Thursday, June 28, 2007

Let the recruiting begin!

Have you ever heard that an MBA is really a two year recruiting event? Well, better make that two years and two months.

I just got invited by McKinsey for a summer event. Such an invitation would have been unimaginable six months ago, so I guess the MBA is starting to pay off already, and I haven't even started yet!

Monday, June 25, 2007

Consulting versus i-banking

Now that I am a Kellogg student, I have the privilege of choosing between a career in consulting and investment banking. It feels a bit like deciding between becoming a pop star or an astronaut, but when it comes to making a decision, it's not so easy.
The problem is that if you want to go into banking, you pretty much have to make up your mind before you come to business school. Unfortunately, you can't browse the shop for two years, try some stuff on, and buy what looks nice. Companies are looking for passion and commitment, so you'd better take the right classes, attend the right recruiting events and join the right clubs.

On their "Investment Banking and Capital Markets" career path website, Kellogg's Finance department puts it like this: "Students who are interested in pursuing a career in these competitive areas must plan their academic program from the moment they begin classes at Kellogg, in order to be prepared for crucial summer-internship interviews that take place in the winter."
In other words, if you want to become a banker, your job hunt starts pretty much when you arrive at Kellogg.

Fortunately, I'm not the first person deciding between banking and consulting, and Kellogg's consulting and i-banking clubs have created a great resource about differences and similarities between the two career paths. Take a look here. [Update: site is limited to Kellogg students. Sorry. I'm trying to make some of it public.]

Here's a short personal analysis.

In i-banking, the corporate finance side (advising companies on M&A and on issuing stock/debt) appeals to me for the high-level advice you are giving to high-level people, but the infamous workweeks that can easily go up to 110 hours per week are truly intimidating. I don't shy away from hard work, but if you realize that this translates to 15 hours per day for 7 days straight, only to start a new workweek the next day, images of delirious insomnia a la Fight Club start to pop up.

Then you've got Sales & Trading, which has the same outrageous pay, but condenses the 100+ hour workweeks into extremely intense 7-5 workdays. S&T does not get you into boardrooms, but does make you an expert in global capital markets, which is fascinating enough. I-bankers look down on traders as neanderthals, but traders think i-bankers are idiots for sacrificing any form of social life for essentially the same pay. They have a point. I could live with less boardroom exposure, but the big downside to S&T seems to be that these skills are less transferable to outside the banking industry.

Then, on the other side of the spectrum, you've got consulting, which has less extreme hours (late nights instead of all-nighters and generally free weekends), but heavy travel. The work is sometimes described as 'advising company leaders on challenging strategic questions', and sometimes as 'being locked up in a poorly lit room in Bumblefuck, Idaho, crafting endless Powerpoint presentations that tell clients what they wanted to hear in the first place.'

But once you start scratching the glamorous surface of consulting and worry about the underlying dirt, you'd have to do the same for i-banking. Liar's Poker and Monkey Business both do an excellent job in showing that for every Porsche and cocktail party there's a year of verbal abuse and endless nights of mind-numbingly boring work.

So, after a couple of months of reading up, I still have no idea.

Any career counselor would probably tell me to ignore the preconceptions and go for what really excites me, but the problem is that both fields genuinely interest me. Sure, the prestige and pay are nice, but between M&A advice, trading stocks on Wall Street, and advising Fortune 500 companies on strategy, I honestly couldn't tell you what I'd enjoy more. It both sounds, well... kind of fun.
I'm still exhilerated about having this problem of privilege, but even those problems need solving.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


Two years ago, Jack Welch told MBA students to concentrate on networking while in school, as 'everything else you need to know, you can learn on the job'. A controversial report from Stanford GSB's Jeffrey Pfeffer found that an MBA has no economic advantage unless from a top-ranked program, and that, with similar curricula across schools, business school is as much about networking and recruiting as it is about education.

Despite having attended numerous management conferences, industry conferences, business dinners, etc. in my career to date, I never really stopped to think about my networking skills. I have no problem making small-talk with table partners, and sure, I have squeezed myself into a huddle around the occasional CxO to get a bit of face time. At a recent management conference, I noticed how a colleague and close friend of mine mostly avoided me and was always engaged with others. Later he confided that he always diligently prepares for these conferences and pretty much knows in advance who he is going to speak to, and what he is going to talk about. At that point, I realized my networking skills sucked.

In the past weeks I have been browsing Kellogg's club websites, and on the investment banking club website, I found a Powerpoint presentation with tips on how to handle company recruiting events. Among the tips were "Don't just stand in a corner talking to other Kellogg students", and "Meet at least two new people at every event". Apparently, I'm not the only MBA student whose networking skills need a bit of work.

I recently picked up a book called Never Eat Alone, and half-way through I can already say it is one of those books I should have read a lot earlier. Networking is not a subject taught in class, and not a skill you're born with (unless your name is Clinton, perhaps). Reading this book has convinced me that it is something you have to learn, and many people would probably be well-advised to learn -- especially students who want to get some value out of their top-10 MBA.