What do Associates do?
Everything. That’s not too far from the truth! In your first year you should be prepared to do a little bit of a lot of different types of tasks. In my first year, cold-calling was a fairly regular activity, as well as combing through balance sheets and using Excel and PowerPoint more than I ever imagined possible. On the upside, increasingly you’ll be involved with client meetings and more of the high-level thinking. I’ve even found myself talking to the CEO of a luxury fashion label about his wife’s online shoe purchasing habits… It really is a mix.
How did you get your job at The Parthenon Group?
I first heard about The Parthenon Group at a presentation at the LSE. I received the job posting for the Associate role though LSE’s career services and decided to apply since I liked the idea of working for a strategy focused firm. After that, everything happened very quickly. I had four separate case interviews and one interview with a Partner to discuss in greater detail my interest in consulting and in Parthenon in particular.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to get into the industry?
In terms of submitting a CV, I would think about it from the perspective of the consultants who are going to read them. Of course your cover letter and CV should be concise and well presented, but you should also think about trying to highlight those things you have done that will make you stand out. If you are particularly proud of an achievement – internship, extracurricular, volunteer, etc. – do not just include it as a part of a long list at the bottom of your CV. Devote a few lines to explaining what you did and why you think it was a big achievement in your cover letter.
What was the interview process like?
Bizarre. If you are not used to consulting interviews – I was not – it seems like a very unfamiliar process. Instead of typical interview questions consulting interviews centre on ‘cracking’ a business case. You will typically be given an introduction to an issue facing a business and be asked to identify and think through the underlying issues for the business and explain your thought process in a structured way.
Any advice for the interview process?
If you have not done any consulting interviews before it would help to look through practice cases available through various books, web resources and your careers service. Some consulting firms have practice cases on their websites that are useful even if you are interviewing at a different firm. Beyond the cases, I think it’s important to try to be at ease during the process, as far as possible. You want to try to give those interviewing a sense of how you’d be to work with. You also stand a better chance of getting a good feel for their personalities if the conversation is more relaxed and will hopefully gain some insight into the culture of the firm.
What is a typical day like for you?
After hitting snooze one too many times, I have to move pretty quickly to get out of the door in good time. By the time I get to work, my Blackberry has already alerted me to any pressing issues but I usually pick-up from where I left-off the previous day, sometimes kicking off with a team meeting to see where we are at. Most days involve some quantitative analysis work, several internal team meetings, as well as phone calls with experts or clients. The day moves really quickly and usually stretches into the evening… and occasionally well into the evening if there is a deadline the next day.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
I like that every day is different and that I’m continually learning either new skills or about a new business. Some cases do not sound very interesting at the outset, but once you get a handle on the industry and begin to untangle the nuances of the business, sometimes these cases can wind-up as the most interesting assignments.
What do you find stressful about your job?
Constant deadlines can be draining. Since workstreams are quite interlinked, everyone pretty much has to be pressing ahead together. Juggling the different pieces of your workstream and sometimes a second case assignment is definitely demanding and can be stressful particularly as deadlines approach.
Is there a work/life balance?
There are pockets of opportunity to strike work/life balance but they’re notoriously elusive in consulting. While it does depend on your staffing situation, it’s often quite difficult to make plans during the week. I rarely work on weekends though – one thing I really like about working at Parthenon and sets it apart. We might add in extra hours during the week, but weekends are rarely if ever encroached upon.
What challenges have you come across and how did you overcome these?
There are lots of little challenges when you are doing something for the first time, whether it be working through a piece of analysis or finding the best way to structure a presentation. When I am having trouble getting my head around something, I will ask more senior colleagues for input. Almost always, they can answer my question or at least point me in the right direction.
What ‘soft skills’ have you found useful?
I think everyone has their own ‘soft skill’ strength: some colleagues are consummately calm, others you can depend on to keep team morale high. Having played a lot of team sports in the past, I try to recognise the times when it’s best to just go with the flow and the times where it’s important to take more of a leadership role. Also, it’s always helpful to look for the ridiculous or funny in a situation. If it’s 03.00. and you are making final preparations for a client meeting, it is much better to be laughing about it with your colleagues than wishing you were somewhere else.