Thursday, June 25, 2009

Patience. I has it.

I've noticed that the MBA blogger community (entering this fall), myself included, has quieted down a bit during the past month. This may seem odd to anyone watching from the outside in, given how exciting grad school is, and all of the prep work that you have to do before it begins, but the truth is, the entire process from applying to entering is characterized by waiting more than anything else. This is doubly true if you are accepted in the 1st round.

First, you have to wait for the applications and essay topics to be available from each of your prospective schools. After you complete and submit the applications, you have to wait to see if any of the schools will invite you to interview. If all goes well, you'll interview with one or more schools and then wait a few months to find out if you were accepted. Ideally, you will get accepted to one of your "dream" schools and experience that awesome rush of excitement that comes via the call from the Dean of Admissions, or whoever the person may be that delivers the good news. If not, then you will have to wait to apply again next year, except next year is really just 5 or 6 months away because it takes so long to get a decision.

Once you have been accepted, you begin assembling whatever information you can about your potential classmates and the impending experience from a wide variety of sources, including all of the usual suspects: blogs, Facebook, forums, school websites, etc. This is to keep you occupied while you are waiting for the admit weekend/event where you can gauge your "fit" with the school and reassure yourself one last time that this is the one.

The admit event comes, and once again you feel that awesome rush of excitement and accomplishment, knowing that you have successfully stormed the castle and penetrated its defenses. They get you all excited, because in a few short years, you will be on top of the business world, capable of leaping over complex financial statements, marketing dilemmas, and strategic quandaries in a single bound. You return home to your old job and old environment, with thoughts of your new adventure swirling in your head, and then you proceed to wait for any sort of communication from the school or your classmates.

The emails will come in hordes at first, but then it slows down to a trickle. Every email feeds your desire for more contact, and you want to begin as soon as possible, but first you'll have to wait a bit longer. Sure, they'll give you a To Do list that seems intimidating at first, and you think "Great! This will keep me busy until August," but honestly, you won't spend that much time on any of the items. You'll wrap them up quickly and then you'll wait. Wait until the last day of work; wait until the day you move up to your new locale; wait until classes begin. This is assuming you are broke like me; otherwise, you'll probably go off on some fun trips.

Unfortunately, the waiting part is boring. It's hard to make it exciting for anyone following your adventures, because who the hell wants to hear about waiting. Waiting is about as much fun as reading The Wealth of Nations (trust me, because I've tried, oh have I tried to read that book).

So yeah, these days I'm waiting. Cheers to everyone else in the same boat!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Glassdoor.com - Company Reviews/Info

I stumbled across Glassdoor.com today, and I thought it had some interesting information. The website collects employee reviews (from current and past employees) and salary information for a large set of companies, including all of the top consulting firms.

I read through all of the reviews for BCG today, and the most common gripes were unpredictable (generally bad) work-life balance and excessive travel, which are both common to consulting regardless of the firm.

The website would probably be a good resource for anyone trying to identify target companies within specific industries.

Enjoy.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Economist Kellogg Serial on 2009 Recruiting

Just wanted to share this story that I stumbled upon that contains first-hand accounts of the 2009 recruiting experience by 5 current Kellogg students. In the article, it sounds like recruiting (networking, company information sessions, interviewing, etc) is still going at full speed, but actual job/internship offers are a lot harder to come across, especially in the more popular fields.

A few of the students mentioned trying unsuccessfully to switch into consulting. There is also a mention of one's "personal brand", something I was advised on by a BCG rep and wrote about a few posts back. Plenty of reasons to start networking as early as possible!

http://www.economist.com/business/businesseducation/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13567183

BTW, if anyone wants to borrow my case books (Vault guide and Case in Point) come fall, just let me know. Oh, and one of my classmates let me know that we have access to Vault.com resources via the internal Kellogg website.

