Mikael Berthiaume rode a rollercoaster into consulting at McKinsey, transitioned into the startup world, and is now prepping to go back to McK after his INSEAD MBA.
In the fast-paced conversation, Mikael pulls back the curtain on:
- Mikael’s journey from undergrad at a non-core school to McKinsey Analyst
- His structured approach to networking and interview preparation
- The importance of casting a wide net in consulting applications
- The unexpected keys to landing a consulting role
- Why he stepped away from consulting to move into the startup realm
- Tools, resources, and practices that have been crucial to his success in both consulting and startups
- His best advice for candidates with atypical backgrounds
- How to work with Mikael and benefit from his expertise
- And some fun personal insights, from SCUBA diving to globe-trotting!
If you’re inspired by Mikael’s approach to consulting, case interviews, and life, find a link below to work with him in a one-on-one setting.
- Book a 1:1 coaching session with Mikael
- Connect with Mikael on LinkedIn
- Join Black Belt case prep program
- Join the Aug. 16 Case Math Intensive
Transcription: Killer networking, resume, and case prep advice from a former McKinsey Analyst
Michael, welcome to Strategy Simplified. Can you just quickly give yourself a quick introduction for our audience?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for having me here. Yeah, so it’s Mikael, simple pronunciation. Blame my parents, linguists, for that one. I grew up in Mexico, my parents were linguists working in a university in Mexico, but you know, American accent and then ended up moving to the US to a liberal arts college and studied economics there. I tried like the sales thing and internship and undergrad, but ended up moving into consulting instead, which I just thought to be a lot more challenging and for me, was a lot more suited to what I wanted to be doing the direction I was going into, only got one interview in any consulting field, and it was at McKinsey.
So yeah, I ended up going to McKinsey and you know, enjoyed consulting a lot, did that for a bit, went to a startup for a couple of years. And I’m now wrapping up that INSEAD, which is an MBA program over here in Paris, and also has another half campus in Singapore. So yeah, wrapping that up in the next couple of months, and then going back to management consulting in the fall. So yeah, that’s the kind of mean in a nutshell.
Wonderful, well, an early congratulations on your graduation. That’s really incredible. So I know you mentioned that, you know, you wanted consulting because it was a little bit more of a challenge. Can you elaborate on that a little bit more? Why? Why consulting specifically?
Yeah, for sure. So, like I said, when I was an undergrad, I did a couple of internships in sales and I did some recruiting stuff, I worked in an internship with a logistics firm, I think it was Hub Group. And then kind of the first major career break that I had was with IBM, in the summer of my sophomore junior year. And I loved sales, because it was all like client focused, but what I found was that for me, I just thought sales was so like personality based, there were people who in my opinion, were just like, fantastic salespeople, but it was only because of their personality, it wasn’t because of you know, their rigor and what they were able to do.
And I just didn’t think that it was particularly challenging in the type of work that they were doing was like, once you cracked how to sell to a client, that was kind of all you needed, right. And I was interested in something that was going to develop me a lot more for the long term. And not just for like the short term, immediate gains, you know, and big bonuses, which are pretty common in sales. So I started looking at consulting, once I essentially had kind of locked down the full time return offer to IBM. And you know, that was really exciting for me, I was stoked to get like a return offer at the beginning of my senior year. But then I basically used that time to really invest into essentially case prep, case practicing, and then exploring other areas. So that for me was, you know, tech, leadership development programs, which are super rare in undergrad, and then strategy consulting.
And yeah, for me, that was about essentially how to be able to both engage in a client relationship, but also be able to bring a really rigorous set of analytical skills to the table, which, you know, I studied quantitative economics, I like that type of thing. I like, you know, being able to get into the numbers, but then be able to communicate on like, a really significant strategic level. And consulting was just the perfect match for that. You know, the first time I heard about consulting, I’ve misunderstood and I thought that it was counseling, which funny enough is now what my wife is doing. She’s a mental health counselor. And they’re two incredibly different fields. But the jump from that, which was, you know, in my sophomore year of college, so that shows you know, how late to the game I was compared to a lot of people out there to, you know, by the summer before my senior year really cranking on case consulting and putting together a bit of a game plan on how I wanted it.
Had it I wanted to crack in from like a noncore school. pretty drastic development there. And the excitement there of both the recruiting process and the type of work that you could be doing working with executives, C suite level people. I mean, that was really, really exciting to me and to you know, at the time, I couldn’t think of something better and, you know, I think, in part that was lack of creativity on my side. But then also, I can’t think of a whole lot of better places to start as an undergrad, on the other hand, so I think it ended up being, you know, a little bit of a decision made out of ignorance, but also probably not the worst decision out of ignorance that remains.
