and it was a nice experience. We spent the time discussing career strategies and how I should manage my career path. I was a little down that I could not convert this to a Bain offer, but feel the decisions at the end where best for me. The mentoring session helped me understand that I preferred the London office over New York and he mentioned several points which convinced me of this:

• The London office provides support to many offices in the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa. This implied many travelling opportunities and exposure to a greater variety of sectors.

• He stressed this was especially so in Bain’s case since the London office was a flagship office and supported many younger and less developed offices.

• The London office had greater sector variety than New York.

• Due to the interaction with so many offices, I would gain greater exposure to new teams and team members in London. This would be important to build global networks and learn since I would develop more “touch points” for the firm.

• My language skills could be put to greater use in Eastern Europe and this meant I could gain opportunities which I would not receive in New York.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for including me in this survey. I enjoyed working with Michael and will remain available to help with the changes.

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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