Harvard junior weighs internships in VC and Consulting


Pierre was a junior at Harvard University who was offered 2 very exciting internships – one for BCG in management consulting (plus, after this call he got an offer for Bain as well) and the other for a VC firm in New York.

He was torn between the two types of options, so he jumped on a call with Jenny Rae to try to figure out which one would suit his personality better, which avenue would provide better opportunities during and after his stint, and ultimately which of the two he should accept the offer from.

Are you in the same shoes? Want to know the pros/cons of consulting vs. VC from our perspective? Dive in to listen to the ins and outs of management consulting vs. VC, how your fit within the different industries can be related to your personality type, and some of Jenny Rae’s own wisdom as to how to make difficult decisions and come out with no regrets.

________________________________________________________________

I’m excited to get a chance to talk to you today about this incredible decision that you’ve got in front of you. This is the most fun kind of the discussion that I get to have – when somebody has a decision between one of the top consulting firms and something else.  

Why don’t you just lay out what some of your thoughts are about the offers the opportunity, and what you’re thinking. Then I’ll help you, as much as I can.

So I guess for me, coming into recruiting, I always thought that consulting might be my top choice, but in reality when I got started, I didn’t know what consulting was and didn’t know what finance was. When the consulting people talked to me, it always seemed like the perfect fit, but I heard how hard it was to get a Top Three internship for the summer. So I didn’t think too much of it.

I applied, and ended up getting what I considered my dream job in consulting, which is one of the Top Three in my hometown. That was what I was shooting for. It had worked out, and I was really excited about it.

And then I applied, just on a whim, to a venture capital firm because it sounded interesting and I ended up getting that, too! So now, I have been weighing up the pros and cons of each and trying to understand what venture capital even is, because I still don’t really know – even now.

Both consulting and VC seem to have really cool and exciting opportunities. In consulting, you obviously get to be part of a team with a lot of influential people making pretty big decisions, and having some sort of tangible impact, which is neat. And then they emphasize kind of professional development and growth, which is an important part of the job.

But then venture capital seems like more of an unknown frontier. I get to pilot my own career of sorts. You’re less involved in a team all the time and more going out and trying to find the next big thing. That seems really exciting to me.

With both of them, I like the pros associated with them, but with consulting, I’m worried it maybe gets a little bit too focused, in the sense that you are doing the same sort of thing all the time.

In venture capital, it seems like I would have a lot of autonomy on the job. My fear with venture capital is more to do with culture. I know that consulting is very collaborative and focused on helping every individual grow, but venture capital has a bit more of a finance feel.

That’s why you’re laying it out in the first place – no problem at all! Okay, so let me deconstruct it a little bit and understand some of the background.

First of all, this is for your junior internship, so we’re not talking about what to explore for your first job, we’re talking about a job that you might want to do after school as well. Is that a factor for you?

I think ultimately, for me, the goal of my Junior summer is to find a job – exactly that. In an ideal world, this will become my full-time job.

Let me just ask a little bit about that. Have you discussed the opportunities with BCG, and the likelihood of joining them after your Junior summer?

Yes, they almost always give interns job offers. Of the last three intern classes have all were given job offers and all accepted. I know the VC firm and I think 10 out of 11 were given an offer, which they all signed on the spot. So both have that option.

So we’ve looked at the likelihood a return offer, and we’ve got that nailed down. Second is compensation. How does the compensation line up, both right now for the summer, after, ow much it affects your decision?

So they’re pretty on par at least related to the summer. But for me, both pay well, so I don’t really have a fear. Finances won’t be what it comes down to, at least I don’t think it will.

So what you’re not looking for here is the place where you can make the biggest bucks.

Exactly. I’m judging the jobs but by the impact I could have rather than by the financial success that I could have.

So then on the consulting side, let’s talk about a couple of the attributes we talked about before. When you went into your interviews for the consulting firm, you probably had to answer, at least once, why you wanted to do consulting, and why you wanted to work for BCG, right?

Yes.

What did you say for that?

