As an introduction to consulting, Consulting 101 provides both an overview of the recruiting process and a personal account of the consulting internship from a fellow Notre Dame student.
Personal Account from Khesa Borotho '21
So somebody asked me recently: “If you were to describe consulting using five sentences or phrases, what would you say?”
For context, I spent last summer interning with McKinsey & Co. in the Atlanta office. My internship lasted ten weeks, during which I worked with a non-profit client based in Atlanta. I also spent two weeks on an internal study. Though I cannot condense the entirety of my experience in this single post, I will share a few anecdotes of my time as an intern and shed some light into the nature of consulting.
So here is my response....
1. Ownership is the name of the game
It’s the end of my first week as a summer intern, and the partner on my project walks into the team room. He is a tall man with piercing eyes and an air of authority about him. After introductions and formalities, he looks at me and says: “So tell me about your work stream, Khesa. What’s your vision for it?”.
No pressure at all, dear sophomore.
As I look back, that moment foreshadowed how the rest of my summer would unfold. Consulting is all about ownership. Whether you’re the most senior member of the team or a summer intern, there is an expectation that you drive the research, analysis and presentation of your set of tasks.
On a consulting team, everyone is an expert at something and the team relies on every consultant to add their own spice to the stew. In my case, I was primarily responsible for designing a set of metrics that the client would use throughout the strategic restructuring process. I drove this segment from scratch; I interviewed specialists in the field about the appropriate metrics, I developed an excel model for tracking the metrics, and I sought feedback from partners about the models’ effectiveness. Later in the summer, I felt very empowered when the same partner asked the team about metrics and I stood up to provide the answer.
2. Consultants are driven by Impact.
Have you been on projects before where everyone is just going through the motions? Nobody says it, but you know for a fact that everybody is thinking it: “I am only doing this because it’s my job. Somebody asked me to do it”.
I hate to burst the bubble, but consulting couldn’t be any more different. I learnt early on during my internship that the partner in my study had a very deep relationship with the client. Most McKinsey projects, I observed, had a similar theme; leaders were well-versed about the histories, inner workings, and missions of client companies. The partners in my study wanted to deliver real impact for the non-profit, and this passion trickled down all the way to me as a sophomore intern.
I’ve come to learn that consulting firms don’t undertake projects just for the paycheck, they undertake projects because they truly believe in their ability to deliver meaningful results. Teams spend hours and hours brainstorming and refining ideas so that the end product is a strategy that will deliver actual value for the client. I genuinely cannot recount the number of times I heard this question tossed around in team meetings, “are we doing what’s best for our client?”
3. The Grind don’t stop.
I leave the office late one Tuesday evening. It’s a little past 1am as I pack my bags in a frenzy and meander through the client’s offices to leave the building. After a long day at work, I feel a surge of comfort flow through my spine as I sink into the Uber’s leather seats and head for my apartment. All I’m thinking about are my white bed sheets. Three minutes into the drive, I receive a text from my manager: “Hi Khesa, I am sending you the deck for tomorrow’s meeting. Do you have a few minutes tonight to scan it and make sure that all figures and numbers are in order?”
“Yes, Chris. Of course!”
As I’ve already mentioned, consulting companies are driven by impact. While projects definitely differ from one to another, this dedication to impact sometimes means late nights, especially when a client needs to see results in a short time frame. I must admit, I was not ready for the rigor I was faced with as a consulting intern; the hours were long and sometimes the work got mentally and physically draining. Even though these periods of intense work only lasted a few days at a time, I wished someone had warned me that the work could get that hectic. Ultimately, it’s all about finding the balance between lifestyle goals and project goals.
4. Teamwork makes the deck work.
Consulting is the ultimate team sport. For this exact reason, the behavioral portion of consulting interviews almost always contains a question related to a team setting. I realized this on the first day of my internship when my manager sat our entire team down and explained that each of us was going to be responsible for a particular set of tasks—what we call a work stream. The success of the entire project, he elaborated, was contingent on the success of each work stream. Throughout the summer, teamwork showed itself in different ways. Once, I mentioned that I had a lot on my plate, and a teammate of mine wasted no second in offering to carry some of the work. I also learnt during my time as an intern that as much as possible, there is no hierarchy in a consulting team; the voice of a senior analyst is just as important as that of a sophomore intern.
Whether you are an underclassman who is still in the discernment process, or a senior about to join a company full time, it is important to hone those teamwork skills. Some important tips are to over-communicate, under-promise but over-deliver, understand your teammates’ personality traits, and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
5. Little bit of this...little bit of that.
It’s the winter holidays and I am back in my home country, Lesotho. My dad and I are having one of those deep and meaningful conversations when he eventually asks me: “What do you actually do at this company of yours...McKinsey?”
“Well” I respond, “My work involves a decent amount of research, I do a lot of work with Excel, I brainstorm almost on a daily basis with my team and I also present to clients”. He looks at me with a puzzled face and immediately looks away. I can tell he is clearly still confused.
“I help clients solve their most pressing business problems, that’s really all you need to know, dad”
During my internship, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my job allowed me to flex a variety of professional muscles. During my seven-week stint with the non-profit client, I worked on two Excel models; designed a community workshop; continuously worked on a PowerPoint deck; and conducted research by interviewing multiple stakeholders. The dynamic nature of the consulting industry is exactly what endears it to me; I want to learn as much as possible about different industries, I want to build a well-rounded skill set that can be applied to a plethora of other professions, but perhaps more importantly, I want to do these things alongside curious and multi-talented individuals.
It’s very difficult to define what consulting is. No two clients are the same, no two projects are the same and no two consultants are the same. Still, I hope my five phrases make the picture a little clearer. If you’re interested in forging your own path within the structured environment of a company; if you’re a team player and you’re driven by impact; or if you simply want to try out different types of projects in these early stages of your professional career...consulting just might be for you
President & former Diversity Outreach coordinator