I’ve recently been participating in #BlogChat on twitter and came across an interesting idea that’s going on: the #PowerToThePen campaign. Basically, the task is for bloggers to write a post using good old fashioned pen and paper, and then post a picture of the blog instead of typing it up as you normally would. I chose to write an open letter to my younger self (14 years old). I have to say – even after all of these years of typing for practically all forms of written communication, pen and paper still feels the most natural for “true” writing.
In one of my first posts on determining if business school is the right move, I talked about some of the issues students need to consider before going back to school, specifically the full-time business school student. As promised in that post, I want to spend some time sharing my top reasons for pursuing a part-time MBA.
Part-time MBA students can get their MBA without sacrificing the professional development that goes along with leaving to the workforce for two years. Oh yeah, and the income that comes with continuing to work full-time is also a benefit.
Fewer Required Courses
This seems to vary by institution. For example, at the Kellogg School of Management (the best business school in the world in my humble opinion) and the Hass School of Business, part-time students are required to take fewer courses to graduate than their full-time counterparts. On the other hand, the Stern School of Business and the Booth School of Business do not reduce the required coursework for their part-time programs. All of these are top-notch programs that simply have
The idea behind reducing the coursework (at least at Kellogg) is that you will compensate for that discrepancy in coursework by continuing to learn in the workplace since full-time employment is a requirement for the Part-time program.
Perhaps the most interesting difference in choosing to go to the Part-time MBA program is the fact that you can tailor your coursework around the needs of your job/company. For example, I was working at a global consumer goods company that always invested in derivatives. Once I became responsible for consolidating North America financial results, I wanted to better understand how derivatives were structured so I enrolled in an investments class and an international finance class. When you are able to see the value like this immediately, it makes it easier to prioritize things you may not have prioritized otherwise, like studying perhaps…
Instant Professional Network
While going to business full-time allows you to develop a network with your colleagues that will go onto leadership positions in their respective business endeavors, it may take more time to realize this than when you’re in the Part-time program. Similar to how you going part-time means you won’t forgo career advancement for two years, you may also reap the benefits of your classmates continuing to advance their careers. I’ve seen multiple instances where classmates have changed jobs in the middle of the part-time program because of a connection made with a classmate.
Ability to Handle Multiple High Priority Tasks
By successfully completing an MBA program while maintaining your career progression, a potential employer immediately knows that you can take on multiple demanding tasks at a time to achieve a desired outcome. Honestly, people respect the fact that you were even brave enough to try going back to school while working full-time. And if you have a baby in the middle of the program like I did, it makes for a great story.
People always love a great story.
People tend to cite two well-documented reasons, namely travel and the hours, as the reason he or she decided not to pursue a career in consulting. In fact, the travel was the only reason I didn’t want to pursue consulting coming out of undergraduate school. It’s interesting to see how one’s perspective can change with additional work experience and emotional maturity, but I digress…
Travel and what sometimes feels like endless hours in the office are perfectly valid reasons to focus your job search elsewhere, but if you are undaunted by that challenge, there are three lesser talked about things you have to be prepared to take on once you become a consultant.
1. Status Meetings
Most corporate jobs require some degree of sitting through meetings which may not be the most relevant to you (read: boring, inefficient, etc.). What you will find in management consulting is that the frequency of meetings you need to attend, some of which undoubtedly will be less relevant to you than others, multiplies by roughly tenfold. The main culprit to blame for this is the status meeting.
In a business where the stakes can be so high, as in career making or breaking, it is crucial to CYA, as we say in the business, and one way in which this is done is the status meeting. These checkpoints allow everyone the opportunity to understand the progress of the project and if there are any concerns that need to be escalated. To put it simply, this is how you manage expectations through the project so that there are no surprises (e.g. missed deadlines) later on. In some cases you will have a status meeting for a status meeting to prepare for an executive status meeting.
I really wish I was joking about this. I guess you can say the number of status and review meetings required is directly correlated with the importance of the meeting at the end of that cycle. In my previous example, that would be the executive meeting (clearly very important!).
2. Extreme Scrutiny
Everyone associates consultants with a high price tag. With that price tag comes even higher expectations and with those expectations comes still higher levels of scrutiny. If you take offense to people double- and triple-checking your work, it is something you will either learn to embrace or you will find yourself looking for other employment. It makes sense if you stop to think about it – if YOU were paying hundreds of thousands our millions of dollars for a service or product, wouldn’t you want to be sure the numbers were run correctly and the analysis was spot on?