UPDATE
One more article regarding recruiting.
http://www.businessweek.com/bschools/content/jun2009/bs2009061_508298.htm

Sunday, June 14, 2009

My Fortress of Solitude at IBM


My Fortress of Solitude at IBM, originally uploaded by oneillo.
I have less than 2 months left at IBM before I head off to begin grad school, and I have to say, I am going to miss it. I've spent so much time in my office over the past 5 years, it has become like a second home to me. I've slept in it (once), sang in it (too many times to count), danced in it (with the door closed!), developed a stress-induced eye twitch in it (while leading PowerVM Active Memory Sharing), and made some great friends while working in it.
It's going to be sad when I close my office door for the last time...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Grad School is Expensive

I don't know if anyone has told you this, but grad school is expensive; really expensive. Not only do you have to pay for school-related items, such as tuition and books, but you also have to take care of items that you may have been putting off, such as getting a new pair of glasses or cell phone.

On top of that, this could be the last time you see your friends for a long time (if not forever), so if you are like me, you'll want to hang out with them as much as possible before leaving. This friend-time has its own associated costs: movie tickets, drinks, food, concerts, etc.

Finally, there are going to be unexpected costs that all seem to occur around the same time. For me, this includes $1K in unexpected repairs for my truck, which I am giving to my brother when I leave. I could let him pay for it, but then I'd feel like a jerk, since he is still in school.

Before you know it, you find that your savings account is on life support, and those loans can't come fast enough.

I estimated my major expenses for the next two months, and it is looking rough.

Evanston Apt $1,445.00
Kellogg Laptop $1,400.00
Kwest $1,800.00
Glasses/Contacts $1,000.00
New Cell Phone $350.00
Rental Car to drive up to Evanston $700.00
Kellogg Total $6,695.00

These are just the grad school related items. I don't think I'll be able to cover everything with cash on hand, so I am going to have to dip into stocks. First I'll plunder my IBM stocks, which I keep in a separate account. Hopefully, I won't have to touch my personal account, which is down 30% right now, but I wholly expect to recover and make gains in the next year (come on Crocs....just kidding :) ).

My house could either complicate or simplify things, depending on how things turn out before I leave. If I am able to sell it soon, then I'll recover the equity, and my financial worries for the next year disappear. If I don't sell it soon, then I will have to cover its costs (mortgage, property insurance, property tax, lawn mowing, bills) while I am in school. This will seriously put a drag on my financial situation. Can you say ramen and tuna? It got me through undergrad; I suppose it could do the trick again.

In summary, if you plan on going to grad school, start saving for it as early as possible.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Consulting Recruiting Advice

UPDATE - 9.16.2010
Hi all! There is a part 2 to this that I think is worth glancing over: http://www.kelloggmbaclassof2011.com/2010/04/small-bit-of-advice-on-consulting-case.html


Ok, so I'm by no means an expert on landing an internship with a management consulting company, but I did manage to pick up a lot of good information during the last month while going through the BCG interviews. This info came via the books I read, my discussions with 10+ BCG representatives, and my own experience. As usual, I'd recommend taking it with a grain of salt and supplementing it with any other information you can find, such as the materials provided by your school's consulting club.

From what I understand, getting into top MC firms will be even harder this year given the downturn in the economy, which is causing companies to recruit less and luring MBA grads into consulting that would normally go into finance.

