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INSEAD MBA grad’s tips on getting management consulting jobs
Written by Sameer Kamat
INSEAD MBA salary numbers are among the best in the business school world when it comes to post MBA jobs. A key reason for that is the huge number of INSEAD MBA graduates who manage to get high-paying management consulting jobs. This trend continues year after year, which means there’s a story in there that goes beyond just being a mere coincidence.
Gaurav Gokhale, from the INSEAD MBA class of 2007 has managed a career transition from Information Technology to Management Consulting. From being a Business Analyst in TCS to being a Strategy Consultant with the Boston Consulting Group, it’s a career path that many software professionals can only dream of.
In this post for MBA Crystal Ball, Gaurav generously shares the ideas and tips that helped him bag a management consulting job after completing his INSEAD MBA
INSEAD MBA grad shares job hunting tips
Beyond the classroom learnings of a top international MBA program
by Gaurav Gokhale
10 days into my MBA program at INSEAD, in Jan 2007, I realized the secret that sometimes dawns upon the less fortunate 10 days before they graduate. That getting into a top MBA program is just one part of a page of a chapter of a section of the story of your life.
You’ve got a tiny little finger in a crack in the door, now you know need to get your foot inside and kick the door open. Yes, it’s not job done, but it’s job well-started.
In cricketing (i.e. Indian) terms if you’re chasing 300 in 50 overs, you’re probably 20 without loss at the end of 3 overs if you’ve got into a top 5 global B-school. You’re on the right track, but there’s a long way to go. Rough and winding.
With that realization, I came sliding down the high horse of self-importance (more a result of outside-in flattery inflicted by bystanders days and weeks before starting the program) and began what seemed then like, hours of introspection.
Okay, so what next? Merely getting out in December with an INSEAD certificate wasn’t going to give me that dream home, dream wife and dream car I yearned for. I needed a goal, a story, a USP to market myself for the dream job. Let me share my learnings.
Experiential Learning #1: Create your storyline. Understand the mutual fitment. The earlier the better.
This may take days and nights of scribbling your life on notepads or computer screens or just that Eureka moment at 3 am after a night of hedonism. Aims differ as names differ. If you are not the Archimedes type, follow the process. Write down your strengths, weaknesses, summarize your past achievements.
Under what conditions did you thrive? Why do you need that particular job over someone else? Why do you deserve it better? What are the inherent tangible (quantitative or technical) and intangible (people connect, leadership, creativity) skills you possess that make you different?
The key this is a simple story that connects you with the company. Where does the company fit in your personal aspirational chain and how do you fit into the company’s professional value chain. Whether as an area sales manager in Amsterdam for Philips or an Associate for McKinsey or Goldman Sachs or Trading Desk at Nomura, your fitment for the role is half the battle won.
Practice your pitch. You need to be able to tell your life’s heavenly fitment story to the company in an escalator pitch (Elevator is too dramatic, companies take a couple of min to judge you, not 30 sec).
The other half is now to get noticed. Like in any covert operation in Bond/Bourne movies, the first step is to put on the mask and the next, equally important one, is to get noticed at the right time in the right place.
Experiential learning #2: Network, network, network. Do not Schmooze. At all costs.
INSEAD, like most top global schools, presents the best networking opportunities right in the classroom. With many sponsored students from top companies around the globe as your batchmates and study group-mates, you have the opportunity on a platter to understand everything you ever wanted to about your dream company.
Like in any business deal, a job is a potential win-win opportunity for both parties. Just as you aspire for the best companies and the best jobs, companies too aspire for the best candidates. Treat it as a battle of equals. Just as they are judging your every move, in their minds, you are judging theirs.
Your company-sponsored classmates are the company’s ambassadors and also its spies, agents, first-hand information funnels. Be friendly and genuinely inquisitive but not sycophantic. I have seen lot of fellow-mates falling prey and trying to schmooze their way into the interview shortlist, but the attempts fail miserably, and worse still, dampen our chance with a ‘bad impression’.
Keep a distance, do your research and get the answers you seek. Try and make an impression good enough for them to recommend your names to the company’s recruiters when they prepare their first shortlist. In the process if you make friends, great.
A more formal level of networking opportunities is during the ‘on-campus presentations, where companies send their top officers to interact with students. This is always a double edged sword, with over-eagerness and curiosity often getting the better of sanity.
The line dividing harmless, knowledge-seeking conversation and downright schmoozing is so porous it inadvertently gets crossed. The recruiters are professionally trained in networking and in spotting talent in the middle of the crowd. An obvious schmoozer becomes the easiest elimination filter, albeit making the candidate look egg-faced too.
