Recently, one of my clients secured an interview with BCG and wanted to know how to tackle the case differently? Somebody told him that the BCG cases are more difficult because they are interviewee led than interviewer led? Wait WHAT!!?? I asked myself – Why do these guys overcomplicate matters with all these fancy terms?
Interviewee led cases simply mean you do most of the talking, you ask the relevant questions, come up with a set of hypothesis and if asked, provide the set of recommendations as well. The interviewer has minimal involvement in terms of providing data. This is typical of most market estimation cases. Many business cases can also be hopelessly “interviewee led”, usually very open ended and used to test the breadth of the candidate’s thinking capabilities.
Interviewer led cases are those which require significant inputs from the interviewer. This is typical of any business case which needs data to be provided to the interviewee.
While I don’t bracket different consulting firms as “interviewer-led” or “interviewee-led” some companies like BCG and Opera have been perceived to be the latter. My recommendation is to treat this as any other case interview as the fundamentals of the business case don’t change – When a question is warranted, you ask it; otherwise come up with a plausible assumption and move on.
However, one thing that I want to emphasize is the need to be able to wear the CREATIVITY HAT while answering consulting case interviews. Some consulting firms may value creativity and ability to think of innovative solutions more than others that may value structure and quantitative ability. I have always recommended that a good balance of both is essential to be able to be a good management consultant.
To summarize, please do not get stressed on unimportant facts but rather focus on the problem statement at hand – focus on performing an error free analysis and exhibit maximum creativity in the qualitative part of the problem solution.
Does the B-school I go to decide my fate to break into management consulting?
The Business School you go to has a significant role to play in the kind of opportunities that you will have to break into consulting – To quantify this opportunity, some of the metrics you must consider are –
- Number of consulting firms on campus: Before you select a B- School please check out the number of management consulting firms that are recruiting on your campus. It is a no brainer that greater the number of firms = greater number of consulting job offers. Please make sure to see how the split is between firms coming for summer internships and full time placements, although they should not be too different.
- Strength of Alumni network: Whether or not a consulting firm comes to your campus, is often dependent on the alumni relationship of your school with the firm. Alumni prefer to come back to their Alma Maters to recruit candidates as they can relate better with candidates from their own school. The more alumni your school has sent to say BCG, greater will be the chances of them coming back to your school to recruit for more. The additional advantage is that you can network with Alumni from your school and get the “inside scoop” on your target firm to maximize your chances of getting an offer.
- Core Vs Non-Core schools: It is very important to go to a few consulting firms’ websites that you want to break through and check out which are their core schools. In times of a downturn, companies will still go to their core schools to recruit but drop their non -core schools. This is true for consulting as well as banking jobs. I remember, Goldman Sachs had come to recruit at Duke undergrad in 2009 for investment banking positions even though they were not really hiring – this was purely to maintain their relationship with the school! This is the same reason why ISB happens to be a “core school” for consulting jobs in India. Parthenon for example – enjoys the “preferred status” as it only recruits at ISB in India and offers the highest package among all consulting firms. Internationally, INSEAD has carved out a reputation for being a great “consulting feeder” alongside the usual suspects of Harvard, Stanford and Wharton!
The good part about schools in the US and Europe is that the big consulting firms now come to almost every top 15 school. You will see your Mckinsey recruit at Harvard as well as at McCombs school of Business. You will see BCG recruit at Stanford as well as at Johnson School at Cornell.
For the ones who thought this was a no- brainer, let me leave you with a mini case study that we will leave open to a discussion:
You are from a decent undergrad institution and have worked in a respectable Indian company in a tech- project management role for 4 years before pursuing your B school – You want to make it to the most prestigious consulting firms after B school. You have two admits and its decision time -
Option 1: School “D”
“D” is your dream school; it is a school where people come to get into consulting. Firms flock and pick up by the dozen at this school. It is also very difficult to break into D – let us say it is the most difficult school to break into. You know that if you get into D, it will be super prestigious and a great resume builder in the long run but you know that 20% of your class of 500 gets into management consulting and you will be competing with the best around the world for the same number of slots allotted to D.
