If you are an undergraduate engineering student looking to break into consulting, Denyce’s story is for you.
With a passion for sustainability and a background in nuclear engineering, Denyce – an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto with no business experience – decided to pursue consulting as a way to make a bigger impact right out of the gate.
In this conversation, she shares the passion that drove her to consulting, discusses the struggles and successes she experienced with recruiting, and highlights the importance of networking and community during the process.
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Transcription: From Nuclear Engineering to a Consulting Offer – Denyce’s Story
Noah Schmeisser 00:04
Welcome to Strategy Simplified. My name is Noah and today on the podcast, I’m excited to bring you this conversation with Denyce, a Toronto engineering student who landed an MBB offer. Listen as we discussed Denise’s journey to consulting, and how she broke in without a business background. We’re so excited to have Denyce, a member of the management consulting community who just landed an MBB offer on Strategy Simplified with us today. Denyce welcome, can you start us off with a brief intro and a high level background about who you are and how you got here.
Denyce Riley 00:41
I’m going into mechanical engineering at the University of Toronto. I’m originally from Trinidad, Tobago, which is in the Caribbean. What motivated me to go to Canada was that I’m very sustainability driven. I’m very passionate about making a positive impact on the world, and that’s what really got me into renewable energy and social sustainability. Then I realized I could make an even bigger impact in management consulting, and that’s what prompted that shift in careers.
Noah Schmeisser 01:27
It’s definitely a path that a lot of people choose to pursue from a wide variety of angles. I’d love to just have a little bit more about about your specific journey. So you came in to the University of Toronto focused on on engineering, how exactly did that pivot go.
Denyce Riley 01:45
So I am currently in what you’d call your professional internship, while you’re working. So I’ve been working at a nuclear power plant because I was really passionate about renewable energy and clean energy and being a driver in that industry. But I didn’t really feel that I was making the impact that I wanted, I knew that on a broad scale I was having an impact as I was helping the plant run efficiently, but I couldn’t exactly see the impact that I was having. And I started thinking about consulting.
A recruiter reached out to me on LinkedIn and told me more about different MBB firms. I started really looking into what they’re doing, how they are incorporating sustainability into their problem solving process. That really got me intrigued, because as an engineer, what we love most is problem solving. I landed in an area where I was accomplishing all of the goals that I set out for myself. I was also able to incorporate that aspect of social sustainability and actually helping communities and helping those types of issues whilst also doing the environmental sustainability that I was passionate about. So that’s what really just pushed me towards consulting and really making that shift in my career.
Noah Schmeisser 03:06
Wow, that’s awesome. And it’s great to see that kind of passion coming out, especially in this process, just taking a step back from your motivation and focusing on your recruiting process. Can you walk us through a high level overview of your networking, application, interview process at the highest level, and really tell us a little bit about how that went for you what that looked like, where you started.
Denyce Riley 03:33
My greatest tool, I would say is LinkedIn. I really took advantage of that. So if anyone who attended the University of Toronto went to McKinsey or was an intern at McKinsey, I message them. Anyone who went to Bain and anyone who went to BCG, I message them. I was very focused on learning firsthand from people who worked in those companies and trying to get a mentor of some sort.
So at my university, there’s this connects I guess, like U of T LinkedIn, where you can only connect with past pupils. So I really utilize that as well reaching out to different alumni who were in consulting, didn’t necessarily have to be MBB consulting, it could have been hatch, which is an internet company at Deloitte. Just getting that mentorship and that guidance. And once I had that, then I really started using LinkedIn to target the MBB firms.
Connecting with recruiters and then using those connections with the recruiters to see what events are happening in Toronto around the time that I wanted to get involved in the recruitment process. So in doing so, I was able to attend full networking sessions before I actually applied to the MBB firms. And in doing so, I got to learn firsthand what it was like in that particular office, getting an idea of the culture, getting an idea of the people I’m really making sure that this is something that I wanted to do, and I could see myself doing. And then from there, it was sending out my resume. I just passed my resume to different people, my friends, my family, then also sending it to my different mentors getting critiques from them, and really just making sure that it was hitting every single goal for each firm. From there I was just getting the invitations to interview and then trying to crush the case studies, to the best of my abilities. But I would say do not sleep on the behavioral is because that was equally as important.
