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I’m an established user here. I’ve created a new account since I would like to remain anonymous for this question. Please note that I can’t answer your comments/ answers.


At the beginning of my career I spent 3 years working as a management consultant receiving excellent performance reviews. I was successful both according to my project managers and clients, who stressed that I’m smart, very dedicated, structured, reliable and listen to them. I wouldn’t like to sound arrogant here. But you should take my word that I was good as a consultant. I also liked this job, learning new things, I loved working with clients.

Now after a short stay in another field, I would love to go back into consulting. I’ve had several job interviews already. Management consulting interviews are case interviews. You are normally given cases to solve.

I’ve had one positive answer from a small company, but also quite a lot of rejections. The motives of rejections were different and sometimes contradictory, e.g. “your answer wasn’t precise enough and you committed mistakes in the math but you passed the airport test ["likability test"] very well”, “I’m sure our clients would love you but your answers weren’t structured enough”. (This was the feedback from two Tier 1 consulting companies). "We don't think you have enough experience for this position but we found you a very friendly, communicative person" (middle-size unknown consulting company).

However, I’ve already received twice the feedback that was simply extremely negative. The feedback was “consulting is not for you, you’re too introverted and I can’t imagine you standing in front of the client and convincing them to anything. You're just not the consulting type, it simply doesn't play to your strengths. You should analyse data but not work in consulting”. (One company was a Tier 3, one a small unknown consultancy). The tone was friendly but the content of the feedback really bad.

Now, the truth is I’m not as extroverted as the stereotypical, noisy, arrogant management consultant - they were right in pointing that out. I’ve suspected I have a light form of Asperger’s for some time now. I don’t normally notice it while working and it provokes no problems (apart from in how I come across at some job interviews). I am very pro-active, can take the lead and have already managed big projects with much more senior people including CEOs. But I do understand that my difficulties with sustaining the eye contact for example (I don’t have problems looking people in the eye when I’m listening but have huge problems doing so when I’m speaking or thinking intensively) can create the impression of my being shy or reserved or very introverted. And as I have my interviews abroad, using a language which I speak fluently but which isn't my mother tongue (normally all other candidates come from the country I apply in), I need to focus a lot.

You can imagine that receiving such a harsh feedback does impact my confidence.

As a result I don’t know whether I should believe the feedback or not. But I really do like consulting and was given such an excellent feedback while working in this character that I simply don’t know what I should do next if I assume consulting is really not for me.

So the question is: How to distinguish valuable feedback from rubbish? Which feedback should be believed and serve as a basis for career decisions and which not?

P.S. To all IT professionals here: You can't imagine how I envy you if you are really assessed on your tangible skills, not impressions :)

  • IMO, all feedback is valuable... even the rubbish. Actually, especially the rubbish (bad advice can be quite educational). You just have to take everything with a grain of salt and recognize that even the most competent people give bad advice sometimes. This question might be worth asking on IPS as it's as much about reading people as it is navigating your career. – DanK May 18 '18 at 16:24
  • I established this rule about 8 years ago. Anything that precedes 'but' is rubbish (as you call it, I use a much more interesting term), everything after it is the actual feedback. Example: "You did well this year, but your leadership can be improved." Just for the record, this was worked 100% for me so far. – Masked Man May 18 '18 at 16:52
  • @MaskedMan Are you quoting Ned Stark from GOT? – Neo May 18 '18 at 16:58
  • @MisterPositive No, I made that rule from my meetings with various managers in the early part of my career. :) I don't watch GOT. I mean, I tried but couldn't go past episode 1 after 4 attempts. – Masked Man May 19 '18 at 0:12
  • With regards to the P.S in OP's question: IT professionals do most certainly assessed on their people skills. 1 bad apple (lone wolf, non-communicado, "code-god") is enough to create work for 3 FTE to clean up. As such, also in IT, communication is key. In regards to the remainder of the question: as communication is key in pretty much every field. However in IT we care less about the way you present yourself, as long as you're not a d*ck and communicate clearly and logically. – rkeet May 20 '18 at 13:48
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How to distinguish valuable feedback from rubbish? Which feedback should be believed and which not?

Based on my experience, you need to ask yourself "Is there anything in the feedback I've been given that rings true, or that I can apply to myself to be better" If there is, take it to heart and try to improve there.

Some of the comments you have received are obvious rubbish, but if you hear the same thing from different sources then perhaps there is a bit of truth to what you are hearing. Reflect on those things, and focus on how you could be better in those areas of improvement.

