Interview with a Deloitte S&O consultant

Welcome to our interview with Sean, a Deloitte S&O consultant in the Chicago office. Read on as Sean shares his experiences at Deloitte S&O, his most embarrassing client moment, why he’s choosing to leave for B-School, the firm’s new 2018 interview process, and his top tips for networking.

consultant meeting

NAMAAN: Hey, Sean. This is Namaan from Management Consulted. How are you doing today?

SEAN: Oh, hey. I’m doing well. How’s your Friday been?

NAMAAN: So far so good. How about you?

SEAN: Yeah, not too bad. I’m actually at the client site right now, so I’m not back in my home office, which is kind of rare.

NAMAAN: Okay, yeah, that’s interesting. So are you somewhere in the Midwest or where in the world are you right now?

SEAN: Yeah, I’m – my home office is Chicago, so I’ve been with them for the last three years. The client’s out in Nashville right now though, so pretty much staying here these last few months.

NAMAAN: Okay, Music City.

SEAN: How about yourself?

NAMAAN: We’re based in northern California just a couple hours north of the Bay area.

I’m in our home office today, but we’ve been on the road here the last couple months. I’m sure, as you’re aware, it’s peak recruiting season, so we’ve been traveling the world conducting consulting interview boot camps. It’s kind of nice to be back home for a little bit though.

SEAN: (Laughter.) That’s fair, yeah. It’s cool what you guys are doing. I mean, I was kind of reading your guys’ articles and stuff like since I was in college, so I think before – like that was before you guys were doing tours and before you had like the article guides and all that kind of stuff.

NAMAAN: Mm-hmm. Well, so you’ve been a longtime reader then, huh?

SEAN: (Laughter.) Yeah, way back in the day.

NAMAAN: Sean, I really, really appreciate your offer just to share your story with our readers. I know it’s going to be really beneficial for them and I appreciate you taking the time out on a Friday afternoon.

SEAN: Yeah, happy to. I figured it’s one way to give back. I stole a lot of information from you guys, so – (laughter).

NAMAAN: Well, Sean, do you mind just starting off with a little bit about your background; your undergrad experience and maybe why you chose Deloitte S&O over some of the other options that you had?

SEAN: Yeah, sure. So I went to a large Midwestern state school, part of their undergraduate business school. And so I wasn’t 100% sold on consulting for a while. I was looking at banking, corporate finance, a bunch of other things, and ended up starting to do case competitions that were offered while I was in school.

And so that kind of got me interested in consulting and it got me interested in kind of that whole environment, just like creating models, going through Excel, working in teams, all that kind of stuff. And one of the companies that actually hosted a very large case competition was Deloitte. So I got in contact with them, they started to get to know my name, I did well in the case competition, and then I was able to kind of connect with them for a while. And then after that, that got me interested in consulting and then really started to pursue consulting my senior year.

So Deloitte, among a lot of other firms (MBB), and then some of the more smaller boutique firms – I think L.E.K. and a few others – I forgot which ones at this point – were all kind of targeting my school as a major feeder school for their Chicago offices. So I interacted with a number of them, interviewed with a bunch of different firms, and Deloitte ultimately came down to the firm I liked for both the flexibility as far as the types of projects that you would do. They’re very much a generalist model where they focus – where you basically can come in and not have a specific industry focus, and that was kind of appealing to me, kind of played with the theme of me not really knowing what to do.

And then it was also very much a personality fit. I think Deloitte more than the other firms that interacted with really emphasizes kind of the social and networking aspect of the job. So I am heavily involved with the Chicago office, I consistently am working with and also hanging out with people socially from work. I had a start class of around 25 people in the Chicago office, and then a lot of them are people that I’ve gone to weddings with and people that I’ve traveled with and people that I see on the weekends.

NAMAAN: That’s fantastic. So you’ve built lifelong relationships while you’ve been at Deloitte?

SEAN: Yeah. No, absolutely. There’s definitely – I think in consulting there’s always a rougher balance of work – it’s work-life balance in the sense that like a lot of your work becomes life and vice versa. But knowing that, it’s good people that I’m working with, so they’re fun to have in my life.