When this scrutiny is applied internally, you should think of it more as a collaborative exercise and less of a result of some sort of distrust. Specifically, if your manager, peer, or direct report can catch a typo or mistake in the analysis, it can be corrected before losing credibility with the client. Just to be clear, increased client credibility => more projects won by your firm => more $ paid to you.
3. Lots of Listening
A few months ago I read the book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, and one of the principles of this book is listening to understand. What this means is you actually have to HEAR what people are saying to you. It’s not about listening so that you can respond and/or share the latest widget is that you have to sell. It’s about genuinely feeling the underlying
In a lot of ways, consultants are like business therapists, so if you don’t want to hear people talk about their problems, regardless of how irrational or unreasonable the people may be at times, then a different long-term career path might be a better fit.
I say long-term because even if you’re not strong in any of the three areas above AND you don’t want to travel AND you don’t want to work unpredictable hours, people can push through anything for a set period of time. Just know what you’re getting into and plan accordingly.
I just came across this Forbe’s article on one of our young gold medal women’s swimmers, Missy Franklin. According to Forbes, Missy is on the verge of bypassing millions of dollars in earnings to retain her amateur status and compete in NCAA competition.
I’m all for pursuing your dreams, but I seriously hope someone…anyone… is providing her all of the context on how the “real world” operates, especially in the world of fickle sports fans. Comments such as “the money will be there in 4 years” and “she’s going to be the best swimmer in the world in 2014” are doing her no favors. Operating under the assumption that she can come back to this opportunity 2 or 4 years from now is a dangerous game to play. I’ve found firsthand that guarantees in life are few and far between, so it’s best to capitalize on opportunities when they are presented.
This issue is not “black and white,” and I know as parents,we want to make every dream come true for our children, many times at a cost that others might not understand, but is there a boundary to this? At some point, we have to guide (and sometimes push) our children to make the most practical decision, right?
Missy is nearly an adult in the eyes of the law (17 years old) and ultimately should be allowed to make her own decisions, going against whatever conventions she likes and learning life lessons on her own, but I cannot shake the feeling that this move is fiscally irresponsible. I’m truly hoping opportunity knocks again and that this story ends with Missy living happily ever after.
What would you do/say if it were your daughter?
|Typical Day in Consulting|
Here is another question that a lot of people thinking about going into consulting ask: what is a typical day in management consulting? First, let me say that there isn’t really a typical day, client, or project. Everyday there is a good chance you will find yourself doing something that you weren’t expecting. I’ll give you a recent example: one of our senior partners was initially only going to participate in a client meeting via phone on a limited basis, and next thing we know she tells us she is flying into Boston to speak with the client in person, so we (i.e. I) needed to make sure the partner was fully prepped on the work we are doing at the client and the vision going forward. It wasn’t something I had planned for, but it was something that needed to be done.
You begin each with a certain list of things you want to accomplish but flexibility and the ability to prioritize will become your two new best friends. Just make sure you understand the big picture of your assignment so that you can prioritize correctly, and if you don’t have a firm grasp on the big picture then you should ask.Trust me – it’s better to get it right up front than to have someone asking you later on why you didn’t you clarify things.
With respect to typical clients (the people in this case, not the company), you may find yourself specializing in a particular industry, but there is no predicting the types of personalities you will encounter at a given company. Truth be told, the same applies internally to the colleagues you will work with on your project teams. While you may try to work again with people you gel with on future assignments, there are always some different players that come into the picture and change the chemistry of the team. The change doesn’t have to be good or bad, per se. It’s just different and takes some time to adjust.
Each project, even when performing the same type of work, has different challenges that you will face, particularly company culture. The culture goes beyond the individual personalities that I referenced in the previous paragraph. Culture speaks to how business operate as a whole in dealing with both external parties (customers) and internal parties (employees) and how the business responds in the face of change. The change piece is the one you have to really monitor. Just because your previously client was able to do something in 10 weeks that does not mean this client can do it in the same amount of time.
