Meet Steven, an Air Force Academy Grad who ended up landing offers from both Deloitte and KPMG! How did he do it? Keep reading for lessons you should apply to your own experience to land a consulting offer.
Table of Contents:
- Candidate Background
- Capstone Project
- McKinsey Interview Process
- KPMG & Deloitte Interview Process
- Deciding Between Offers
- Interview Prep Process
- Final Advice
Steven, thanks for chatting with us today. Let’s start by hearing a little bit about your background. What is your education and work experience? How did that lead to you recruiting for consulting and the eventual offers?
So, I went to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and I majored in business. And through that experience there were a lot of alumni who came back, and a lot of them who did their five-year obligations in the Air Force from the Academy, and then separated and transitioned into the private sector. A lot of consultants and investment bankers came back and just spoke to the opportunities that an education like the Air Force Academy can get you.
Previous to going to school I hadn’t really been exposed to management consulting until these guest speakers, and that’s where my initial interest was piqued. That’s when I knew that I wanted to do my five years, and then transition. I was attracted to the idea of being able to work where you wanted to work, do what you wanted to do and live where you wanted to live – the freedom we don’t really have in the military.
But with that being said, I did my five years, I graduated and I became a Nuclear Missile Operations Officer.
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Sounds boring! (kidding)
Yeah you know it’s interesting. There are a few locations in the United States that one can go with this career and it’s where the nuclear weapons are, and they are in sparsely populated areas. So, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota were the states that were available to me. And I got choice number three, North Dakota, so I was stationed in Minot Air Force.
Every few days I would go underground for 24 hours at a time. And I was preparing to launch our nuclear arsenal. And because we don’t do that on a day-to-day basis – or fingers crossed ever – it’s just making sure that we’re aligned to our targets. A lot of the job is targeting and then coordinating security.
If a rabbit goes on site to one of the missiles, then we get an alarm and we have to conduct a security investigation. In addition, it’s a lot of maintenance because the assets are very old. So, a lot of routine maintenance goes on and we’re just making sure that anybody who goes on site is indeed, who they say they are. There’s a lot of back and forth authenticating and encrypting codes to one another. That was my job for five years in the Air Force.
And then, while I was doing that I concurrently went and got my master’s. I knew that I needed a degree that would be flexible so that I could do it from Minot. And Georgetown has a MSc Finance degree that was the perfect blend of on-campus and school-from-home, because I didn’t want to sacrifice the quality of the degree while I was in Minot. Georgetown did have on-campus requirements once every semester and then they had a global consulting capstone, where we went to Johannesburg, South Africa. My degree in finance took me two years and I graduated in 2019. And then my transition date, or I guess separation, from the Air Force is in 2021. I’m still on terminal leave and I officially separate in June. That’s the quick synopsis of my experience!
Amazing. Well first of all, thank you for your service.
I have a follow up question about that consulting capstone. Can you just talk to me a little bit about what that project was and what you did in Johannesburg? It sounds fascinating.
Yeah, absolutely. So, in this program, there were two tracks. One was more consulting and the other one was banking. And I put myself on the consulting track, and we knew from the start that we were going to Johannesburg. We didn’t know until probably five months out what the different projects were going to be, and that’s about how long we had to work on our respective projects.
I was staffed in a team of four for a private equity client based in Johannesburg. Our project focused on one of their portfolio companies. They were essentially a team of data scientists who were doing consulting work of their own using technology. In essence, they have a proprietary formula that they use for a lot of different tasks. For example, one of their proprietary softwares could take cargo shipping, and for any item, whether it’s chairs or sheets of glass, they could design the most efficient way to organize the items so that you can reduce the amount of total shipping containers that you need, saving millions of dollars in the process.
They also work with airlines to make their routes more efficient. They work with casinos to analyze the behavior of the customers inside and ultimately provide solutions to the casino to get the customers to stay longer and spend more money. So, they were all over the map.
But ultimately, they were living and dying by the projects that they could secure. So, we were tasked with helping them transition from that consulting revenue model to taking one of their software applications, turning it into a SaaS model so they could achieve more consistent revenue.