Noah Schmeisser 05:38
No, very true. It sounds like networking was a really important part of your process as it is for everybody. And just all you folks out there going through consulting recruiting, don’t neglect networking. I would love to hear your take on a lot of people networking with a little bit of fear, potentially a little bit of uneasiness. They think that potentially it’s fake, or they just don’t love the idea. What would you say to those people?
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Denyce Riley 06:08
I definitely understand. So I’m very introverted in nature. So it takes a lot for me to put myself out there and message people. But it’s really just determination, which pushes me because I know that if I want to achieve my goals, this is what I got to do. So I would say reaching out, it’s not something that you should necessarily be afraid of. The worst thing that will happen is they don’t respond and then you just move on with your life. If they do respond then it makes a significant impact on your life. So I would say just send the message, just say hi, introduce yourself, say why you’re messaging them in the first place. Don’t try to get something from them. I think most people are very open to helping once you’re not trying to just use them like, “can you get me a job?” “Can you look at my resume?”. Just more getting knowledge and information from them, I think is the best way to approach networking. I think you should definitely not be afraid the worst thing that will happen is no response. And then it lasts for two seconds and you move on with your life. So
Noah Schmeisser 07:19
No, it makes a lot of sense. I guess a follow up question here. When you were networking, how far before the your application dates, that kind of resume drop, did you start networking?
Denyce Riley 07:32
Okay, so what happened was that I was reached out to on LinkedIn by a recruiter in September of last year. So that’s when I got really into the world of MBB. And they motivated me to apply to the different firms. That’s when my networking started, September of last year. So that’s when I started reaching out to different people who worked at the firms to get a mentor. That’s when I started looking at different USC alumni and current students who worked at those firms. But I didn’t actually attend networking events out of firm until about January or February of this year. And then I will do an event, maybe like a month or two months after the first one, in a consecutive order. Some of them are online. Some of them are in person, and didn’t necessarily have to be me in the office.
Noah Schmeisser 08:35
You would say that your kind of networking process began at least six to seven months before you apply. Is that fairly accurate? Yes. I just want to highlight the importance of starting early with networking. I think a lot of people, especially if you’re a little uneasy about it, leave it more toward the last minute, but starting earlier can really be a be a key to success in that part. Denyce, I have another question for you. Do you have one pro tip that you can share on each piece of your recruiting puzzle? So potentially one on networking? We already touched on that a little bit but one on networking, one on your actual application- so resume, cover letter- and then one on the interview process?
Denyce Riley 09:24
I would say don’t discredit the impacts or the helpful resources that you have in family and friends. I think most people think that in order to have a stellar resume to get you into these firms, you need some type of professional or you need someone within the firm to actually tell you that your resume is good. But your family and your friends know a lot as well. They have been employed at some point in their life. They have had to create a resume, they’ve had to go through these processes. So utilize that, there’s power in that. I really leaned on my parents in the resume process made them go over it 1000 times, make sure that every word was spelled correctly. So I would say don’t discredit that, definitely use that as a resource.
I would say for the actual interview process, I think the one thing that they look for is confidence, if you can just show that you think you know what you’re doing, then they’ll believe that you’re know what you’re doing. I think that’s one of the biggest things that they look for in the interview, just being confident in yourself being confident in your responses. And also being open to critiques or being guided in a different direction. A lot of people like to hold fast in their initial assumptions and just keep moving forward, but just be open and confident in the actual interview process.
Noah Schmeisser 10:58
Great advice, and thank you for that. Pivoting a little bit, but remaining on the topic of applications, when you were applying and interviewing what would you say your best resource was in the process? Or if you were speaking to yourself two years ago, what would you say: use this, really focus on this, to help you succeed?
