BCG Lateral Hire

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Question:

I recently completed six interviews with BCG and am about to receive my offer to join them as a Project Lead. I found your case study videos very useful, as is the one-page framework handout, to prepare me for the interviews. I was quite nervous at first, as this is the first time in 15 years that I've been interviewed so thoroughly! But I assured myself that if I wasn't good enough to get through the interviews, then it would be better not to get an offer anyways, as I wouldn't enjoy employment with them.

Luckily I turned out OK, so thank you for the boost in confidence I got by watching your videos.

I'll be joining as a 'lateral hire' as they call it, and will no doubt be in for a bit of a shock. Indeed, many laterals seem to quit within the first year, as the culture and way of working is so different from other companies. One tactic BCG now uses is to staff you 'as a consultant' during the first couple of months, so you get to know their style before being asked to lead a team of juniors who've got more tenure with the organisation than you do.

Do you have any other tips for experienced hires?

 

My Reply:

There are two common issues with lateral hires:

1) Ego combined with insecurity

2) Getting accustomed to fact-based decision-making

Most laterals are biologically older, have more work experience (outside of consulting), and are accustomed to "being in charge." The problem is most laterals, in practice, are less experienced in consulting than the people they will likely be managing.

Consulting expertise is very much a function of years of experience in consulting.  A second year analyst will often be much more capable than a 3-month-old lateral hire who is project manager.

This is not necessarily a problem if the lateral hire understands what he/she does and does not know.

Some laterals quickly realize that the intellectual power in these firms is extremely high. And the people are extremely good. They are afraid of not knowing or being wrong, and rather than admit that to others... they try to fake it.

This is a mistake because all the more experienced "junior" consultants can see right through that.  It is better to acknowledge the limits of your consulting experience than to pretend you know when you don't.

The second transition is to recognize that decisions and recommendations in consulting firms are based on facts and analysis.... as opposed to hierarchy, authority, or intuition.

The former is sometimes very difficult for laterals to get accustomed to. Often laterals come from position with some "power." They are accustomed to having their decisions be accepted simply because they said it.

In consulting, you can make a decision -- but if it is factually not supported, expect all your junior consultants to completely disagree with you openly, publicly, and in front of others.

In corporate environments, this might be considered insubordination or "showing up" your boss -- depending on the corporate culture.  In consulting, this is just everyday work.

Hierarchy and authority do have their place in consulting, but knowing the facts and being factually correct outweigh job titles within a consulting firm.

When I was at McKinsey, I had absolutely no problem telling a managing director he was incorrect on some key point -- and he had no problem accepting it from me. He had nearly 20 years at McKinsey, I had 1 year.

But, I was right and I could prove factually that I was right. So I pointed it out. He accepted my point of view. I did it in front of others. And it was no big deal. In fact, he thanked me for correcting  his misunderstanding of the client's business.

To make a long story short, you need to be okay with this style of collaboration. Don't take any offense to it, and in fact come to appreciate it when the people you manage correct you.  In fact, if you staff your teams smart, you want people who are smarter than you working on your teams. It makes your life so much easier.  Just make sure you (or your ego) don't get in their way.

So far, I've pointed out the disadvantages of coming in as a lateral.

Let me also point out one big advantage that most laterals usually take for granted.

I find laterals are often much better at navigating corporate politics. Some consultants enter the consulting profession coming out of law school or a PhD program in the sciences. These people do have very strong raw analytical talent.

But one thing many of them do not have is an intuitive understanding of corporate politics and a high EQ (emotional quotient).  Their presumption is that all decision-making is or should be logical. So when they encounter a client that is resisting the logical conclusion, they do not know what to do.

Topics like an executive feeling threatened, turf wars, or budget allocation sensitivities are foreign concepts to some consultants.

So your internal competitive advantage as a lateral is your client-handling skills. Consider playing to those strengths and do not feel threatened if your junior team members are doing the analytical heavy lifting.

You can coach your junior team members on politics, client relationship building, and EQ type topics, while they can (if you ask them to and let them) coach you on analytical methodologies, problem-solving approaches, and data analysis techniques.

It's a good trade.

In terms of being good consultant more generally, I have a program on this topic called How to Succeed in Management Consulting.  It is not specific to lateral hires, but does cover the basics of how to do well once you're on the job.

If this is of interest, you can get more information on this here:

http://www.caseinterview.com/hsmc/

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2 comments… add one
  • vivek Jan 19, 2014, 6:21 am

    Hi I am going o get a call from bcg as a project lead. I have no experience in consulting. Could you please help me by sharing the kind of questions they coul ask during telephonic round.

  • Deepak Parmani Jan 5, 2017, 1:14 pm

    Looking to get into MBB as a lateral hire

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