Only you know for certain the truth that is you. Ignore the obvious rubbish, while attempting to gather bits of information to make yourself a better candidate. We all have flaws that are either difficult or impossible to improve upon.

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    There is something like that and I describe it in my post above. I do believe that I can come across as a bit reserved because of, mainly, the eye contact. But that's something that's impossible for me to improve. – 13442136 May 18 '18 at 17:02
  • Your a human being. Everyone has flaws that they cannot improve upon IMHO, I accept that and recommend you do to. The fact that you are trying to improve is a huge statement towards your character @13442136 – Neo May 18 '18 at 17:05
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Random feedback tends to have random quality

The problem with the feedback you have been getting back is that it is coming from sources that you cannot accurately evaluate the quality of. As a result it is very challenging to separate out the accurate from the inaccurate feedback. As such I recommend the following:

Get feedback from a mentor or a friend in the field

If you do not already have someone who is like a mentor to you find one. A mentor can and should be able to encourage you, give you precise feedback on ways to improve yourself, and tell you what they think of the feedback you have received from others.

A close friend in the field can also serve the same purpose. With a friend in the field though it is important that you two have a good strong relationship that he or she can be blunt with you without having to worry about hurting your feelings.

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Which feedback should be believed and which not?

I feel as though your previous stellar career report speaks for itself. Unless something drastic has changed in your personality or something of the sort I'd wager you can go by your gut that you are still cut out for the job and can ignore the criticism.

How to distinguish valuable feedback from rubbish?

If the advice sounds hostile as opposed to helpful, it may be just criticism from people instead of constructive criticism. The purpose of one is to put you down, the other to help you up. I recommend judging the tone of the response and gauging whether or not the intent was beneficial or malicious. If there are specific points in the feedback as well it will stand apart as actual advice rather than intent to belittle. Comments like "You're not cut out for this job" without specific examples of shortcomings has no real basis and can likely be safely tossed.

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Did the management consulting field change while you were away?

You achieved success during a time period in the past. But the techniques that worked then may not work anymore if your field is dynamic and fast changing. Find out if this is so, and what the new requirements are.

Are you interviewing companies with different culture/style/etc from the one you previously worked with?

Perhaps you were a great fit in one management consultancy, but the ones you are interviewing now are different in some way. Find companies which match your culture and style. Or research the culture/style of the company and present yourself accordingly.

Are you a great consultant but a poor interviewee?

I don't know how you got your previous consultancy job, but maybe you were lucky to get it, and then proved your worth. If this is the case, work on your interviewing skills.

So what about the feedback?

You can change certain things about the way you present yourself on an interview, but in the end you are who you are.

The feedback is contradictory, but one item is well defined and should be the first target for improvement: the structure and math in your solutions.

The rest of the feedback is value based and imprecise, and offers little value. Still, you have presented a couple ideas.

Eye contact.

There are plenty of people who don't maintain eye contact as they think. One way to deal with this is to look away, think, then look back and say what you need to say until you need to look away again. But this is a detail and should not be a deal breaker when hiring a qualified person.

Asperger.

Unless you have an Asperger diagnosis, it is futile to speculate if you have "a little Asperger" and how much of a problem this is. If you truly think this is the case, seek professional advice. Otherwise, drop it from your thoughts.

Finally find some trusted friends and colleagues (or a career advice institution) and do some mock interviews to unearth and correct any problems in that regard.

Best of luck!

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  • There are good reasons why some people self-diagnose with autism/Asperger's rather than seeking a formal diagnosis. Diagnosis can cost thousands of dollars, and it may not be useful. Autism is a spectrum condition with a lot of variation, so any line drawn between "autistic" and "not autistic" is going to be somewhat arbitrary; people who are narrowly diagnosed as "not autistic" may still have some of the common autistic traits. Plus, some people are very wary of inviting a formal mental health diagnosis for fear that it might be used against them. – Geoffrey Brent May 21 '18 at 21:49
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My advice here is: Management Consulting is hard to break into, and job-hunting is a full-time job.

It's hard to give you tailored advice as I'm unaware if you were MBB or not, and I have no idea what "a short stay" entails, and in what capacity you were away.

Most consultants view consulting as a stepping stone - especially in London. Do 2-4 years, then work in senior leadership in another company. You presumably also had this view, so why are you back in consulting? The next question that comes to mind is "why aren't you back in your old company", which if you don't feel like answering here you should have an answer for in interviews.

