Question:

Thank you very much for your daily emails and for the website.

It helped me a lot in getting ready for case interviews, and now I have an offer from BCG [Eastern Europe] and A.T. Kearney [Western Europe].

And that is exactly the question I would like to ask you.

Even though I appreciate you are American, I have this big concern which you may have a very valuable perspective on.

I would not like to end up in the Eastern European market; my longer term goals are in Western Europe, USA, Brazil or Middle East.

So my dilemma is whether to go for BCG [Eastern Europe], for the great company it is, the focus in projects that it has, and also for the market, which in this region is very interesting.

On the other hand, A.T. Kearney is in [Western Europe] which would put me in a company with maybe less interesting projects and a bit worse perception on the market, but closer to the Western Europe.

My question is, which one do you think offers me the best options, let’s say 3-5 years down the line?

As a recruiter, if you saw a CV from a guy from BCG [Eastern Europe] and A.T. Kearney [Western Europe], which one would be more valuable experience?

Thank you very much for your help, I would appreciate any perspective you may have.

Thank you in advance.

My Reply:

BCG is the more prestigious firm by a wide margin in the U.S., Western Europe and Brazil.  In most of the middle east, both firms are not well known, and it seems Booz Allen Hamilton is the dominant player there.

From a prestige factor, BCG is the better name to have on the consulting resume, particularly if you are early in your career and you do not have another big brand name employer preceding ATK or BCG.

The problem with going with BCG will not be one of market value but of logistical convenience.

To transition to another region starting from BCG Eastern Europe, you will have to physically travel to the country you want to work in, to network and interview.

This gets complicated if you are working full-time and trying to interview in another country, which is just difficult from a scheduling standpoint.

So, the problem is not with the employer’s perception; the problem is with your schedule and logistics.

Realistically speaking, to go with BCG Eastern Europe and then transition to another region of the world, you would need to do one of four things:

1) Transfer within BCG at the start of your third year — which only happens if you are a top performer and you push for it and if it’s in the culture of that particular office to support transfers.

2) Go get an MBA in Western Europe or in the U.S. (and I don’t know if this would be appropriate given your prior education history, which you did not mention).

From a business school perspective, BCG Eastern Europe is more interesting than ATK Western Europe because management consultants from Western Europe are not in short supply in the major business schools.

3) Schedule multiple one-week vacations in the country you want to transition to, line up interviews with future employers for that specific week or two, go interview during that time and hope it all works out during that specific week or two.

In all likelihood, you will have to make multiple trips.

4) Or at some point, quit BCG, live off savings, move to the country of your choice (assuming you have travel visas, etc…) for several months, interview as someone who is “in-country” and accessible without the restriction of having to get all your interviews done in a set one-week period — which may conflict with the availability of the people who might want to interview you.

As long as you have been saving for this transition period and don’t have any immigration/visa hurdles, it is unlikely this strategy would fail. I don’t know any permanently unemployed ex-BCG consultants.

Based on your email, it seems that BCG is a better fit for you in the short run, but you have some longer-term concerns.

Personally, if I were in that situation, I would take BCG in Eastern Europe, enjoy the 2 – 3 years there, and in the meanwhile, start now to lay the foundation for a geographical transition later in your career.

I would save up some vacation time to use 2+ years from now. I would save aggressively in case I had to live internationally without an income in the future.

I would also work to expand my network internationally in the markets I might want to transition to in the future.

Given the number of success story emails I receive from people similar to you within the Caseinterview.com community, I put together a program titled “How To Succeed in Management Consulting” (HSMC) – which is a recording of a 1-day-long webinar I gave on the topic.

Using resources like HSMC and networking within whichever firm you end up joining would be worthwhile things to do to set up your future geographical transition.

Overall, the BCG is the better brand long-term in most of the markets you seek, but there is a degree of geographical transition risk to it.  I do not think it is an unsurmountable risk, but rather a serious inconvenience.

To go with ATK Western Europe now, you would be guaranteed geographical access at least to Western Europe. You still have the same problem transitioning to the U.S. or Brazil, but at least you have taken out the risk from one of the markets.

The ATK name is respected amongst employers who routinely hire former consultants, but less known in broader business circles.  Amongst those who know, ATK is respected, but BCG is more prestigious.

In general, there is an unusually high value to having a big brand name, prestigious employer on your resume early in your career — where it has the highest leverage impact on your career.

For example, in every job I interviewed for following my departure from McKinsey, on average I submitted four or five resumes and cover letters to get the one job.

Once I had McKinsey on the resume (and Stanford), the only reason I would not get an interview was because they did not have an opening— and in at least one case, the job I did get was one they created for me.

Today – even many years later, the McKinsey name still opens doors for me. It is still in my bio when giving speeches. When my publicist pitches the media for me, they always mention that I am “ex-McKinsey.”

One cannot underestimate the importance of a big brand name on your resume early in your career.  In fact, when I originally tried to apply to Bain for an internship, I could not even get an interview, despite doing all the things I suggest others do in their consulting cover letters.

The big problem at the time was that I had absolutely no recognizable employer names on my resume — absolutely none.

I took deliberate efforts to fix that problem in the following 12 months (including working for Merrill Lynch doing telemarketing phone calls as an unpaid intern… cold calling several nights a week).

All that mattered the following year was that I had Merrill Lynch’s stamp of approval (and one other employer too, the company now known as AT&T).

What I did specifically when I was there was secondary.

So the big brand name opens doors, and I generally recommend getting the biggest brand name you can get, at a job that you can reasonably enjoy, early in your career — and then to feel free to take more risks later in your career.

To summarize, if you are willing to tolerate the risk and inconvenience of a cross-border job search, then BCG is a good option because you get the biggest brand name available to you on your CV.

If for personal reasons you cannot tolerate any such risk at all, then I would go with ATK Western Europe, as it is the safer choice in terms of guaranteeing geographic presence a few years down the road.