A Commercial Pilot’s 2-Year Plan to Break into Consulting


Beau approached us a few months ago to ask about breaking into consulting. He had the epiphany that consulting was his calling in life, and went searching for details – finding MC in the process.

Beau’s questions are probably similar to your questions – “Is now the right time? I have a crappy undergrad GPA – do I have a chance? Is my resume where it needs to be?” We offered to complete a Power Half Hour for Beau so we could share his process with you – and how we helped him along the way.

If you’re in the same boat – wanting to break in, but without a strategy – check out what we have to say below, and feel free to sign up for a Power Half Hour. Also – scroll down to the end of the article and see what came out of our conversation just 3 weeks after we talked!

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Hey Beau – I’m excited to talk to you today. We’ve got your resume to go through, and as I gather you have a whole bunch of questions about consulting. Is that right?

I do. I have many questions.

Okay, awesome. Which would you like to do first? Do you want to talk about your resume and your experience first, or do you want to talk about the questions that you have?

Well, let’s just go through the resume and maybe that will lead into some of my questions.

Well, I’ve got your resume up, and so I’ll just talk through some of the different stuff that you’ve got on here, and also I’ll answer any of your questions that you’ve got as well.

You have a super interesting background. You graduated with your B.S. in business, clearly have a love for aviation and were a professional in the aviation industry from 2006 to 2010. And then have now come back to business. What was happening between 2010 and 2012?

I was using that time to transition into a project management role in media. When the recession hit, my employer lost all the funding for their flight department. I decided that if I was going to transition careers at that point, it was a good time to do it. So I just started really getting training for and looking for opportunities in project management in the media space, and after about a year-and-a-half of just building up the skill set necessary to get one of those roles, I landed a job for a small production company here in Atlanta. We work with a lot of really cool clients. We work with the NFL network, and work on a lots of interesting shows like Honey Boo Boo, and other stuff like that. So that’s what I’m doing now.

Okay, awesome. Now just tell me a little bit about that time there, because this will be a question that a B-school, or a consulting firm will ask you. What were you doing in between 2010, potentially even prior to 2010 to April 2012. Was it a specific class that you were doing?

Tell me honestly. If you said, “I just kind of took the time off” – it’s okay, but I just want to know how to position that in terms of your story.

Yeah, sure. I got a part-time job in a retail store, and in my downtime I just started a learning a lot of the tools necessary in order to be a producer/project manager in media. I learned several software applications, including Final Cut Pro, and After Effects, and other things of that nature. I translated those skill sets into freelance jobs, and I did freelance jobs for artists in a small publishing company.

I eventually built up a little demo reel, and I started presenting that to other companies. I also landed an apprenticeship with a company called Friendly Human Productions. I worked with them for about 6 months basically as an associate producer doing different things, and then that translated into a job as a full-time producer at Inertia Films where I’m at today.

Okay, awesome. That whole story you just told me has to be on your resume. We’ve got to get that on there. It’s complex when you’re doing a whole bunch of freelance work; you’re not alone – a lot of consultants are like this. You basically have to call it something, but you have some freedom under what you call it. So depending on your tax status, maybe you are an independent contractor so you can call it Garrett Films, or whatever you want to.

The issue you’ve got with having just Inertia Films on there right now is that there’s nobody who’s going to believe that you just like woke up and were a producer one day – I’m going to imagine you are probably actually getting coffee for somebody, doing all these really cool things. So if I can see a better history, more timeline and actually more experience, I’m more likely to believe that you’re actually doing something credible in your current role. Okay?

Okay, great. I see what you’re saying.

In addition, you’ve got a lot of really great information here under Inertia Films, and nothing at all that has to do with the numbers. Like, not one number at all. So you’ve got to add numbers, and basically in the way that we do edits, we would go through every line and our rule is that every line has to have a number in it. So you would want to have the number of projects, the size of the studio, the number of staff that you’ve got, what your key targets were, average project length, knowledge and understanding of the client’s needs.

