Personal Ethics -- in Consulting Offers and in Business

Question:

Thank you for creating the LOMS program and imparting so much wisdom in your email updates! I was hoping to get your advice regarding signing offer letters.

I received two offers recently and have also been given offer deadline extensions for them until later this week, which I had requested as a way to "buy" time: 1) to hear back from other firms I interviewed with, and 2) for the final round interview with my top-choice firm this week.

Because I will not be able to get both pieces of information before the extension deadline, I am wondering if I should either forgo both offers, or sign one, and potentially rescind that letter of employment.

As an undergraduate senior, I have never been placed in this position before, and so I would like to know how you would handle this issue. Looking forward to hearing from you!

 

My Reply:

There is no right answer for everyone and depends on your personal sense of ethics. If at all possible, try to avoid rescinding an acceptance on an offer.

You might want to consider contacting the other firms you are waiting to hear back from, and the final round one.

Let them know of your situation, especially if you would take their offer over the two you already have... some will speed up the process for you. Others can commit to giving you a decision same day or on some expedited basis when you do  your interview.

If you can lock in the time frame of those whose decisions are pending, you might want to see if you can get a few more days - a second extension - to respond to the current offer letters.

As long as you're not asking for months of extra time, a few extra days will not screw up their recruiting plans.

I find the top firms are actually more likely to do this than the boutique firms.

Top firms want you to be excited to join the firm. The boutique firms sometimes try to pressure top candidates into accepting an offer with them (usually through a very short decision deadline) before the candidate has had a chance to hear back from the top firms, using the rationale that the firm could not compete with other firms in attracting the candidate without the pressure.

Asking for a few extra days is preferable to accepting an offer and rescinding it.

Worse case is you ask, they say no, and they insist they need a decision by the original deadline... in which case you are in the same position you are now.

Best case, they give you a few more days, and you can either take your #1 choice firm, or take one of the two current offers with benefit of full information and never wonder "what if," while not having to sacrifice any standard of personal ethics.

The big mistake most people make in asking for an extension of a decision deadline is not asking for long enough extension. Most people are overly optimistic in terms of how long it will take other firms to respond.

It would be unusual for a firm to respond to your request for a second extension by rescinding the offer.

This would reflect poorly on them as word gets around that XYZ firm's offers can be rescinding... and would risk hampering future recruiting efforts, especially in on-campus recruiting.

More likely, in the worst case they would be a little annoyed (but still trust you) and enforce the original deadline.

They would rather force you to decide and have you decline their offer (which protects their brand in on-campus recruiting), rather than have them rescind the offer (which damages their recruiting brand).

If you rescind the acceptance say seven days after you accept the offer, the damage is you've broken a commitment.

This is worse than just annoying someone in an upfront, no hidden agenda, kind of way when you ask for an extension.

I doubt it's a legal problem in most states/countries. People will probably forget within a year. While the consulting community is small, it's not that small -- so word will probably not spread to other firms.

But, there will be one person out there in the world who considers you at worst dishonest, at best lacking ethics.

And in a business that at its heart is built on relationships and your personal reputation, it just seems like a bad idea to start the career doing exactly the opposite of what the career requires.

Though I have no factual data to prove it, it's my belief that you get treated in life how you treat others. If you treat others fairly, over the long term, others will treat you fairly. You get back what you give to others -- though often indirectly.

So I definitely encourage people to be upfront in their dealings with prospective employers and really to avoid even putting yourself in a situation to accept then rescind an offer.

That being said, it is done by others and I would be remiss if I didn't at least point out that it does happen (though from a personal values perspective, as opposed to a professional expertise perspective, I disagree with it).

On a personal note, I go way, way, way out of my way to protect my own reputation and go to enormous lengths to treat people (clients, employees, former employers) as fairly as possible.

It's one of the reasons I give away so much advice and training on prepping for case interviews before people might consider making a more significant financial investment -- it's being more than fair.

(Being more than fair is one of my key business philosophies.)

It's also why I have a "more than fair" refund policy for Look Over My Shoulder® -- a full 30-day, no questions asked refund policy.

Roughly 19 out of 20 find LOMS exceptionally useful, but one out of 20 doesn't.

For the latter group, they get their investment back in full typically in one U.S. business day -- the goal being: nobody can ever say they got a bad financial deal doing business with me.

(I also have a similar policy with my CEO and corporate clients -- which is extremely unusual in my field.).

By the way in case you're curious, the most common reasons cited where LOMS wasn't a good fit for someone are:

1) The person's skills are already very advanced, the program isn't useful to them, but they wished they got the program six months ago because it would have been useful then.

2) They got the program for a case interview in a non-strategy consulting field on the off chance it might be helpful (even though it wasn't intended for this purpose) and it wasn't useful (like HR consulting, or IT consulting).

3) The interview was with a consulting firm that wasn't in the Top 10 (one that I had never heard of) and the interview format for that particular firm was dramatically different than the rest of the industry, and the person didn't feel like LOMS did a good job in preparing them.

