A few weeks ago, I sat in a sumptuous penthouse office across from the CEO of a large bank. It was my last day of a summer internship in investment banking (read: my last day of a mind-numbingly tedious personal relationship with Microsoft Excel). The CEO asked, what had I learned from my time at the trading desk? It was my big chance. Wow him, dazzle him, do whatever it took to get a job offer/recommendation/kiss on the lips—wasn’t that the reason I had wasted away my summer in finance?
I was as compelling as a lima bean. I couldn’t say, exactly, what I had learned—banking is for me? Banking isn’t for me? Banking is a fancy word for “many, many spreadsheets”? I mumbled a thank you for an “incredible opportunity” and “yes I will host your son when he comes to visit Yale, I understand he is a prize-winning sailor.” As I lumped out the door, I knew I had to learn more about this thing called a career.
To my intense delight, I didn’t have to wait long before a panlist dumped a promotional e-mail in my inbox like a gift from cyber God. The glamorous McKinsey & Company, one among the holy trinity of consulting firms, was making a one-night-only appearance in New Haven! “Information session!” the e-mail said. I thought, “Information! That’s exactly what I need!”
The night of the information session, I called my parents. I was so excited my legs were doing a dance. I told them I was learning about careers and taking a very “adult” step by going to an “information session.” They were so excited that their legs started to do a dance. I left for the meeting feeling terrific. I had no agenda. I didn’t bring my resume. I didn’t wear a suit. My intentions were pure!
I had so many questions. What is this thing called “consulting”? Is it fun? How do I know if I am good at it? Would I make new friends in the office? Most of all, how many spreadsheets does it involve? I wanted information, and they were doling it out—it seemed like a match made in corporate heaven.
When I walked into the meeting room, however, I felt confused and deceived. “Information session” seemed to be code for “group interview in a fun hotel.” My legs stopped doing a dance and hung like limp spaghettis. All the other students were shaking hands and having weird laughter and smiling too much. I was starting to feel like a lima bean again.
I paused in the vestibule and considered my options.
(1) Leave. This was a bad option because I wouldn’t get to hear any of the information, and I really was frantic to know things.
(2) Stay and ask my questions. This was also a bad option because I was already being jostled by students screaming like maniacs about “my summer in Ethiopia” / “my internship at Goldman” / “the NGO I started” and I hadn’t really even entered the room. Would I even be able to get a word in edgewise before the information session ended?
In the end, I knew I couldn’t leave. I was too invested! I wanted to know: Was I really a consultant at heart? I spotted a table of delicious snacks in a back corner of the room and decided to collect my thoughts over a cookie. At this moment, a wonderful incredible thing happened, which was that one of the consultants had also spotted the delicious snacks and was walking over (alone!) to the table. It was my big chance!
Talking to this consultant was like putting 3-D glasses on in a 3-D movie and finally seeing what you are meant to see. Here are some of the great things she told me: The college course she took that was most relevant to her job was Spanish (not economics!). Working at a consulting company means you work in teams with really, really smart people to solve problems—like a study group. She also told me that anyone who loves to learn, think or point out other peoples’ (companies’) shortcomings would be a good consultant. (I immediately placed myself in this category.)
I realize that I got very lucky, bumping into this consultant all alone. If not for our conversation, I would have gone home wishing for a go-back-in-time machine so I could have simply stayed home and read a blog about consulting instead of putting myself through a miserable noodle-leg-inducing situation. But now I have a list in my room of “possible careers” and it looks pleasing because under the heading it now says “consulting” with a smiley face. I am feeling much less like a lima bean lately. And I like it.