In the process, we also then had to identify whether or not it would be a viable proposition for them to enter the United States market. We created a comprehensive go to market strategy for them, including where their US headquarters should be, how many employees they should hire, what are the costs associated, who is their target market, what customers can they acquire in the first year, etc.
Because I was in a science program, everything came with a robust financial model for them to use. That was essentially our project.
That’s amazing. What was it about that experience that confirmed for you that consulting was the right path? Because I could see it going one of two ways – either that this is the right path for me, or you’re like, oh my gosh I hate this.
To your point, there were elements that I loved and elements that were not my favorite. Our client was very high touch, so he would be calling every day at odd hours of the night to get a new iteration of the model. And mostly it was because he was very excited about what we were doing and believed in what we were doing.
On the one hand it was tough to deal with that client expectation but at the same time, his excitement got us excited. To answer the question pointedly, what I liked about it is you immediately have to become a subject matter expert. I knew nothing about SaaS or machine learning, or the things that this company was capable of. But you get put in a situation where you have to become an expert and I love being exposed to things that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to.
And then there’s also the reassurance that a career like consulting, if you don’t like your current project, typically six months comes and goes, and you have a different opportunity. So, you’re not stuck in a career that maybe you decide is right for you and then a year down the line, it’s not what you enjoy anymore. There’s a lot of variety.
Absolutely. I always like to say if you’ve got professional ADD, consulting is for you.
Oh yeah, exactly.
So, you went through the MSF program at Georgetown, you’re about to leave the military, and you’ve just wrapped up interviews at McKinsey, KPMG and Deloitte. Can you talk to me about the interview processes at all three firms? What did you find similar, what did you find different, and what stood out to you about each firm as you went through their process?
McKinsey Interview Process
Great, so I’ll start off by saying that KPMG and Deloitte were incredibly similar. McKinsey – very different.
In order to land the interview, I did a lot of networking to ultimately get a referral. Once I got the referral, I worked closely with the individuals I was networking with to identify the proper time for me to apply based on my separation date and also based on when they think they’d be hiring the most. So, getting the timing right was interesting, but once I was referred, things moved very quickly.
I reached out to a recruiter who was very nice. And what I really liked and valued about the McKinsey process is it was essentially at your own speed. I was told the process from beginning to end – from your first interview towards a job offer – would be 6-8 weeks. What was reassuring is I was told, “Hey, if you still feel like you need some more time to case prep, let us know.” You schedule your first interview when you’re ready.
I had been case prepping for months and months, but I still felt like I needed some fine tuning. So, it was nice to know that I had as much time as I needed. I scheduled my first interview for two weeks after that referral and everything was laid out very clearly. I was told how the process would be – every step.
The first part was a phone screen, or 30-minute case interview. After that was Round 1, where you have Zoom interviews with two consultants for 1-hour each. Each interview was 30 minutes of case and 30 minutes of behavioral interview with each consultant. If you pass those, you move on to final rounds, which are the same model but with three consultants.
So, I had started with the 30-minute phone screener. It was very similar to the Round 1 cases in your Case Library – it was very quick, with not a lot of follow up questions or opportunities to dive deeper. It was just a basic case to determine if you have the mind that would allow you to solve a problem.
The one difference I could tell between the phone screener and the R1 interviews was the math is a lot cleaner. The case I had revolved around manufacturing and increasing the output of a chocolate factory. But as you’re going through the math, you just see it even before you have your pen to paper that it’s going to work out. No need to round, no need to really do crazy math – that’s the main difference in this one.
And I immediately – I think the next day – I got a call from my recruiter telling me that I passed. She gave me in-depth feedback on things I did well and things that I needed to improve on. And ultimately, I was told that in the next round, if I didn’t improve on the things that she said that I needed to improve on, that would be a disqualification. For me, the math was fine, but there were some creative questions where I only provided three answers instead of continuing to push and provide as many answers as possible.
On the framework, they wanted something more robust as well.
I had another couple of weeks to again, within my own time, to schedule those first round interviews. That’s what I really appreciated. I didn’t feel rushed. What I thought was cool was that with each step, I was assigned a non-evaluative case partner to practice cases with. It was clearly apparent that they wanted you to succeed.