A lot of this stuff is very qualitative on the surface, so you’ve got to find a way to make it quantitative. A good way to know if it’s valid or not is basically if you can’t put a number to it, you probably need to take it off.

All right, that makes sense.

And then the same thing for your work as a commercial pilot – I see that there under other experience. You don’t want to highlight it too much, but you still do want to talk about the business. Even though your role was a pilot there, you want to talk about working in the fleet with X number of blah blah blah. Explain what it meant to be a top-rated pilot. Basically, add anything that you can add there – it can be 2 or 3 lines for each one of those, but still I want to see that you’ve got some kind of consistency. I’m thinking about the business at large, not just your role that you play.

Okay, yeah. I see what you’re saying.

And then going back to your B.S. in Business and your commercial pilot’s license, I’d actually flip those around. So I’d put your commercial pilot’s license first since that’s kind of what you went on to use, and then your B.S. in business second. And then under your B.S. in business, I’d want to see things like GPA. Is that scary? Is that why it’s not on there?

It’s not great.

And then what about your actual coursework that you did?

My emphasis was in logistics.

So I bet there are probably interesting projects, maybe some course names. Were you involved in leadership at all when you were there?

Not at the school, just at the church level, just doing different leadership level stuff for our college ministry. But that was about it.

Awesome, okay. And so stuff that’s related to church, or an institution of faith, you have to position in terms of mentorship, or community leadership. Obviously, this can be kind of a sensitive issue. But it should be on here. So that’s something that you been involved in. Also, in the 2010 to 2012 timeframe, if you were leading a small group of men, coaching and mentoring them, you probably want to have that on here.

But again, you would not want to use specific religious language, like discipleship. You’d want to talk about mentoring, or leadership, or community service. So, I think your Auburn experience you can bulk out a little bit more. Leave the scary GPA stuff off of there, like you’ve already done.

However, you do want to draw some attention to it because you don’t want me to think that you were the guy who was boozing and smoking marijuana the entire time in school, that graduated with a 2.1. You actually want to show me that you were doing something else outside class.

I think the big qualifier from that was while I was at Auburn, my GPA was 2.9. While I was there I knew I was going to be a pilot, so I didn’t put as much emphasis on my courses as I probably should have. It’s unfortunate, but my flight training isn’t reflected in my GPA. When I went through my flight training I was at the top of my class. I was the best student my instructors had. I got done with that with a lot of experience and a lot of opportunities were waiting for me. I had a goal and desire and knew that the opportunities were going to be there at the end of it – which translated into a lot of energy that I put into the things that I’m doing. When things are a little bit more ambiguous, it’s harder for me to be focused.

Totally. So that’s a good thing, and it’s also a dangerous thing, right? Because especially in the profession, also in MBA programs, they want to see that you’ve got the stomach to push through things that are challenging. So that’s why I’m saying I think we should emphasize your commercial pilot’s license. I think we should put it up top, and I think we should put your B.S. in business second because we want to show what you were excellent at and we want to show that you’re capable of doing something with excellence, and that will help to address some of the questions that would come up.

Consultants are very risk averse and are very hyper focused on issues like GPA and other metrics – not because they are a perfect indicator, but because there are a decent indicator of whether or not somebody is going to be able to manage work that sometimes is really exciting, and sometimes kind of mundane.

What other questions do you have about your resume?

Well, I don’t know. You’re talking about adding things on there that highlight excellence. I always go back to an example as a flight instructor. I instructed Navy and Air Force officers in Florida. One of my pilot students call me back years later to tell me that he got a slot as a Jet Rider Pilot for the Navy, and he attributed a lot of his success to my instruction. So that’s something I’m always been very proud of, and I don’t know if that is something that would be worth mentioning on a resume, or things similar to that nature. All of my students passed their mandate as prescribed by their respective branches, and that’s a record that I would be happy to show somehow.

Definitely. If we were going to do an edit for your resume, I would want you to take everything that I’m telling you now and give me a whole bunch more information. Because I’m probably going to karate chop a bunch of it back out of there. So I want you to start with the process from the beginning and go through, and add 3 or 4 bullets under everything that we just talked about. Add that experience that’s currently missing there, and really fully explain your entire timeline. The other gap that’s on here, I guess, is from 2004 through 2006. What was happening during that time, the 2004 – 2006 time period?

