MBAs Turn To Short-Term Matchmaking Sites To Get Ahead In Consulting

MBAs are turning to short-term, independent project work to get consulting experience with top companies – and earn a bit of cash on the side. Site founders and a Harvard MBA explain why.

A new breed of business school job sites is sweeping its way across both sides of the Atlantic. MBAs are turning to short-term, independent project work to get experience with top companies – and earn a bit of cash on the side.

Websites like HourlyNerd, founded by a group of Harvard Business School grads, are connecting MBA consultants with companies that need trained talent to help with smaller projects, often at a fraction of what they could expect to pay big firms like McKinsey & Company or Accenture.

And it appears to be a win-win: students balance their business studies with freelance work to beef up their CVs, and companies get experienced business brains to help them market products, negotiate contracts and develop business plans. MBA alumni too get to sharpen up their skill-sets before entering full-time roles, and earn a bit of income to help saddle the cost of tuition.

HourlyNerd has signed up more than 2,700 MBA consultants from top schools and since debuting in September last year, has coordinated up to 150 projects.

Second-year Harvard MBA Marta Mussacaleca has completed about a dozen so far. Before business school she worked for leading firms McKinsey and the Boston Consulting Group. She wanted to stay productive and earn some money during the two-year program.  

For Marta, some of the projects were more enjoyable than working with the Big Four. “They have pushed me to become more adventurous,” she says. “Not having an evaluation committee scrutinising your every move frees up creativity. I basically get to be my own consulting firm and am exposed to every single element in the process.”

Marta has completed projects ranging from two weeks to two months in length, averaging her about $2,000 each. “I’m normally done within three weeks,” she says. The most she earned on a single project was $14,000.

MBAs bid to take on projects with leading companies including American Apparel and private equity firm SFW Capital Partners LLC.

“We are at a time where it’s easy to deliver work remotely, and MBA hiring isn’t great right now. A lot of folks out there want to earn extra money, and this has caught like wildfire,” says HourlyNerd’s co-founder, Rob Biederman.

Part of the reason companies turn to short-term job sites is to save costs, admits Stephen Robert Morse from SkillBridge.co, another MBA matchmaker.

Their consulting projects last around a month and MBAs can expect to net $10,000.

Stephen thinks they offer more flexibility than competitors like Bain & Company. “Plus, we don't charge ‘partners fees’ and overhead. With SkillBridge, you are only paying for the work that is done. It's that simple,” he told BusinessBecause.

Rob agrees. “Consulting firms all have fantastic services but for some smaller companies the costs are too high,” he says. Last year, American Apparel used HourlyNerd to find MBA consultants for a marketing project. They offered $1,400 for about 20 hours of work and eventually hired a Harvard grad to do it.

Prepwise Test Prep, an admissions company, last month advertised a budget of $30,000 for an MBA project on HourlyNerd. Vanderbilt Equities Corp, a real-estate developer, are offering up to $1,750 for a strategy project.

Doug Baldasare, CEO of tech company ChargeItSpot, said that finding an “available, high quality candidate with suitable experience was the biggest pain I had”. “I could not have done this alone, but the team at SkillBridge got me exactly the person I needed when I needed them,” he said.

Education non-profit Outward Bound USA used HourlyNerd to find two MBA students for strategic projects. "The final product was 90 per cent of what I might get from one of the better-known consulting firms at about 20 per cent of the cost," wrote the company’s Executive Director, Peter Steinhauser.

Companies post most of the details on these sites, including how much MBAs can expect to be paid and the length of the project, and there is competition to secure work.

There is clearly a benefit to companies who need to outsource. But the benefit to consultants is flexibility, says Marta. She takes on as many projects as she can handle without impacting her studies at Harvard – or the quality of the client’s project.

And it is not just for newbie consultants or current students either, says HourlyNerd’s Rob. “When we started we imagined it would be largely current students signing-up. But it turns out 80 per cent of our consultants are actually graduates. Some have ridiculous levels of experience,” he says.

Stephen says that although the service is popular for current MBA students, many other consultants “maintain full-time jobs but want to work on projects that actually interest them”.

Marta thinks the skills she can practice have transcended the lure of making money. “I’m learning a great deal and you pick up the softer aspects of managing a product – something that I didn’t get in my previous firms.

“You learn about relationship management too; I get to have direct contact with the most senior client, something that, as a consultant for a bigger firm, you don’t always get to do.”

The independent work suits her, even on a challenging full-time Harvard MBA program. She says that you get to network with senior-level managers – something that may prove useful for budding consultants come graduation.

And earning less money than projects at BCG or McKinsey isn’t a problem, Marta adds. “You don’t expect to make any money whatsoever while on an MBA, so this is a great bonus.” 

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