Preparing for a Consulting Internship: Three Key Lessons

by Jeff Damian, MBA ‘13 (1/14/13)
Jeff Damian, MBA ‘13

Like most Johnson students, I had a great summer internship. I worked for a prestigious management consulting firm and was based in one of its offices in Southeast Asia, one of the fastest growing regions in the world. I was staffed on a transformation case that involved one of the region’s largest telecommunications companies.

My work focused on: 1) ensuring that key performance indicators (KPIs) of partner vendors supported the client’s business strategy, and 2) recommending organizational changes to improve service delivery. I only had ten weeks to deliver substantial impact to the client’s business, so I knew I needed to learn quickly and work effectively. Fortunately, Johnson had prepared me well.

The challenging core classes gave Johnson students a rich toolbox of knowledge and skills – from computing cash flows to analyzing operational processes. However, in the real world, it became just as important to know which tool to pull out and use. Management Cases, a class I took in the spring semester, developed my critical thinking and taught me how to effectively apply course material to actual business problems. I felt well-equipped to take on the rigor of consulting and was able to successfully convert my internship into a full-time offer. In retrospect, I took away three key lessons from Management Cases, which proved relevant to my summer internship:

CEO Perspective
I experienced first-hand during the summer how consultants deal with ambiguous business issues and contend with limited time and resources. Understanding what kept the CEO up at night allows consultants to focus on critical business issues and maximize impact. Management Cases helped sharpen my CEO perspective, allowing me to better distill the client’s strategy and prioritize my work streams. Moreover, I was able to quickly understand how my piece of the work fit into the larger case. Ultimately, my recommendations addressed immediate business challenges that impaired the client’s ability to execute current programs. At the same time, however, it clearly outlined steps that the client needed to pursue in order to fulfill the CEO’s long-term strategic vision.

So What?
Providing solid recommendations is less than half of the consulting equation. Consultants are expected to exercise good judgment in determining what pieces of information are relevant to the case. Before formulating my conclusions and recommendations, I needed to sift through dense amounts of data provided by the client. Fortunately, Management Cases provided me with the necessary skills to identify, extract, and synthesize important information into a coherent point of view. I used relevant facts to defend my position. In addition, by answering the “so what?” question, I built a strong rationale for my conclusions and a compelling argument for my recommendations by clearly demonstrating how they addressed business issues or challenges.

Presentation Matters
Consultants require excellent oral and written communication skills. Whether through client conversations or submitted decks, ideas need to be conveyed clearly and concisely. Even great recommendations are ignored or de-prioritized if not presented effectively. Management Cases taught me how to craft hard-working slides and gave me the confidence to speak in front of a diverse audience and defend my point of view. Over the summer, I presented to both the firm’s partners and the client’s leadership team. Despite the challenging case, I ended my internship on a high note. The client accepted my recommendations and the slides I turned over to my team formed part of the final deck, which later served as a road-map for the implementation phase of the case.