It’s usually rather challenging to differentiate the consulting experience into the work that consulting entails and the lifestyle and culture it offers, but then again, these are indeed weird times for the entire world. I attempt to write about not the usual five-star hotel stays, not the frequent fine dining escapades, not the informal team outings and parties, nor of the board room meetings with the top management of leading global companies, but of the sit-at-home rollercoaster ride (rather paradoxically) that was the summer internship at Strategy&.
Hello everyone! My name is Sahil Dixit, soon to be a fourth year student in the department of chemical engineering at IIT Bombay.
What is consulting?
Put very simply, consulting firms are hired by organizations to solve business problems and find data-driven solutions. These problems can be varied in nature – “How do we increase our profits?”, “Should we expand our business to the Middle East?”, “How do we make the most out of the COVID-19 lockdown situation and emerge strong?” etc. To solve these problems, consultants conduct different kinds of research, perform analyses on relevant aspects of the research and client data, find actionable insights from the analyses, report tangible recommendations to the client, and (sometimes) be responsible to ensure that the recommendations are executed. There are specific methods, tools and frameworks for each of the above tasks that consulting firms are privy to, which enable them to effectively solve business problems.
As the end of my sophomore year approached, I was more or less clueless about what to do ahead in terms of internship/career choice. There was nothing that was particularly appealing to me (and even if something was – I didn’t have extensive work experience to verify), and only a few things that I was sure I did not want to do. I did have a vague idea about the various opportunities that are generally available for third year internships, but did not have an accurate understanding of what might be right for me, and thought I should delve deeper to be able to make a more informed choice.
I talked with a few seniors, read Insight’s summer blogs, and tried to find out more on the internet. I was very lucky to be in contact with helpful people (especially Techfest alumni) who had directly worked in consulting and other sectors, and they helped me understand whether or not this might be the right option for me, and how it compares with other sectors. It seemed to be the case that consulting is a field where no expertise in a particular field is required/developed (at least in the initial years), and one can get maximally exposed to different industries, develop a universally applicable business acumen and work alongside a set of sharp minds in a relatively open and flat hierarchical environment.
Strategy& is a global strategy consulting firm that usually comes to campus on “Day 1” of the internship process for interviews, along with a few other companies. It is widely considered that Day 1 companies generally offer “better” opportunities, hence the Day 1 phenomenon results in a herd mentality in many of us. To be totally frank, it did influence me to some extent, and I honestly don’t think anyone who is interested in an internship through the placement cell for most sectors can truly deny that it happens to them, barring a few exceptions. There are tangible upsides to working in these companies, but I think there is an underlying cultural perception that has been anecdotally cultivated and passed on, which doesn’t really have a solid backing.
But then again, I realized it would be hard for me at the undergraduate level to truly gauge whether a field is right for me without having actually worked in it. So based on the information I had from seniors and based on my own understanding of what consulting entails, I decided to have a crack at consulting, and try out other options if it didn’t work out.
Generally, consulting interviews can have three rounds – case, guesstimate and HR. People generally refer to the popular Victor Cheng YouTube series and/or the “Case Interviews Cracked” book for case preparation. Online material can be easily found for guesstimates and HR questions. In case rounds, a real-life or fictional business problem is presented to you, and you need to logically and structurally solve it in a few minutes. This process emulates the general consulting workflow pretty well, albeit on a simplistic level, and hence case preparation can be a rough indicator of whether or not consulting work might be suitable for you.
Initially, there was uncertainty about the internship due to the lockdown and concerning accounts of a few job and internship offers being revoked. However, Strategy& stuck to its word and honoured the internship offer. They delivered a laptop to my home (company devices are required for data confidentiality reasons), and the internship began in a work-from-home mode.
I was part of a team assigned on a project for a leading company. We were responsible to strategize and implement potential solutions with regards to transparency and efficiency in their pan-India sales and operations (right from manufacturing to the end consumer), offering potential increases in earnings amounting to crores. The nationwide lockdown inevitably created a unique scenario – we had to also figure out novel strategies to tackle this situation, which was very interesting to engage in. Conducting pan-India industry level research, experiencing the hands-on functioning of the company, performing analyses that were reported to the CEO of the company – I got to experience an extensive assortment.
I was mesmerized by the scale of the project and the kind of pan-India impact it’s execution was creating. My perspective of viewing the company’s products in my own surroundings changed completely – I began to understand and visualize the enormous machinery that operates in producing everyday objects – completely changing the way I view things around me!
Working From Home
A Look at a Typical Day in the Life of a (working-from-home) Consultant
Client interaction is a big part of consulting, and emulating physical interaction in virtual mode is harder. Although one does save up on travelling time and has the comforts of one’s home, a work from home internship lacks the excitement and learning gained through softer aspects of office interaction. On the other hand, this scenario (devoid of the glamour and excitement) more clearly brings to light the core day-to-day work and business skills of consulting – perhaps resulting in a better enhancement of those skills and enabling one to figure out whether consulting is right for you in terms of day-to-day work and growth.
Work from home or not, prevailing anecdotes about working hours in consulting turned out to be pretty accurate – it wasn’t unusual for the work to start in the morning and extend till midnight, a few times going past 2 AM, on weekdays or weekends. However, my team members were always very reachable and helpful, and their thought processes and ways of approaching problems really fascinated me. We used to have frequent informal sessions which involved playing group games as well as having long discussions on life in general!
Overall, it was a very enriching and memorable experience with a steep learning curve, in terms of growth in my business acumen, analytical and presentation skills. One of the more important things I got to experience and develop (to some extent) through working with my fabulous teammates was the consulting mindset – turning data into solutions. Although I missed out on having the “office experience”, this internship certainly contributed to my personal development – I got to work in an environment where the line between work and leisure is unclear, giving me a better picture of how to go about figuring out prioritization in life. I will cherish this experience forever!