Before I had those first-round interviews, they gave me the bios of those who were going to interview me beforehand. I could tell that the McKinsey process is a curated process. For example, they pick the interviewers based on your experience. My first interviewer was a Naval Academy grad who had also gone to Georgetown. Not necessarily a coincidence! He also happened to have gone to Harvard for his MBA and then worked some really cool jobs before landing McKinsey. Looking at his bio was a little intimidating!
But what happened next was that the cases got real. The first case was an airline case in the era of COVID, with the goal of getting the airline profitable with social distancing requirements. And ultimately, I felt really confident until I was asked which utilization rate would be required for this airline to break even. I asked a couple of clarifying questions because I thought the question was, “How many passengers are going to be required on all these airplanes to break even?” But really what the question was, “How many total planes of their fleet flown at maximum social distancing utilization are required to break even?”
Yeah, and I think in the process I should have just taken a step back and really tried to figure out what we’re solving for. It was clear in the process that I was confused.
So many cases on Management Consulted talk about the breakeven point, and you’re going to see a breakeven problem if you interview at McKinsey. I saw it and knew I could do breakevens in my sleep. I divided the fixed cost by the contribution margin and got the revenue required to break even, but then translating it into that utilization rate is where I got stuck.
The interviewer was cool about it, because he eventually walked me through it. At the end, I apologized for stumbling through the math, but he reassured me. He told me that if I moved on to the next case and did really well, it wasn’t over. So, I went into the next case a little shook up. I think I did well, but I think I needed to really kill it in order to make up for the previous case. 30 minutes after that last interview, I got a call from a recruiter saying that it was over.
That’s the McKinsey process in a nutshell. Very responsive, very serious. It was very professional.
That’s fantastic insight. How about KPMG and Deloitte?
KPMG & Deloitte Interview Process
KPMG and Deloitte were different – very different. I didn’t really face the case interview at all. For additional background, the KPMG role was finance transformation and Deloitte was also finance transformation, but with an emphasis on workday software.
With KPMG, the difference besides for no case was not really having clarity on what to expect. I got put in the pipeline, I got a recruiter assigned to me, and then I had a first interview scheduled very quickly. I talked to the recruiting lead but wasn’t given any sort of roadmap. It was just, “Here’s the first interview.” The interviews are incredibly conversational. Questions like:
- You’re facilitating a merger and acquisition between two different accounting units and you have to figure out who’s worth maintaining or who’s worth letting go or retraining. How do you go about setting that agenda?
It was open ended; I guess you’d say like strategy portions of a case. But, I didn’t face one case from beginning to end.
With both Deloitte and KPMG, you start off interviewing with someone at the Manager level, and then you progress up to the Principal or Director level. In each interview they were incredibly conversational and didn’t ask any gotcha questions. I wasn’t really put on the spot or tested on my financial acumen. The interviews focused more on assessing whether or not I had the interest and the capability to do the work.
Deloitte, compared to KPMG, was a little more of a structured process. They told me from the get-go when the interviews were going to be. They assigned me a recruiter, then they sent me to talk to a Manager – not in an interview setting, but just in a purely informational setting. It was an opportunity to talk to a person to learn more. That set me up for success for the interviews, which all took place on one day.
KPMG was spread across probably like five weeks; I’d have an interview once every two weeks. Deloitte was three interviews back-to-back to back on one day, and then an hour later I got a call saying I got the job.
Deloitte was in a hurry.
Deloitte was in a hurry. Yes.
So, there are some clear differences between the Big Four and McKinsey. Not necessarily one being better than the other, just different.
Right. The Deloitte and KPMG questions were also more centered around my interest and aptitude with technology. I’ve interviewed with a lot of companies and talked to a lot of people, but no one had ever brought up the t-shirt company I founded (it’s in a small section of my resume). We give a portion of our profits to ocean-centric foundations. No one had ever brought it up. But at Deloitte, each person talked about it, and they were all interested in the technology behind setting up the websites as well as the e-commerce aspect. That was a difference I noticed too.
Congratulations! You got offers at KPMG and Deloitte. That’s amazing. What was it about Deloitte that gave it the final edge?