So there are some legitimate sets of circumstances where LOMS isn't a good fit, and personally I feel if someone is in a borderline situation and they try out LOMS, then they shouldn't be penalized financially if after getting LOMS they have enough information to realize it was not a good fit.

I do realize that this opens me up to getting ripped off by people with low integrity.

My colleagues have encouraged me to cancel this policy as a way to prevent being taken advantage of. My wife (even before I graduated from college) thought I helped way more people than who help me.

And I was literally one click away from canceling this policy, when I made one key decision that in hindsight has turned out much better than I expected.

Here's the question I asked myself:

Is my online presence designed to serve those who are honest with high integrity, or to prevent abuse from those who are less so (and potentially penalize the honest people in the process)?

I debated this question for a week and ultimately decided that I would just assume everyone is honest... absorb the financial loss from the dishonest, and make sure I take care of the people I respect the most... rather than potentially penalize the people I respect, to protect myself from those that I don't.

And I know that many of my readers are college students (who tend to not have a lot of money to begin with) and some write me from rural parts of China, parts of Africa, and other generally lower-income countries, and to them, the investment in something like LOMS is just enormous.

And yet they find a way to make the big investment in their own careers -- and I do feel a sense of obligation to make sure they got a good deal in the process, given what is for them a very substantial investment.

(Ironically I stress out way more about making sure that LOMS members are well served than I do from a client where I have a $75k/year contract.

It seems crazy and probably illogical to do this. But I know that for my clients, $75k/year in fees is a very tiny percentage of their overall financial resources, and in comparison for some LOMS members, their investment in LOMS represents a very significant percentage of their overall financial resources.)

Originally the (almost) daily emails started off as a way to provide quick, real-time updates to LOMS and the Case Interview Secrets free videos -- things that I realized after the fact I should have included in those programs.

And rather than wait until the next update of the program, which would occur after many people had their interviews, I decided I would do a quick email update.

Then people started emailing me back! (Which I wasn't expecting.)

So I decide, why not?  I'll just answer their question and cc: everybody - so to speak.

And then more questions came in... and so on...

Then people starting emailing me after their interviews. Many shared success stories, which I was expecting since I ask people to let me know how things go.

But, in addition to sharing how things went, they also shared what each firm was doing on a country-by-country basis -- for example, I know what McKinsey is doing in Nigeria from multiple candidates interviewing in Nigeria.

I can tell that BCG and Bain are really going head-to-head in recruiting in Sao Paolo, Brazil, as I have been in contact with several people with offers from both.

I know Bain seems to be pilot testing a written case interview format not used previously -- I've only discovered this in the last week or so. Who knows if they will continue to do this or not, but if they do, I'm pretty sure one or more of my readers will tell me -- and with enough data points, I can detect emerging trends in this area.

I have people emailing me the specific cases they got in McKinsey Madrid, Booz - United Arab Emeriates, and dozens of cities from around the world.

I have actually had to pull out my daughter's globe and map to see where all of these countries are located.

And everyone universally said in their emails, "I've decided to share this information so that it may help your other readers."

This is surprising to me because when I was recruiting, the spirit amongst others as I went through the recruiting process was secrecy and competition.

"I don't want to tell you what I know about XYZ interview because I don't want you to have an advantage over me."

And yet, in the thousands of emails I've received in the past few months, people were surprisingly generous in their sharing.

For a while, I could not figure out why this was happening because it was the total opposite of what I experienced when I was a candidate.

And then I realized that I probably set the example by being generous in sharing information with and helping others... and those that benefited from this spirit, consciously or unconsciously, decided to reciprocate by "paying it forward" to others (a play on the phrase "paying it back" to the person from whom you received benefit).

In a few cases, I have reverse engineered the entire McKinsey 1st Round Case Interviewer's Guide Book -- knowing all the cases and specific questions they ask.

And no, I will not be sharing the exact questions, as I think that is unfair to everyone in the process -- my goal is not to help others "cheat" the system or lower the standard for certain candidates, but rather to elevate the skills of my readers to exceed the same standard of performance that applies to everyone else.

So very unintentionally my readers are benefiting from the experience of other readers. And a by-product of all this is I probably have more real time intelligence on what the major consulting firms are doing in terms of interviews -- even more than the firms themselves (since they are mainly familiar with their own firms, whereas I'm seeing what's happening across firms).

This allows me to be much more useful to my readers in a fact-based way -- most likely more than anyone else in the world.

This also draws more people to my website and email newsletter -- which of course is a good thing.

So how did this long story come to be true?

In many ways, it started with my personal values, integrity and a decision to assume good intent on the part of others... and it has worked out much better than I ever anticipated, in a way that I never anticipated.

This is my personal argument for "taking the high road" or being more than fair with others in your career, whether it be prospective employers, colleagues, orclients.

I really do believe you get back what you give to others. If you are fair, fairness will come back to your life somehow (though not necessarily directly from the people you were fair with).

Again, I have no facts to prove this to be true, but it is my belief and experience that it is true. Take from it what you will.

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