Reader FAQ – Switching gears: from intern to full-time, from IT to strategy, and from PwC and IBM to MBB

It’s time for our final Reader FAQ for 2012, and we’re going out with a bang. (Even Santa’s reading MC now!) This month we feature questions from readers who want to switch gears – with a focus on moving from non-MBB firms to MBB.

Concerns around the move to top 3 plagues many MC clients – “I have a great internship and wouldn’t mind staying with this firm. Should I give that up for a shot at MBB?” or “I don’t know if my background at such-and-such school will make me competitive enough for MBB. What do you think?” We’ve heard everything! Our typical response? If there’s an opportunity to apply, do it! There’s really nothing to lose. If you’re not selected for an interview, you’ll never regret having tried – and if you do make it through the interviews and obtain an offer, you can always decide to take or leave it at that point.

(By the way…if you have any consulting-related inquiries, send them our way! We LOVE to hear from readers and may feature your question in a 2013 Reader FAQ post. Just shoot us a note.)

Q:  Your blog has been valuable and I am a big fan of your work. I am now an MBA intern at IBM Strategy & Transformation as a consultant. I am wondering what your perspective of the firm is, and whether I should even try to get into top 3  when I’m sure I can secure an offer at IBM? To me, it has a great work/life balance, decent pay, and the people are smart and down-to-earth. But I do not want to stay in consulting forever. If I want to start my own business or return to my family business at some point, is it worthwhile to go for top 3 full-time or just stick with what I have? 

A:  If you can get an offer at IBM, by all means, go for it! It’s a great firm, and as you mentioned, has a LOT going for it. Plus, it will be a bit of insurance to have a full-time offer if you do consider going through fall recruiting – it will relieve much of the stress. Why not go for M/B/B too? It’s the best time in your life to try it – you don’t have to network as heavily as post MBAs, and the recruiters come straight to campus to pursue you – and you’ll have the best brand names in the industry behind you if you do break in. Besides, you could always turn them down if you do get the offer (although we don’t hear that very often). You’re in the perfect position – you can prepare without stress – so give it your best, and see what happens.

You attend a highly ranked MBA program – and perhaps you turned down Harvard Business School to go there. But I doubt it…you know that you’d never in your life have to apologize for going to Harvard. Still – you might have had your reasons, and you chart your own course at the end of the day. The same is true for M/B/B vs. IBM – why not open up all the doors, and when you have full information, decide which one to walk through?

Q: Great blog, terrific resource, helped me get an offer at PwC New York practice. The salary at PwC is lower than I would like. I’m starting this month, and writing because I’m wondering how good PwC’s reputation is, and what the prospects are for switching to M/B/B after a year.

I have a Masters (non-MBA) from LSE, undergrad from Columbia, and early professional experience from a nonprofit. Is it possible/desirable to switch? What’s important to consider, and what should I be doing in the next year to make it happen?

A:  Yes, it’s possible to switch – we have an interview coming up on the site from a guy who started at a non-target school, went to Deloitte, and then ended up at BCG. Your caliber is good to start – however, we have a few recommendations:

1.  Be a top performer. This might go without saying, but you really have to nail your current work to be able to point to interesting projects, top ranks, candidacy for early promotion, etc.  when you’re trying to make the case for switching. You’ll need to be able to play this up on your resume and in your cover letter, so cover your bases and rock your first year (starting with your first 3 months – when your status at PwC will largely be determined).

For a comprehensive plan for success in your first 3 months, look for our newest e-book, Three Month Mastery – coming soon!

2.  Network. Breaking in off-cycle is best done when you can follow in someone’s footsteps – find people on LinkedIn that were once at PwC and are now at MBB. Take them out to lunch or get them on the phone for an informational interview. Ace that time together – go in over-prepared, be confident, and have fun. A blind application will be so much more less likely than an approach like this.

3.  Focus on BCG and McKinsey. Both are more likely to hire you off-cycle than Bain, especially because you are coming from PwC. They’re also bigger, and take a broader look at the experienced hire and APD market. Plus, they have global staffing – which means that it’s easier to train you and slot you into project rotations off-cycle.

4.  Ask for projects in high-demand industries. I’m thinking healthcare here, but there may be other options. If you want to break in, go in with expertise in a growing practice – healthcare is the best option.

Q:  Just got an offer to join a large global strategy consulting firm in Chicago as a Senior Principal (equivalent to an Associate Partner at McKinsey), and am trying to get a sense for base and bonus range in the market today, and whether sign-in bonuses are typical at that level. I have been in consulting for nearly ten years and have worked as a Principal in a boutique strategy firm for the past three years.

A:  At McK, the base will be ~$400-600K, bonuses are highly variable between practices, and I don’t believe sign-on bonuses are standard because 90% of the senior management comes from within. Stay tuned for our 2013 salaries post coming soon!