You should also be only interviewing with low-tier companies right now. This will give you practice in interviewing for companies you have no desire to work with, so it's no loss if you don't get the job.

You Need To Prepare For Interviews

Ok, so now onto your case work. From the feedback, it sucks. If you aren't aware of this site -https://www.caseinterview.com/ - then you should be. Please run through all the exercises there, that will get your case skills up to par. If you are failing tier-1 case interviews then that is bad, you need to get on top of that. You will not get a job with bad case interviews. Happily, this is not a hard skill to master.

You don't mention having an MBA, and if you don't have one I'd recommend looking into one, especially now that you are in-between jobs. It's almost required in your line of work.

To Your Question

The only advice you should worry about is from MBB, and also from the higher-end consulting firms (Accenture, Strategy & etc etc). The people working there are competent. Junior-mid level People working in other companies are, honestly, not worth taking advice from. Don't worry about it.

So the question is: How to distinguish valuable feedback from rubbish? Which feedback should be believed and serve as a basis for career decisions and which not?

First, note that you are really only asking if you should stay in your career or not, because you've failed a few case interviews and been told you are inherently bad at your career by some low-tiers. So what follows is not about career-decisions, which I will touch on briefly at the end.

Valuable feedback comes from top-tier talent that cares about the profession. This will be the most ruthless feedback, and will be along the lines of "you are terrible at x,y,y, get better at it". You will then need to find a way to get better at it.

Being told you are "bad at something and will never be good at it" is bad advice, but it is on you to improve. Being told that you are inherently terrible at something should only be read as you need to improve in an area. No human being is inherently bad at anything - that's not how we evolved.

Being told you are bad at something and not improving is your fault. If you don't want to improve at it - let's say you find it painfully boring - then you should question how essential it is for your career. IF it is very essential then perhaps rethink your career.

Career-Decisions

For career-decisions, eg "Do I stay at company X or jump to company Y" , you will often get advice, and always the advice should only be seen as helpful if it opens up new avenues for you to research to create data-points that can weigh your decision. Closed-answer (yes/no) advice is never really useful, nor is "just do this because that" advice. Best advice is "consider this".

At the end of the day, the only person who has to live with the decision is you. If you aren't prepared to do your own research and instead farm it out, then understand that nobody cares as much about the result as you do. Nobody will give it as much consideration as you. You need to do the weighing yourself, and that means you need to do the research.

Ergo no advice is good/bad per say, but rather should be viewed only as whether it can provide additional areas for you to research. If it does, it is "good", if it does not, it is "bad".

For The IT Crowd

  • MBB is Mckinsey, BCG, Bain, from biggest to smallest. McKinsey is far and away the leader. Other consulting firms - Strategy&, Accenture etc - are still great places to work but should be for more niche work (ie work you want but cannot get at MBB), whereas MBB is great for generally branding your CV.

  • Case interviews are like IT tests, only much more fun. Consider them like a complicated algorithm question, where you need to know the basics and how to apply it (as opposed to "fizz buzz" or "what does this keyword mean").

  • Low-tier consulting firms are generally one-man bands that expanded slightly so the work is boring, and the people all wanted to work in MBB but are not good enough (except the founders, who probably did).

  • Good Management Consultants will earn significantly more than the IT crowd. The work is varied, and there is a lot of human interaction. However, the hours are gruelling - 60-70 is about right. After a few years they typically leave their company and become senior leaders at other companies.

  • McKinsey is famous for it's 2-year up or out policy, where if you aren't promoted in two years (the up) then you leave the firm (the out).

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  • I do work on case studies, have also bought some books on solving cases and gone through them. The problem is, I guess, there are several philosophies to solve cases. There is this McK way of building MECE trees. But some companies simply expect you to simply give the best recommendation without too much structure. And some authors recommend structuring the reply around economic concepts (4P, Porter...). I've already been told I wasn't structured enough, but also that I was too structured and they would prefer one good idea. It might also be that the expectations differ between countries. – 13442136 May 21 '18 at 7:31
  • @13442136 it's my experience - from conversations with friends - that the lower-tier companies have a weird view of case studies and prefer you to "wing it". They are often more prone to "gotcha" questions. The upper tier companies prefer the structure, but again this is the kind of work you have to do prior to the interview to see what they like. – bharal May 21 '18 at 19:42

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