Interview with a Project Manager from Boston Consulting Group - Printable Version
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Interview with a Project Manager from Boston Consulting Group - tony - 11-30-2010 12:57 PM
BCG came to the University of Chicago early in the fall quarter to give presentations and recruit Ph.D.’s, M.D.’s, and J.D.’s. The application process is very rigorous. It begins with a resume screen and then proceeds with three rounds of interviews – the first two typically in Chicago (either on campus or in the firm’s Chicago office) and the final round in the applicant’s selected office. Each round of interviews consists of 3-5 individual interviews of 45-60 minutes. These interviews alternate between business case interviews that test the candidate’s skill at solving business problems and “fit” interviews that assess the candidate’s softer personal skills.
2. How do most people break into this field nowadays?
Through campus recruiting. It is possible to get hired in from another (typically boutique) consulting firm or from an industry job, but most consultants are hired directly after completing a degree or post-doc position. Keep in mind that if you have an advanced degree (of more than 2 years in duration), then it is generally not necessary to get an MBA to be considered for the same positions as MBAs.
3. What is a typical career path in this field? How often are there advancement opportunities? Is most advancement within or across organizations?
The career path is set up with points of advancement roughly every 2 years. The first 2 years are spent as an associate or analyst, during which the job is primarily focused on research, financial model building, presentation writing, and working with junior clients. The next 2 years are spent as an engagement or project manager; the engagement manager is responsible for the day-to-day operations of a study, works with the lead client team member, and manages a team of 1-4 associates/analyst. The next role is a transitional one between leading individual engagements and supporting multiple engagements (possibly at different clients). Finally, one can become elected partner 7-8 years after starting; partners serve as counselors to senior client executives and provide overall leadership to the teams “on the ground”.
However, few make a career out of consulting. The median length of stay at the top consulting firms is 3-4 years. Most consultants leave before reaching partnership, often going to clients, working in other industry positions, moving to non-profit companies, or starting their own businesses. It is rare to move laterally from one consulting firm to another.
4. What do people in your field look for in a candidate? (Skills, personal qualities, etc.)
As far as I know, BCG looks for 4 things:
– Problem solving (e.g., can the candidate solve complex business problems?)
– Teamwork (e.g., can the candidate work effectively on and eventually lead a team of motivated and smart people?)
– Drive to achieve (e.g., does the candidate seek out new challenges?)
– Personal impact (e.g., does the candidate conduct him/herself confidently in a professional manner?)
For non-MBA, advanced degree candidates, it is also helpful (though not necessary) to demonstrate some interest in business, either through internships, classwork, or personal activities.
5. What personal qualities are necessary for someone in your job to thrive?
Generally, they are the same qualities as we look for in a candidate: problem solving, communication, drive, teamwork, and integrity.
6. What advice do you have for someone with a bachelor's degree looking to enter this field? What about someone with a master's or doctoral degree?
Most consulting firms have specific job tracks for candidates with bachelor’s degree. The interview process is similar to the one I described above for those with doctoral, medical, or law degrees.
It is challenging to apply to a consulting firm with a master’s degree and no or little work experience; applicants with this background would typically be offered the same position as someone fresh out of college.
7. Are there any books, journals, web sites, resources, associations, etc. that someone looking to break into your field should be aware of?
Wetfeet and The Vault are two companies that provide both books and websites catering to students applying for management consulting positions. I preferred the Wetfeet materials, but it’s worth checking out The Vault as well. Another good resource is the business section of the newspaper; reading the business section every day is a great way to (1) assess your interest in business and (2) familiarize yourself with the most pressing current business issues. Finally, the GSB (Graduate School of Business) has a management consulting club. While membership in the club may only be open to business school students, most of their events (i.e., case interview preparation “open houses”) are open to all students.
8. What do you like best about your job?
There are several things. First, I like the opportunity to work on complex problems; if the problem faced were simple, companies wouldn’t hire consultants. Second, I enjoy working with smart, motivated, and professional people – both within my consulting firm and at my clients. Third, I like the variety; we work on different projects on average every 3-4 months. Fourth, I enjoy helping people. The crux of our work is helping client executives address issues that are personally troubling to them in their roles as managers. Lastly, I like seeing the impact of my work become evident in a relatively short period of time.
9. What do you like least about your job?
There are two aspects about the job that are struggles: travel and lack of time. At my firm, consultants spend Monday through Thursday with our clients, and about half of our clients are located in different cities than we are. As a result, we leave home Monday morning and return Thursday evening. The other challenge is never having enough time to solve a problem fully in the way one can as an academic. Whereas work as an academic is resource constrained, as a consultant, work is time constrained. An important skill to have in this job is knowing when to stop pushing on a question, and that point is always sooner than one’s academic training would indicate.
10. What is your typical day like?
There is really no typical day as a consultant; things change from project-to-project and from week-to-week within a project. Common tasks for an associate/analyst include: engaging in team problem solving (e.g., defining the structure of the answer, enumerating the key questions, coming up with hypotheses), performing research, interviewing experts, gathering and analyzing client or industry data, building financial models (i.e., spreadsheets), creating communication materials, and presenting results to the clients. Here is an example of a day from a recent study:
7:30 am Meet team at breakfast for gossip, discussion of current events, and planning of the day’s activities
8:00 am Arrive at client’s offices; check the e-mail and voicemail that has arrived overnight; respond where needed
9:00 am Meet with associate/analyst to review financial model and suggest improvements
10:00 am Work on finalizing presentation for the afternoon’s meeting with the client team
11:00 am Review presentation document with partner and incorporate his suggestions; print out final copies of the document
12:00 pm Lunch with team
1:00 pm Weekly meeting with client team to present findings, refine hypotheses, and agree on next steps
3:00 pm Teleconference call with another team struggling with a data source I’d used on my previous study
4:00 pm Depart for the airport and leave update voicemail for the partner on the outcome of the afternoon’s meeting
6:00 pm Develop a workplan for the team to solve the issues that arose from the afternoon’s meeting while on the flight home
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