General Tips
  • First, try to determine what field(s) you are interested in as early as possible. I've had conversations with current and previous Kellogg students, and they've all suggested that knowing what you want to do early on will be an advantage. This will help you focus your recruiting efforts, instead of having to attend every information session/company event at your school. It sounds like there will be too many of these events to attend anyways.
  • If you are interested in consulting, try to figure out your target companies and locations. In one book, they suggested going after locations where you'll have an advantage. For example, if you are originally from France, then getting an internship in a Paris office may be easier than a New York office, and transferring is less difficult once you are in. Furthermore, all of the popular cities will be the most competitive. I don't know if this is true or not, but it sounds logical. Personally, I went for BCG Texas because I knew I wanted to return to Texas after grad school for a myriad of reason.
  • Contact people from the offices that you are interested in to begin the networking process. As soon as I knew that I would be interviewing for the BCG Texas system, I got on LinkedIn and searched for Kellogg alums that were working at either BCG Dallas or BCG Houston. I contacted a few of them via LinkedIn, and one of them quickly responded and agreed to talk to me on the phone.We had an hour-long conversation covering a wide range of topics, and I learned that he was actually a member of the recruiting team. He also told me that he had passed my information on to a few other Kellogg colleagues working in the BCG Texas offices. Talk about hitting the jackpot!
  • If you aren't on LinkedIn, then what are you waiting for! Sign up; it's a great networking tool. If you already have an account, then make sure that your profile is up to date. I found out that a BCG Consultant in the Chicago office viewed my profile early on in the interview process. Fortunately, I spent a few hours adding and updating information in my profile a few weeks before.
  • Act professionally when contacting any company reps. No matter how informal the situation, you may be getting evaluated by the representative. Even if that isn't the case, just assume that you are being evaluated. I got the impression that BCG maintained a file on me throughout the process that was accessible to others and included feedback from the folks I had spoken with. I can't confirm this, but it certainly makes sense for a company to do it.
  • For Kellogg students, 3 BCG reps independently suggested that Financial Decisions (FinD) was a great course to have on your transcript for consulting. It is supposed to be pretty rough though, so they took it as one of their Pass/Fail courses. Another BCGer suggested taking TurboFinance. So, it sounds like having some strong quant courses on the transcript can't hurt.
  • Join the consulting club! :)
  • BCG generally doesn't use brainteasers. Brainteasers suck! A brainteaser would be something like estimate how much a 747 jet weighs. You would then have to walk the interviewer through each step of your process for getting the answer, like "Well, I'll assume that a 747 has 240 seats, and each seat weighs 20 lbs, so that is 4800 lbs right there." You don't have to get the right answer, but your answer should be reasonable.
  • For the fit portion of the interview, make sure that you are very familiar with your resume. This was the one item that every interviewer looked over during this part of the interview. You should also think of your "personal brand", or, what three things do you want interviewers to remember about you. For me, it was that I have strong ties to Texas, I have an established quantitative background (woot for Engineering), and I've overcome a variety of personal and professional challenges that position me well for consulting.
  • I'd suggest getting a case book. They helped me out a lot, as did the materials available via the consulting club website.
  • Be prepared for cases that may not fall neatly into any categories or processes that you have read or learned about. It is impossible to be 100% prepared for the interview, because the interviewer can ask you about anything. This is especially true for later rounds, where the senior consultants are more familiar with all of the different aspects of the case. Right before my last practice interview, I had started slacking off with my studying. I felt confident that I could tackle any case that was thrown at me. During the practice interview, I hit a wall and absolutely collapsed. It was a terrible experience, but it definitely gave me a renewed respect for the case interview.
  • For BCG case interviews, you are expected to drive the case. Normally, this is as easy as asking questions, discussing the answer with the interviewer, and then repeating. It gets hard if you hit a wall, but I describe a few ways to get out of that below. Don't expect the interviewer to show you the way, though they will try to help you out!