I grouped why I want to work for a consulting firm into two distinct categories:

The first is more about the opportunities, and the second is about the environment. For the opportunities, you’re working with some of the biggest companies to solve some pretty interesting and pressing problems, they can change very often, and you don’t necessarily focus yourself in one area, so you can try out a lot of things.

You get to work with really inspiring people, but more than that, the projects you’re working on sound amazing. You get to travel to different areas, if you have an area of expertise and you’re good at it, you have the opportunity to work in that zone, and you’re doing a lot of different things. There’s a breadth of opportunity available to you and it’s all very interesting.

For the environment portion I like to highlight that it’s a very collaborative environment. The impression I’ve been given from all of these consulting firms is that they really push development, professionally and personally, and that they’re there to guide you through any decision that you make.

For me that’s really important, because I like the personal aspect of the job. I think, ultimately, that will be what brings me the most happiness in what I do, and that is what I found in all the consulting firms.

What about for VC? Same question. Why do you want to work for this firm, and also specifically why do you want to work in VC?

Originally, I just applied because I thought it might be interesting. I know nothing about it, I really didn’t have a reason. And then as I started learning more about it and as I talked to more people, there were two things that I liked a lot.

One, you get a lot of autonomy. The VC I’ve been going to focuses just on the tech area, so you can really hammer down anything you’re interested in and talk to those CEOs. They emphasize the direct interaction you have with CEOs and the high level executives. As a 20 year old, that sounds amazing and like something that’s really interesting to me.

I also like that VC seems to give you more of a chance to be involved in the action, initiating deals, unlike consulting, where you might get bogged down with the engagements, having to make very detailed recommendations that might not get implemented.

Talk to me about the people at each one of the firms. What do you admire about them, and what characteristics you would like to develop in yourself over the next couple of years that you see in both consulting and venture capital?

Consulting seems like one giant family, that everyone is very close, tight knit, and that they want you to improve. Even when making this decision, they’ve given me a lot of resources. Rather than trying to convince me one way or the other, they’ve tried to help me get to that decision, and they’ve been providing a lot of support. They are all very dedicated and very intellectual. I didn’t think I realized how much I cared about the intellectual component, but my conversations with these people are all very exciting and very engaging. They have so much to say, and I’ve learned a lot.

That’s what I admire about them, they seem to be lifelong learners, always gathering information to the point that they’re now experts in all these interesting fields. They’re also very friendly, very willing to talk, and they seem like the kind of people I want to be when I grow up.

In venture capital, again, I only have positive things to say. Very friendly, very outgoing, talkative, and very helpful. It seems like a lot more of a fun environment, where everyone gets excited a lot and is really passionate about what they are doing.

Then let me ask you another question. What about lifestyle? Does lifestyle matter to you, and if so, do you notice any differences from what you are hearing from each of the options?

Lifestyle matters for me in that I ultimately want some sort of work-life balance. I pride myself on always trying to be happy, and I understand that work is only one facet of your life, so I do want to have a good work-life ratio.

After talking with both of these places, it seems you work very long hours, as would be expected with either job, but that neither dictates your entire life. They talk about how you have weekends off, and that you’ll have time to do the things you love or the things you enjoy. Lifestyle does matter to me, but the differences between the two don’t seem to be that drastic or that stark.

Let’s talk about exit opportunities. It’s possible that you will do either one of these forever, right? You’ll do consulting forever, or you’ll work for this venture capital firm or another venture capital firm forever. If so, what does the career trajectory look like inside the firm, and what are some of the options that would be open to you if you took either one of these options?

I don’t really know, ultimately, what I am thinking of jumping to or going to. I know the trajectory in the jobs are sort of the same, that the first job you do for about one or two years, usually two, and then you keep moving up. But like you said, I don’t plan on staying with either for the rest of my career. I will say out of the two, I could see myself in the consulting environment for longer because I think it fits me better.

Ultimately, it seems like both open you up to a lot of exit opportunities but I think consulting might be a bit broader. It seems like you are able to jump, if you want, into finance, private equity, maybe venture capital, but that also you can go to business development roles, or operations roles and a lot of big companies.

