Starting to work as an entry-level consultant in a tier 1 firm can be an overwhelming experience. Usually, after a week’s training, you are already on your way to your first client and will be handed over your own workstream or work packages by your team. From now on you will have full responsibility to execute your tasks.
How to succeed at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain
In order to succeed in this role and more importantly to actually have fun and enjoy the work, there are several things you can do:
1. Don’t stress it
It is completely okay that you have no idea what you are doing. The first three months are a probation period for you. The team, the partners, and your project manager know this. They don’t expect a lot (in fact, everything you do, your teammates can do a lot faster and better probably) and will not let you catch a falling knife. Be aware of your own limitations and communicate with the team in an open manner.
2. Seek guidance
Your team and especially the project manager is there for you. Ask for help if you don’t know something or need input. Discuss analysis and slides before you start working on them as chances are high that the team will have valuable input. Discuss learning goals with your team and block frequent feedback sessions with the project manager, senior leadership, and other analysts on the team. The latter can often give you very valuable feedback that others can’t.
3. Work smartly
Make sure to learn how to leverage the resources of your firm right from the start. This will save you a lot of time and improve the end-product. Top firms usually take away a large amount of work from the consultants at the client site and outsource it to numerous support functions within the firm. This includes people doing or improving the slides, researchers, expert networks, or even quantitative analysts. For IT matters, IT helpdesks usually can work wonders.
4. Pick up the basic consulting skills
Learn the tools of the trade from your peers. This includes the ability to communicate both verbally and visually in a clear and concise fashion, grasping problems, breaking them down and analyzing to arrive at an actionable conclusion, basic Excel and advanced Powerpoint skills as well as good 80/20 (focus on the 20% that make 80% of the impact = efficiency), strong logic and people skills.
5. Get used to quick iterations and feedback cycles
Consulting work is very iterative in nature. Usually, you define a problem, come up with a hypothetical answer, and then test the answer with number crunching or expert opinions. Quite often, there are several iterations in analysis and slide production needed before they reach a client-ready state. Get used to this way of working and share your planned analysis and intermediate results with the team for feedback early before you move on. This way, you ensure that everyone is aligned, you are working in the right direction and not for the bin. This is the bread and butter of the typical McKinsey, BCG, and Bain work.
6. Pick your battles and learn to say no
Work can be very tough at times. In this environment, it is important to establish personal boundaries early in the process. If you don’t look after yourself, no one else will. In order to do this, pick your battles and learn to say no. Even though there are certain elements that come with the job such as long hours, travel, and pressure, the team leadership, and project manager are usually happy to compromise on some to keep the team happy. This could be the need to be on the client site 4 days a week, late-night work, personal commitments and you name it.
7. Use the training and resources
Top strategy firms will usually put you through extensive training once you start your consulting career. A lot of training will be formal and mandatory. On average you can expect to have 1 to 3 weeks of on-site training per year. However, in addition, you can select a lot of voluntary training to develop certain hard and soft skills. Make use of this as much as possible. The offered training is usually of very high quality and pretty unique for professionals with limited working experience. Other organizations usually only put senior managers through similar training. Also, make sure to pick up and internalize the typical consultants working mode from your daily life in the team room.
8. Build a network and find your mentors
You can never start early enough to build your network in the firm. Your network includes your peer group, the people you started, and can share common learnings with, leadership and project managers, the people that will guide and pull you along on your successful trajectory through the firm. So make sure to socialize with your teams and to visit training and social events of functional or industry practices. Lastly, make the effort to get to know people from your office since you will spend 90% of your time somewhere else.
9. Triple-check your analysis and slides
Lastly, even though you are in a probation period, make sure the products you deliver such as analysis and slides are triple checked and correct. It is completely fine if it takes longer for you to solve a question, however, it is less fine to deliver work flawed with mistakes. Always work with an end-product (usually slides) in mind that is readily client-sharable.
As time progresses other skills such as developing personal spikes, knowledge development, etc. will become more important, however, this is for another day.
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Florian spent 5 years with McKinsey as a senior consultant. He is an experienced consulting interviewer and problem-solving coach, having interviewed 100s of candidates in real and mock interviews. He started StrategyCase.com with the goal to make McKinsey more accessible for top-talent, using tailored and up-to-date know-how about its recruiting.