Welcome to the Financial Times Ask the Expert Jobs Clinic 2013. Are you an MBA graduate still looking for a job? Or are you a corporate recruiter hoping to employ MBAs this year?
On Tuesday 11th June 2013, between 14.00 and 15.00 BST, Keith Bevans answered reader’s questions.
Keith Bevans is partner in Bain & Company’s Chicago office and head of the consulting company’s global recruitment team. He joined Bain in 1996 and received an MBA from Harvard Business School in 2002. In his global recruiting role, he serves 50 offices in 31 countries. He is responsible for the overall strategic development and implementation of the company’s initiative to identify, screen and hire talent from the top business schools.
I decided to attend an MBA as a way to start a new beginning and I would like to ask you, as an expert on recruiting talents with a global view, the following questions: What are the main three common factors that employers are looking for from an MBA candidate nowadays? And, what are the three characteristics that make the employer reject a candidate?
Unless we are living in the (shared) information era, sometimes I have the perception that it’s not so easy to get the right set of companies’ needs.
Ivan Gruer, MSc. Telecommunication Engineer & MBA Candidate
Keith: Great question. When thinking about the qualities firms look for, it’s important to make sure you have a solid understanding of the mission and goals of a specific firm.
At Bain & Company, we work to create the best results for our clients, which requires us to hire the best talent. For us, that means that we look for candidates that have strong analytic ability. The ability to crack the toughest business problems is critical to being successful at Bain.
As a consultant at Bain, you also have to be willing to constantly learn. This includes learning from your team, learning from industry experts and learning from clients. Having the humility to learn and be open-minded is really important.
Finally, every candidate we hire must have great leadership skills, enthusiasm and passion. Being able to lead change in an organisation requires more than strong analytic ability. It requires you to connect with people, inspire them with the vision, and rally the organisation to drive change. Just being smart isn’t enough.
Good morning, Keith. My question is about international applicants who want to join consulting companies at entry-level positions. As you already know, due to differences in educations systems, it is hard to directly compare an international candidate with an American one, even though I have an American MBA degree.
For example, I scored 98 per cent on my university entrance exams (undergraduate), securing full study scholarships and beating more than 500 candidates. However, although this is one of the greatest achievements one can do in my country; it doesn’t have any value in the US. In these situations, what do you recommend for candidates like me who are quantitatively strong but are still in a relatively disadvantaged position to win the recruiters’ interest at first sight?
Keith: As a global firm with 50 offices in 32 countries, we’re equipped to evaluate all of the different applications we receive from business school programmes around the world. Our global recruiting team does a great job putting every individual application in the right context, so we give credit where it is due. That said, we encourage you to qualify your great achievements on your resume and/or cover letter.
It’s also important to note that a student’s test scores are only one component of a strong application to Bain, or any other employer. A successful resume really answers three questions: First, “Are you smart?” This is really a function of your school, your major, your GPA, and your other “quantitative scores”.
Second, “Do you have the professional maturity to be a successful consultant?” To assess this, we look at your prior work experience for evidence that you can be effective in a variety of client environments.
Finally, “Do you have the leadership ability to ‘make it happen’?” The best indication of this is your roles in extra-curricular activities. Seeing a student that has been responsible for running an event, leading an organisation, or driving an agenda is a great indication that they have the skills it will take to drive positive change for our clients. In the end, being a great, well-rounded applicant is more important than spiking on one dimension.
At the end of August, I graduate with an MSc in International Business, specialised in strategy and innovation from Maastricht University, Netherlands. I have completed a degree in the same field (international business, major in strategy) at Maastricht University.
I did several longer internships, two of them in a successful Berlin-based start-up in the field of business development and one in the marketing department of UniCredit Bank. It has always been my dream to pursue a business/management-oriented career in the fashion industry. However, without having specialised in the field, I ask myself how to best position myself for applications. I would like to apply for trainee programmes/jobs at major fashion companies. So my question to you is: How to best approach these companies and sell myself in a cover letter/interview?
Also, I have considered applying for strategy consultancies. Many times, I was told that without an internship in a major consultancy I would not have a chance. What would you advise? Should I apply nonetheless, try to convince the recruiters with good grades and personality? Or should I first apply for an internship - but would that not look “bad” on my CV (after graduating with an MSc)?