2004 to 2006?

That’s right.

At that point in time I was trolling banners on the beach in Florida to build up some flight time. Also finishing up my flight instructor rating.

Okay, we just want to again put something like that on there under a other experience. You were a pilot. That whole other experience is your pilot’s experience, right?

Yeah, that’s pretty much it.

What I don’t want to hear is that you were surfing every day and not working at all. So I need to see something on there that would explain that time.

Right.

Great. So did that give you enough direction on how to go through and overhaul a bunch of this in order to get more clear?

Yeah, in other words, just take out all of the gaps.

Years, yes – that’s not necessarily true for months, if there are a couple of months of a gap, that’s becoming normal. People will just take a little bit of time and travel, or something like that. But years get scary for companies. So that’s what you really want to highlight on here. Generally, you need something, even if it’s just a volunteering, or community service, or alternative employment. You’ve got to show that there’s something on there.

Okay. All right.

Awesome. Okay, hit me with some of those other questions you said you had.

So when I started this process of defining, I just started looking long-term down the road. I’m 32 years old now, and I just wanted to paint a picture of when I’m in my mid-40s. And I just started thinking about that and something that’s been consistent with all of my professional life has been an interest in business. And so I started looking at how to translate that interest into something that’s applicable and in demand.

So that’s where I kind of stumbled on management consulting and I started learning more and more about it. And it interested me because I like business, I like learning, and I like leadership, and it seemed like a really good combination of experience. So I started searching for programs that consulting firms recruit from. Georgia Tech is a program that two firms recruit from that I would be interested in. One is Bain, and the other is McKinsey. And a host of others, like North Highlands, Deloitte, and some other places recruit from there as well. So I’ve just spent some time sending in applications to Georgia Tech for Fall 2014. The perfect scenario would be finished in 2016 with an offer from Bain. The question that comes to mind first is really just the age factor. I’ll be 35 when I finish school. Do consulting firms when they see a candidate with that age, is that an indicator to them – is that something that filters them out immediately, or is that a concern I should have? What is your experience with that?

It depends a little bit on the firm and the office. So if you want to try to go get a job in a super competitive – like, nearly impossible office like New York office – and you didn’t do 3 PhDs in that time that you were kind of waiting to turn 35, that’s going to be a tough factor for you to overcome. It’s not necessarily just age, but it’s also that your peer class could be anywhere from 26 or 27 through to 35. So it’s not an impossible gap, it just makes it a little bit more challenging.

The second thing is that the firms don’t want to have is an imbalance of levels of experience. So you would be entering with your MBA, but one of the key exhortations that I would give you is that you need some additional experience before and during your MBA too. If you want to keep your day job, that’s awesome. But you have got to get working with a startup, etc. where you’re doing more strategic business focused work. Or take on a contract, like an evening and weekend contract.

If you know somebody who is a consultant, or you can get some freelance project work just doing an analysis for them, or doing research for them, you need some stuff on your resume that says you can play the corporate game. If you’re going to get over the barriers, you need to find brand name experience (or someone working for a brand name client) that you could do pro bono work for. Firms don’t care if it’s paid, they just care if you’re able to do it.

And then the second thing would be really making sure that your extra experience, like your actual experience from a startup realm would demonstrate your ability to use a consulting/strategy/analytical toolkit – even if the firm is less well known.

Great. That leads really well into my next question. I’ve actually had an interview recently. A client came by and needed help finishing a project, and I was instrumental in helping him get that done, and they started recruiting me for project management positions. Are you familiar with Bruce Wilkinson?

Let’s see here. Is it a ministry?

Yeah, he wrote Prayer of Jabez. It’s him, and he’s basically got this entire new initiative that at the forefront is just starting, and it’s not a 501c(3), but it’s an educational initiative for South Africa. And they just need some solid project managers to come on board and help them get these materials into the hands of people there. That was going to be my next question. Would opportunities like that help me down the road in securing a management consulting type of position?