Refined Guide to the Case Interview
This is based on a post from last month where I first laid out a guideline for handling case interviews.
  1. As the interviewer reads the case, take notes (notes are your friend!). At the end, repeat back the case highlights and objective(s) to verify that you understood everything correctly.
  2. Ask any clarifying questions that you may have. For example, if the case involves a product that you've never heard of, don't be afraid to ask what it is. They want to see that you are willing to ask questions and learn instead of making unnecessary/incorrect assumptions.
  3. Ask the interviewer "for a moment to collect your thoughts." Use this time to develop and write down a framework for analyzing the case. By framework, I don't mean something like 3Cs, 5Ps, or whatever they are called. This is something that you come up with to address the specific case. If possible, try to come up with a hypothesis that you will try to prove or disprove for your case, and use that to develop your framework. This will help you put together a better framework. If your case involves a problem with declining profits, your hypothesis might be that costs are going up, possibly from new products. Then, you could look at the market to verify that you aren't losing market share to competitors and that it is still growing (meaning it's an internal issue). Then you might look at the sources of revenue and product performance over the past 3-5 years and related costs.
  4. Show the framework to your interviewer and explain why you are using it. BCG likes for you to state your hypothesis here, but it is not necessary. You should only do this if you feel comfortable enough making one.
  5. Follow your framework and begin asking the interviewer questions. This should be a 2-way discussion. Take notes of any key findings along the way and make sure that you are actively listening to their responses and reacting appropriately. If you suggest that labor costs might be increasing, and they tell you that labor costs are in line with the industry, you should focus on another area. Try not to ditch your initial framework here; it looks good if you are returning to it throughout the conversation. This was something that I had trouble with up until the last two interviews.
  6. If you hit a wall during the case (which is awful!!!), try not to panic and whatever you do, don't say "I don't know." Keep looking over the information that you have and your framework. Check to see if you missed any areas that you wanted to look at or any clues that the interviewer might have given you. Worst case scenario, ask the interviewer for help. This is not viewed negatively if done no more than 1 - 2 times.
  7. You don't have to do the "public math" in your head, unless the interviewer asks you to do it. I asked one of the BCG reps that walked me through a practice case about this, and he said that it is far more important to give the right answers, even if you have to write it down and work it out quickly on your scratch paper. Once I found this out, I performed all of my "public math" calculations on paper.
  8. Personally, I'd suggest using multiple sheets of scratch paper, especially for any calculations. I kept on trying to do my calculations on the same sheet of paper where I was keeping key points, and it would clutter the sheet and make it confusing. I started doing the math on another sheet and then transferring the values over to my "key points" sheet in a suitable format (normally an Excel-like table). Keep the information organized neatly on your main sheets; looking disorganized will not help.
  9. Proactively ask for data and explain why you want the data. You can't just ask for the state of the market over the past couple of years; you have to mention that you want the data to see if any competitors are gaining market share, if any competitors have entered/left the market, if we have economies of scale on our side, etc, and then explain why this info would be useful to you. If they know why you want the data, they may volunteer some other piece of info that allows you to arrive at the same conclusion
  10. If you are given any charts or tables of data, take a moment to review them and then make a conclusion about the data. Like, "I see that Competitor A is able to offer a larger quantity of the same product for a much cheaper price. Economies of scale must be playing a factor here, so we might look at increasing our volume levels to reduce costs". Again, I was told by a couple of BCGers that it is important to come to a conclusion about the data, and both of the Principals in the last round asked me what I thought about the data they had given me.
  11. At the end, be prepared to summarize your key findings and recommendations into an elevator pitch (60 seconds or so). The interviewers always prompted me for this. Ask for a moment to write out your recommendations; try to keep it organized, with a bullet list for example. A suggested format was to have a 1 sentence summary of the problem, then list your recommendations and why you are making them, and finally, include 1 other item that the company should investigate further or consider. If you move manufacturing overseas to save on costs, then it might negatively impact the product's quality or customer perception.
  12. DON'T ASK HOW YOU DID AT THE END.

This is everything that comes to mind at the moment, but I'm sure that there are items that I am missing. I am looking forward to helping my classmates prepare for the consulting recruiting however possible when class begins, and I hope that anyone will feel comfortable enough to reach out to me.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Monday, June 1, 2009

BCG Decision Round Interview

This past Friday I woke up at 4AM for my decision (2nd) round interview with BCG at the Dallas office. It had only been a couple of weeks since my last interview, so the entire process was still pretty fresh in my mind. I stumbled out of bed, turned off my 5 alarms - 1 on the radio and 4 set at 3 minute intervals on my cell phone - and started to prepare. Surprisingly, I managed to sleep well given the stress/excitement of the impending interview. I credit my mental fatigue from interview prep for the undisturbed sleep.

By 5:20 AM, I was sitting down at my terminal in the airport with a cup of coffee in one hand, my 4-year old Ipod in the other, and my padfolio, purchased specifically for the BCG interviews, beside me. My flight wouldn't be boarding for another 40 minutes, and as with past experiences, this idle time was the worst because it allowed my mind to run wild with nerve-racking thoughts, such as "what if I run into a wall and then fall apart like my last practice case interview?" I'm amazed at the random stuff that I thought about during this period. I did my best to distract myself with the music and reassure myself that I had prepared as much as possible. Before I knew it, my flight was touching down at the airport in Dallas.

I arrived with over an hour to spare before my interviews. As with my last trip, I spent about 20 minutes listening to music in the airport before catching a taxi to head over to the BCG office. Although the taxi driver wasn't very talkative, he was playing some great reggae music that helped me clear my mind a bit. I surveyed the buildings, the landscape, and the city, knowing full well that I might eventually call Dallas home if everything went well.

