Interview with Steward from Kearney Shanghai – Life as a Consultant series

This is the second post in my “Life as a Consultant” series. The first was with a Booz Allen consultant. Expect more soon from current and former consultants at firms such as McKinsey and Bain!

Some background first: Steward was one of the first commenters here at MC. Upon further discussions and email exchanges, I learned that he’s currently a part-time consultant at Kearney (formerly A.T. Kearney) in Shanghai. This position plus his perspective on studying and working in China was interesting to me and I’m sure will be interesting to readers.

Now on to the interview! I’ve bolded a few things that are particularly helpful for prospective applicants

1. Tell us about your background

I am a native Chinese student. I’m a part time project assistant in Kearney and full-time college student in Tongji University (Shanghai). While in college, I worked for a large real estate research firm, hence my first real job was literally doing questionnaire surveys on the street. Then I went to work for a big accounting firm, I learned to have fun with Excel data as well as photocopy machines. I even took several unpaid internships and worked hard at them. For giving me the chances to get involved in a real business world, I owe my previous jobs great debt, every single one has provided me with a step up one way or another. At my time in Kearney, the firm and my colleagues have been very good to me.

In my spare time, I enjoy basketball, observing original stuff and hit trends in China. Recently I started a blog to pursue the joy of writing, it’s about college and careers.

2. Your situation is very unique because you’re currently a part-time consultant/intern at Kearney. How did you find this opportunity?

Firstly I’d like to clarify the difference between part-timers & internships: Apart from permanent positions (eg. from analyst to associate), we have both part-time and intern positions available for students in school.

  • Part-timer assistants (PTA) are generally for undergrad (or advanced degree graduate) candidates without previous work experience, for those who want to pick up some basic experience in consulting (pay upon hourly basis).
  • While for internship (which is recruited every summer), we’re actually hiring MBA candidates who have previous work experience in a certain industry and want to branch into the consulting territories after graduation (pay is comparable to senior analysts)

As to the application to a PTA, there are two main pipelines for a college students:

  1. Apply on their website
  2. Get “referred in”

I actually got in by mixing these two routes aforementioned – combining an application and proper networking in the information session (lots of companies swarm campus in recruiting seasons, it’s the best chance to meet your dream employer, and yes, everyone can attend it even if you’re not on your final year!).

If you’re seeking some execution tips on this, I’d like you to check Kevin’s thoughtful advice on The right way to network. I was surprised when I read that post for the first time, because that’s exactly how it worked for me and I just want you to know it’s not as complicated as it sounds!

MC note: I highly encourage current students to seek out opportunities like this while in school. As long as you take care of your GPA, these experiences show initiative, build your network, and are extremely valuable during the recruiting process

3. Can you explain what it’s like to have a part-time position?

Generally speaking, we’re assigned to jobs similar to those of analysts. As a PTA (part-time assistant), you are assigned to a consulting team, expected to contribute information, set up/conduct interviews, perform data analyses, and develop models. But since part-timers’ work commitment is not as high and the recruiting process not as strict, their job are usually less complicated with less client exposure and less travel.

In the eyes of some people, PTA’s job responsibilities (dealing with pack of excel data, endless cold calls and googling revenue of an unlisted company for 2 hours) don’t look fancy and inspiring. Well I can’t speak for everyone, but personally if you want to learn more, my advice would be take initiative and ask questions, leverage the chance to see your projects all the way through. Be willing to do the boring stuff in exchange for great connections, experience, exposure, and mentorship, then you’ll make so much difference. I’m a believer in real practice and there’s still so much about consulting you’ll never hear about merely from reading The McKinsey Way or visiting this blog, unless you have the work privilege that gives you the inside scoop.

4. Can you tell us what the culture is like at Kearney?

The company doesn’t offer individualized training programs for PTAs. However, with guidance from co-workers paving the path, the transition to a real analyst job would not be difficult. I pay special tribute to the stint in ATK, where I am a participating member of an engagement, have a chance to work next to experienced consultants and even talk to top-level management. I appreciate the firm’s vibrant atmosphere in which coworkers are more likely to be friends and mentors. Channels of communication are wide open, we can literally contact anyone. You’re not able to anticipate how a contact may help in future career, yet I found sharing bits of fulfillment with old colleagues and mentors I’ve built relationships with was one of the best feelings!

5. So, about hours, is a PTA supposed to work shorter hours since he/she’s part time?

Hmm, it depends, I’m no stranger to 80+ (even 90+) hours/week anyway (yup, I skipped a few classes, but I trust it’s worthwhile :P ) Usually we need to work doubly hard to keep a good balance between work and study, because GPA matters!

6. You work and study in China, which is an area that is of interest to many readers. Can you share your thoughts on the Chinese consulting culture?

Yes, I’d like to take this chance to let more people know about China. I think the inside culture of these GMC firms don’t have much difference from home and abroad as firms are owned and managed by seasoned professionals with overseas experiences and western mindset/educational background. Young consultants are being tutored to be globally ready from day one. I also talked with consultants who processed wealth of both China and overseas experiences, they told me the transition to a Chinese work environment is not difficult.

However, there’s one thing should be noted, a good command of Mandarin is important. As what I observed in the firm, everyone speak good English and Mandarin even he/she is a non-Chinese. Being bilingually efficient will offer you many initiatives in projects from domestic clients. Moreover, much first-hand information is readily available in local language even you’re dealing with a fortune 500 client.

I credit blogging and other social media for creating these middlemen. Lots of web users are offering tremendous insight into all aspects of life in China, and can help you form your own idea of what China is to you. But the best way to gain as much understanding as possible is to meet with as many of these insiders and see for yourself.

6. Where would you like to work when you graduate?

I am still striving for answer of this question. To me, I will certainly apply for a position in consulting after graduation.

7. What is the recruiting process like in China? How does it differ from what’s been written here on Management Consulted?

In regards to the recruiting process, it’s standardized and not much different. Popular career guides like Wetfeet and Vault are among our must-reads before job hunting. I have been surrounded by highly motivated peers who are climbing toward consultancy.

I recommended Management Consulted on my school website several weeks ago because those advices are applicable to job hunting here as well, lots of students replied and applaud Kevin’s efforts.

8. (Don’t answer if you don’t want your information made public) How should readers get in touch with you?

Sure, if anyone is interested in any topic I’m involved in, feel free to reach out for me via steward(dot)du(at) or my blog iSteward. Today is China’s biggest festival – the Spring Festival, I wish readers all the best along their career path!

Filed Under: consulting interviews