Probably not. It would maybe be a little bit better than what you’ve got on your resume currently, but what you really need, if you really want to be a player with a company like Bain, is a brand name experience on your resume.

Is that like AT&T or something like that?

A client that would hire the company that you are interested in working for – for example, a client that would hire Bain. So usually it’s a multibillion dollar company, possibly publicly traded.

Because you are in Atlanta, there’s a bunch of those guys running around down there. They don’t have to be some of the sexy ones. It doesn’t have to be Coca-Cola, it could be Georgia-Pacific, for example. But they are going to want to see that a client has had you do some kind of legitimate project.

So the project management function would be something that would be relevant. But you’re going to want to do it for a UPS, or a Georgia-Pacific, or a Coca-Cola. What you would be doing [with Bruce] might be better and more relevant than what you’re doing currently, but if you’ve got choices, and you’re thinking about making a move, I would really try first to go for some of the harder options.

My general opinion is that a lot of those kind of opportunities are available pretty readily – if you’re willing to go for them, network your way in, and apply broadly. So, go for the ones that are harder and see what you can do, and then make other choices along with that.

Well, that would make sense. I mean, that’s going to have to be the scenario either way, because I have to keep working to go to school at night.I couldn’t take time off to do the MBA. It doesn’t sound like I would need to if I wanted to get the type of experience necessary in order to get hired.

Yeah, for you it’s actually probably better not to take the time off, to be honest. You are on an experience gathering hunt, basically, over the next couple of years.

Okay. That makes sense.

The goal is to make Inertia Films start looking more and more like those premier pilot and aviation opportunities – then all of a sudden you are the guy that was a former pilot who did a logistics project at UPS.

You’re going to have to do some pretty hard-core networking, so we’ve got to get your resume up to a place where somebody would pay attention to it, but then right after that you’re going to have to shop it.

There may be somebody who you did your B.S. in Business with at Auburn who’s actually kind of in a pretty senior position now, 9 years later, right? To do something in the corporate world, you might have to go back to them and say, “I need a favor and I’ll moonlight for you. You don’t have to pay me at all, but I really want to do a project that would look like this.” Help them with some kind of an issue that they’ve got just to get your foot in the door. If that leads then to something like a project manager experience where all of the sudden you are employed by a UPS, or by a Georgia-Pacific, fabulous. That’s exactly what you’re looking for.

Okay. I guess the other question that I have or the one that comes to mind is there’s a lot of talk about the on-cycle or off-cycle recruiting. What does that mean exactly? Is on-cycle a period of years, and off-cycle is a period of years, or is it annually?

It’s annually. In the Consulting Roadmap, there is a chart that talks about when on-cycle recruiting happens. It’s essentially for full-time MBA programs. For the MBA programs that you’re talking about, you won’t even go through an internship process with a firm. So we’re just talking about full time. The hiring starts one year before you would start. 

So if you’re going to graduate in 2016 from your MBA program, you would be looking at a fall 2015 recruiting process. And, basically, that recruiting process happens in September, October and maybe the first two weeks in November in the U.S. That’s on-cycle recruiting – the firm comes to the school on a set schedule.

Off-cycle recruiting is any other time of the year, and it’s basically when you’re taking whatever is left over in terms of their availability.

A firm like Deloitte that’s really large, and has many different practices, not just strategy practices, but also technical practices and operations practices, etc., has functions out the wazoo. They have around 4,000 people in their Atlanta office. So they’re going to be hiring year round because they’re going to have folks coming in and leaving year round.

Bain, who has 40 people at the post MBA level in the Atlanta office, hires them and tries as best they can lock them down for 2 years, so they all leave in July, and the new hires come in somewhere between June and September. So there is this kind of rotating door, but it’s a lot more rigorous in terms of the way that that happens. So at Bain, you’re looking for a gap when they have a real need in between finishing their hiring process in November, when new people aren’t coming in until June, July, August.

