Chances are good that you’ve heard the old saying “opportunity is where luck meets preparation.” The saying always made sense to me, but it never rang truer than in Summer 2009. I had three quarters left in business school and was starting to get the itch…the itch to do something BIG.
Simply put, I wanted to be in the position to make and influence key decisions. I concluded there were two ways I could do this.
First, the most direct route was to become a management consultant. After all, management consultants impact key decisions on a daily basis. The second option involved taking a corporate strategy or mergers and acquisitions (M&A) type of role, but every time I looked at one of these roles I found a common theme: “management consulting or investment banking experience preferred.” Given I only had a background in accounting, it looked like consulting was the way to go.
A couple of months went by where I spent every waking hour practicing, reading and re-reading case studies and solutions. I printed out case studies, did case studies online and practiced case studies with other classmates gearing up for consulting interviews.
In September 2009, as fall MBA recruiting began, I emailed a close mentor to confirm/challenge my conclusion that consulting was the right move for me. He agreed with my reasoning and the thought that consulting was the right move for me, but that wasn’t all that he said. If he stopped there, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
What did he say that had such an impact on my life?
He told me the National Black MBA conference was happening the following week in New Orleans and that I should consider going down for it. His non-profit organization (www.ml4t.org) was hosting a breakfast with many key recruiters from a variety of top firms, and there were also various receptions that would be taking place during the weekend.
It sounded like the perfect opportunity to make some progress on my career change, but I balked at the timing. We were closing our third quarter financial reporting, one of the busiest times of the year in my job, so I was already mentally preparing myself to miss out this opportunity. If you have accounting friends or are an accountant yourself, you know that scheduling ANYTHING during a close week, let alone a QUARTER close, is just something you don’t do. Ever.
At least that’s what I thought before I was quickly set straight. After I expressed my concern about the timing of the conference, my mentor sent this response:
“You have to get out and build relationships that will enable your career to flourish now and longer term. Trust me it won’t happen if you just focus on academics and do a good job at work. It is way way more important than whatever is happening at school for 1 day even if it is exams, and you are making a big mistake by not getting out there given what you want to do. There is always a good reason not to go to something like this (work, school, family, cash), but you have to get out and make it happen and you never regret going when you do. Trust me.
This ended up being some of the best career advice that I’ve ever gotten. I let him know I was all in and by the end of the day I had an invitation in my inbox to a closed reception that Accenture was hosting in New Orleans. Things were starting to get real in a fast way. I booked a flight to New Orleans on Thursday, September 24 with the Accenture reception that night. The breakfast was the next morning on the 25th, and I was flying back home to Chicago the night of the 25th.
Fast forward to the reception…I walked into the room and saw a sea of eager young job seekers that outnumbered the Accenture representatives 10-to-1. After a few minutes of standard mingling and introductions I noticed an Accenture person in the room who somehow managed to not be surrounded by a swam of jobseekers. I went over to introduce myself and found myself in a one-on-one conversation. I talked about my CPA, working on my MBA at night and how I was interested in joining the Finance & Performance Management practice at Accenture.
After about ten minutes of conversation he says to me, “You talk a pretty good game. We should get you on the interview schedule.” He proceeded to walk me to the front and tell one of the greeters/recruiters at the door he’d like to get me on the interview schedule…for the next day! The recruiter took all of my info and said she would call me to get me on the calendar. The recruiter asked me if I was ready for the case interviews or if I wanted to try to re-schedule. I wasn’t completely sure she would follow-up to schedule the interview the next day let alone for some unspecified time in the future, so I jumped on the opportunity to have the interviews as soon as possible. I ended up with two interviews the next day and ultimately with a career change a lot of people dream of.
As it turns out, that person I spoke to at that reception was the North America managing director of management consulting for Accenture. I still have people to this day ask me, “what the hell did you say to him at that reception?”
I guess I got lucky…