I think venture capital also give you a lot of options, but I think the exit opportunities might be up bit more focused on either going into a startup realm, or staying in finance and may be moving into private equity or banking or some sort of thing like that.

Okay, great. And that I have two final things. So one of them is what I call the what makes you feel alive factor. Which one makes you feel more alive?

Okay, that’s a tough one because I’ll give two reasons, one for each.

I think what makes me feel alive about venture capital is that it’s a little more risky in my mind. It’s not the safe option, it would be something brand new that I don’t know a lot about, and I get to dictate the way my career works. It seems like there’s a lot more ambiguity in what you could be and what you could do, just in the sense of what you might become, and what your career will be. I think it’s a very fast-paced environment that every day you’re talking to CEOs almost nonstop and trying to find the next big company. That’s really exciting.

What makes me feel alive in consulting is you’re working to solve some of the biggest problems in the business world – it’s kind of like those brain teasers you used to do when you were a kid for math class. You are given a problem that you have no idea how to solve, and you have to figure out the solution. That’s exciting to me.

I guess both kind of go down to that idea that there are lots of area to explore, and it’s your job to do it. There’s a lot of unknown associated with what you’re doing with both of those jobs, and I like that.

Then going back to the final question, is location the same? Are they both in Chicago, or are they somewhere different?

No, one’s in Chicago and one’s in New York.

Okay, does that play a role for you?

Yes, that definitely is helping form my decision a bit because I’m from Chicago, that’s the area I know. The people are friendlier and it’s definitely where I saw myself going. New York is brand new, but it also is where a bunch of kids from my school will be, so a lot of my network will be out there.

I think with my exit opportunities, I’m not someone who needs to go home to Chicago right away. I do see myself there long-term, but I sometimes see myself going out on the East Coast, too. A lot of the opportunities open up in the area you are, and I think that ultimately I might have more future opportunities in Chicago.

I know said that was my final question, but I have one more. Are there any negatives, things that concern you about either one of the jobs? We’ve talked about all the positives, but I’m just wondering if there is anything in the cons category that you’re thinking about?

With consulting, the biggest con that I have is the thought of going through the motions like most students from the top schools – going into consulting or finance. There’s is not really an unknown with consulting. I’ve also heard that it’s a lot harder to go from consulting to venture capital versus venture capital to consulting, and I think that in my mind that might be at a bit of a con. If I were to go just straight to venture capital I can always switch back to consulting, where it might be harder to do that from consulting. I could do that after the summer, for example.

I think one of my fears with venture capital is that consulting might actually be more suitable for me. A negative for me is location, just because I’ve grown up in Chicago, and that’s where my family is. So that’s kind of the other thing that I think draws me a little bit more away from VC. But I’ve kind of got connections, and both of them seem to me like great opportunities. I genuinely believe I would enjoy either job in either work environment. I’m just torn as to which one will help me the most.

Let me tell you the three methods I’ve used to decide when I’m not sure, and let me lay it out for you based on what I’m hearing you say, okay?

First of all, your life and your future are going to be amazing. So the decision that you make here is not going to either determine how awesome your future is. Whichever way you go, you’re going to have to dive in and say, “It’s up to me to make an amazing life out of this”.

If you end up in entrepreneurship, or Fortune 500, or consulting, or VC, it’s ultimately going to be you making your own path. And I think you can navigate either one to get there. In terms of doors closing to you in the future, you do not have much to worry about.

The thing about consulting versus VC at this point in your career is, I do think that you will learn more hard skills, so you learn more things that are transferable, which is why exit opportunities outside of the field are a little bit broader.

So in consulting you learn more?

Yeah, I would say that. In VC they basically tell you to go, have fun, and figure it out. They hire all this raw talent, ridiculously motivated kids, launch them into the future and say, ‘Go find great companies and make it happen.” That’s something that’s really exciting, right? In an entrepreneurial environment you are your own ceiling, but in consulting, somebody else is your ceiling and you’re trying to push up higher. Every time you do, they launch you forward again.