Maintain your poise, and your natural personality, have your ‘story’ ready and deliver with panache when asked. With a glass in hand, two feet from a potential recruiter, even a 30-second period of silence becomes accentuated into an uneasy time-void, so keep a list of questions memorized. Study the backgrounds of the attendees and try to find common threads for discussion.
In the pecking order of things, a perfect cocktail networking offers the best shot at seeking the proverbial foot in the door. But again, with a foot in, you’re probably 100 for 2 in 15 overs, 200 to get 35 overs (apologies for the unabashed and incorrigible cricket analogies), so what next?
Experiential learning #3: Practice, practice, practice. Anticipate well. Execute smartly.
There’s nothing like shadow practice. In sport, in business, in life, there is no substitute for rehearsal. Pick a sparring buddy and practice your interviews.
Run your application covering letter past 10 of your friends. Iterate your resume at least 15 times. No matter how crisp you make it, the 15th version will always have something new to say.
The story of your life, the pitch, the networking is worth zilch if you don’t execute well. Play devil’s advocate and prepare a list of possible queries on your application.
A typical MBA interview takes place in two parts. A behavioral round to know more about you as a person, followed by a technical round that tests your content knowledge.
The first one often seems to be the easier of the two, and that’s one of the most common mistakes. This round sets up the interview, it’s where you can establish a rapport, a connect with your interviewer. This is where he/she sees your real self. This is largely based on your CV, and should be seen as an opportunity to express yourself beyond the one page that the CV offers.
The missing link in the dates on your CV? The odd course you mentioned you did in your third year? Or the social entrepreneurship stint? The Prize you won at the local chess competition? Know every corner in the room. You should have an explanation for every aspect of your CV. The most difficult project you worked on? What makes this resume special? What if someone else did that market-building project instead of you? Would they have achieved the same outcome? How was the relationship with your boss? Why didn’t they promote you in 2 years? Why did you change that job when you were doing really well? Place yourself in the shoes of a potential interviewer.
Before offering you that letter of employment, he/she wants to know everything there is to know about you for any possible concern that may arise later. Just as you get one sitting with that interviewer, he/she gets the same with you.
The second part is, again contrary to public opinion, actually the easier of the two. A case interview, if it’s a top management consulting firm, a finance-based technical interview if a Private Equity or Investment Banking (PE/IB) firm or a mix of the two if it’s an industry job, depending on the type of industry.
This is where you can either flop miserably, or sail comfortably, depending on the level of practice. The importance of mock interviews cannot be overstressed, as cannot the importance of a suitable sparring partner. Talk to your batch-mates from a similar profession as the one you seek and request them for mock interviews.
Having been there, done that during their own interviews with the firm, and also having seen the interviewers on the job, they are best placed to replicate the closest-to-actual environment that you may face in the real interview. And mostly importantly, they are best positioned to offer personalized tips on cracking the interview. Use their experiential insights during the interview.
Some companies like to see the frame-work, others like to get to the answer, what does yours expect?
Finally, when the time comes, just be a reactive sponge. With incessant practice rounds and background research, you probably know the answers to all the questions; it’s just the matter of bringing out the best versions. And most importantly, end the interview well. End with a smile, a call-to-action, subtle humor, an anecdote or anything that’s different from a cold goodbye stare.
Experiential learning #4: Sit back and relax. Turn the page.
Having said all that we’ve read so far, it’s fair to say we’ve reached the end of our ‘karma’ and can just hope for the best. As a famous author once said, ‘Act well your part, there all the honor lies’. Easier said than done, but now’s the time to sit back and relax, soak in the excitement and await the good news.
Hopefully, by this time, you’re probably at the fag end of your MBA stint after having cracked your interviews, with a couple of job offers in hand, and surrounded by peers and colleagues discussing job offer details, starting office locations, job city room rentals, and graduation parties. Yes, you deserve a time-out but remember this is just the beginning of a new phase.
To end with a quintessentially Indian (i.e. Cricketing) term, you’ve just won a thrilling cliffhanger. Now go win the series!
As you might’ve guessed, Gaurav is a HUGE sports fan. The INSEAD MBA coupled with his stint as a management consulting with Boston Consulting Group helped him to transition into a role that combines sports and business. He now works for a leading media house in the area of Business Development, with a focus on sports – new rights acquisitions.
Got queries about the INSEAD MBA? Head over to the INSEAD MBA forum where Gaurav is accepting questions.