The underlying reasons for the difference in change uptake can vary. It may be as simple as resources are constrained and you need to extend your timeline as a result (i.e. you have to understand what % people are dedicated to a project as they are still responsible for their “day job”) or something complex such as being fearful that their jobs will be rendered obsolete. The bottom line here is to work with your direct client contact to understand the environment you’re working in and the most efficient and effective ways to get things done.
Any more specific questions on a “typical day” just let me know in the comments.
|My favorite app folder|
Pretty much everyone I know has the iPhone, and I assume anyone reading this probably has it as well since the user adoption seems to be growing with every iPhone release. I don’t know if the Droid phones have this same functionality I’m about to discuss, but if not I’m sure Droid users reading this can pretend and play along.
I am frequently asked what advice I would give students looking to get into consulting. My answer remains the same whether the student is in undergraduate school or business school. The first thing you have to remember is obtaining a job is more about the people interaction than anything else, unless you work in a highly technical field. The people emphasis is exponentially more important in consulting.
In fact, you will likely hear people talk about how this is a “people business” at least 600 times as you go through the process of pursuing a consulting opportunity. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also warn you that the people aspect becomes the primary way of managing your career once you join a consulting firm. If people do not want to work with you, it doesn’t matter where you went to school or how smart you are – your stint in consulting will be short-lived if you don’t understand how to manage and navigate people.
That being said, let me explain a few of the key ways you can show your saavy in effectively handling people and their different personalities. Some of these may seem like a “nice to have,” but these behaviors need to be the baseline for you to even have a chance to be considered as a viable candidate.
1. Show Up
|Always Show Up|
If there is a firm that you are serious about pursuing you need to show up at every event. Every time a firm visits campus or has a job fair, you need to be there. If there is a coffee chat or some other off-site activity, you need to be there. If they offer some sort of mentor or buddy program, you need to sign up for that, too. I think you can see a pattern here. There are several reasons why you need to do this.
First, it gives you a chance to meet people that work at the firm, and the more positive impressions you can make, the better. Please not that it’s not just the senior partners that will influence your fate. Think about it this way, if you were choosing between two comparable people on paper for a job opening and you already knew you enjoyed being around one of the two people, which one would YOU choose for the job?
|Reason for the “airport test”|
When I was interviewing for my current position, I had multiple people explain to me the importance of the “airport test.” This is when an interviewer is imply looking to determine if they would want to be stuck in an airport with a candidate. Sounds simple, but this test is the reason that many people don’t receive consulting offers form their target firms. I can’t emphasize enough that if you are not able to connect with people around you, establishing credibility as a potential consultant will be impossible.
Secondly, so many people apply to consulting firms every year but don’t show the right level of follow-through. Simply by showing up to every event and putting a face to your name, you can differentiate yourself from many peers pursuing the same positions.
This is a “gimme.” Please don’t mess this up.
2. Be a Problem Solver
|Always have a solution|
Consultants are professional problem solvers. Clients hire us because their problems were too challenging to solve on their own. If you can demonstrate that you already have a history of strategizing and executing solutions/plans then you’re already ahead of the game. For, example, let’s say you organized a fundraiser from conception to execution in order to reach a specific monetary goal. This shows me two things: 1) you have a vision and 2) you know how to follow-through on that vision to achieve the desired outcome. These two skills are invaluable to a consultant.
3. Speak With Confidence
Everyone recruiting for consulting positions assumes that the way you speak to him/her is the way you will speak to a client. Clients hire consultants to be experts who can resolve complex issues. The last thing a client wants to feel is that you don’t even believe in what you’re doing. If you have a well thought-out perspective based on facts, you should deliver it with confidence. Don’t get nervous about the “right” answer as there is rarely a single solution to address a particular issue. If the client (or interviewer) disagrees with your conclusion you be comfortable explaining your assumptions and collaborate to come up with a suitable approach to reach the desired outcome. If you come undone or fold every time a suggestion of yours is challenged, you will come off as indecisive, or worse, not knowledgeable. Many times, a question really is just to make sure your points are understood, not to imply that you done something incorrectly.
Focusing on these three points will get you a long in obtaining that consulting offer that many people strive for. Feel free to add other good advice from your experience or more specific questions on making this transition in the comments.
To be honest, the frequency with which these things come up in conversations borders on the ridiculous.