Option 2: School “M”
“M” is a very good school by all measures – quality of education is not lesser than any Ivy League school. This school however would not be among the top 5, maybe not even top 10 but surely among the top 15. 3 out of the top 5 consulting firms you would want to join also recruit at this school. This school is smaller – has around 400 students and on average 15% get into consulting. Given your profile, you would be among the “top” contenders to secure an interview for the consulting jobs that come on campus.
Ceteris Paribus, which one would you pick solely from a breakthrough into consulting perspective?
Steve Jobs said, “We do no market research. We don’t hire consultants” You may have friends also of a similar opinion. What value do consultants bring to the table?
I will dedicate this question to my elder brother – a rocket scientist, with a PhD in Aerospace engineering, who has been a rather vocal critic of this profession ever since I ventured down the path of management consulting - ironically, his “boss” is an ex- management consultant ! However, there is some truth to this criticism of consultants and I could argue either side of this assertion. Let me start by donning the hat of the critic –
- Management consultants are generalists and do not know enough about the industry to truly solve any problem
- Management consultants do not provide feasible advice. Since they are paid for their advice and not for the feasibility of its implementation , their strategies in most cases are not pragmatic
- Management consultants are an expensive resource – I would rather hire an in-house strategy team to do the same analysis/ answer a strategic problem
- Management consultants are paid by the hour / by the project – they won’t be around to see the results of their recommendations – good or bad, so why should we even take them seriously?
What a management consultant is generally thinking –
- The management is running a company and kudos to that, but if they could have solved the problem by themselves, consultants wouldn’t be around would they? You need the objective analysis of a neutral unbiased third party to truly identify your problem
- Let’s face it, management consultants come with excellent CVs. Ivy League schools, IITs/IIMs and the works – when a bunch of really smart people are focussed on solving a single problem , the probability of “cracking the case” ( jargon for identifying the root of the problem and recommending a solution) is pretty high.
- Because we play the role of an external advisor (as opposed to an in-house team), we do not have to be part of company power politics. We are effective because we do not have to fear stepping on anyone’s toe. For. eg If the head of operations is doing a shoddy job - we have no qualms in stating the fact.
As someone who has been on both sides of the table – here is my view –
I believe in the efficient market theory, i.e. the market is always rationale and if consultants wouldn’t add value – they wouldn’t have been around for decades and companies wouldn’t be willing to pay such high billing rates for their service! It is also true that consultants attract the cream of B- schools and universities and they come with an analytical bend; very handy when you are solving some complex problems and an important skill to have in the field of consulting.
However, are management consultants brought on because the company (“client”) doesn’t have the intellect to solve the problem on its own? NO… (Although consultants would like to believe that!) Management consultants are hired for a number of reasons –
- Management has limited bandwidth – A company that produces cars, should focus on producing quality cars at competitive prices, their management should focus on the core business, while outsourcing the competitor landscaping to the consultants. It is not worth investing time in non-core areas of their work
- Independent assessment avoids “Passing of the Buck” – A consultant is an external advisor, comes in with no biases to side the marketing team, product development or operations team. Often, blame games start within the company when a problem crops up. For example, in a scenario of declining revenue growth the product development team could always assert that the sales team is not doing enough, in return the sales team would argue the product is losing favour of the customers. Where does the buck stop? Let the consultants identify the problem – through an objective assessment and most importantly remain UNBIASED!
- Breadth of experience (not necessarily depth) – A CEO will most certainly know his own company better than any 20 years younger MBA straight out of an ivy league school. Although he may have depth of knowledge, he may not necessarily know the best practices followed by his competitors. Often, consultants with their breadth of experience developed through their work with other similar companies bring a holistic view of the industry – this perspective can be refreshing to a CEO and would assist in benchmarking his company’s internal processes with the best in industry.
On an ending note, I believe management consultancies are to stay and will continue to draw the interest of the crème de la crème of Business Schools!