NAMAAN: So one of the things you mentioned in your answer there at the beginning was the firm’s generalist model and the broad industry exposure that you receive at Deloitte S&O. Are you able to share with me the most interesting project you’ve worked on here in the last year?

SEAN: Yeah, sure. I came in very exploratory. I touched a bunch of different industries and a bunch of different jobs. And in the last year or so I’ve begun to kind of hone in on the things that I really excelled in and also enjoyed, and that’s a lot more focus on process improvement and business model transformation kind of work.

So Deloitte has a really, really large practice. Internally, we call it business model transformation and that basically focuses on coming in, working with the CEO to COO level and really evaluating how their firm is operating and working to actually improve specific processes within that.

So the project that kind of stands out was a large retailer in the Midwest. And we were responsible for coming in and kind of re-evaluating their entire marketing department. And we came in, did a relatively large-scale evaluation of the entire department, highlighted a few areas that were really big opportunities and relatively easy for us to help improve upon. And we were actually able to manage and revamp that entire marketing team to improve their advertising speed from conception all the way to getting to customers about 50%. So it went from like nine months to four and a half months.

NAMAAN: That’s fantastic. I’m sure they were very pleased with that.

SEAN: Yeah. I mean, it’s definitely one of those where we tend to have a lot of long-term clients, and these are clients who are partners that we’ll have relationships with them for years and years. A lot of them are decades-long relationships and they’ll come back to us every year for different projects.

NAMAAN: That’s great. I mean, that’s the way to build a business. It’s all through relationship.

Right now, I know you’re transitioning out. So you’ve decided to head to business school. Can you talk a little bit about your process of why you decided the time was right now and why you decided that business school was the next move?

SEAN: Yeah, for sure. So for Deloitte Strategy & Operation practice, there’s a couple career paths that you can kind of take after two years through the firm. So the first two years are going to be – you’re going to be an analyst and then you’re promoted to consultant. And then after your first year of a consultant, you basically have an option of pursuing grad school, getting promoted, or you have the choice of leaving the firm.

And those are three pretty “defined” options where – I mean, all of them are relatively large. So the – of the 25 people that I work with, I’d probably say around 10 of us are going to grad school and applying for the GSAP program, Grad School Acceptance Program; around 12 actually have left for other things; and then around two are applying to do continuous career paths, so staying with the firm.

So GSAP is actually a pretty common route and the firm basically pays for your grad school in full for a select number of schools as long as you kind of go through and prove that you’ve had a strong track record with the firm and present to the partners your value proposition of why you should be sponsored.

NAMAAN: Okay, that’s really interesting. So what were your choices on where to attend? And can you share with us where you’re going and why?

SEAN: So I’m actually still in that process right now, still going through applications and interviews. I’m applying to Fuqua of Duke, Penn, Stanford, and Northwestern.

NAMAAN: All fantastic schools.

SEAN: Yeah, my fingers are crossed.

NAMAAN: Yeah. Are you – in your heart of hearts, do you want to stay in the Midwest or are you kind of hoping for a move out west? It’s really sunny and beautiful out here. (Laughter.) SEAN: It’s actually funny. I lived in Palo Alto for about five years actually.

NAMAAN: Oh, really?

SEAN: Really enjoyed it, and I wouldn’t mind seeing myself back there at some point. But the problem with the West Coast is that it’s very expensive and tough to live on a student budget. NAMAAN: Yeah, I can relate to that. (Laughter.) Yeah.

SEAN: So maybe once I go back to the firm, I can convince them to move out to the West Coast.

NAMAAN: For sure, get a transfer to the San Francisco office. So we’ve got hundreds and hundreds of clients that come to us every year. And Deloitte, Deloitte S&O – they’re at the top of their list. So what would you say overall? I know you mentioned the generalist kind of track and the firm culture. But can you just give us a little pitch for Deloitte, how it set you up for the rest of your career and just the experience that you’ve had? What would you say? “Like when I think on my years at Deloitte, this is what comes to mind and this is why you should go.”

