How I got hired at Roland Berger
Claudia Bates, a senior consultant at Roland Berger, talks about her job, developments in consulting and advice for aspiring consultants. Claudia studied English at the University of Cambridge.
Political developments such as Brexit are always going to create uncertainty and strategic questions for clients.
1. Why consulting?
I thought it would be a good environment in which to gain a broad understanding of the world of business, and to develop skills that would be useful for general management. I also wanted work that I would find intellectually challenging, and a company where there was a big emphasis on training and development.
2. Did you do any other work before consulting?
I worked for a market research firm on both client-facing research projects and internal strategy projects. This experience allowed me to develop data handling skills, and gave me a better general understanding of how businesses and client relationships work.
3. What do you think made you stand out from the other candidates?
I think the combination of an arts degree, evidence of quantitative ability (via previous work and A levels) and the extracurricular activities I had taken on at university helped to demonstrate I had the rounded skill set needed for consulting.
4. What have your major career steps so far been?
Aside from promotions since joining as a graduate, a major career milestone for me was taking a year out to study an MBA at INSEAD, where I spent time on both the Singapore and France campuses. It was a brilliant opportunity to consolidate and formalise skills I had already developed, broaden my knowledge in areas I was especially interested in and to meet people from all over the world.
5. What is your current role?
I'm a senior consultant, which means I manage either smaller projects, or a work stream within a larger project. I'm usually responsible for steering the work of a team of more junior consultants.
6. What are your main responsibilities on a day-to-day basis?
Day-to-day tasks vary widely depending on the nature of the project and stage at which it is at. They could include developing hypotheses, planning or structuring a project approach or the storyline for a presentation, conducting analysis or research, or managing others doing the same, and discussing findings with clients.
7. Has anything surprised you about consulting work?
There's not as much travel as I thought there would be. A lot of projects can be done from the office rather than the client site, especially when the main focus of a project is on external market dynamics rather than a client's internal operations. I've also been surprised by how far common sense can take you!
8. How is your work/life balance?
As with any high-pressure services job it can be challenging to manage work/life balance, but with enough planning you can usually make time to balance the two. In my experience, there is generally very little face-time or micro-managing by senior members, meaning that as long as you get the work done, you have a lot of freedom over when you work.
9. What are the most exciting parts of working in this area?
The unpredictability – working in a big international firm means that exciting opportunities in the UK and abroad can come up at very short notice, and you often never know which client or project you'll be working on in a few months' time.
10. What aspect of your job do you find the most challenging?
This would also have to be the unpredictability! While it keeps life exciting and varied, last-minute client requests or trips abroad can make it difficult to plan ahead.
11. Tell us about a career highlight.
This would have to be advising a major corporate client through an entire strategy cycle. We started with a market entry strategy project, followed on by due diligence on a target company identified. We then advised the client on aspects of the post-merger integration. It was hugely satisfying being able to aid and input on major real-life strategic decision-making, and then seeing the consequences of those decisions. There were also some great people in the client team from whom I learned a lot.
12. And a career crisis?
I spent one project based in the UK but working Australian hours in order to be able to speak to people there. Going home for the night just as everyone else was arriving bright and chirpy with their morning coffee was pretty disorientating.
13. What exciting developments have you witnessed in consulting?
The ever-increasing quantity and availability of data creates the opportunity to conduct richer and more creative analysis. As a consultant that means you are able to make more informed and reliable recommendations. Political developments such as Brexit are also always going to create uncertainty and strategic questions for clients.
14. Is there anything you wish you'd focused on more at university, which would have helped you receive an offer from Roland Berger?
I wish I had started doing internships and work experience earlier. I think direct experience is the only way of really understanding what a certain career or job involves and whether it would suit you. Regardless of whether the internship is in the specific field you want to go into, just having some experience enables you to talk with much more conviction about what you do want to do and why.
15. What three pieces of career advice would you offer students entering consulting?
1. Showing the right attitude and a keenness to learn is more important than the skills and knowledge you have when starting out.
2. Ask for lots of feedback.
3. Consider what you want to learn and where you want to go as you are starting out in consulting. As in any career, you'll develop more quickly if you have a clear idea of this and are proactive about steering towards it.