By Delaney Kerkhof, MBA ‘24 | MBA Career Peers
This blog post could save your life (or save you from countless hours of unnecessary coffee chats and interview prep) by preventing you from getting sucked into the consulting vortex!
I’ve jokingly coined the term ‘consulting vortex’ for the highway management consulting recruitment process that many MBA students engage with, either purposefully or unintentionally. Like many of my peers, I knowingly stepped into the vortex with management consulting as an option, but quickly got swept away by the goals of others so it became my Plan A.
Don’t get me wrong, the ‘consulting vortex’ exists for good reasons. Strategy consulting is a great opportunity to extend and apply your learnings from business school. You work with a team to break down large problems and gain exposure to various industries – all with a prettttty shiny salary as well. Many MBAs submit a resume ‘just to see what happens’ and end up down the long, arduous recruitment process without much premeditation.
I came to MIT Sloan to learn business principles that I can use to reduce educational inequities in America in the future. My goal was to pivot into consulting to hone my holistic problem-solving skills and functional expertise in strategy, operations, and finance. Since I’ve worked only in nonprofits and K-12 education since high school, I wanted to be in an impact-oriented sphere of consulting; my priority was a role at a social impact or education-specific consulting firm.
Given how competitive such opportunities are, however, I knew I needed a Plan B. Thus, I also applied to more traditional generalist management consulting firms (like McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, and EY Parthenon) knowing that I could hopefully specialize in their social impact and public sector practices.
I (along with 100+ of my classmates) joined MIT Sloan’s Management Consulting Club to begin the long journey of highway consulting recruiting! Through the three months of daily coffee chats, networking events, and case interview prep with my peers, I became brainwashed by the desire to get an offer from one of the most prestigious firms. In the intense nerves and myopic short-sightedness of highway recruitment, I completely forgot that my top choices were actually lesser-known social impact firms.
It was during winter break and MIT’s Independent Activities Period (IAP) when I was back home in California, that I regained perspective. By exiting the MIT Sloan bubble, I was able to have conversations with family and friends that reminded me of what I really cared about: gaining consulting skills while still helping others.
At the start of February, I was able to weigh my various management consulting and education consulting offers with a renewed clarity and sense of direction. I was proud to fulfill the career goal I listed on my MBA application by signing with a boutique consulting firm that focuses in the field of education.
My happy ending came after unnecessary stress from being distracted by other people’s aspirations. With the benefit of experience and hindsight, I’d like to share my top tips for staying true to yourself during recruiting:
1. Look back on your MBA goals every few weeks
Each student writes their academic, social, professional, and extracurricular goals in the summer before they begin their MBA journey. Try centering yourself on your goals and passions every few weeks. It’s okay to adjust as you go, but be sure you’re adapting intentionally and not because that’s what your friends are doing or it’s what you think you “should” do.
2. Maintain connection with non-MBA friends and family
Staying in touch with your friends and family outside of MIT Sloan can be tough because of how all-encompassing the program is at times. Consider your friends and family your personal board who can question your decisions and test your assumptions. Remember that business school isn’t the real world!
3. Enroll in MIT Sloan Leadership Center Courses
Beyond the Core Semester, the elective courses I’ve taken from the MIT Sloan Leadership Center have immensely helped me define my values. Through courses like 15.336 ID Lab: Individual Development & Interpersonal Dynamics and 15.318 Discovering your Leadership Signature, you can develop deeper insight into your motivations, fears, ambitions, and challenges. By learning how to lead yourself (before you lead teams and lead organizations), you can stay true to your values through future decision points and career transitions.
MIT Sloan has so many incredible opportunities, that it’s easy to get led off-course by your classmates’ goals and timelines. By intentionally defining your values, consistently recentering your goals, and thought-partnering with those who know you best, you can stay true to yourself during the recruiting process.
At MIT Sloan, we reference the different recruiting paths to MBA-level opportunities. What do we mean by Highway / Dirt Road / Jungle?
- Highway: MBA-level jobs with a structured recruiting process, often conducted through campus. This includes, but is not limited to, Consulting, Investment Banking, and Leadership Development Programs.
- Dirt Road: Opportunities within industries whose recruiting processes for MBAs are less defined, requiring more networking and individual outreach. This includes opportunities in Private Equity, Venture Capital, Media/Entertainment, and Sports.
- Jungle: Starting a new venture, pursuing positions with start-ups and early-stage ventures, or unstructured MBA opportunities.