Originally from Colombia, Ximena Aldea had been in Paris for about five years when she decided she needed a change. Working as a chemical and environmental engineer, she wanted to transition to a career in consulting. But as many learn, it takes more than a filled-out job application to make the switch.
“I had applied before to Bain and McKinsey in Paris, but I didn't even have replies from them,” Aldea says.
Acknowledging that something was missing from her resume, she decided to pursue an MBA from INSEAD. During that time, she did an internship at McKinsey and Company; she then leveraged the MBA, the internship, and her background in engineering to land a career in a top-three strategy consulting firm in Paris.
A day in the life of a management consultant
Aldea describes the day-to-day experience of management consulting as diverse.
“You never have a typical day because everything depends on the project,” she says.
One day, she might be studying markets and developing models, while the next she may be doing interviews. If she’s working on a supply chain project, she might be off-site, working directly with people in a client’s operations department. For day-to-day tasks, Aldea says that she uses tools that she picked up at INSEAD to help.
“When you are doing a strategic plan for a company,” Aldea says, “you have to look at a lot of concepts that you study in strategy classes in the MBA.
For instance, company projects and valuations are a core part of the job, which Aldea had never encountered before starting her MBA.
“Even if you don't remember how to do it you can still dig up your class notes and then you remember,” she says.
Interviewing for a consulting job
Simply having an MBA on your resume isn’t the only thing you’ll need to land a job as a management consultant; there’s also the dreaded interview process, which can be different from other jobs.
Many consulting firms require applicants to prepare for a “case interview,” where they are given information about a management problem, and then asked to develop an argument about the best way to proceed. Consulting firms use this process as a kind of test to see how you approach problems, and how you can create arguments based on limited information while under pressure.
“Really prepare for your interviews,” Aldea advises.
To do so, Aldea recommends that taking advantage of the resources you’ll have while doing the MBA.
“In the MBA you have access to books, you have access to colleagues who are already in consulting, so they can prepare you and do mock interviews with you,” says Aldea. “Really take advantage of your peers to prepare your interviews.”
Leveraging your background
Although her previous work experience in chemical and environmental engineering seems a long way from management consulting, Aldea says that the analytical skills she developed while she was an engineer really help her in her current work.
“I think that engineers have an advantage over people who have just done social science, because of all the analytics,” she says.
Thinking beyond the “Big Three”
While many consulting-minded MBAs are drawn to the “Big Three” consultancies (Bain and Company, McKinsey and Company, Boston Consulting Group,) there are in fact many other firms that are worth considering, especially for those who want to focus on specific industries.
“If you are sure you want to do retail, don't go to the top three,” Aldea says. “Go to a firm that only does retail, because [otherwise] you're going to be very frustrated.”
“You really have to know the focus of the office you are going to join,” she adds.
It will be a challenge
For those who have never worked in consulting, transitioning into the field can be challenging. When Aldea started in her current role, she says that she felt a little out of her element.
“It's very tough when you join a consulting firm, and you have not done it before, and you are 30 years old, and you're competing with people in your office that have been working there for four years,” she says.
“It's really tough to catch up. It takes a lot of dedication, especially when it's not your culture.”
Along with Harvard, Northwestern - Kellogg, London Business School, and others, FIND MBA lists INSEAD as one of the top business schools in the world for a career in Consulting.
Photo: "McKinsey & Company in Shanghai _3417" by Philip McMaster / Flickr (cropped and rotated)