Boston Consulting Group: Nikunj Jha [Career Series]
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With Placement season and Apping Season round the corner, InsIghT brings to you a new series, ‘Career Series’ which will capture the experiences of alumni who had been in your shoes. In the second of the series, Rahul Maganti speaks to Nikunj Jha. Following are excerpts from the interview.
Nikunj Jha, Business Analyst
Boston Consulting Group
Mechanical Engg Dual Degree, 2012
Why did you opt for placements instead of higher studies?
My motivation for studying engineering was not R&D in the first place. Hence my inclination towards higher studies and academic excellence was limited to learning and I never bothered about performance. I did, however, want to learn everything that I perceived to be of value and that included extra-curricular activities as well as courses. I also find myself lacking capabilities for focused research – patience, aptitude for research and meticulousness. Throughout college, I focused more on developing my social, people, creative and leadership abilities which I was more interested in. Hence, job or business was a clear choice.
Why did you opt for Consulting?
People’s perception about their career is built in interesting ways by their internships provided they are free of prejudices passed on by seniors. Fortunately, it was the case for me. Before my third year I barely knew the firms that came to campus and didn’t know what consulting was all about. I couldn’t crack one of the coveted internships such as DB, PnG and ITC. I applied for many core ones as well in desperation but none of them had an interesting profile according to me.
Eventually, I landed a marketing internship with Dover Corporation in Bangalore. I was required to come up with an end-to-end sales and marketing strategy for a line of their pumps. I emphasize the word strategy here – I wasn’t making a sales and marketing plan here. I was defining the broad sales and marketing strategy which involved identifying the customer base, segmenting them, conducting customer interviews (the pump was for industrial use only and hence these were industrial customers) and figuring out the key decision criteria, needs and wants of each customer segment. The latter half of the project was spent in figuring out recommendations and sales and marketing approaches to target each customer segment. The project went very well and I received accolades from the VP of the company in USA. The pump sold very well over the next year.
Why am I saying all this? Because when I discussed this with one of my seniors who is in consulting he told me that this was very similar to what one would do in consulting albeit in a small way. It clicked then. I had enjoyed my internship thoroughly and I had no doubt that I would enjoy consulting as well if it involved similar work. Moreover, I believed that I had a certain aptitude for this kind of work and I still like to think so.
So after this experience I set my mind to pursuing a career in consulting by the end of my third year. In the interest of full disclosure, to an extent my decision was also shaped by the perceived aura of the job and my opinions were moulded by the opinions of seniors who went into consulting and whom I respected and took advice from. But, that was not the first thing that pushed me towards consulting.
Could you describe the selection process of BCG and preparation you went through?
The selection process is simple. People are shortlisted on the basis of their resumes. The job requires one to have problem solving skills, great communication and people skills as a lot of client interaction is involved along with strong motivation and multi-tasking aptitude. Hence, the resumes which demonstrate excellence in multiple endeavours (academics, extra-currics) as well as strong people and communication skills are preferred.
After the resume based short-listing, you just have to clear the interviews on the placement day. However, the interviews in consulting are very different from other jobs and require one to demonstrate strong analytical and problem solving skills. The interviews involve solving a business case problem through structured and logical thinking combined with business judgement. All consulting firms have a ‘buddy program’ where working employees in the firm coach and train the candidates in case interviews by simulating an actual consulting case. You also prepare by forming case solving groups of 3-4 in the campus and train for the interviews simultaneously.
Can you describe your work profile for us and tell us whether it was what you expected when you sat for placements?
Buddies generally tell you everything about the job. I personally haven’t found too much disparity. I would say, as long as the buddy is good, his mentee will have a fairly decent idea of what to expect from consulting. Of course, one must account for the fact that any job would involve a huge unknown part that you will never be prepared for. But that is true for any job and no one can align your expectations adequately for this part. This is the part where one has to deal with office politics (which thankfully is limited in consulting in my opinion), bad bosses, gruelling work life and other constraints of formal behaviour 50-60 hours each week.
Is the job challenging? Intellectually and emotionally?
Intellectually, I must say that it’s hard to find a job that comes closer in challenge. There is so much to learn along so many aspects – business judgment, industry/sector knowledge, communication skills, presentation skills and the perspective you gain about how to look at businesses from a CEO’s point of view and how to run them – everything is critical for long term success in the corporate world and even in the entrepreneurship world.
Emotionally, I would say the first year of any job is a roller coaster for multiple factors. As I mentioned before, it is a huge change in your life. You have 50-60 hour work weeks, limited interactions with your friends, office politics, bad bosses, stress of deliverables, career problems and a 100 other things to deal with and to deal with them professionally. The conversations you have on lunch table are formal and the way you behave in office has to be consciously adapted to the code of conduct. You need to operate on a schedule for most of the week which people aren’t usually used to in IIT. So emotionally, it’s a big change and not something which you will find trivial once you step into the corporate world.