SEAN: Yeah, for sure. Well, first of all, I think Deloitte stands out in the fact that it’s huge, right? It’s an extremely large firm. We have – I mean, just if we look at consulting as a whole, we’re one of the largest firms by far. We’re touching every single industry, every single type of project that’s out there.

And coming into a firm like that means that you really have an opportunity to kind of do the projects that are really interesting to you. I have friends who are coming in who want to do social impact work, and they’re working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and My Brother’s Keeper for like six months. I know people who are like working with the NASA, people who are currently doing analytics projects with Google. It’s one of those where the breadth of our projects are extremely large and coming in as kind of a generalist consultant, you get to touch a lot of different industries.

The second thing that really stands out to me is the people that get hired in with you. Deloitte definitely prides itself in hiring high-caliber students out of undergrad and grad school, and also the direct hires have a lot of expertise. But the common theme is that they’re not only extremely smart and extremely capable, but they’re definitely very social. It’s very much team-based in everything that we do, so we’re constantly working with each other and learning from each other . And essentially, every year or every time I’m working on a new project, I’m learning skills that every single person on my team has and I’m kind of teaching them the skills that I have as well, which is big.

NAMAAN: I love it. So kind of touching on that theme of skill building and working in a team – are you able to share one embarrassing story of when you were on a team and you just – maybe early in your career you’re like, “You know what? I’m in over my head and I don’t know what I’m doing” and what you learned from that and how you moved forward?

SEAN: Yeah, sure. So this is more embarrassing than a situation where I actually learned from it, but —

NAMAAN: Sure. Sorry to put you on the spot by the way. (Laughter.)

SEAN: No. So it was actually my – the second client I was on, I was like six months into the firm. And it was a travel project and it was me and another analyst who was starting. And we’d been prepping for this big client presentation, we were the ones who were responsible for helping to create some parts of a final deck, and we were going to be in front of our clients for the first time in a really formal setting. And right beforehand, we were all going to grab coffees. We went over to Starbucks, and I grabbed a couple coffees. We had one for the partner who was already inside. And as I was walking out, I squeezed too hard and the entire thing just exploded all over me. (Laughter.) So, yeah…

NAMAAN: Tell me you had a change of clothes.

SEAN: This is like 10 minutes before the client presentation. So, fortunately, the hotel that we were staying at was really close. So I ran over to the hotel and like changed the fastest I’ve ever changed in my life, ran back. Fortunately, the meeting was a little late, so we ended up being okay and I was able to actually present in front of them with a couple scald marks underneath my clothes.

NAMAAN: So crisis averted, huh? No one was the wiser?

SEAN: Yeah, that’s the story that my team still makes fun of me on. (Laughter.)

NAMAAN: You don’t still have burn marks, do you?

SEAN: No, no. Fortunately, those are gone, but I still get a lot of crap from my team, so definitely regret it. (Laughter.)

NAMAAN: Oh, man. Yeah, I know if I was on your team, I think I’d be giving you a little bit of crap for it too. (Laughter.) But it’s just the way it goes.

SEAN: I mean, now it’s a little more casual. Like I’m sure I can go talk to a client and just be like, “Look, I messed up, wait a few minutes, I’m going to change real quick” and they’d be happy with it. But like this was the first time I’m like really presenting in front of a client, so —

NAMAAN: Yeah. So what you’re saying here is that you would tell our readers, “You know what? It’s all right to just go in and be honest with the client and say, ‘Hey, this is what happened. Can we push this back by 10 minutes?’”

SEAN: Yeah. I mean, everyone wants to be working with real people, right? And everyone understands that things happen. Communication is a big part of it. I think developing trust with your clients means that you also need to kind of be a little vulnerable with them as well.

NAMAAN: I think that’s a really, really important point to draw out. I think a lot of our readers and clients –they feel so much pressure to be perfect all the time. And of course, we value excellence and we demand it of ourselves. But there is a difference between excellence and perfection.

SEAN: Yeah. I’ve actually done recruiting for a large midwestern state school. I’ve been campus lead for the last year or so, and that’s actually a big message that I kind of talk to the undergrads who are kind of prospective consultants. There’s definitely a difference between kind of being professional and being – and what people actually think professional is.