My best guess is that off-cycle for consulting for you would be a huge stretch at this point, just because of the fact that you’ve got this interim step that you need to take, either getting your MBA, getting more experience, or both. So I think what you’re really looking at is ideally on-cycle recruiting through a target MBA program, and bulking up your experience at the same time.

I think that’s my strategy. I was accepted to Georgia State and I was actually all set to start there in the spring, and then I just looked at some of their recruiting and they’re not really recruited by any of the firms I’m interested in. So I pushed that back to fall 2014 and put in an application at Georgia Tech because all the firms I’m interested in recruit out of there.

So would it be worthwhile to maybe put off an MBA beginning date until fall 2015 and just gain experience until that point with like a brand name?

I would start your MBA right away – and hustle on the other experience

Okay. The other thing is you mentioned are the two years at Bain. I’ve read a lot on the Management Consulted website about the exit opportunities that consultants have on a regular basis. I guess I wanted to hear a little bit more about that. Is that pretty much what 90 percent of the consultants do, and if not, what does a 35-year-old guy coming in who was 37 after two years, what sorts of exit opportunities would exist for a person in my position, if any? Or would I just have to look at being a career consultant?

You’ll have tremendous exit opportunities, and one of the reasons why people stay in consulting for a little bit longer is just to get older, so you are kind of past that point. You’re old enough to take on some real responsibility, and any of the exit opportunities would be available to you.

The only one that really wouldn’t, which are a little bit more age sensitive are generally private equity roles. Those are probably not going to be as optimal. Maybe VC roles as well. Some of the VCs are a little bit more open to having somebody that’s a little older, but most want the young pups. How do I say that nicely? Somebody who is more mature. That’s what I was looking for.

Right. So you’re saying those would not be good exit opportunities.

Those are not your most likely prospects, no. Your most likely prospects are going to be moving into a more senior project manager role, kind of in training P&L leadership at a company at some point.

So even investment banking, is that off the table as well?

Yeah, definitely. Some guys try to exit before they are 30, just because the lifestyle is pretty challenging. I’m not saying that it’s impossible, and I’m saying in markets like Atlanta, if you are going to go to a private equity firm in Savannah, there aren’t a lot of them, there might not even be any of them, but if there is one, then maybe those guys would be open to something like that at that point. You can go to private equity firms that are focused on real estate. Those firms are going to be more open to different ages. But overall, you’re limited.

That was one industry that I was interested in exiting into, if that opportunity was there. But if the likelihood of that less than something else, then I would definitely prepare myself for that.

You will not have a lack of opportunities, let me just say that. You’ll have people calling you every week at the firm. You’ll have a network that’s super robust. You have a brand name that opens a lot of doors for you.

The key for a lot of consultants is just trying to figure out what they want to do. So a lot of people stay in consulting when you see people exiting at different places, it’s because they are trying to figure out when the right time is for them to exit.

That was another question I had about consulting. I enjoyed aviation, and I enjoy media. In consulting, are there opportunities to get yourself involved in consulting roles for those industries?

Definitely. Basically, every industry has business leadership, right? So consulting at the end of the day is really training for business leadership. One of the guys that I worked with at Bain is currently at Time Warner, so he has bopped around between a number of different companies in there, and he’s totally in charge of P&L management, revenue management, a lot of the business functions for those industries. There’s a lot of opportunity. And again, whatever your brand name experience really ends up kind of honing you in on something like that. So if that’s an industry that you’re interested in, what I would do is I would try to go get a brand name experience at one of those places.

One of those places, right. What types of – I’m just thinking of things as we go, on my resume, and part of the interview process, is there any weight given to the GMAT score, or the entrance exams for business schools in the management consulting process?

Yes. Definitely. They kind of look at even SAT scores for metrics. Basically at Bain, they asked at the beginning of the process what the SAT scores were. They’re generally looking for GMATs of over 720, SAT scores of over 700 in each of the different areas. Some of the firms like Deloitte are not going to be as focused on metrics like that, although basically you have to be prepared to answer that question.

