The commonality between an MBA and a race is that the first lap is certainly the most important, you take a lead there and you have set the tone to break your own records. Wondering what the first lap is when it comes to your MBA life?
The first lap of my MBA life started immediately after joining IIM Lucknow and ended with me bagging the coveted internship opportunity at The Boston Consulting Group during the Summer Placements. Since that day, I looked forward to the internship until it finally happened!
My end term exams ended and I had to take a flight the very next day. The hot sultry weather of Mumbai added on to my weariness ensuring I was completely exhausted by the time I entered the reporting location. The receptionist greeted me, "Welcome to Taj Vivanta. Sir your stay has been booked for the next two months.” It took all my weariness away. Literally, what else does an intern need? The thought was delightful but was it to stay for long?
The next 2 days were packed with induction training and it worked well to ignite a fire of excitement among the curious and anxious interns. We were introduced to the BCG way of problem-solving, managing client interactions, networking and a host of other things that kept us amazed. The induction ended with a mail popping on my laptop: Hi Mehul, you have been staffed on a case! “Woah.. it's real!!” - was my reaction. It was time to put on the consulting shoes.
On day 3 of the internship, my case principal explained the module I had to deliver and clearly laid down the expectations:” This is the output we expect; you meet your target and you are through or otherwise…” He intentionally left the sentence incomplete to add to my anxiety. I had two modules to deliver during my 9-week stint. The first one was to identify potential distributors for the client, convince them about the profitability in the client’s business and get them on-boarded and the second one was to analyze the delays in fulfilling customer orders by traversing the entire the supply chain and measuring its efficiency (OTIF). I immediately set foot on my travelling campaign and the very next day, I was on a flight to Kolkata, meeting the client’s sales team, going on field visits and identifying leads for the client. Soon visits to Ranchi, Jamshedpur, Bhubaneshwar followed and I got my chance to stay at the likes of Mariott, Ramada, HHI and of course the Taj Vivanta (sometimes all in the same week!).
To break the stress, BCG was kind enough to schedule frequent training for the interns. One of them was a session on business interactions and dining etiquettes. How to greet the client and exchange business cards (you use both your hands!), how to eat spaghetti with a pair of chopsticks and how to decide which drink goes with which meal. All that ensured we be at our best professional self in front of the client.
The two months were surely a roller-coaster ride with times that would really stress me out with a lot to deliver within the hard deadlines and the times that took the pressure off me while sharing a drink or two with the team or enjoying at the stadium watching an IPL game – all that ensured that I had a lively two months!
So, let me now answer the four most important questions: how to prepare to secure the coveted internship offer, what are the parameters on which an intern is judged at BCG, what were my learnings from the insightful two months & finally what are my recommendations to aspiring interns.
It all started with drafting a CV that had the potential to get shortlisted by the dream consulting firms. I jotted down an exhaustive list of my achievements, projects, certifications and drafted 5-page curriculum vitae. Thereafter, it took multiple iterations of CV reviews with college seniors to come down to a single page version which reflected a balanced profile with spikes in academics, work experience as well leadership stints and extracurriculars.
Reference Material: Case in Point and videos by Vector Cheng served as a good starting point to decode the basics of solving cases. Casebooks from ISB, IIM A and IIM L were then used to cover a variety of cases.
Case Groups: I formed 3 case groups with 3-4 members each and we discussed and solved cases among us. With one of the members administering the case, one solving and the others observing, the exercise provided insights into the thought process of different students, which served as the stepping stones in the preparation phase.
Buddy Cases: It was crucial to get an exposure to real life cases to crack the interview and the best way was to solve cases with the company allotted buddies. Every consulting firm that I had a shortlist for assigned a consultant buddy to help me with my preparation. I made it a point to solve at least a couple of cases with each of my buddies across the shortlists I had ( McKinsey, BCG, Bain, AT Kearney, Accenture, Deloitte and A&M) and work on their feedback.
I focused on preparing the commonly asked HR questions like ‘why consulting?’, ‘why the xyz firm?’ and the most crucial ‘tell me about yourself’. I treated these questions as an opportunity to differentiate myself from the competition.