You would think that after a few years doing this that people would find something else to talk about, but that is not the case. If you are lucky enough to standout in one of these areas, you will definitely earn the respect of your peers.
1. Computer Bags
One of the first things I learned after getting into this job where travel is the rule rather than the exception is that nobody EVER uses the firm-issued computer bag. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but I’ve met a lot of people on this job and I can remember only one person that was still using the bag they were given at orientation.
While not using the default bag as your mobile office is of the highest importance, it is a not decision that should be rushed and taken lightly. Judgements inevitably will be made based on the bag that you choose. For example, the first manager I worked for in consulting opted for the Swiss Army backpack. This says “function over style” to everyone with whom he comes into contact. Basic yet durable. And if I had to choose a colleague that I thought would give me the best chance to live in a “survival situation” it would be that guy simple because of the bag he choose. In my mind Swiss Army = Eagle Scout = most likely to know what to do stranded on a deserted island. To quote Charles Barkley, “I may be wrong, but I doubt it.”
On the other hand, you have the type that goes with the brown leather briefcase that must be carried by hand. This says, “I want people to look at this bag and know how professional I am.” The brown color seems to be just to draw attention but to be fair, this may be what’s fashionable these days. As for the briefcase style, when you’re on the move this much, why else would you choose a big requiring you to have a hand occupied at all times. Not practical at all and results if you asking people if they can help hold or carry things way more often than you should… You can make your own conclusions.
I personally chose the Briggs & Riley bag below. The backpack design allows me to be hands-free, and distributes weight across more of the body, which must be good for the back. I haven’t seen the research on this, but I’m sure it’s out there… This particular bag is TSA friendly (quick-release butterfly flap so that I don’t have to remove my laptop from the bag for the x-ray), which is a big win when you’re going through airport security twice a week. So if the “very professional” guy wants to claim this is juvenile, I’m ok with that, because I’m not the one that will be paying outlandish chiropractor bills down the road.
|After (a few trips across the pond later…)|
|3000 SPG Points in one shot is nothing to sneeze at|
Most people don’t stay in hotels often enough to even notice the hotel points you accumulate and the various offers that hotels make in order to improve their position in a highly competitive market. That being said, believe me when I tell you that consultants take their hotel points very seriously. This is how are able to go on vacation at a reasonable cost and somewhat rationalize being away from our families an absurd amount of time.
To give you an idea of how real this is, I worked with a guy who would check-out of his hotel every night and check into another hotel within the same group of hotels to accrue more “stays” and accelerate his progress to the highest hotel status.
There’s not much worse than the feeling I get when I find there is a double points promotion that I missed, while my colleagues are basking in the glory of double or triple rewards points.
Luckily, I know how to play the game much better now, which basically just means I have to read every single email that comes through from SPG, but it’s worth it.
3. Frequent Flyer Miles
Consultants love frequent flyer miles almost as much as they love hotel points. The thing with frequent flyer miles it that airlines don’t negotiate, and depending on where you live, you don’t have much say which airline you’re flying on in the first place. Still, will I throw it out there that I just got 3 tickets to LA for nothing and still have more miles left than I can do anything with at the moment or how I got upgraded to first class this morning? Absolutely.
Frequent flyer miles are battle scars for consultants – I worked with a Senior Manager that had over 1 million miles remaining. That’s what I call battle tested.
4. The Holy Grail
Anyone who travels knows that the worst part of the travel is getting through security. This little gem is a new development in airline security and essentially allows you to walk right through the airport because you’re the man (or woman).
TSA Pre can be found right now in only 16 airports, and even then it is only with select participating airlines. Once you have this on your resume, you can officially say you’ve “made it” as a consultant.
It wasn’t long before I started seeing responses, rebuttals and posts supporting Slaughter’s article all over Twitter and Facebook. One particular response caught my attention, “Men Never Had It All,” written by Toure (@Toure). He goes on to describe the work-life dilemma from a father and husband’s perspective, which resonated even more with me as the sold breadwinner for my family. Towards the end, I got a chill when reading the beginning of his closing paragraph:
“Men are more likely than women to choose work at a cost to family. Perhaps they suffer less emotionally over that, but there’s still pain there. We just push the feelings down and don’t complain.”