Yeah, I think far from it. It’s funny, you mentioned about misinterpreting consulting. As embarrassing as it is, when I was in early high school, and then moved to America, all my friends were talking about how they wanted to do engineering, and I thought I was just being a mechanic. So it’s weird how you can you can build this picture in your head about certain careers. And I think, especially consulting is such a misunderstood industry, especially strategy. But obviously, you’ve made it work and you’re headed to McKinsey, you know, one of the most prestigious consulting firms in the world. Tell us about the overview of the actual recruiting process, whether it’s networking, interview, prep, any lucky breaks, and if you have it your secret sauce of getting in?
Yeah, for sure. I mean, there’s a lot tied into that question. I’ll kind of take it like one step at a time. You know, the very first, just luck of the draw that got me into consulting. So like I said, I thought consulting was counseling. And then a couple of months later, in still, at the end of my sophomore year, a friend of mine like convinced me to go to a consulting case competition, which I that’s one thing that I think a number of consultants in my class were really interested in and a lot of us did that type of thing. These are available at larger universities. Sometimes they’re offered by consulting firms, some of the Big 4 do this more often than like the big three of strategy consulting. This one was a local one hosted by the liberal arts college, Wheaton College that I went to for my undergrad.
Anyway, a friend of mine convinced me to go super last minute, the night before, it was a Friday, he and I were, I don’t know, I’m sitting around my flat in Wheaton College. And he was like, Hey, you should really come to this competition tomorrow, I think it’s up your alley. He convinced me to go, I registered last minute because I knew the guy who was running it. And so I said, Hey, could you add me to the list? My friend had won the competition and so that’s why he kind of wanted me to come because you know, he had good things to say about it. And then I ended up winning. Like with zero prep, I didn’t do any prep work whatsoever, my friend got second place and he was a bit annoyed by that, obviously. And I remember thinking to myself, like, if this is what consulting is, if this is like an accurate perception or perspective of what consulting is, and I am down to do this all day long, because I just thought it was like the most fun competition I had been to. And what I learned there was basically the skill set of which is kind of the core Art of Problem Solving in consulting, which is you make sound assumptions based on sound logic, and then craft it into recommendation. And that’s all that most consulting really is right? And you just like, refine those three elements, right?
And so I really enjoyed that. And then over the next two years, went back to the competition, found that I was really good at this, and I started winning more competitions, discovered that I enjoyed that quite a lot. So when I started applying into consulting, for me, it was all about the networking, because like I said, I went to the small liberal arts school. And within the big three of strategy consulting, and the big four of management consulting, they have this concept called core schools, right. So if you’re from a core school, like the big state schools, Ivy League’s, there’s an internal track that you can get on, right, and you can go through on campus recruiting and my school just did not have that. So this is one that I empathize with a lot of the people coming from like non core schools, international programs, countries where maybe these companies don’t have a physical base, right?
Because it’s a different process. And you can apply, but like your resume is just not going to get the the the same review perspective that it might if you were coming from of course school. So for me, it was all about the network. And my goal was to get at least a manager recommendation for every company that I applied to. Now I had the kind of the grace here and then I already had like a full time offer with IBM. So I could really go for it because I didn’t have to accept the IBM offer until like the spring and consulting recruiting ended by the spring. That’s another big part, right? Is understanding but just the key to the interview cycle, right, that goes into consulting. So that networking process was super important.
I focused mostly on my alumni network, which I think is really common. And then I think for me, the one like one of the most underrated values in networking is the people that are immediately close to you. I think people overlook them so much. The most important recommender that I had at McKinsey, who was the one who ended up fighting for me, was a senior in my program in undergrad when I was a freshman, so he was three years ahead of me. And he had known me, he was on leadership on this one committee that I was at. And then he gave me some cases, as I was preparing for McKinsey. And he just, he really believed in me, and he just pushed me really hard as I was going into McKinsey. And that was my strongest recommendation that I had. And then as it turns out, in McKinsey was the only one of all the consulting firms that gave me an interview. So it was like, single shot on goal. And that was very stressful.
I ended up doing my final round of interviews. The day I was supposed to do finals, and luckily, professors were willing to shift things around. Actually, my first round of interviews I did while I was on pain meds after having my wisdom teeth taken out. So it’s honestly kind of incredible that this ended up working out for me and getting into McKinsey. But you know, I ended up working out and then when I got the offer, it’s funny, funny story there. Like I said, I’m grew up in Mexico. And I was actually in Mexico over December, during the Christmas break when I got the offer. And they called me during the three days that I was in the mountains just with zero cell phone service. And I didn’t pick up and then I came back three days later, and it was the McKinsey office closure period for 10 days between Christmas and New Year’s.