Keith: A lot of students I speak with have similar questions about the importance of doing a consulting internship if they want to do consulting full-time. The short answer is: Yes, you should absolutely apply and know that Bain and other firms invest heavily in these programmes to provide a rich learning experience.
The longer answer is: There are so many great opportunities out there so it is understandable that your choice of a summer internship may or may not be strategy consulting. In fact, many students that apply to Bain have spent their summers doing something in industry, entrepreneurial, non-profit, etc. Honestly, those experiences often add to their skillsets.
It is important to keep in mind, however, that the internship is not just about us getting to know you. It is a chance for you to learn more about a consulting career at Bain. A lot of the students that apply for our internship programme really want to “test drive” the job for 10 weeks before deciding to take the plunge full time. My experience is that our interns have a fantastic experience and overwhelmingly choose to join us full time when they graduate.
Does completing undergraduate and graduate school from same university have impact on the credibility of your degrees? Also, does this affect your career outlook?
Keith: As a firm, we have great relationships with the top schools around the world. In many cases, schools with great undergraduate programmes also have world-class graduate school programmes. For a lot of students, the chance to stay on/return to a place where they have strong relationships, a fulfilling sense of community, and a passion for the campus is very compelling. In some cases, that can lead to an even more enriching experience in graduate school. In the end, it’s about the whole application that matters and you should choose the graduate programme that is the best fit for your goals and aspirations.
Personally, I went to MIT for both my B.S. and my Master’s in Electrical Engineering. During those programmes, I had great experiences taking several classes at MIT Sloan and would have really enjoyed another two years in that MBA programme. However, I wanted a different experience because I had already been at MIT for 5 years. In the end, I chose to go to Harvard for my MBA. Although the campus and curriculum were “new” to me, I also had established roots in the Boston/Cambridge community that really made it a great experience for my wife and me.
I recently earned my MBA in International Business & Strategy from a top 20 school. I am mid-career and have a very diverse background spanning from operations management consulting, corporate finance, business intelligence, and manufacturing. Each stop during my career had an “operations” underlying tone. Is there a place in the market place for me with this diverse background or should I have focused on one area in my career and become a subject matter expert either in corporate finance or a six sigma black belt?
Keith: The honest answer here is that there is absolutely a place for candidates like you in the market. For example, at Bain we need generalists and specialists to provide our clients with robust solutions to their most challenging business problems.
It sounds like you’ve had a great set of experiences, and I wouldn’t focus on changing the past. For the next step in your career, you need to be very clear on what will feel like a rewarding career to you personally. For some, the opportunity to develop a single, deep area of expertise is very motivating. These are the people that are the world class experts and thought leaders in a particular field. For others, the diversity of experience and the variety is exciting and gives them energy.
What you will find is that different companies will value different types of experience. Some companies have a clear vision for what they are trying to accomplish and are looking for the absolute best “role players” they can add to the team. Other companies are on the front-end of defining and reaching their full potential. For them, having people with very diverse backgrounds is extremely important because it brings new ideas to the mix, including ideas from different industries and functions that maybe applicable.
Good luck - you should have a lot of great options ahead of you to pursue.
I’m trying to get into management consulting or at least get my foot in the door, how can I do that please? Most of my previous jobs were within sales/customer service. I’ve been volunteering throughout my college/university life. I have graduated with an undergraduate degree from a state university in Pennsylvania and MBA from British Columbia, Canada. Overall, I have lots of education but limited experience. I’m willing to learn and do whatever it takes to get into the management consulting field.
Ibrahim Addou, MBA
Keith: Bain hires people with a wide variety of backgrounds. There is no single formula for identifying who we hire. Your chosen focus is not what is most important. What is important is your passion and your demonstrated ability to drive results in that area. I have personally worked on my team with people who were a chef and an opera singer before business school – both successful consultants.
Bain is an apprenticeship model where we supplement valuable on-the-job experiences with world-class global training so our people are equipped to tackle our clients’ unique challenges.
My advice is to continue to get the most out of your studies, work experience and extra-curricular activities. When the time comes, if you want to pursue consulting you should apply to Bain.
Visit our MBA Jobs Clinic homepage to find out out how other experts answered reader’s questions.