Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Observations on Consulting Recruiting Observations

So, I was at the bookstore today picking up my coursepacks for the quarter. Mercifullly, my professors this time around seem to be a considerate lot, with a total bill around 200 bucks. Trust me, that's a steal compared to what I've paid in the past. Was walking around the business books section looking to see if they have copies of'Citizen Marketers', a new book that I did a spot of research for over the summer. I got a copy from the authors, Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell, and am just about to finish it. A brilliant book, extremely welll-written, and I highly recommend it. A detailed review will be forthcoming, maybe this weekend.

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?"
"Absolutely."
"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."

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8 Comments:

Blogger The Dirty Canuck said...

sir, i am glad to see you've returned to the land of blogging. we have missed your presence something fierce. great observations on all of: groupthink, Big anythings, and the Einstein quote at the end is clutch. hopefully i should be in and around HPC more often over the next six months or so (holy shit we graduate in six months!!!), so more opps for facetime.

03 January, 2007 17:43  
Anonymous sorebrek said...

Well, if it is any validation, I have officially taken myself out of recruiting for traditional consulting/banking gigs for summer, albeit that I arrived at the decision from a different perspective. Now that I have all the time in the world, we should get together and bitch over beer.

03 January, 2007 17:44  
Blogger PowerYogi said...

tdc: you should stop by more often, we have a nice building here :) Six months. Fcuk.

srbrk: dude, all those fancy suits last quarter for nada? we do need to catch up over some cervezas soon.

03 January, 2007 21:49  
Blogger Andrew said...

Dude, nice post. As you are well aware, I agree with your observations.

05 January, 2007 11:15  
Blogger BabsonGrad said...

good post! Liked your question to consulting firm.

06 January, 2007 23:23  
Blogger Le Voyageur said...

there is the PY we all know and love. so what, no trip to tel aviv while i'm here?? you're missin' out...

10 January, 2007 06:30  
Blogger Bing said...

Hello PowerYogi! I’m thrilled I found your blog because you seem to have a wealth of experience in the management consulting application process.

First and foremost, please allow me to introduce myself. My pseudonym is Bing Cherry because I’m a compulsive bing cherry binger during June (cherry season). I am currently an undergraduate at a university pursing an Art History major and Global Marketing minor. My blog is dedicated solely to management consulting for this quasi-clueless woman who wants to learn every drop of information there is to know about management consultant, beginning with, “what does it take to land a job with McKinsey or Bain and Company?”

Roughly three weeks ago, my good investment banker (IB) friend suggested that I become a management consultant. Please allow me to elaborate. My friend is a well-educated, scrupulous, intelligent, unerring, critical-to-the-bone marrow I-banker. Therefore, he must have scrutinized my character and abilities (or lack of) to come to that conclusion. Can you tell I value his opinion?

Well, prior to his suggestion, I was en route to becoming a global marketer, because I enjoy observing, researching, and manipulating people, thoroughly. An international job is most suitable for me because I constantly need diversity and variation to keep myself entertained. Entertained? Yes, work should be entertaining, no matter how much the load. I enjoy diverse people and thus cultures. Finally, I am notorious for asking a plethora of questions until I am satisfied with the big picture.

After he offered generally what management consulting entailed, I became so utterly intrigued that I spent the entire three weeks of my winter break researching management consulting. Keep in mind that I had not a single clue what a consultant was thus far. Consequently, I subscribed to Vault.com, purchased their management consultant as well as case study interview guides, and researched prestigious company profiles. Yet, I still feel clueless.

Fast forward. I have attended all the major investment banking firm company profile events at school and will be attending a Bain and Company one tomorrow (wish me luck, lots of it please).

I have a major problem I want to address and hopefully get your advice on. I have spoken with major Los Angeles dignitaries and businessmen and have given speeches before hundreds of people, yet I cannot for my life refrain from blushing when speaking to the company representatives. I think this happens because I desire these prestigious and rare opportunities so badly that I psyche myself out. I want to land one of these company summer internships to raise myself to the next level, but how do I calmly portray this without becoming someone I’m usually not every time I attend one of these events?

Now, this concludes my history and introduces my response to your entry:

“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.”

Firstly, I admire your writing and smidgen of Latin phrases—good modi operandi. My initial reaction was, “oh crap”—I have a company profile event tomorrow and I have not attended one case preparation session. Yet, after dwelling on the issue for two point eight seconds, I mustered my confidence then concentrated on the task at hand. I continued reading and came across the unfamiliar acronym, “MECE.” Ergo, I googled “MECE consulting” and found that it meant, “mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive.” Could you do me a favor and elaborate on that please? I would be much obliged. 8]

Thank you for introducing the book, “ideaSPOTTING” in your entry.

“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.”

I found this particularly interesting because Harrison implies basically, in a few words, “don’t state the obvious.” Am I right or am I right?

If that is the case, I cannot help but concur. I look forward to picking up a copy of it after I finish my piles of readings in roughly eight years.

In response to your frustration with “safe questions”:

“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.”

I was also under the impression that appropriate personal questions were acceptable (according to my Vault Guide to Consulting). I am fortunate to have come across your blog, so I will not make that detrimental mistake if I ever land an interview. Did you repeat the “mistake” during the real interviews?

"So, fit is very important for your firm, correct?"
"Absolutely."
"I'm curious, how much of fit is conform?"

For whatever it’s worth, in my opinion that was a great question to ask your interviewer and one I would ask myself as well. I think her attitude changed negatively afterwards because she had an ego you popped, or at least poked. I find that egos obstruct efficiency and progress because one will never improve his or her ways if he or she does not acknowledge their flaws.

Finally, to close with a comment on your quote of a quote, “To quote Albert Einstein, "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new”—I have made many mistakes (for lack of a better word) and thus have become a smarter person. I look forward to making more.

Thank you for offering your opinions and I hope we will begin an open communication because I can benefit much from your experiences and “in sight.”

18 January, 2007 04:14  
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03 December, 2008 20:57  

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