I started to calm down quite a bit when I walked into the reception area in the BCG office. I picked up my interview packet, which contained a reimbursement form, the bio cards for my two interviewers, and a small informational booklet, and sat down. I immediately began reading through the bio cards looking for some common ground between myself and the interviewers; anything that I could confidently fall back on during our conversation. The more I knew about the interviewers, the more comfortable I would be during the interview. At this point, I smiled. My background was very similar to one of the interviewers, who had attended UT at Austin for engineering and Kellogg for business grad school. The other interviewer had listed rugby, a sport I played for a few years in college, as his first interest. As far as interviewers go, I knew I had been dealt a great hand.


FIRST INTERVIEW

A few minutes after 9, the first interviewer, a Principal at BCG, came out, introduced himself to me, and then ushered me to the conference room where the interviews would be held. We jumped right into the fit portion with a few questions about my professional experience. He was holding my resume and glancing at it from time to time. One of the questions was about how my background had prepared me for a role in consulting. Fortunately, this is a question that I had reflected on for some time before and after deciding to pursue management consulting post-MBA, so I was able to walk through a list of items and relate them all back to consulting. I noticed that my voice was wavering a bit in the beginning of the interview, but it became steady after a few questions. I was feeling pretty good about the interview when we started the case.

I can't really go into details about the case, but there are a few things that I think should be OK to mention. First, the interviewer had worked on the case a few years back. It sounded like a pretty complex problem, but given our time constraints, he asked me to only look at one aspect of it. We discussed the issues surrounding the problem, looked at the prepared data, and had a nice back-and-forth about how to approach the situation. At the end, we went through a few minutes of "public math", which I was able to work through without a problem. The case was over sooner than I expected, but I wasn't keeping track of time. At the end, I thought I had given a solid B+ performance, and I was relieved that I had made it over the first hurdle. Before he left to send in the next interviewer, we spoke a bit about BCG, his responsibilities as a Principal, and rugby.


SECOND INTERVIEW

The second interviewer, also a Principal at BCG, walked into the room and introduced himself. We started with a bit of small talk, and I quickly realized that my throat was incredibly dry. I went through a small coughing fit, prompting us to pause for a moment while we walked over to a "dining area" where I was able to get a drink of water. This room had yet another impressive view of downtown Dallas. When we returned, he started the fit portion. There weren't any surprises here. Some of the questions were similar to the ones I had just discussed with the last interviewer. I think that it was during the fit portions that I really found my stride, and I was able to carry that confidence into the cases.

The case problem format was very similar to the first one. It involved a problem that he had worked on in an industry that I was very familiar with. I noticed that the cases were a bit more fluid this time around. I could tell that the interviewers had a very deep understanding of the problem at hand and were comfortable discussing all of the different aspects. Again, we focused on one aspect of the problem due to the time constraints. I constructed a good framework for the case, and unlike some of my practice cases, I found myself returning to it often. I quickly identified the major issues and was able to present some suggestions on how to address them. I was incredibly pleased every time the interviewer said that they had made the same suggestion to their client. It was like getting a burst of energy during a long run each time. As we approached the end of the case, I started thinking to myself "OMG. I think I nailed it". He asked for a summary of my recommendations at the end, and I happily provided him with a list of items.

During the final portion of the interview, when I was asking him some questions about BCG, his time at Kellogg, and a few other topics, I had to restrain myself from laughing a couple of times out of joy/relief. I could not believe how well the two interviews had gone, and I felt like this giant ball of stress had been lifted off of my shoulders.


CONCLUSION

Before I left the office, I was able to meet with one of the BCG Texas reps that had walked me through a practice case for this round. We only had a brief moment to talk, since he had to head to a meeting, so I thanked him for his help and then took off.

As I was heading to the airport, I sent out the following tweet from the taxi: "Someone call the police, because I just murdered that interview. It could not have gone better. "

About 10 minutes later, I got a call from one of the interviewers to let me know that they had discussed my performance and were pleased to inform me that they would be extending an offer.