This is the absolute truth – I choose work because I have to…because my family needs me to do it, and I know many others in a similar position.When I hear that my daughter has been crying saying, “I miss my daddy,” it makes me wonder if I’m doing the right thing. Am I so focused on my family not growing up poor like I did that I’m missing more important things? Not sure, and my answer will probably vary depending on the day.
So you might be wondering what any of this has to do with the title of this post. As a consultant, this work-life struggle is amplified because I am physically away from my family 4 days a week for most weeks during the year. I’ve come to accept the fact that some days I won’t get to speak with my wife through text, and I may not speak to my kids at all. I’ve accepted that I chose to take on this demanding career to secure a financial future for my children that I never had. And just when I think my 4-year old understands that Daddy is away working, and I’ve convinced myself that I’m doing the right thing for our family as a whole, I come home from Boston, my daughter greets me with a running hug and says, “I’m so glad you came over!”
That is the pain that Toure is talking about in the quote above. I know that my daughter is young and that is her way of trying to express herself, but the pull at the heart I experienced in that moment lingers…Is this having it all? Is this the life I want more myself, my kids growing thinking their dad lives in Boston (or some other city) and doesn’t exist for 4 days every week? More importantly, I need to figure out if this is the life I want for them.
This decision really applies to any sort of post-graduate academics pursuits, but I will focus on the MBA since that is the choice I had to make and where I have the most firsthand experience.Here are a few key questions to answer as you go through the process of determining if business school is the right move:
1. Why are you considering going back to school?
As simple as this question is, many people don’t have a clear understanding of why they want to go back to business school or the benefit they expect to receive from obtaining an MBA. Many companies focus in organic growth and place little emphasis on having an MBA. If you have been frequently promoted and are considered a high performer then going back to school may not be the right choice for you.
That being said, if you are looking to get to the next level (and/or senior leadership positions) within your company and all of the people currently holding those positions have MBAs, it may be a sign that you should start looking for some quiet places to study.
On the other hand, if any of the examples below explain your reasons for why you want to pursue business school, I’d recommend you focus your attention elsewhere.
a. I’m not sure what I want to do with it
b. I think it’d be good to have
c. My parents think I should go back to business school
d. All of my friends are doing it
I think you get the idea so I will move on to the next question.
2. Who is going to pay for it?
With the rising cost of education, gone are the days of deciding on schools without taking finances into consideration. The debts that many students incur are life-changing and if you don’t have a clear vision of what this means and how you will generate a return on your investment, you can cause yourself some unnecessary financial strife down the road.
If you have any an employer or sponsor that is going to help share the burden of you graduate education, you need to be sure that you understand what will be required of you in exchange for that support (e.g. 2 years of service following completion of graduate coursework) and determine if it’s an acceptable trade-off.
3. Where are you going to go?
There are some different schools of thought on this topic and I will share my view. If you are going back to business school you should be targeting a school generally considered to be a top 10 program and definitely not consider any schools outside of the top 25.
A large part of the value you get from business school is outside of the actual education you receive. It’s the network that you build with classmates and alumni as well as the school’s reputation when they see that institution’s names on your resume. These are the qualities that are going to play the biggest part in accelerating your career or allowing you to change careers if that is your goal, and this benefit is significantly less when you don’t attend a top school.
I’ve always been frustrated that this how is the world we live in works, but I’ve come to grips with it and focused on using what I know to my advantage. The sooner you make a similar shift in mindset, the sooner you can identify the most effective strategy to reach your career goals.
4. What are you going to do once you have the MBA? Immediately following graduation? Five Years after graduation?
This is the last and most important point you want to consider when determining if business school is the right move for you. The way you want to think about this is there is no reason to take on tens of thousands of debt and give up 2 years of work experience/progression only to return to a similar position at the same company (or any other for that matter) for marginally more compensation. Even if you aren’t 100% sure what you want to do, you should have a strong feel for the potential outcomes and how they would impact you professionally and financially.
Pursuit of an MBA should be a strategic move to accelerate your career, with an action plan to achieve tangible returns on your investment. Of course plans change as you encounter new information along the way, but by taking a step back and challenging yourself with each of the questions above, you can make a more sound decision on business school and proactively shape the roadmap for your future before its too late.
Note: Post was written considering only business school full-time. Part-time students have some additional considerations that I will address in a separate post.