MBA Application Tips: Interview with Former Partner Boston Consulting Group
30 April, 2021
A true cross-industry leader, Sap Sinha has worked in Healthcare, Venture Capital, Private Equity under various functions like Operations, Sales, and Risk Management throughout his career.
Graduating from Darden’s MBA Program in 2008, Sap started his career in Consulting with a Pharmaceutical firm. Hardly 6 years later he was made partner at one of the top consulting firms around the globe, Boston Consulting group.
As the Regional Vice President, Company NameSurgical Care Affiliates (part of OptumCare under United Health Group), Sap Sinha is now managing a 100 Million Dollar P&L in Brooklyn, New York.
If you, as an MBA applicant, wish to work in consulting post-MBA, Sap’s interview with Jatin Bhandari is the perfect place to get you a deeper understanding of the industry and what it demands from an individual.
Sap goes into great details about how an MBA applicant needs to approach their goals and the things that an admissions committee would look for in such an applicant.
As a bonus, he also shares an amazing story about how he managed to convince a firm to hire him after having turned them down for an internship some time back.
What does an MBA Grad do as a Consultant?
As a perfect start to this interview, Jatin asked Sap a question that most of you might have. What does a Harvard/Wharton/Darden grad do in the first year of their career as a consultant?
Sap started his answer detailing how the role of a consultant might differ depending on the firm they work at as well. “I think it depends on the consulting firm. So I was at Booz & Company, which is called Strategy& now which is part of BWC. And then ZS which does more of a marketing sales operation. Those are repetitive cases. So they are less of typical consulting where you have a problem question and you can come in and kind of think of different ideas. So, an associate or a consultant, whatever the consulting firm uses as the name, they will come in and run that small portion of their project.
And it'll be every other month they will be reporting to the manager and really discuss.
Now at Booz & Company and at BCG, you would be given a module of the bigger strategy question. So let's say the company is trying to enter a new market and there are different kinds of things you need to look at, maybe external customers or competition. You have to look at internal capabilities and you will be given one piece of the module and you will actually analyze it, look at the data, interact with the client, really run with the analysis, write the analysis.
The analysis from when I was in consulting prior to business school is very different than now. The data sets are much bigger. You have analytical teams which you coordinate with across the world. Sometimes they sit in India, to be honest, and you really run these business model. And then your job is to take those insights and then present to your manager.
So the first year you're more guided by the engagement project leader, than taking initiative and saying I'm going to do these things. It’s more like you have a module, you own it and you need to do it over the next two, three, four, whatever the timeline of the project. So that's typically what it is. And it is a lot about learning how that firm develops this analysis and presents to the client.
So it's constantly questioning, asking, learning then there are generally training programs within these consulting firms to get you up and running. So that's what the first year would look like.”
Explaining further, who the clients that freshers get to deal with are, Sap added, “A BCG consultant is four hundred dollars an hour and an EY consultant is two hundred dollars an hour. That drives the question, also, who’s asking the question. So in a BCG, McKinsey, Bain kind of firm, you would have the C-suite asking the question and then you wouldn't work as an associate, C minus one, C minus two, C minus three, that kind of thing.
You would be present in maybe a final deliverable meeting with your principal partner and engagement manager. You may not talk much, you may be taking notes, but you may be present in that to see the dynamics because it is important for you to learn what kind of questions do the C-level ask. What kind of messaging works with the team. And because you are closest to the data, they always want you there. Just in case there is a tough question or an oddball which the partner who doesn't know the answer to, they will need you to kind of get that.”
Post-MBA Consulting Career Goals Essay: How to sound unique?
For MBA applicants that have a post-MBA consulting goal, Sap went into great details about how to make your essays not sound generic or clichéd. His advice was, “My long-term career is to be a partner at a consulting firm is an extremely bad answer to pick. The reason why is because consulting is such a highly competitive thing like investment banking.”
He explained, “The people who are Managing Directors or Partners today, they wouldn’t have said I want to be a partner at a Consulting Firm. They started getting the promotions. They didn’t see any alternatives and they liked the jobs, this is how they became Partners at the firm.
What is a better way to think about it is what skill set does consulting help you get. Let’s say you want to change your background or different kind of industries, Consulting creates that opportunity. If you are in a top consulting firm, more likely than not they would make you a generalist in the first two years. They will make you cycle through different kinds of projects, different kinds of industries, and experiences because that makes you a better consultant.”
What do business schools look for in MBA applicants with a Consulting Goal?
Moving on from the application essays, Sap also talked about the filter that business schools or consulting firms use to weed out someone who isn’t a good fit based solely on their profiles. While he refused to put an MBA applicant in a box, he did go on to talk about what an applicant can showcase to improve their chances.
“You have to have an analytical gauge. Either you show through your GMAT that you’re good at Math, a very high GMAT score. If you’re not good at analytical then you should have some coursework you pick up to show that you can do it like data analytics at business school.
Now they have data science classes. If you don’t have that analytical bend you will get ruined, crushed in Consulting. Because there is so much data coming at you at such a fast pace and you have to make very quick decisions. Both in the case interview and the actual world. So if you don’t have that analytical bend you can’t take it. It’s super hard going through the interview process and being at the firm,” Sap said.
Coming from an industry leader who has years of experience working in, and hiring people in a consulting role, you can be sure that having a poor analytical bend would vastly decrease your chances at an MBA admit with a consulting post-MBA goal.
Now moving onto the amazing story that we promised, Sap talked about the time he was recruited by a Consulting firm for an internship, which he turned down. Despite that, he convinced them to hire him for the full-time position the next year.
Laughing, Sap recollected, “One of the aspects with which I got super lucky and maybe something that you should take forward for everyone is because we were late to the game in consulting because we were working throughout our winter break when I came back to business school a lot of groups were formed of four or five first years. I was able to work with the second years. The people who had already gone through the interview process and had offers from Consulting firms to learn the case method. It was better to do that, in hindsight, than working with the first years. Because the first years have never gone through it. So whoever is commenting on your case method doesn’t know anything so it’s like the blind leading the blind. Getting to work with the second years really helped me to convert all those consulting interviews.”
“Once I got to the firm, I actually did not stop interacting with them. I kept on giving updates of what I am doing and these are the reasons why I am doing it. I kept on the channel with the recruiters saying that listen I am not saying no to you I just feel like I need to experiment with this a little bit,” he explained further.
According to Sap, the constant conversation and open channel are what helped him reach out and get a full-time position at the firm even after turning them down for an internship in the previous year.
He also mentioned that reaching out to your network simply when you NEED them is the worst thing you can do. He advised students to keep in touch with their contacts and have a flowing channel of communication to fully utilize their network when needed.