Student Profile: A Consulting Mindset
Mike McLaughlin '08
Co-Leader, Consulting Club
MBA-MA in International Relations Joint-Degree Student
Summer Internship, The Boston Consulting Group
A case interview with a consulting company might be 45 minutes long. You go in and spend 10 to 15 minutes talking about your background, and then you spend the bulk of the remaining time doing the case question. You basically are given a hypothetical business problem. It might be, “The CEO of a packaged goods company called me the other day. Their profit has been declining for the past five to six years, and they don't know why. They want you to figure out what's driving down their profit and then devise a plan to reverse the trend.” So, you take down some information. You ask questions about the industry, and about the company, and about what's been happening. Then you craft a plan of attack to dissect the problem. And then it's really a conversation back and forth with the interviewer, getting more and more data, working toward what you think is really driving the problem.
You need to have very structured thinking and make sure you bring to bear a lot of knowledge about how business works. But there's also an aspect of creativity -- in brainstorming about what could be driving down profits, in solutions that you think of, and even in the little diagrams that you draw for the case interviewer to organize the data.
I only did five case interviews, all with one firm, because that firm made me an offer. But I did hours and hours of preparation. I think that the new curriculum helped me a lot in my case interviewing, in being very agile in thinking about all aspects of the business and moving very quickly from one part of the case to another.
I have a background in human capital consulting and public policy consulting, and came to business school because I was interested in switching to strategy consulting, where you're really working on the types of issues that CEOs, CFOs, and very high-level executives think about. One thing that the curriculum is very good at is imprinting in your mind a structure that maps how a CEO has to think about the world. A CEO has to move pretty quickly from "what do my investors care about?" to "what do my customers care about?" to "what are my competitors doing?" to "what's going on with my employees?"
I also did some work with SOM Outreach. Outreach is a project where first-year students are broken into groups of four or five and go off and do a consulting project for a nonprofit organization in the greater New Haven area. It's completely pro bono. We don't get paid for it. We don't get academic credit for it. It's something we do on the side. I wanted to do it for a couple of different reasons. One was just to keep up my consulting skills, in a practical sense, while I was in school here – keep my mind thinking that way. But also I've been here for awhile, and it was a way to give something back to the community that I've become a part of.
We're doing a project for a singing group called the New Haven Chorale. They basically wanted to get a better grasp on the whole spectrum of their marketing efforts, from thinking about how they advertise to thinking about what their value proposition is. And the piece that I focused on was helping them to better systematize how they track the cost effectiveness of the various ways that they advertise.
Often in consulting, you don’t provide the client with the answer, you provide the client with the insight and the framework to make a decision. We don't make the decision for them, but the framework we provide gives them a way to make the decisions – and some quantitative backing for that decision. Outreach has been great because I think we really helped this group.
Interviewed on May 2, 2007.