So I had to sit with this stress, just knowing that McKinsey had made a decision already. And I didn’t know what it was a very, very stressful period, but you know, ended up working out for the best, and then launched at McKinsey pretty well. But yeah, I think you know that process for me, you know, one of the key underrated components there, right is keeping close to those people that are immediately around you. Oftentimes, they don’t have to be super senior that’ll really help you a lot in your career. And I still keep in touch with that consultant. He’s a very close friend of mine still today. And then I think that, you know, leaning into your skill sets, like I have this pretty capable client skill set from the sales internships, and that was pretty noticeable, you know.
And I think people saw that right away that, you know, as long as I could show that I was quantitatively capable, it was pretty obvious, I think, to people that I could walk into a room and not sound like a total idiot, with whatever content I had. And that was entirely from my sales experience. And, you know, people come with different sets of skills. And so showing how you can leverage that, in that type of setting, I think is also, you know, one of the one of the keys to doing really well during that interview process. But I’m sure I missed a part of your question you and a lot of pieces to that. But yeah, what else? What else can I address?
Yeah, that was pretty good. And then I guess, what do you think was your I mean, you’ve kind of touched on it. But what was your secret sauce? What was the thing that you think, really separated you from everyone else? Was it just being able to walk in that room and kind of hold your own? Or maybe something else?
Yeah, I mean, I think as I look back to this, and I think about the other people that I’ve talked to that have been applying from core schools, I would honestly talk about the networking more than anything like people love to throw around this term networking. But for me, it wasn’t just about being on LinkedIn. That’s not what networking is, right. And it wasn’t just being on the alumni portal. For my school, right. Instead, it was about having like a really structured approach and group of people that I was planning to get in touch with, and then an approach to continue my communication with those people, and either develop them as like resources that I could go to, in some cases as resources that I could leverage for coaching and in some cases is recommendations.
And a friend of mine and I actually had a lot of conversations, just he and I, he was my kind of my other consulting applicant buddy in undergrad and we would throw ideas throw ideas back and forth with on how to do networking like this. You know, one of the biggest questions that we had was we were like, how do you go from having a good relationship with someone to asking them to give you a recommendation, and an official recommendation, and a line that I came up with for that was something along the lines of, hey, this has been a great conversation. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. Can you tell me if there is an official recommendation platform within your company that you know of and how that works a little bit? And what that does is it kind of like introduces the idea, a recommendation without you asking for it, which can appear needy and potentially aggressive if done incorrectly.
But it also puts the question on the table. And I found that basically everyone that I got that I felt comfortable enough to ask that question to would tell me about their system and then they would offer to write me a recommendation. One friend of mine, then stole that idea and use that line on a person that I was going to connect with the next day. And I was like, Hey, that’s not cool. You can’t like steal my line right before I talk with the guy, right? Other people have used lines, like, you know, hey, do you have any other advice for someone like me breaking into this industry, but I like to be just a little bit more indirect. So anyway, I’m addressing that mostly to address that really rigorous approach to networking, which is more than just LinkedIn connections. And it’s also more than just asking for a recommendation after your first conversation with somebody, I think that’s a pretty bad approach, unless you have a really great conversation, and you’ve really hit it off. And I think that’s super high on the list, because the rest of it, like the interview process, right.
That’s something that you can break down to a little bit more of a science, right. And that’s what we do at Management Consulted, right. And that’s why I believe in coaching, because that part of things is something that you can teach. And, you know, I did probably between 30 and 40 cases before I did an in person interview. And I think that side of things you can teach you if you get proper coaching, if you go through a process either built or one that is acquired, it can do well. But getting into the room is the hard part, right? That’s the part that like, it’s really hard to teach how to network, right. And so I think that was probably the biggest part of my secret sauce, to your point, was just taking that really rigorous standpoint, knowing that I was a bit of a step behind not coming from a core school. Does that make sense?
Yeah, no. And not only does it make sense, I relate very much to that. I also didn’t come from one of those core schools or the target schools. And so networking was pretty much number one on my priority list. But yeah, and that’s a really good line provided your friends don’t steal it. So looking back at the process as a whole, is there anything you would have done differently?
Yeah, I would have applied to more companies. I only applied to McKinsey, Bain and BCG for consulting. And I don’t know why I did that. That was really limited. I don’t know why I didn’t apply to Kearney and Oliver Wyman and Strategy&. And, you know, monitored, I don’t know why I didn’t apply to these companies, I absolutely should have. That was a bit of a no brainer in my opinion. I also think I should have put a bit more of a focus on the internships from an early stage, especially as an undergrad, I was I think, I didn’t realize how much on the back foot. I was, I knew that I was coming from a non core school. But I think all the more so because I didn’t try to go for the internships because I already had IBM and it was just easy because I went there for two summers in a row.