I think the people that I’ve seen who are really successful in my firm and pretty much every other firm – it’s not the ones who are saying the perfect answer to every client’s question, but it’s the person who’s able to talk to the client in a way where they feel comfortable, they’re able to help answer a question and work with them and be the ones who are texting or emailing or calling them if they have any concerns – the go-to person for the client, not necessarily the person who’s always giving the most buttoned-up answer.

NAMAAN: Agreed. So you’re the campus lead for this University, so you’re at many, many recruiting events. What would be your #1 piece of advice for undergrad students that are at these career fairs, recruiting events, coffee chats? What’s the one thing that stands out about a candidate?

SEAN: Target schools and non-target schools – it’s going to be a very different experience. Target – it’s a difference of the firm is investing millions and millions of dollars into different recruiting teams to go —

NAMAAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, they’re coming to you.

SEAN: Yeah, exactly. We are spending our money flying down, paying for dinners, talking to as many people as possible if you’re a target school. And that’s a big difference. For the target schools, what’s kind of crazy is that we are on campus every year, and now more and more a lot of these campus recruiting teams are investing more and more into getting to know people as early as possible. We have a candidate tracker that has first-semester freshmen on it who say they’ve been interested and we’ve had good interactions on.

NAMAAN: Wow.

SEAN: Yeah. (Laughter.) So it’s one of those where like if you invest early, you’re going to have a little bit of an advantage where you’re going to be able to talk to and meet a lot of different people and really understand what the firm is about.

And that being said though, we also recognize that there’s a lot of people who don’t do consulting or don’t decide on consulting until like four months before their interview or even less than that. So we play a healthy balance between it.

But for Deloitte especially, having good, positive interactions with people at the junior level, so like manager and below, those are the types of people on the campus recruiting team that they want to work with. It helps get the interview.

NAMAAN: I’m really glad to hear you say that. A lot of our advice to undergrads is geared towards – for example, at Deloitte, you’re not going to pick the guy who scores 100 on the case interview but bombs the fit.

SEAN: Right.

NAMAAN: I mean, there’s a baseline for the case, but after that, you’re going to take the people you want to work with the most.

SEAN: Exactly. And actually, I’m not sure if you guys – you’re probably more plugged in than pretty much anyone out there, but Deloitte actually this year changed their case interview process. So traditionally, for most undergrads, it was kind of a first-round 30-minute case, 30-minute behavioral, and the second round was a full 60-minute case; a lot of like market sizing and a little bit of – general business knowledge and marketing-sizing-type questions.

This year it’s changed a little. There’s still a 30 minute behavioral and 30-minute case, but there is also a group interview. So we’re having, I think it’s 45 minutes to an hour, where up to four to six people who are all candidates are working together to help solve a specific case.

NAMAAN: And then there’s a presentation component at the end of that?

SEAN: A lot of it – it’s interviewer-led in the sense that the interviewer is in the room with everyone kind of seeing the interactions, seeing how people are kind of thinking through questions, and it’s a series of questions that are asked throughout the interview.

NAMAAN: So what – in that group interview, what is the interviewer specifically looking for as compared to a one-on-one interview; something different that they’re looking for the candidate to display?

SEAN: Yeah. I mean, the traditional case interview is really good in showing kind of the intellectual capability and the general knowledge or preparedness of the candidate, right? It’s how well they know business; know how to think on their feet, know how to communicate.

The main goal of why we introduced the case interview is because we feel that it’s more reflective of what we’re doing on a day-to-day basis. It’s focused on how people are interacting with each other in a group setting. So who are the natural leaders, what kind of roles people are playing while they’re in this group interview, can they help us facilitate getting a good answer while still being able to kind of work well with the team? It’s never good to see someone who, by the end of a case interview, says, “Hey, I don’t want to ever work with this person again.”

NAMAAN: For sure. And are you seeing year after year the size of the incoming class increasing, specifically in Chicago?

