The HEC Paris MBA class of 2019 flocked to consulting. Nearly a third of students (27%) launched consulting careers, making the sector the number one career path for the most recent graduating class—the figure has increased from 18% in 2017.
There’s an ever-growing network of HEC Paris MBA alumni working as consultants and official corporate partners with seven of the world’s top consulting firms, which bodes well for future cohorts. But how is HEC Paris ensuring that candidates are ready for the rigors of the industry? How does the school’s MBA create graduates tailor made for consulting careers?
Cracking the case interview
Hassnan Gardezi (pictured below) entered the MBA after working as an entrepreneur. He was drawn to the degree after realizing there were gaps in his knowledge. “There’s so much going on in the world today, across industries, and I need to be a part of that.”
Consulting was recommended as a career path for him in conversations with friends and peers. He’s drawn by the opportunity to work across an array of industries and projects in various business functions.
He chose the HEC Paris MBA because the 16-month program was the perfect balance between time out of work and rigorous education. The campus atmosphere also stood out, as well as the rapport he built with alumni when interviewing.
“In conversations with them, there was this feel of, ‘I fit with these people, and they’re the kind of people I want to be surrounded by’.”
His career aspirations led him to the MBA’s Consulting Club, and then the presidency, to which he was elected by fellow students. The club acts as the bridge between cohort and consulting firms.
Members have access to online tools, blogs, and insights into case-cracking methodology. There’s also a one-on-one case-cracking program.
Students sign up and every week they’re randomly paired with another member to crack a case. There’s also a WhatsApp group that students can use for instant access to case-cracking partners.
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The diversity on offer is staggering, says Hassnan. At any time standing in a group of five-to-seven people you realize everyone speaks a different language, is from a different country. Learning to draw from diverse perspectives, coupled with the academic focus and the skills you develop through case cracking, makes for great consulting candidates, Hassnan adds.
The HEC Paris Career Center holds a range of workshops and brings in consultants—often MBA alumni—who talk students through the interview process. People who were senior partners at firms and are now professors at HEC Paris walk members through the mistakes they’ve seen candidates make, and how to best prepare.
Something vastly overlooked, thinks Hassnan, is the ‘fit’ interview, whether you match a company’s culture.
The Consulting Club assists students by connecting them with firms through a series of in-person meetings and webinars—actions pushed fully online by coronavirus. Through these conversations about the industry and traits inherent to different organizations, students discover if they see themselves fitting in with a certain consulting firm’s culture.
That’s not to say everyone who is part of the club is looking to enter consulting. Hassnan says that he sees the Club’s responsibility as going far beyond that. He says all of the club leaders have worked tirelessly with the aim of empowering their fellow students. The consulting skills you develop through the club—the ability to case crack and solve complex problems—are transferable across industries, he explains.
Consulting firms that hire from the HEC Paris MBA
The top consulting firms that hired from the HEC Paris MBA class of 2019 include Bain & Company, McKinsey, and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Monitor Deloitte also actively hire, as well as Strategy&, the strategy consulting team of PwC.
An MBA alum from the Amsterdam office of Monitor Deloitte comes regularly on campus to recruit for internships and full-time job offers, and he has already spoken to Hassnan about a company presentation and recruiting visit this autumn.
Working as an MBA consultant
The HEC Consulting Practice was set up in 2018 by MBA alum Harsha Singhraj. The Practice gives students exposure to real world challenges, and a way to apply everything learned in the classroom. Student-driven teams work with an array of clients that need support with business strategy, digital transformation, and global expansion.
The current president of the HEC Consulting Practice, MBA student Karan Nimrani, explains that pre-coronavirus, students were working as MBA consultants for an Austrian venture capital firm, as well as a French travel and tourism firm.
When the pandemic hit, the Practice had to shift its strategy. Students created a crisis response model that could be applied by their clients to help them navigate the torrent of disruption the virus caused the global economy.
The Practice is now working with a Norwegian service provider that wants to change its business model. There is also a project with an American venture capital firm wanting to adapt its portfolio to a post-coronavirus growth strategy.
Developing MBA consulting skills
Students are pushed on the projects to adapt to new industries and quickly climb the steep learning curve that’s put in place. Dealing with client requests, managing expectations, crunching data, and running analytics all give a sneak peek into how life would be as a full-time consultant.
Rend Stephan (pictured above) is a visiting professor at the HEC Paris MBA. He provides mentorship to the Consulting Club, in the form of insights into what is expected from the industry and how to break in. He’s a former partner and managing director for BCG, and currently the founder and CEO of endCX.
He says the diversity of the cohort and the variety of perspectives that students are exposed to when solving problems in the classroom help to develop the skillset needed to problem solve and attack challenges from multiple viewpoints. This also can help them learn how to contain complexity—a major impediment to performance.
Among the key skills needed, Rend identifies the ability to define and solve a problem; more specifically, the ambiguous and multidimensional problems clients bring to the table—you train a lot for that during the MBA, he adds, and the program gives you a solid base from which to build when you enter a consulting firm.
Communication and strong soft skills are also vital. You need to be able to switch between leadership and management styles when working with different types of clients; you need to be able to delegate and seamlessly work together with your own consulting team; and you need tight time management and organizational abilities.
“You learn some of it during the MBA because of the interactions you have with a diverse group of people, with students who have different backgrounds and different ways of thinking,” Rend says. “It gives you an awareness that you cannot be just IQ focused, you have to be EQ focused too.”
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