Observations on Consulting Recruiting Observations
Anywho, they didn't have it in stock yet but I was intrigued by a book called 'ideaSPOTTING' by Sam Harrison. Bought it, and I've spent the better part of the past two hours browsing through it. And, I like it a lot. I need to sit down with a more serious eye soon. But, this post isn't entirely about this book either.
While I was at school, I ran into a couple of first years and we spent some time talking about recruiting, specifically consulting. Now, I'm no expert on the matter, but having talked to a select few (well ... the few that selected me to talk with them :), I could offer decently cogent observations on the process, work and firms. And, also my criticisms. In my opinion, these firms really want people who can follow a solid middle path, not deviating much from message. It is embodied in the case interview 'format' that's thrust upon us during innumerable case prep sessions ... listen to the problem, take notes, ask a couple of clarifying question, ask for a minute to gather your thoughts, write, nay draw, a framework, be damn sure to make it MECE, turn the sheet towards them, point out the main 'buckets' you are going to explore ... ad infinitum. No Detours, por favor.
Makes one wonder how different the approach to their work is, ya?
This comes to mind because the first chapter in ideaSPOTTING talks about 'exploration' as the key to finding new ideas. The book is written in a mix of typefaces and fonts that makes for an interesting visual experience, and every page seems like its own chapter. There was one page that, as a title, poses a question which, in my twisted world, could be asked by a consultant as a rebuttal to this thesis of exploration: But why explore when the facts are before you?
Last quarter, I audited an awesome PhD class on Social Networks and one of the intriguing discussions was on groupthink. A few days later, finding myself at a dinner table with a partner of a Big 3 (the capitalization is demanded, ya!) firm, I asked him how they, being what (I consider) dangerously closed networks, combated groupthink. He started by stating the open environement, spirit of debate, etc before ending with an interesting observation: that ultimately they were looking for facts, that lead to data, and data to answers, ergo no scope for groupthink. My professor was as surprised as I was about that response. So, I was intrigued to read what ideaSPOTTING had to say about it:
But why explore when the facts are before you?
There's nothing wrong with backbone data. Or raw statistics. Or bedrock demographics. They're fine as far as they go. The problem is, they don't go far enough. Not if you're looking for information instead of data. And insights instead of information.
To spot ideas, you want insights. Lots of them. Because ideas aren't spotted in forms. They're spotted in sights - those revelatory insights seized only when you roam new turfs, meet new people and have new experiences.
Light bulbs weren't invented by exploring candles.
Iron ships weren't made by exploring wood boats.
Skyscrapers weren't designed by exploring bungalows.
Walkmans weren't invented by exploring turntables.
Cell phones weren't conceived by exploring land lines.
Macs weren't designed by exploring clunky, dull PC's.
I can't help but agree.
My pet peeve of the entire process is how people are even guided on the questions to ask at the end of the interview. Which is fine, except you are expected again to ask only 'safe' questions.
An interesting thing happened when I had a mock interview, last january, with a then-second year. This is part of a program at the GSB called wInterview, which is prep for internship interview season. These are actually taped on DVD's and handed to the first years for review. I finished the mock interview with a guy who was going to another Big 3 firm, and when it was 'do you have a question for me' time, I asked him something about facetime with partners given the traveling etc. I asked because it was something that my ex-roommate and her boyfriend, both consultants, and I had talked about in detail a few weeks prior. He gives me an answer, thanks me for my time, and ends the formal part of the interview. Then, it's feedback time. But, before he gives me my feedback, he asks if it's OK to turn off the recording for a minute. I'm fine, so he does and comes back to the table.
"What the fuck are you doing? Do you want a job or not?"
I was taken aback, but he explained that the question was out of line because it talked about the things that are most 'uncomfortable' about consulting - the travel, the up-or-out policy etc. His advice was to pick something harmless. And, I'm not picking on him, it's something that has come up in several other discussions. Ask about their experiences. What excites them about coming to work? The opportunities that a career in consulting opens up etc.
Well, I find myself a couple of months ago in the final interview of my second rounds with the same firm said second-year was off to. It's question time. The interviews had gone well so far, but there was a question I needed to find the answer to. Me being me, I ask:
"So, fit is very important for your firm, correct?"
"I'm curious, how much of fit is conform?"
Why did I ask that question?, is the question often asked of me by my classmates who I've talked about this with. What were you thinking? Well, it was something on my mind, I thought of it as valid, and if a partner at the firm can't answer hard questions, who can? She did actually give me a candid answer - conform is a big part, because they want you to go out and represent them to clients in a certain way, but fit has its place too in terms of the culture inside the firm. I actually think highly of that response, but I must have triggered something in her, because she got a little edgy after that. Towards the end of the interview, in the middle of answering another question, she goes " ... Yogs, we don't make mistakes in recruiting ... (pause) ... we've never made a single mistake in recuiting." That was verbatim, I swear.
You know, I really don't know what to make of that. In a certain cool way, those shall forever remain the last words said to me in a consulting interview. A fascinating bookend to a fascinating recruiting experience. They capture a certain attitude that, in the end, did not agree with me, and mine with them.
To quote Albert Einstein, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new."