So I should have done that as well. And then I think, probably a third area there was then focusing on the networking probably too late. I really like crank that up the summer before my senior year. And I think one area of networking, right, these people are happiest to connect when you don’t need anything, when they just think that like you want to talk with them because you like them. And that’s a great reason to connect, right? It’s like, hey, I want to talk with you because you’re doing something really interesting. And I want to do what you’re doing eventually. But I don’t need anything today. That’s a really compelling request, if you craft that correctly, right, and the LinkedIn outreach during the cold email or cold call, right. And so focusing on that a bit early on, I think, would have helped him quite a lot. From the casing standpoint, you know, for myself, I was pretty competent quantitatively.
And I was pretty ready from a client standpoint. And so I think with those two factors, I would say 20 to 30 cases for a major interview like this is probably the minimum you can do. But I think I kind of got away with it because I was quantitatively already pretty strong. But I would look back on that say, Yeah, I probably could have done a little bit more to be in a slightly better position. But you know, without trying to like overthink it too much and over engineer the science of that.
Yeah, absolutely. In terms of, obviously, you’ve given some amazing advice there for everyone. Is there any other secrets that you think there are to landing a consulting role like this?
Probably the other biggest one that I would say is beyond the networking and beyond the prep on the casing side and that type of thing. I would also say that building a resume from a really early stage from both a track record that you have, but also just something interesting enough to get over that hump with initial interviewers, I think can be really powerful. I think for me, I built a lot of my kind of uniqueness around my perspective as being this background from Latin America, and getting into volunteer organizations with Latin Americans, volunteering with like Big Brothers Big Sisters, which I’m on the junior board of now. And I was doing from a pretty early age, I think doing a lot of things like that developed me as a candidate, that I had a little bit more life. And when I went in, I remember my second interview with McKinsey. It was supposed to be an English interview, and I did the whole thing in Spanish, because the person interviewing me was from Guatemala. And, you know, we hit it off. And I was happy to do it in Spanish and so he was happy to do it in Spanish.
So we just went through with the whole thing that way. And I think things like that, being willing to put a little bit of your personality into the application process or into the interview or into the resume is just so valuable. Now that I’ve done some interviewing myself on the startup side, right? I can remember a number of times when I’ve interviewed someone who just stood out for one reason or another, but still fit all of the profile. And when you can get over that hump of yes, fitting the profile, but also being unique. I think that’s when people remember you, right? And so being able to build out that persona, that profile for yourself.
And I started with, hey, building this out as a uniqueness component of your resume, because that’s what people see, at the very beginning, I think is really powerful and somewhat underrated at the moment. And then when suddenly get to the MBA level, right, and you started applying to MBA programs, everyone expects you to have this life outside of professional and academic world. And you’re like, wait a second, all I’ve been told for the past 20 years is to do well in school and get a good job. And now I’m expected to have more of a life and I can’t get into an MBA program if I don’t have more of a life. And I think that’s trickling down to you know, getting into these high impact career fields from an early age like post undergrad, like strategy consulting.
Yeah, I just again, couldn’t agree more with that stuff. I think it’s so easy to get worked up and be very tense and very professional and not let your guard down. But I think some of the deepest connections are formed when you are just open with someone and you’re willing to connect on a personal level, more than just professional. I want to transition a little bit. I know you were talking about consulting, and we’re discussing that. But I also know you left McKinsey to join the the startup world. Could you just tell us a little bit more about that and why you love to do that?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, this one is actually a pretty simple one. So I left McKinsey during the early period of the COVID pandemic in 2020. I left in, let’s see, I think was July 2020. And for me, you know, the biggest reason was because the main things that I was really excited about in consulting, like the in person client interactions, that development and more towards the business development sales side, which is one of the secrets just leading to being successful in consulting is knowing how to then sell projects to clients, being in the room with my team, right? So those three components of like that face to face client interaction, the business development with the client, and then being in the team room with your team and the partners and getting that in person mentorship and feedback. I wasn’t getting those things anymore, that McKinsey because it was all remote.
And there wasn’t anything McKinsey could do about that, it wasn’t their fault, right? Like the whole world was kind of shutting down in that regard. And so I thought, you know, if I’m not getting these things, what I want to first focus on is getting diversification of experience. And so for me, I thought, I’ll probably go to business school in the next couple of years, this is a great time to take a pretty low risk career move and move into the startup world. Actually considered going into the Private Equity world instead, which is a pretty common career path, post consulting. And you know, I found that that just wasn’t for me.
Like I said, I even though I came from a quantitative undergraduate background, all quant just wasn’t enough. And at the Associate level, you know, coming out of the undergraduate relative McKinsey, you’re doing mostly quantitative work in Private Equity. And I just found through the interview process that that just really wasn’t my cup of tea. And then on the startup side, I found it to be quite different. They were expecting leaders very early on, especially when you’re going to seed Series or Series A or Series B really early stage startups, right. And so what I wanted to do is I wanted to focus on something that was very early where I could have a lot of different hats. I wanted to have a leadership role where I was leading at least a small team of you know, one or two people.
