The recruiting process starts early for first-year MBA students, and while it starts early it moves quickly. While many MBA students understand that they need to decide on what to focus on for recruiting, an MBA experience provides the opportunity to try something completely new. Taking a broader approach can help students figure out how to zero in on a specific industry or function. To help provide perspective on this, I had the chance to interview Lisa Donchak, a recent Wharton MBA Graduate who recruited for management consulting – and a lot of other things – while a student at Wharton.
MBASchooled: After working in tech, what drove you to pursue a career in consulting?
Lisa: When I came to Wharton, I was sure I was going to return to work in the tech space. Given that, I wanted to try something completely different over the summer. It’s rare to have an opportunity to test out a different career and get a new experience, and I didn’t want to waste that. So, I applied to anything and everything that seemed remotely interesting, including tech (of course), apparel, government defense contractors, athletic organizations … anything that seemed like an opportunity to immerse myself in something thought-provoking and completely different.
Consulting hadn’t been on my radar, mainly because I didn’t really understand what it was. Also, the recruiting process seemed insurmountable! But I dropped a resume with McKinsey anyway – the worst thing they could say was no – and somehow got an invitation to interview.
Even though it was a lot of work, I really enjoyed preparing for the interview. Case interviews ask you to think holistically and creatively about a business problem you’ve never seen before, which is a really valuable skill to have and a fun process to undertake. Some of the cases we worked on involved pandas at a zoo or Napa Valley-based wineries – how awesome is that? Even if the job didn’t come through, the learning opportunity of the recruiting process alone would have been worth the effort. So, when McKinsey called me with an internship offer, I accepted on the spot.
MBASchooled: How would you describe the consulting recruiting process?
Lisa: As difficult as you make it. It’s easy to get anxious about the recruiting process, because everyone around you is also getting anxious about it. My advice: take a weekend off – or more than one! Get out of the bubble of your school and reset – don’t read P&Q, sneak in a case, or try to do some math flashcards. Take a break every so often.
What helped me was recognizing that I had a lot of options. Consulting wasn’t my only iron in the fire – far from it – and I wasn’t even sure if it was for me! Knowing I had viable backup plans that I was also excited about helped ease some of that tension.
Getting dinged is not the end of the world. I got turned down at tons of companies – both consulting and non-consulting – during this recruiting process. Seriously, maybe 15 or 20 places said no. I even got a ding from another company I’d applied to … during my first week at McKinsey. That one actually felt pretty good, because those other guys were late to the party!
Does rejection sting? Of course. But life goes on, and it’s important to have that longer-term perspective. Remember that this couple of months of recruiting is not the most important thing you’ll ever do with your life.
MBASchooled: Can you share a high and a low from the consulting recruiting process?
Lisa: They’re probably the same, actually! For those of you who have cased before, you may recognize the one featuring the panda… You’re helping a Zoo owner evaluate whether or not they should procure a panda for a new exhibit. You have to calculate the ROI of the panda, estimating revenues from sources like increased ticket sales and concessions, and cost of the panda: procuring, feeding, and taking care of it.
The low point was realizing I had no idea how to calculate the cost or value of the panda. I was frustrated because I had been casing for a while now, and not knowing how to proceed with this one shook my confidence – I didn’t feel like I was ever going to understand how to figure this process out.
My case buddy suggested using a perpetuity for this problem – and the high point was realizing I had literally just learned how to calculate that in our finance class the week before! It was inordinately exciting to apply skills from class to this case.
Right up until the point where we realized that case asked us to do this for not one panda, but also a second panda, and possibly a panda cub … so, that one took a while.
MBASchooled: Can you share a difficult interview you had, and what made it so difficult?
Lisa: This was my second interview of my second (and final) round. I went into this interview feeling pretty confident, as I felt like I’d done pretty well with my first interview that day. My second interviewer seemed so friendly and welcoming, so I felt like this was going to go pretty well, too!
She gave me the scenario for the case, and after a few minutes, I presented my framework. Her earlier friendliness promptly evaporated, and she immediately tore it apart, saying it wasn’t MECE and it would be impossible to structure a team around this framework. To respond to her feedback, I tried to fix my framework on the fly to fit with her criteria. After a few minutes of floundering like this, I realized that I still felt like my original one was good, so I pushed back and defended the thought process behind it, shared how I thought it was, in fact, very MECE, and explained how I would structure a team around it.
I felt pretty bold – I was directly contradicting my interviewer [although I tried to do it nicely]! She accepted my pushback, but the rest of the interview had echoes of that early confrontation – she’d push for my rationale, I’d give it, and we’d move on.
Afterwards, she was right back to her enthusiastic self. I was sure I’d bombed it, but I got my offer that night!
MBASchooled:When you talk to first-years, or prospective students who are interested in consulting, what kind of advice do you normally give them?
Lisa: Relax, relax, relax. The worst thing you can do for an interview like this is stress out too much. Enjoy the casing process – it’s a fun learning experience – and treat the interview like a learning opportunity. If you overthink it, you’ll probably freeze up and fail. Just go with the flow and remember to have fun – remember that your interviewers are probably really cool people too, and they want to enjoy this process as much as you do!