Secondly, presentation mattered, so I preferred to use separate sheets for recording case-related information and laying down my structures & frameworks to keep the case-solution neat and tidy.
Recommendations: Go through the profiles of the people visiting your campus for recruitment and keep a few questions ready in your armour that can be handy when asked: “Do you have any questions for us?”
Secondly, engage in a confidence-building exercise to ensure you are at your best for the D-Day. For me it was delivering speeches at Toastmasters, it could be playing a sport or reading a novel for you - anything works!
Lastly, remember, it is just an interview at the end of the day – if one did not go in your favour, it doesn’t mean that you would fail the rest too, so ensure you go to every subsequent interview with a fresh mindset.
Parameters at which you are judged during the internship
- Problem Solving: Certainly, the most crucial aspect of consulting, problem-solving requires a complete understanding of the situation at hand, structuring the problem in a MECE way and then arriving at potential alternatives.
- Client Interaction: From greeting the client to running behind them get the project-specific data – it isn’t as simple as it may seem. Consulting, to a great extent, is about building a deep relationship with the client.
- Practicality & Effectiveness: I remember watching a stand-up comedy show where the artist asked his companion as to how to go to Nasik from Mumbai and the reply was: Get down at the airport and book a cab till Nasik!! (Seriously??) Well, Consulting requires that you don’t just offer any solution but one that is practical and effective from the client’s standpoint. Do the necessary checks: Is your solution feasible, economically viable and implementable within the said timelines? If not then keep looking for alternatives.
- Communication: Articulating your thoughts when it comes to giving an update to your case principal or the client (All you might get could be just 60 seconds). Thinking on your feet when your client throws questions at you. Being confident while presenting your suggestions to the CXOs.
My learnings from the internship
The learnings were many be it interacting with clients, getting exposure to the industry, going on the ground or being within close doors and thinking about structuring the problem at hand. But some that particularly left me spellbound were:
Story-lining: I learnt the art of conveying a presentation in the form of a story, highlighting key takeaways for each slide. This ensured I had the attention of my audience and conveyed my point in a crisp and precise way.
Elevator Pitch: I understood the importance of having an answer ready at all times. Whether it was an update I had to give in a case team meeting or an explanation when the client questioned my hypothesis, I ensured I was well prepared and had an answer at hand. It was greatly valued and reflected my confidence and hard work.
Over-communication: It was always better to communicate the minutest detail which I felt could be important to the team. It was a trade-off to being precise but it ensured the team didn’t get any surprises at a later stage.
Networking: It was helpful to utilize the company events to network with fellow BCGers. Many times, I would get a solution by speaking up to those who had already encountered a similar problem.
My recommendations to aspiring interns!
Focus on the work: Be focused on your module and own it. Do not let the thoughts of a ‘PPO’ sway you away which would otherwise burden you with additional pressure, not allowing you to work at your best. Work hard, the results will follow.
Take feedback: Schedule weekly meetings with your project leader or your cover on the case and take feedback on your progress. It will ensure you don’t go off the track and get to know others’ perception of you. It will highlight your areas of improvement and the team’s expectation from you.
Understand the bigger picture: While knowing your module in and out is crucial, it is equally important to understand how the module fits into the bigger scheme of things. It will help you develop insights on the entire project.
Research: Do a thorough analysis of your work before presenting it to the team. Read, talk to people and analyze the findings – Trust me it will reflect your confidence.
Prepare work plans: Prepare your checklist of action items weekly and share it with your project leader to ensure your plans are in line with the team’s expectations. Secondly, the exercise will ensure you get the required visibility and will help you track your own deliverables.
The entire journey was possible through the support system that BCG provides, the buddies, the HR and most importantly case team mentor. My mentor happened to be an IIM Bangalore graduate. He was a living testament to the fact that work is worship: he would be the first in the office and the last one to leave and you can guess that the expectations from me were no different.
He was helpful in terms of making me understand the project, guiding me on how to approach the client and reviewing all my powerpoint decks ensuring I learnt the art of storylining. He would give me feedback to help me improve not with the project in view but with a wider perspective – he wanted me to grow. That support ensured I had a lot to take away from the internship apart from a gratifying PPO 😊