Deciding Between Offers
Yeah, so the roles are very similar, but ultimately, the responsiveness that Deloitte had compared to KPMG was indicative to me of how my career would go. You know, it was clear that they wanted me with how quickly they got back to me. And when I had mentioned that I had another pending offer, they very quickly said well, what do we need to do salary-wise to get you to say yes?
It was also apparent to me that their professional development, and the training that I would get at Deloitte was going to be more robust. And for me, this being my first jump into the industry and professional consulting, that training piece was important to me.
I had a great time during the KPMG process. It was especially tough to say no to them because if you look at the office in the city I’m based in, it’s very cool. But I think I would have just kind of been thrown to the wolves in a way. Deloitte seemed a little more conscious about giving me a runway to set me up for success.
I think Deloitte’s got one of the best professional development programs out of any consulting firm in the world. And I don’t think you could have gone wrong, but I agree with that criteria you used to make the decision. That’s exciting stuff.
You’ve talked to me a lot just about the interview process at each of the firms. Can you talk to me a little bit about your prep process as well? How did you prepare? Can you share a couple of keys that helped you to success?
Interview Prep Process
Yes. So, once I knew consulting was what I wanted to do, I did the basics, which I’m pretty sure everyone familiar with Management Consulted is already doing.
For me, that was getting the Victor Cheng books, which are free for the military. That was a very strong foundation. Then, after that, I reached out to Georgetown, and they gave me access to Management Consulted resources (editor’s note: via the School Subscription Platform).
Then, there were four things that I knew that I needed to do to succeed.
First was an abundance of cases. I had a friend who had recently gotten his law degree and was just studying for the bar. He was kind of in limbo with his career and had some time to help me out, and he was analytically minded as well. So, we just hopped on Zoom and did a case every day. If he wasn’t available, I would do a case on my own. My goal was just to do as many cases as possible.
Next, I wrote down key takeaways and insights after every case. It’s easy to do a case and forget what you just did. I kept a master sheet of every case with all the insights, and I would look through this routinely before I’d hop into another case.
The next thing that I did to prepare was to freshen up on the math. So, I took the GMAT a couple of times, but what I really valued in that process was the data sufficiency questions. Those questions where you’re given a list of information, and you have to determine whether or not the information you’re given is sufficient to solve the problem. I ran into that a couple times, especially prepping for McKinsey. Because in a case, typically after the framework, one of the first questions is designed for you to identify whether or not you can actually move forward, or if you need to ask a question to get more information so that you can move forward. I saw the parallel between that and the GMAT questions.
Finally, what was valuable to me was networking and having some actual consultants at the firms to practice with and get feedback to fine tune my performance.
It’s not surprising to me considering your military background, but it sounds like you were incredibly disciplined and structured in the way you went about things.
By keeping a record of insights and writing the learnings you’ve gotten from each case, you can go back and really internalize them. That’s what sets decent candidates apart from the good ones.
It’s pretty clear that the people who land the offers had to do an abundance of cases, and they had to kind of make it their job. Every now and then I did run into somebody who was clearly a genius who didn’t need to study as much, but I could generally tell the difference between those who had put in the work and those who hadn’t.
I’ll tell you what, 99.9% of us aren’t geniuses, right? You might as well just play it safe and put the work in. And then the interview rounds are really the culmination of that work. Really, what determines whether you get the offer or not is what you do before you ever walk into that interview.
Yeah, it’s a learnable skill. Even though I didn’t get the McKinsey interview, I didn’t leave the interview thinking, “Oh man, well whatever, that was totally unsolvable.” I felt that I could have actually done the work. I think that should give hope to people in similar shoes.
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Absolutely. One final question if you don’t mind. You just talked us through some keys for case interview prep, which I love. Is there just one overall piece of advice that you would give to any candidate who’s reading this and looking to break into consulting and land a Deloitte or other offer?
Start early and start networking. Ultimately your network is going to be what gets your foot in the door. So, reach out to people and learn. I can’t harp on that enough. Start networking.
I think you can look at your experience and your education to determine whether or not you’re an appropriate fit. With that said, these firms are becoming increasingly open to hiring individuals with a “non-traditional” background like myself. So, if you are unsure as to whether you would be a competitive applicant, the quickest way to get an answer is to ask consultants directly – start networking!
Absolutely. Wise words. Thanks for chatting with me today, Steven.
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