And then I wanted it to be in healthcare, healthcare has always been a passion of mine, I thought I was going to do pre med in undergrad, I ended up getting connected with this company. And that was, at the time, a seed series startup out of North Carolina, in a town called Winston-Salem that my wife had connections to through through some extended family. And it was in the healthcare services world, mostly related to managing health care insurance for you know, large companies, and midsize corporate companies. And they brought me on as a manager. So it was kind of everything I wanted, it was early stage startup, so I was gonna obviously be wearing a lot of hats, I was already in going to be entering in kind of their first level of leadership. And they only had two managers and like three executives, and then 12 analysts, I was like employee 17 or something like that. And then it was in healthcare, right, or at least healthcare adjacent, which for me, was everything that I wanted to be doing.
So I went there, it was, like I said, extremely varied work. It was from, when I thought it was more of an analytics manager type of role going into it and it ended up being a very largely client relationship management type of role. And by the end of it, I think I spent most of my job doing sales type of work, which was my big value add that I think not a lot of other managers at the company were doing at the time. And being able to bounce around between those hats, grow, and start leading a team and then eventually, I started training other managers, that was really exciting for me, and was, I think, just an invaluable experience post McKinsey especially knowing that, you know, in all likelihood, I would probably be doing an MBA or something like that in the near future, and it worked out quite well.
I also did a good bit of travel while I was at that startup, as COVID kind of opened up and closed down end of 2021, I took the opportunity because it was a startup and we were already so good at working remote. I traveled to Mexico, Ecuador, Belize, El Salvador, Panama, Peru, Colombia, all of these places for a couple of months at a time, while working, you know, doing my client duties during the five days or so. And then a lot of time in the US as well. And that was, you know, just really, really cool that I was able to travel at the same time as I was doing a lot of really cool work that was really new for me.
Wow, that’s, that’s pretty amazing. Must have must have been some of these experiences, just traveling around and working and playing pretty hard, I’m imagining. Could you share two to three tools that you think were crucial for your success in both consulting and the startup environment?
Absolutely. I think the first one was a focus on problem solving as I encountered areas that I could improve upon. And I think that’s one that from an undergraduate perspective is a hard perspective to get into, right. I think it’s very common to be able to assess issues. But then transitioning that into an attitude of how do I solve this problem? And how do I bring like solutions and proposals to the team? I think that’s much less common. And being able to do that in a structured way is extremely rare, right? So those kinds of like, one two steps of problem solving, but then doing it in a structured way. Which is why right, like that’s why consulting interview cases are all about kind of those two things and then making sure that you can do the quantitative side as well. And I think that’s extremely uncommon.
And I noticed that going into the startup, right, as a manager, there wasn’t there were other managers, people that weren’t from a consulting background and there was a difference in how we approach those problems. And there was a difference then, in the opportunities that we took within the startup, right, and the sort of client opportunities, the sort of client work that we could take on, because of that difference in approach, right. And I think that was pretty crucial. And developing that in consulting is probably bar none the best place to do it. I don’t know of another place where you can learn that type of skill set and kind of drill it into as much as within consulting. And how do you get there pre consulting, you know, I think it’s been willing to take a lot of risks and fail a lot of the time, right?
I think, if anything, one of the fun parts of consulting, one of the very, very unique elements that it gives you is, because you’re on so many projects every couple of months, you have a lot of opportunities to fail and then recover. So then, the second area that I would talk about beyond the problem solving capability, I think would be this constant focus then on client value. And I think that’s another one that just from an early, early age, early tenure in consulting, and within the startup world, if your mind can be focused on providing value to your client, you won’t get fired, because they can’t fire you, your client will always keep you around, you’ll probably become best friends with your client.
And that was very much the case with me. I mean my clients and bottle of these companies ended up becoming like close friends of mine, that I would, at conferences, like seek out to, you know, spend time with them, get a drink with them, go out to dinner with them, in these sorts of environments. And I think clients notice that really quickly if you’re able to do that. And suddenly, when you can do that, and your executive see that, well, then you freed up all of this capacity, and people just want you there in the room. And your executives know that they can trust you to be there in the room instead of them, right. And that’s one that if you can develop that at an early age, then you start being able to get promoted into those roles early on.
Because since they know you have the focused on client value, well, then it’s a pretty easy step to figure out how to like put a price tag on the projects that you can do, right, which in consulting, any sort of services startup, which mine was a part of, is then the question of okay, how do you create this client acquisition strategy and earn new clients, right. And that gets into a fairly technical area of essentially like how to onboard new clients and whatnot. But it’s really underrated.