Temperament is one key factor which makes it easier for many and difficult for others. If you have done an internship you have the temperament to an extent but then again an internship is temporary and the real pressure of performance, politics or bosses is never felt there. How you deal with stress and how you respond to these challenges becomes very critical. I wouldn’t say it has been easy for me but I would say that my tenure as a MoodI CG and then as an Insight Editor helped me build that temperament to an extent.
Could you describe the work culture within the company? How friendly/helpful/intellectual are the people?
I would evaluate the firm culture in two ways – the people and the work culture.
With my co-workers coming from diverse background and reputed colleges like IITs, IIMs and ISB, I always feel that I am in the same kind of company that I was in college. Also the atmosphere is very jovial and fun loving and I have found many people who share the same kind of interests as me. The whole firm is young (even the highest level of the firm has an average age of 35) and I have been able to make very good friends here. There are only 6-7 levels of hierarchy (as against some 15-20 levels in typical big firm) which makes the atmosphere less bureaucratic and gives us access to firm leadership. For instance, I can walk up to a partner and have an informal chat with him which I would never be able to do in a typical corporation.
On the work culture front, I like consulting as a profession a lot. Firstly, you are given huge ownership of the work. You are given a distinct, separate part of the problem to solve for a client and you have to be responsible for all the results and deliverables for that part. Your work is vetted by your project leader and the client but it is entirely your responsibility to solve the problem and get the desired results. There is also a lot of flexibility for working styles and preferences. So, when you become 1 or 2 years senior in the firm you can choose what kind of project or sector you want to work in. You have to travel but you decide the timelines for your work and the pace you want it to go at as long as it is aligned with the overall project schedule. You can work from home, work at nights, come late to the office and all of those things as long as you deliver your work on schedule. Moreover, you can actually argue about your work with the project leader and push back on him if you don’t agree with the points he is making. Although, at the end of the day he is your boss but I like the fact that you are considered intellectually to be his equal which is not the case usually in corporations.
So overall I think consulting is ideal for someone who is looking for an intellectually stimulating and enterprising culture. Everything is run by the people within. With BCG in particular, the culture of mentorship is very deeply ingrained in the firm and there are many channels of both formal and informal mentorship which make the office environment very supportive. On the lighter side, there are also a lot of people engagement activities like outings and parties.
How is the work-life balance at your job?
Well, to be honest consulting does suck a little in work life balance in general no matter what any firm says in the PPT. The key reason there is that you have to travel a lot and on an outstation case you are away from home for 5 days. Now, although you stay in 5 star hotels and eat good food you can feel homesick. You usually have company in the form of your case team but anything personal has to wait till the weekend. Whether you meet your friends, girlfriend or parents, everything should be done in this stipulated time.
Most of the people in the firm, though, like the travel part as it allows you to see new places. You bond with your case team and make new friends. So it’s not that bad as long as you look at it positively.
Can you tell us something about how your typical day looks like?
A typical working day for a home-location case will be going to the office, meeting clients, preparing and presenting powerpoint presentations, attending meetings analyzing the problem with data and finally discussing emerging recommendations and solutions with the case team.
A travel case is much more hectic on Mondays and Fridays because of the flights you need to take Monday morning to go to the client location and the return flight you take for Mumbai on Friday. But then, there are perks associated with the travel case too.
Did the job reach your expectation levels? Did you feel like ditching this job at any point of time?
No. I never felt like that anytime till now. The biggest motivator for me in the job is the business learning it offers. Every case is a new problem and in a way you are doing a new job every 6 months or so. And I don’t think other lucrative jobs offer such a steep learning curve. Over the last six months, I had the option to interview for Private Equity firms like Blackstone and Bain Capital and also with Venture Capital firms like Sequoia all of which pay much higher than my current salary. But I didn’t interview with any because I want to stay and learn more in consulting. I believe this will be of more value to me in the long term.
What do you plan to do in future, say in the next 1-2 years?
I eventually want to do an MBA but not because I want to learn about business administration or trade up to a better job. I think I can get to a better job whenever I want from consulting directly and the business learning actually happens better in consulting than a college course. I would want to do MBA for the silliest reasons of all and that is because I want to go back to college, especially one in US. I want to have that experience.
How is the cultural, geographical and topological factors of Mumbai effecting you?
I have been here for more than 6 years now. So, personal and social life is the best for me here. Not to mention I am too comfortable with the culture of the city to think about moving anywhere else.
Can you tell us one thing that you love the most about your job?
Obviously, the continuous learning curve.
Can you tell us one thing that you hate the most about your job?
One thing I hate about BCG and consulting in general is the sell-out attitude of the profession. The salesman kind of mode is always activated and the job is inherently about being people pleasing. And while being pleasant to others is good consulting usually takes it to a whole different level. They go a little too far to please the client and sell cases to them.