Well, let me ask you this – this is an honest question. My GMAT score is 590, my GPA is 2.9, and I have gaps in my work history. That clearly doesn’t paint a picture that is conducive to those types of recruiters. Is this something that can be turned around, in your opinion? Realistically, what should I look at?

That’s the ultimate question. If you want me to be really honest with you, I would say Bain is a stretch. It would be a challenge for you to break into Bain just because of the things that I’m talking about. You’re competing with 200 Harvard MBAs that are trying for 20 spots at Bain, and those guys have everything that you just talked about and more going for them already. Then they still have to pass the interview process.

But, if you’re interested in becoming a consultant, open to working at a whole bunch of different firms, and if you really think that with a 590 and your 2.9 you can get into Georgia Tech, if you can get into the program, then the question is your leadership experience, your work experience. You don’t have a shot at all until you get some of those things corrected.

At this point, you’ve got networking to do. You seem like a pretty personable guy, so your ability to work directly with people is going to be something that’s going to come across, and there are people that have the same metrics that are just not good people people.

But to be honest, I think you have a big uphill climb ahead of you. Still, this process will lead you to a job – consulting or another general management position – that you really like, and it’s going to have a lot of the same characteristics as consulting. It may not be Bain, but it’s going to be something that you’re going to be really excited about.

That brings up another interesting question. Another big recruiter out of Georgia Tech is North Highland. They have a location here in Atlanta, and it looks like a lot of their consultants don’t travel as much. But what people have said about them is that sometimes it’s less consulting and more – outsourcing.

North Highland bills themselves as consultants, but a lot of times I think they will outsource staff and talent from North Highland to work on projects, and then once they are done with them they go to the next thing. And that’s not necessarily consulting as much as it is operations, right?

Well, it’s almost more like contracting, to be honest. Less even like consulting.

Beau, I’ll level with you. Your next step has to be a strategic one, I would focus on building a brand. Right now, your brand is like you’re a commercial pilot with some media experience. That’s confusing for a lot of people, right? So if you can build a brand as the guy who works at CNN in their operations department, that other experience becomes a benefit for you, but right now it’s just a liability. You have got to get that next kind of core experience to take you any of these places.

Once you’ve done that, you can sit back a little bit and you can take months, if you need to, to really develop like a networking strategy and an application strategy that’s going to take you across multiple companies and multiple areas. I think you’re going to get super excited about a lot of what you find there.

In our Networking Bible, we have 110 companies. We just finished an update that’s taking it to 175 consulting firms. I mean, that’s ridiculous. And you will have tons of options for these consulting firms. And there are 10 that everybody focuses on for the exact same reasons that we’re talking about now, because you want to build a brand. Well, you go build a brand, get one branding experience on your resume and that you’ve got some more choices. You can branch out again. So I basically wouldn’t like pick and choose at all right now. I think the only thing you are trying to pick and choose on is brand name versus non-brand-name experience.

That’s helpful to hear. You don’t know what you don’t know until you start down this road. That was one of my big questions – what is a good next step? I remember reading that in a one of your materials just about brand name experience. Those are types of opportunities that I will continue to pursue. So it sounds like basically getting that type of experience is kind of the key to everything else because without it the chances are slim to none.

Exactly. I think you got the picture.

That’s helpful to hear, Jenny Rae.

Awesome. Okay, do you have any final questions for me?

No, not right now. That really paints a very clear picture for what I need to focus on, so I really appreciate that.

Awesome. Well, I’m glad that we were able to walk through this. I definitely wish you the best of luck, and I hope to talk to you soon.

All right, Jenny Rae. Thanks so much for your time.

It’s a pleasure. Bye.

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Here’s an email we got from Beau just a few weeks later –

I hope your 2014 is shaping up well and that you guys are still having fun in California. I just wanted to follow up with you to let you know where things are with me in this long process.
 
I was accepted to Georgia Tech and will begin there this fall. Also, I have resumes out to AT&T, JP Morgan Chase and Georgia Pacific. Also I just had an interview today with McMaster-Carr – an industrial supply company. 
 
Thanks again for all of your insights a couple of months back. It was very helpful. I’ll keep you posted as things continue to progress. 

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