Like if the best salespeople end up becoming consultants in the best consultants end up becoming salespeople, right, because the two of those have this natural convergence where when you’re, when you’re doing cool stuff for your clients, you charge more money but you can only charge more money if you’re doing really cool stuff for your clients. Right. And I think that skill sets, developing that at an early age just sets you apart in a pretty extreme way from the rest of the field, whether you’re in consulting or within a startup, because all of them are so client focused.
I love it. Yeah, I was gonna say that other actually, I think there is a real similarity between consulting and sales. So, obviously, you’ve excelled in consulting and entrepreneurship. What advice do you have for people who are actually looking to forge a similar path to you and to do this?
Yeah, I’d say the first one is take a really honest assessment of where you’re at right now. I mean, for me, mine was extremely personal to me in that I was able to take a lot of time to invest, and to just go into consulting, because I had the freedom of that, having this other kind of fallback, essentially full time job offer, right. I also knew that from where I was, I had very little interviewing experience, because I’ve not done a whole lot of corporate interviews at that time. So I really ramped up the case practice that I could. So taking that really honest perspective of yourself and then number two would then be charting that path towards where you want to be. And I remember taking a time in this was, I think I was in, like my junior year, and it was like, you know, 11:30 at night or something and my girlfriend walked in, and I was on the floor with like a yellow notepad. And I had all these sheets written out.
And she was like, What are you doing? And I was like, there’s just like, too many people that I need to talk to, to try to find somebody that will give me a recommendation for BCG, because I didn’t know anybody there and I just had so many degrees of separation to get to managers and partners at BCG, and was really frustrating. But you know, that kind of very honest, like, Okay, how do I actually get to these people? How do I get to these companies and tracking that path forward? It’s something that I don’t think people do quite enough and kind of expect it to fall into their lap. And that’s pretty rare that it happens, I guess it happens for some people, but not for everyone. And you can overcome it if you put in, you know, the the grunt work and the sweat hours to make it happen.
Right. And then the third one, I’d say is like, don’t be too afraid of the failure. Right. I think that was honestly why I didn’t apply for, say, the internships between my junior and my senior year was because why did I want to get rejected when I already had an awesome internship to go to? And I think that was something that took me some time to develop, right? Even then when I went to the MBA level. And I decided, okay, you know what, I’m really going to go for it in round one, MBA interviews, and I’m only going to apply to my top choices, which are Wharton and INSEAD at the time. I think that was kind of a level of development that took me a couple of years to figure out and not being afraid to fail on the first try instead of taking myself out of the running and just not applying in the first place.
Right? I think that’s pretty difficult to overcome, especially if you’re coming from kind of an atypical background. And for myself, I think I had a 3.6 GPA. And I had so many people at some of the top three companies be like, you really need a 3.7 to get in here. And I was like, it doesn’t say this on any of the websites, I think I can get hit with a 3.6. If I have the right recommendations, and if I perform well on the interviews, right. So yeah, I think those three are probably the best recommendations that I could give.
I love it. Yeah. Well, I didn’t even make it to the 3.6. I think the biggest thing is, you’re so right. Don’t let the fear of failure stop you from trying, right. I think so many people get weeded out of the of the selection process, because they didn’t even apply in the first place just because they didn’t think it was possible.
So now you’re on the other side of the table, you know, working with candidates and helping them to prepare. What’s a big misconception? And I know we’ve kind of touched on this. But what’s a big misconception that candidates tend to have about the recruitment process?
Yeah, I think one of the most common ones that I always hear is like this idea that you have to be the absolute best on every type of question within an interview. And I don’t think any of the companies have, if they’re if they grade, you know, zero to five or whatever. I don’t think any of the companies say you need at least a four on every single problem. Most of these companies are like we want you to do really, really well in a couple of these areas and just not be horrible at the rest of them. Right. And I think that’s a pretty common misconception. And then that’s so hard for them when they go into the interviews, especially if they do back-to-back interviews, back to back interviews can be extremely disheartening if they’re on the same day.
Because if you say get one question wrong on one interview, then you just have like this tonal loss of confidence for the second interview. I know for myself, it was actually my final interview, this is my third interview and my final round at McKinsey. And I just made a colossal, colossal logic mistake that it took me a long time to recover from. In fact, I was so stuck that the manager was like, so do you have any thoughts on this? And I was like, nope. And she goes, Okay, I need to take a call real quick. Why don’t you think on that, and I’ll come back. And she actually stepped out of the room for five minutes, and came back in. And I and then she asked, So where do you want to go from here and I had like, kind of like, got my wits together and I was like, Alright, this is where I want to go forward, dove back into it.