There’s a growth trajectory in place there that kind of makes it feel like you are learning more from the environment, from other people, and from what they’re teaching you. More than you will from any MBA class or anything else that you would ever potentially learn in the future. In terms of the learning trajectory, your natural ability to learn is what’s going to be what’s harnessed in VC. You’re going to be pushed beyond that in consulting, I believe. If you are thinking that you are not sure that what you might want to do, but you think you might want to try VC, then going to it for the summer is an option.

If there is even a choice between the two, maybe the summer isn’t the end game. I think that VC should be your summer versus trying consulting and then turning it down. That was what you said as well, which kind of leads me to believe you are probably already considering that a little bit.

The final way I have made decisions like this, which seems unscientific, has been to focus on understanding how I really felt after I laid all the decisions on the table.

The first one was that I made a commitment to go against the flow. I wrote down a list of all of the influencers in my life and what their essential votes were, including family, mentors, and people that I really cared about. I looked at what they valued and what they were voting for, and I went against the grain.

You could go with the grain, but it was helpful for me to understand that my decision needed to be completely my own and I needed to make it my own. So that was one thing that I did.

The second thing is that you can do is kind of flip a coin. Heads is VC, tails is consulting and that’s how it’s going to work. And then you flip it and you see what happens because when it lands, if you’re like, “Oh God, no! I wanted it to be tails!”, then that can actually be really helpful and enlightening as well.

The final thing I’ve done is that I’ve written a resignation letter to both jobs. So if I have two – and I’ve had that many times in my life when I’ve had multiple great options on the table, I write a “thank you but no thank you” letter to both of them, and I see how it comes out.

Ultimately, with my decision to come to Bain, I really did not want to go to Bain because I felt like it was the sellout decision, but when I did that exercise, I couldn’t write the letter. I could only write the one to the job that I was considering against it. That just let me know I really didn’t want to turn down the job at Bain, because I wanted to explore and see where it took me.

So those are three of the methods that I’ve used in my life: the influence list, the heads and tails, and the “thank you but no thank you” letter. Maybe you will find one of those useful as you are making your decision as well.

Definitely.

Okay, so do you feel like we’ve helped flush out the issues, or are there other things that you want to talk about?

No, we’ve covered a lot, for sure. I’m curious, from hearing about each side, do you have a an idea – because you know my personality, do you have thoughts on what might be a better fit for me?

It’s really hard, actually. In our discussions, you are the person who buys a ticket because it’s inexpensive to go to a country that you’ve never been to and show up there. In VC, I can see you flourishing – other people might think it’s cool, but you would actually like it and be good at it.

But there is a strong sales component with VC, a little bit of science, but also sometimes it’s just stupid luck. You know what I mean? Sometimes you just pick a winner because you know they are going to be a winner. Most of the time you pick 10 hopefuls and one of them ends up being a winner, and you’re thinking that was pretty good. One out of 10, yippee. So I think that you could find it exciting, I think you could find that it’s a big payoff game, something that’s really exhilarating, and something that you want to do for the rest of your life, right? And so I could absolutely see you thriving in that culture. But, I also don’t know, on the sales side, since you are such a team person, I think that it could develop in you also like a skepticism.

Yeah, I don’t want to turn into a salesman, either. I don’t want that.

And there is this game that’s played in the VC world where you have to navigate when you are working, essentially, you always know how to get the hottest companies, or the potential hottest companies to like you the most. And so there could be a part of that that would taint that beauty of you that I feel would actually be harnessed in consulting, but it is part of what it means that you don’t take risks. Risk takers have to say no – they say yes to some things and no to other things.

When I’m laying it out for you, I can see why this is a big challenge because I could see you being good at both jobs, I could see you thriving at both jobs.

I do think that you will become a slightly different version of yourself in both of the environments. And ultimately, if it were me, that’s what I would decide. Do you want to be like the risk-taking cowboy, but maybe be a little bit lonelier in the process, but still making your mark on the world, or do you want to be a little bit more in the herd, but a little bit kinder, gentler in consulting? Does that make sense?