SEAN: It’s very office dependent. So we actually – each school has a certain number of kind of targets, target hires that we have. So for us we’ve increased pretty much every year from the school I lead recruiting at. For other schools, it remains stagnant, for other schools it’s gone down. Our class size has gone slightly higher, but not significantly. I think this year around like 28 people are starting.

NAMAAN: Okay, okay, so marginally higher, but that’s it.

SEAN: Yeah.

NAMAAN: So what would you say would contribute to your office deciding, “We’re going to increase the number of new hires from this school, but not from this other target school?” What contributes to the university you lead recruiting at getting those higher number of candidates placed?

SEAN: Yeah, a few factors. I think the biggest factor is market demand. So what’s crazy to me – and I didn’t realize this until I started working heavily on a recruiting team – every school has kind of a profile or a number of profiles of kind of the types of students that they’re really looking for, whether it’s like STEM background, business background, liberal arts background. We kind of categorize that in certain ways. So based off of that on kind of the national level, those offers then get disseminated down to the different schools based off of what the profile of the students that usually are coming are or the strength of those students.

The second thing is going to be historical performance. So every school, the national recruiting numbers or the national recruiting gods really evaluate kind of performance on a year-to-year basis. So they look at every single student that’s coming in, they look at their ratings and performance once they’ve come into the firm, they look at the total yield rate of every school every year – yield basically saying the number of offers to number of acceptances, and then they look at the kind of like how much they’re actually contributing once they get into the firm.

So there’s a lot of numbers and a lot of data that’s involved in the backend that really decides that.

NAMAAN: Sean, last question for you. I really appreciate your time. We’re coming up to 30 minutes and I know you’re still on the client site; don’t want to take any more of your time. But let’s say I’m a student at a non-target and I’ve got my heart set on Deloitte S&O. What do I do to get in front of you or to have those interactions when you’re not coming to my campus, and how do I make a good impression?

SEAN: Yeah. So honest answer: I think it’s very, very tough. There are very few people that I know that are coming from true non-target schools that start as an undergrad in the analyst class. That being said though, there definitely are a few. And the most likely way for you to do this is to get a partner to really enjoy talking to you and to refer you to the recruiting team. So it’s basically a partner – I mean, if you think about it from kind of like the conversation, it’s like: Hey, the partner ends up liking this person, they end up sending an email to us saying, “Hey, this person was great, they’re from this school, if there’s any way you can help interview for them for kind of non-target interviews, please do so.” And if there’s enough of them, we might have kind of like a super-day-type situation where a number of non-targets will come to the office.

From there we’ll go sit down, interview with them, and then it’s the same process that we go through for kind of the on-campus recruiting. It’ll be two rounds of interviews and kind of running through cases, and in this case, if we can get it, the group interview.

NAMAAN: Sure. So once they’re in the interview, they’re on an even playing field with the target-school applicants?

SEAN: Yes, I would say so. I mean, it depends on the target school, right?

For the school I recruit at specifically, we will probably give – we have a few hundred applications every year, which is always really hard to manage. But then from those few hundred, we’ll usually select around 16 for first-round interviews. Sorry, 16 to 25 for first-round interviews, and then by the second round it’s cut to around 12 to 14 at most. So from there, we may be giving around like six to eight offers. So that ratio is actually pretty good. If you start with like 20 people and then seven to eight of them will get an offer, you have a pretty decent chance. I’d probably say for the average school, it’s maybe a little more reflective of what the non-targets will see. It’ll probably be closer to a 10% chance to 20% chance that you’d get an offer.

NAMAAN: Okay, okay. Yeah, that makes sense. I appreciate you shedding light on some of these things for our readers. I know it’s going to be really, really helpful for them.

Sean, it’s been great talking to you. Thank you so much for your time and for lending your knowledge and expertise. We’re really excited to share this with our community. Again, you’ve been a pleasure to talk to. Thanks so much.

SEAN: Yeah. No, I appreciate your time as well. Obviously, I’m a big supporter of you guys.

NAMAAN: Best of luck with those B-school applications!

SEAN: Yeah, I really appreciate that. Thanks so much.

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