As part of our Student Insight blog series, Candace Evilsizor, MA Gender Studies with reference to the Middle East (graduating 2017) talks about her new role as an Associate soon to be starting at Boston Consulting Group.
Why did you decide to work for a consultancy?
As I studied the career trajectory of people with high-level jobs in policy and NGOs, I was surprised to see how many of them got their start in consultancies. While academia equips you to understand the causes of a problem, consulting teaches you how to strategize and implement a solution. I decided to pursue jobs in consultancies in order to develop this skillset.
I also knew I’d enjoy the day-to-day work. As a people-person, I was motivated by the chance to contribute as an integral part of a team. And I love the intellectual stimulation that comes from the constant exposure to new industries.
What is it that consultants do exactly?
They avoid answering that question. J In all seriousness, consultants solve problems with data for clients. Firms often specialize in a certain kind of consultancy, such as strategy, operations or information technology, which differ based on the expertise offered and the clients served.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) is a strategy firm. Strategy firms advise businesses how to outperform their competition and break into new markets. They are often hired to work with C-level executives and senior government officials.
I’ve heard consultants work long hours, is that true?
Consulting is a package of extremes. The job involves long hours, lots of travel, and pressure to deliver a quality solution to your client. On the other hand, it pays well and the firm invests in your professional development, accelerating your career.
What if I want to work overseas?
Then consulting is a great field for you! Many strategy firms encourage work abroad via short-term assignments, year-long placements, or even relocation to one of their international offices.
I chose BCG Middle East as a means to expand on the area studies foundation that I gained at SOAS. I was also attracted to the volume of public sector projects here. With Dubai hosting the World Exposition in 2018 and Saudi Vision 2030, it’s an exciting time to work in the region.
What does the recruitment process look like?
My recruitment process entailed an online exam (testing math and business competence) and two interview rounds. Each round involved solving various business cases and discussing my professional and educational qualifications with different interviewers.
The business cases in consulting interviews are shortened versions of problems that the firm has solved for previous clients. They are used to help consultants evaluate the candidate’s quantitative skills and logical reasoning.
Here’s a sample case from Harvard Business School’s Case Interview Guide that I used to practice: “A fast food chain recently bought a bovine meat-processing outlet to supply it with fresh hamburgers and other meats. The shop process is: cows enter at one end of the shop, meat gets processed in the middle, and then the meat gets packaged and delivered at the other end. The manager of the butcher shop cannot not decide whether to have the cows walk or run into the meat processing room. Can you help him?”
As a proud SOAS student, my first concern was for the cows. But this case also requires the candidate to think about supply and demand dynamics. And calculating the exact quantity of meat needed to fill the restaurants’ orders – which determines the speed at which cows should enter the plant – not only reduces the chain’s costs, but also prevents food waste.
I don’t have any prior business experience. Is that a problem?
No, consultancies welcome a broad range of expertise. My professional background is in the development sector, and I studied social sciences at SOAS. If you’re bright, teachable and hardworking, the rest can be learned on the job.
Then what qualifications do I need?
Consulting firms look for strong marks and high standardized math scores. Each firm will have its specific application criteria posted online. BCG requires AAB at A-levels (or equivalent) and a First or 2:1 at university (expected or received).
It’s also important to demonstrate professional achievement and people skills through internships, campus leadership and/or volunteer activities. You need to show that you can motivate a team, overcome obstacles and effect change in your field.
I think I’m a competitive applicant. What can I do to prepare?
The first step is to obtain an interview! Given the large number of candidates, it’s advantageous to meet people within the firm in order to highlight your application. Don’t feel shy about attending networking events or contacting people online.
And although private sector experience isn’t necessary, it’s important to feel confident with business terminology and mental math. I’d recommend finding another student interested in consulting and to give one another cases. Before my interviews, I read that most successful candidates practice at least 30 live cases, including some with current consultants, and I found this a helpful target.
At what point should I talk to the SOAS Careers?
SOAS Careers is on hand to support you with all aspects of your next steps after SOAS – whether you have no idea at all what you want to do, or if you have a definite plan in mind!
Among other things, Careers can provide practical assistance with covering letters, online maths preparation and mock interviews. They proved an invaluable resource when I was preparing my application materials (which are typically due in October) and throughout the interview process. They’d recommend you drop by their new Careers Zone in SL62, Paul Webley Wing as early as you can to work in partnership on your future.
What are you most excited about for your new job?
After studying with such an international cohort at SOAS, I’m thrilled at the diversity of my coworkers at BCG Middle East. Over 50 nationalities are represented in the Dubai office alone! I’m also excited to learn more about the region and to contribute to its public and private sector growth. While I’ll miss my time at SOAS, it’s safe to say that I’m excited about my new role as an Associate with BCG.
Please note that the views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not those of SOAS Careers Service. If you consider this content to be in breach of the SOAS values, please alert firstname.lastname@example.org.