And obviously I was like, crushed after that. And thank goodness it was like the final round interview because I don’t know how I would have been able to do that if that had been my first one of the day. My first project ended up being with her and she actually requested that I joined her team. And when I asked her about that interview, she said that she had never seen somebody made a mistake in an interview that was able to keep their cool so well and then recover from it and still end on a really high note, right. And I think that’s really common and from a lot of the people that I’ve talked with who’ve now done interviews, and I’ve done interviews within McKinsey and within the startup, it’s really impressive if you can do well in an interview, you make a mistake, but recover from it.
Now, obviously, I’m not recommending that you ever, like intentionally make a mistake. But if you do, and you can still show that you’re doing an excellent job. I think that just elevates you so much into candidates minds, right. And now that I’ve talked with a number of candidates that have gone through the full recruiting cycle, I hear these stories more and more. Right. So I think that’s one of the most common misconceptions is ideally you have to be perfect on everything for every moment in an interview. And that’s why you do cases, right, you do cases to make sure that you can perform on game day. But if you make it to game day, make it to the interview day. And you make a mistake, move forward, because it’s probably not going to be that single little thing that kills you. Right?
I think that’s the number one biggest misconception and the one that I like, push against the most whenever I hear that sort of comment. The other one is that it’s all about quants. I think it’s pretty common within the interviewing world, within these firms, that quant is kind of more treated like a pass/fail. It’s like, hey, we want you to make sure that you’re really good at problem solving, you want to make sure that you’re really good at critical reasoning, you want to make sure that you can do structured thinking very well. But the quants like usually, it’s like, we just want to make sure that you don’t totally suck at this thing, right?
Whereas if quant is the only thing that you knock out of the park on the interview, that’s a bit of a red flag to me. And I would say, Okay, we need to like really focus more on the structured thinking and the critical reasoning and the problem solving elements of the cases. Because those are the ones that you’re actually going to be doing on a day-to-day basis. Whereas like the quant, you need to know how it works. That’s why it’s pass/fail, but we’re doing most of the stuff in Excel or R or Python or something, right when you actually get into the interviewing world. So without regard, do well on quant but do not over index, right? This is this is not Calc 2, this is not the GMAT, right.
Yeah, well, two wonderful pieces of advice there. Going back to the first one as well. I think it’s really important how you actually react to your mistake, I think, you know that the famous question of like, are you sure? in a case interview, which is like terrifying. Do people kind of get into a ball and start crying? Do they get angry? Do they just say yes, I’m sure. And I think it’s really important, I think, at least for me, when I’m told that I’m wrong, it’s almost not excitement, but it’s an okay. Maybe there’s a different way I need to explore this problem. And I think that that’s helpful instead of just being like, Oh, I got it wrong and really getting bogged down on that.
It’s funny, one of my best friends’ dad has a great thing that he likes to do for interviews. And he likes to go golfing with the candidates because he says he learns more from how they react on a bad shot in golf, then from pretty much any interview question he can ask, you know, if people are getting angry, if people are just kind of moving on from it. There’s interesting ways that you can, I guess, tell when candidates are ready or not, but I’m speaking of that, Mikael, if I was still recruiting, I’d absolutely want to work with you and get your help. How can people out there who want who want help work with you?
How can they work with me specifically? Yeah, so you know, right now I’m on Management Consulted. And have at the moment, you know, good amounts availability on there, I can do work both on like the consulting prep side, which is, you know, my passion. I like helping people absolutely crack the interviews, both within the problem solving and within the structured thinking areas as well. Also, beyond that, I enjoy the resume writing and that type of thing.
But I think that’s one we’re fortunately a lot of schools and Career Services are doing a better job of that these days, right. So I’m pretty happy to see that as well. And then beyond that, I just like staying in touch with people beyond this sort of process as well. So if people have individual questions, I’m always happy to get connected with people. Find me on LinkedIn, I have one of the more unique names out there. I don’t think there’s another Mikael Berthiaume with a K on LinkedIn. I think if you look up Mikael with a K on LinkedIn, I’ll probably be in the top five anyway. So yeah, pretty easy to find.
Love it. Well, before I let you go, as is custom on Management Consulted’s podcast, we love to do some personal and fun questions. So I got a few questions here for you. I’d love to hear your answers. I did see that you have an advanced scuba certification. If you could dive anywhere in the world. No limitations. Why would it be and why?
Anywhere in the world no limitations. Perfect. I was just talking about this with a friend of mine. So there’s a couple of the big ones I haven’t done yet, Maldives is a really big one where I’d love to do a little board especially on my own sailboat in the Maldives, with some friends and a compressor. I can’t imagine a much better vacation that, but one that I’m actually prepping for at the moment and this is on my three year horizon is to do scuba diving in the Antarctic. I think seeing penguins in the water while scuba diving would just be one of the most insane things I could ever do in my life. And then, you know, hopefully they don’t get eaten by like the sea lions, which I know is like a big thing as well. But even if I saw the sea lions, that would just be insane.
