The main attraction of consulting for me was the variety of projects I would work on while experiencing different industries and developing a broad range of skills. Essentially, it was a great way to try out several things and see what I might be interested in longer-term. I was fortunate to be able to work for a consulting firm in Germany during my year abroad, which confirmed for me that consulting was something I wanted to do after graduation. While prior consulting experience isn’t necessary, it helped to support my motivation for consulting in interviews. In addition, I believe the time I had spent on the rowing squad at university helped to prove I knew how to juggle work and other commitments – though many other graduates had extra-curricular activities to which they devoted a similar amount of time and passion! For me, the most challenging part of the application process was the case study portion of the interviews. I studied languages, so I had to put in some work to get my mental maths up to speed and brush up on some basic business knowledge. Luckily the case study was something I could practice with friends beforehand, so by the time I started interviews I was more comfortable with what to expect.
I’m still in my first year at BCG, so I’m usually the most junior person in the team. Despite this, I have individual pieces of work for which I am responsible – these vary from project to project and indeed from week to week! My work so far has included creating sales materials for a technology product, researching digital marketing trends, and modelling the profitability of home delivery for groceries. What surprised me the most about consulting is how quickly you learn and retain new things – whether it is the detailed knowledge of a retailer’s loyalty scheme or the excel shortcuts that will save you hours every week.
Your work environment
Consulting isn’t a 9-5 job and this is something I knew coming into it. Fortunately, BCG is full of fantastic people who make the day feel less like ‘work’ and who provide moral support on a late night in the office! The hours can be unpredictable, which can make it challenging to plan my time during the week– I usually try to catch up with friends on at least one evening a week, and I treat anything extra as a great opportunity to relax and switch off. Working on a project away from home provides a different set of challenges – I spent some time on a project in the US, which meant less time with friends and family but was a great chance to get to know my team in the evenings and to be a tourist in a new city on the weekends!
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced since joining BCG has been beginning new projects and feeling like I was starting from scratch in a brand new industry each time. This was particularly true of my second project, as I had spent several months on my first one and become very comfortable with the topic. I’ve learnt that it is helpful to put in time at the start of the project to understand the client and the industry, and that BCG’s resources and experts are invaluable in terms of filling the gaps in my knowledge. In addition, it’s become clear to me that there will always be knowledge or skills I’ve gained from one project that I’ll be able to transfer to another, so with each new project I start in a stronger position than the one before.
Training and development
My time at BCG started with two weeks of formal training (a week in London and a week in Munich), and I will have another week of training in Paris later this year. These sessions provide a good foundation, but it’s become apparent to me that most skills are developed on the job – you can learn the theory of creating an effective storyline or generating a hypothesis in training, but becoming really good at these things comes with practice. What has been particularly striking is the willingness of colleagues at all levels of the company to take time out from their own work to provide help, for example sharing best practices from a similar project or sitting down with me for an hour to help me build a model.
Advice to current students
I have learnt a lot in my time so far at BCG, and I believe there are a few qualities that successful consultants exhibit: good people skills for collaborating with clients and teammates, the ability to think logically and work out the steps required to solve a problem, and great time management. Though these are all skills that I have continued to develop at BCG, my experiences at university helped me to lay the foundations for a successful career in consulting.