Denyce Riley 11:18
Well, the Strategy Simplified podcast was like my number one podcast for case studies alone. I used that to really get an understanding of casing in general. I come from an engineering background. So I didn’t know what words like market entry, market share, I had no idea what these words were. So it was really diving into that and making sure they had a full understanding.
I think where I went wrong in the beginning was that I thought that I needed to sound like a consultant in my interviews, and I would focus a lot on that just trying to have that jargon. But I don’t think that’s really that important. It’s mostly your brainstorming, your idea formation, how are you able to speak those words into simple terms that the average man can understand. So I think Strategy Simplified was really good. For me, at least in that regard. It really just solidified the idea that it’s about your actual brainstorming processes, how you handle information, how you analyze information, and just also getting an understanding of the business world in general, because I was very lost on that. So I would say that was my number one resource when it came to casing.
For behaviorals, you don’t really need a resource, I would say it was mostly reflection and introspection. So I think also using your family would be a huge resource in that regard as well.
Noah Schmeisser 12:50
Well, thank you. And so you listeners out there note that we did not pay her to say any of that, that is all authentic. But we appreciate the endorsement.
Noah Schmeisser 14:15
So when you were going through this process, which part did you find the most difficult? Which part got you down the most? What was the hardest part for you?
Denyce Riley 14:26
I would say structuring an actual case was very hard for me. The reason why was because I just didn’t understand what was required of me in terms of structuring, the idea was just so abstract. Everyone would always say structuring is your own approach to it. You can’t learn how to structure but I was like, what does that even mean? So that took me a while to understand, but I started to see a pattern in it. I work in patterns. I started to see if you have a market entry case this is your constant if you have a subtype of profitability case this is your pattern.
It’s really just trying to understand the idea of structuring. What it essentially boils down to is that you have a cluster of ideas in your mind for how you should approach a case, and how should you group it so that they have commonalities, or that it makes sense. And that’s what I understood structure to be. Once I understood that, that made it a lot easier for me. Even if it was the most abstract case prompt, like the New York Zoo wants to buy a gorilla, how should they approach that? Once you have that idea that structuring is not this big, intimidating thing, it’s simply just grouping your ideas, it makes it a lot easier to approach and a lot easier to understand.
Noah Schmeisser 15:48
Great explanation there. I think a lot of people potentially try to unintentionally even gatekeep and make this process more complicated than it perhaps needs to be. That was a really great explanation in terms of what this is in layman’s terms. So that made a lot of sense. Thank you for that. You said structuring and figuring that out was the most difficult part for you of the process. What did you most enjoy what came most naturally? What kept you going through this process?
Denyce Riley 16:20
I would say, my favorite part of this entire journey was just the friends I made at my networking events. And they are a huge support for me, because at one point in time, I wasn’t even going to apply. If I’m being honest, that deadline was coming up and I still hadn’t signed my application. I was like, I don’t think it makes sense anymore, I don’t feel ready, I haven’t done that many cases. But they really pushed me, “you’ve attended so many networking events, you’ve gotten to know the firm’s, you have to apply”, and they essentially bullied me into it. They were there for me the entire journey, we would stay up until like 11pm 12 midnight, just casing and supporting each other, helping each other with the behaviorals. So I would think that the friendships that I formed just in this application process was the best part.
Noah Schmeisser 17:10
It really is a very communal process. When you were prepping for cases, did you do live cases with case partners? Or how did you approach that part?
Denyce Riley 17:18
Every single case that I did, I did live, I didn’t do any cases on my own.
Noah Schmeisser 17:23
And how many cases would you say that you did sort of roughly throughout the process?