You know, so I think that would, you know, when you add the word without limitations, I kind of go there because that involves, you know, dry suit and ice diving and getting to freaking Antarctica, like, there’s so much involved there. Where the Maldives? You know, hopefully I’ll make that one happen. But Antarctica. That one I got to like, plan a lot more for.
Yeah, sounds like another level from taking a cold shower. So I also know you’re pretty big into into motorcycles. What’s your dream road trip on a motorcycle and who are you bringing with you?
Yeah, yeah. Good one. So haven’t done Patagonia yet, that’s definitely you know, pretty high up on the list. I actually haven’t been to Argentina and I was thinking about going there a couple of years ago. And one of the reasons I didn’t go is I was like, Oh, but I can’t do the Patagonia roadshow. And that’s really what I want to do if I go to Argentina, and I know there’s a lot more to do in Argentina, but that’s why I need like 30 days if I want to go to Argentina. So that’s a pretty big one. Who am I taking with me? You know, I’ll give a kind of funky answer here.
I’ve got a couple of friends from undergrad that I would absolutely love to take with me but there’s this Associate partner actually from McKinsey who I would just love it if he could join. Like he was someone that I didn’t know until I went there. And then we’ve stayed in touch ever since then he wrote me a recommendation to INSEAD. This is a guy who like, I’ve stayed up until like three or four in the morning talking about our philosophies of life with this guy. And I can’t imagine having a better kind of fun uncle on the trip than that particular friend of mine. And that just goes to show this sort of relationships you can make in these types of places, right. Haven’t had another one like that, but you know, hopefully I will.
I love it. Yeah, I think everyone needs someone like that in their life, who can just stay up till the sun comes up. Wonderful. Okay, well, one more for you. You mentioned earlier you went to a bunch of countries; I think it was around 12 countries in 12 months. Can you tell us more about these experiences, just in a high level, CEOs walked in the room, just like the end of the case. What’s your recommendation on these 12 countries and what’s just some of your key experiences?
Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, fortunately, I’ve overperformed my resume now. And I think it’s now up to 24 countries in 24 months. So that one I’m pretty happy about. And, you know, high level here is, I would probably, you know, first point out that you just don’t always know what countries you’re going to find that impressive. And so go everywhere, if you have the opportunity and the chance to. Two of the most surprising ones to me and I’m sure there are going to be people who listen to this and they’re like, Why in the world did this guy think that would be surprising. But two of the really surprising ones were I went to El Salvador. And you know, that country is just getting wrecked, right, all the time by their violence and their gang violence.
But, short of that, the city is beautiful with the volcanoes right there, their food culture that they have. I just loved it. I mean, this was this is one of these countries where I was like, I wish I could be here so much more than I actually am. And I was really happy that I got to visit there. And I only visited there because I had to do a layover there on my way to Panama. So I decided to spend just a whole week in El Salvador, and zero regrets from that, great decision. And then the other one was Iceland, which was I was convinced of some friends here at INSEAD to go to Iceland. And we went in the winter. And a lot of people are like, okay, Iceland, yes, cool.
But like in the winter there’s three hours of sun. And it’s just ice, that’s why it’s called Iceland. And sure enough, we had one of the biggest blizzards in the decade while we were there, at least for that time of year. But I mean, again, incredible, the waterfalls that we visited. I remember, you know, looking up at the sky and watching stars while we were in a natural hot spring. And then in that same area, we were in this tiny town called Vic. And there was a bar, a pizza place and a diner. And so we decided to order pizza into the hotel. And the pizza was super expensive because most things in Iceland are expensive. And you know what, that was some of the best pizza I’ve ever had in my life.
Like it was so good that we were partitioning and rationing it out because we were like this was so amazing that everyone was trying to get as much of it as they could and the place that already closed, so we couldn’t order more pizza. And you know what, how would you expect that, I’ve also been to Italy before and obviously, I had great pizza there, and it was probably better than Iceland. But the shock of being in this tiny town in Iceland, and this just fantastic experience, you never know what you’re going to get. And that’s why I like traveling because you really don’t know what sort of experiences you’re going to have, what sort of memories you’re gonna make.
I love it. Yeah, I didn’t expect El Salvador, but Iceland’s long been on my bucket list with Croatia and Slovenia as well. I think they’re both incredible places. Apparently so lovely.
Anyhow, I’ve been to Croatia, though. That was also a good one. But again, I expected Croatia but Slovenia I’ve also heard is an underrated one. So that’s high on the list for me for next countries.
I love it. Yeah. Hopefully you’ll do be able to 36 countries in 36 months.
Wonderful. Well, Mikael, thank you so much for coming on. I really appreciated chatting with you and I’m sure that everyone here listening feels the same way. Well leave some information about you in the show notes and hopefully people get in touch and connect with you.
Absolutely. It’s been great discussing. Thanks so much for having me.