Yeah, definitely. It does. Those are interesting. It’s hard because I think ideally what I want to become is a risk taking kind, gentle person. I like the idea of being kind and gentle, but I’m also a risky person. I like to take risk and do things spontaneously. A combination of both is my ideal spot, and I’ve got to figure out which one is more important to me. And I think in a lot of ways that’s maybe more the personal side which is being kind and gentle, and still being able to take risks in some capacity. But I think solidifying that part inside me is maybe what’s more important at this stage.

I think you need to figure out which you are likely to hold onto more closely, and which one you need to be stimulated more by in an environment. That would be really helpful for me when making a decision, right? Which one needs to be given to you from within an environment because you’re less likely to push yourself to get it, and which one is more likely for you to hold onto. And also maybe set up some barometers in either one of the environments. For me, for example, going to consulting meant I was rounding out my risk. It also meant that I had to make a pretty conscious decision not to stay forever because the longer that I stayed, the less risky I felt.

I took flying lessons, and flew around the world, and did completely ridiculous things while I was in consulting. But I had to really cultivate that edge of myself because it was something that I knew I was born with. So I think if you can assess what are you most likely to hold onto naturally, and what do you need to give yourself from an environment, that also might help you feel like you’re making a strategic choice that’s also a built in emotional “I’m working toward my future self”.

I wonder. So I’m stuck with both because I do think the friendly side is something that I hope to always have, whereas with risk-taking I think sometimes it’s nice to be pushed to do that. But what you just said resonated with me a bit about how we’re still able to fly and do stuff like that in consulting. I like the idea of having a job where it still very well-respected and high-powered in some ways, but you can still have a life outside with a ton of opportunities. And I think that consulting maybe, in ways, opens up that sort of opportunity, that maybe you don’t take as much risk in the job, but outside of it you have opportunity to do a lot of great things. Maybe in a capacity that’s a bit more so than in venture capital. When I think about what I want to be, or what I want to do, I want to be interesting, and exciting to talk to, and cool. I think maybe that’s a weird way to put it, I know. But maybe consulting provides me with that a bit more.

I think that we’re on to something really powerful, and I think ultimately that’s going to be where your decision falls. I guess I can’t make it for you, right? Because you are complex, interesting, and fabulous enough to make that decision on your own. And, it’s something that nobody else can really tell you.

Ultimately in this realm, it may come down to who you want to be when you grow up and which job gives you an aspect of that that you’re less likely to bring to yourself. And also which one creates the kind of environment in which you can grow in ways that you probably wouldn’t necessarily give to yourself. That’s why you go to college, and that’s why you go to first jobs, and then ultimately you become the kind of person who builds companies that exhibit those kind of values.

I think my heart, in some ways, is telling me to go to consulting. I can see kind of the life that I thought I always wanted, like living back where I’m from, having a very well-to-do job, a good work to life ratio and working with amazing people. Then I sometimes wonder if venture capital, even if it’s the kind of risk you take where if you fall flat on your face, whether or not I should just try it out.

It’s hard because if my ultimate goal is to be interesting and have stories to tell, it’s hard to figure out which one gives me more of those stories because both kind of provide that avenue to either be like, “I’ve lived in New York for two years and was working in venture capital”, sounds cooler than, “I’m back in my hometown working in consulting”.

And it seems like I actually don’t really know what the answer is. From your experience of the two, consulting might be the one that gives me opportunities I want, but I don’t know.

It’s a hard choice.

Yeah, exactly. It’s a very good problem to have, but it’s tough. They’re both very good options, it’s just trying to figure out if there is a better fit.

You should feel fearless about your decision. You do have really great choices.

Thank you so much, Jenny Rae.

Make sure that you choose what ultimately really makes you feel super alive.

Yeah, good answer. Well, thank you. As always, I appreciate your insight and your input.

Let me know what you decide, or if you need more help.

I’ll definitely keep you posted. And thank you so much.

Are you trying to decide between all of your options or just looking for some good advice? Why not grab a power half hour from our shop? Click here for more info


Comments are closed.