Denyce Riley 17:28
I have no idea. I would say maybe 30. Maybe, but I honestly didn’t keep count. My strategy was more so quality, over quantity, because there’s this idea that the more cases you do, the better you are, which I think is false. You could do 50 cases really badly. So I think just making sure that I was improving in each case that I attempted, that was my goal, once I was able to apply the critiques that I caught beforehand to the new case, and I was solid on that.
Noah Schmeisser 18:06
Well, it sounds like you took a very thorough and quality approach to the to the process, within this process and within your recruiting journey. I know you mentioned the structuring was sort of difficult, the friends kept you going, but what would you say your single greatest challenge was?
Denyce Riley 18:32
It would honestly be a lack of confidence in myself. I did not feel as though I was going to get very far, I had very little confidence. I’m from engineering, I don’t know anything business related, they’re gonna see right through me. The only thing I’m good at is the math. I had a lot of support. I had people at the firms who are rooting me on, I had the people that I networked with rooting me on, it was just all a lot of overwhelming support and telling me Denyce you can do this, you just have to have faith in yourself. That really got me through it. But I think it was just that lack of confidence in my I guess casing abilities more so than anything else.
Noah Schmeisser 19:18
It makes sense and especially coming from a non business background, that terminology can be daunting, but congratulations on being finished with the process. As you sit here now, looking forward to starting in consulting. What are you most looking forward to?
Denyce Riley 19:38
I’m really excited about the people, I’ve made some really good friends at the firm, especially my buddy throughout my recruitment journey, the actual interviewing journey, we became really close. I relied on her a lot.
I’m really excited about those relationships that I cultivated throughout my journey, being able to call those people colleagues now and get to work with them. That sounds really exciting. And then I’m also excited to do the work. Really interested to see the different types of projects I will be involved with, and just having that sustainable impact that I’ve been dreaming about since I was like five.
Noah Schmeisser 20:23
Well, that sounds awesome. And we’re really excited for you. Pivoting now here at the end of the interview, we’d like to wrap things up with a couple personal and fun questions that have absolutely nothing to do with consulting. So you’re from the Caribbean, originally, you go to the University of Toronto, what is your favorite place that you’ve been?
Denyce Riley 20:52
I love Trinidad and Tobago it’s a beautiful island, my favorite spot. And Tobago would be the nylon pool. It’s the coolest thing. It’s a pool, it’s natural, but it’s a pool in the middle of the ocean. So if you went into the middle of the ocean, you could start in three feet of water. It’s amazing. And then in terms of Trinidad, there’s so many. I love the Gasperi caves, which are these caves made out of limestone. So when limestone melts, it’s really cool. But it’s also on separate islands off the coast of Trinidad, and you can see Venezuela from it. So that’s that’s really interesting as well.
Noah Schmeisser 21:33
Well, that sounds absolutely beautiful. I’m jealous that you get to live there. I’m looking out my window and not saying anything nearly as exciting. Pivoting back to your time at Toronto. You’re wrapping up your collegiate career here. What would you say the highlights of your college, your time at Toronto have been potentially outside outside of the classroom outside of engineering and consulting prep.
Denyce Riley 22:02
My favorite, I would say, honestly, it’s a Raptors game. So I wasn’t very sporty or very involved at all. But my friends dragged me to a Raptors game and it was the most fun I ever had. It was just the vibe, the atmosphere, cheering on your team. It’s really fun. 10 out of 10 recommend.
Noah Schmeisser 22:26
Yes, absolutely. I’m a huge sports fan myself, so I can very much agree with that. Well, thank you so much. Thank you for being on here today. We really enjoyed this conversation. Congratulations.
Denyce Riley 22:42
Thank you. Thank you.
Noah Schmeisser 22:44
Thank you for listening to this episode of Strategy Simplified. If you were inspired by Denyce’s story and want to break into management consulting yourself, work with our crack team, ex-MBB interviewers and case coaches to get yourself there. All our coaches are highly vetted ex MBB consultants who only work with us and if you enjoyed this episode, leave us a review or email us at podcast at managementconsult.com with any questions or feedback.