Meet Martin, Consulting Intern at one of the Big Four
This week I had the chance to meet Martin, a smart and driven intern as a consultant at one of the big four. Martin is 27 years old. He told me why he could just make a spontaneous city trip to Oslo, what advice he would give his younger self and why he might choose a smaller consulting firm.
Martin, to begin with, tell us a little bit about your background.
I studied International Management at a University of applied science in Germany, followed by a Master in Finance and Accounting. Right after my master’s degree I joined my current employer.
Compared to your peers, is your background the typical background of a consultant at the big four?
Among the consultants in a big four, the majority do have master degrees. The field of studies vary from business or economics focused, over technical or engineering to natural science.
However, among the auditors most of my colleagues “only” hold a bachelor degree. Once they joined the firm they undergo a much more intense off the job training than we consultants do though.
What advice would you give to a college student or recent graduate that wants to get into one of the big four or as well?
I would like to start with a general advice already before college. Students have such a wide range of degrees and courses to choose from that, even if you know what direction you want to go into, it can be hard to make a decision. I will give you an example by explaining how it was for me: While I knew that I wanted to do something Business related, I had a hard time figuring out what exact degree I want to get. Business Administration? International Business? Finance and Leadership? – you get the picture. Once I made that decision I had to select courses in order to further specify my degree. I only notice now that I was way too concerned about what future employers might think about the degree or courses that a selected. And by the way: the future employer I had in mind back then is very different from my employer now. Your career plans will likely change while you attend University, as you start figuring out what excites you and what does not.
Obviously, if you want to get into a big four as a consultant, I would not recommend to study architecture or history. But once you decided that you want to get a business related degree, just base your decisions on your personal preferences. It will help you to further figure out what you want to do. And you will be getting better grades and employers like that.
Towards the end of your studies: Try to get in touch with potential future employers already before you apply for a job with them. Summer Internships are a great opportunity, but often hard to get (and you might have other plans during summer). Good alternatives are:
- Your Bachelor or Master thesis: Get in touch with the HR or R&D department of the employer of your choice. Briefly introduce yourself and explain what fascinates you about their industry, company, products, services, etc. Explain the topic of your thesis and how you would like to involve them. An interview with one of their experts is always a good idea and it supports both your thesis and your network within the firm. Offer to share the insights of your thesis with them after you are done.
- Job fairs: A must! Do attend job fairs organized by your University or near by. Get to know people that work with the future employer of your choice. Make sure to get their business cards and mention the conversations you had with them when applying for your job. Emphasize how these conversations further enhanced your interest in the position and the company. (Input from Phil: Make sure to download my application cover letter here).
- Is the firm you want to join organizing any public events? Usually all sorts of companies attend or organize certain events. Make sure to go there and do the same as described in my previous point.
You will see, these brief personal contacts will make your application much stronger and distinguish you from other candidates. Additionally, you will have much more interesting stuff to talk to during your job interview.
How is your internship structured?
The trainee program is designed for 18 months and begins each fall. As a rule, trainees start in the field of attestation during the first six months. My second stop is in the Finance Advisory Team for the next six months. This is more about audit-related advice than classical auditing. Depending on your interests, a stay in the area of Governance & Assurance is possible within the scope of the trainee program as well. Many trainees then return to the Attestation Division for another six months to deepen their experience.
How does your workload look like in terms of hours that you put in?
When joining the big four you have to know that you will not be working in a 9 to 5 job. But the workload is not as intense as in an investment bank. During busy times (usually towards the end of a project) it can happen that you put in 12 hours a day. So far it once happened that I had to come in on the weekend as well. But generally you can compensate the accumulated overtime between projects. So basically this means: Most of the days I work more than other friends my age. But I also get to take more days off. I just returned from a spontaneous trip to Oslo. One of my assignments ended sooner than expected and I was given the chance to compensate some overtime that I had accumulated. So if you like travelling, this is one of the great advantages of the job!
What helps you to relax? Particularly during the stressful times of a project as you described above?
After a long day I usually get off the Subway one or two stops earlier. I then take an evening stroll back home. The atmosphere and the fresh air help me to relax and calm down. I like the city by night. It remains vibrant and exciting, but in a somewhat calm way.
Other than that: Netflix at home with my girlfriend or a nice dinner.
I try not to go out for a drink with my colleagues after long hours. It just doesn’t work for me to unwind.
With everything you know now, would you choose the same internship again? What has turned out to be different (in a positive or negative way) than you thought it would?
Yes and No. Yes because the exposure to clients and senior management is fantastic. The learning curve is very steep and most of my colleagues are cool. Having the big four on your CV is another big plus.
No because I might choose a smaller consulting boutique. The big four are mostly consulting large corporations. And in all honesty, as an Intern you don’t get to work on the parts that are the most exciting ones. The size of the projects also makes it difficult to gain a good overview or put your insights in relation to the big picture (because you simply do not get exposed to the big picture – too much time pressure). I have been assigned to projects with smaller clients as well and I gained much better insights there. So for a start a smaller firm with smaller clients might be more interesting.
What’s the difference between your company and the others from the big four?
Honestly speaking, I don’t think there is much of a difference. I know people working for other big four companies and what they tell me describes pretty much what I do as well. In the end, they are also competing for the same clients, so they need to have at least a very similar offer.
I was interviewing with two different companies, both from the big four. In the end I chose my current supplier because I felt that I got along better with the people that interviewed me. Your team plays a very crucial role regarding whether you will like your job or not. But be careful: Especially among the big four your team can change very quickly and you will regularly be assigned on projects with new and different people.
Something you could do to find out if the position is a good fit: Ask them what clients and projects they could assign you to. Ask them to tell you a bit about these assignments. This is a smart question to ask during the interview as it shows sincere interest and at the same time will give you valuable insight.
What has been your biggest failure so far in your current job or in general during your career?
When joining the big four you have to know: You will be doing mistakes! That is a consequence of the early exposure to large projects. However, everything you work on will be checked by at least one, often two managers before it is presented to clients. This means, your mistakes will (hopefully) be recognized by your managers, not by the client.
As a result, when joining one of the big four you have to be able to deal with very direct feedback. The feedback will mostly be about your mistakes. If everything is OK you don’t hear anything – mostly. This is just the way the work is organized.
How do you deal with this constant direct and often negative feedback?
Most of the time I don’t have a problem with direct feedback. It is just important to understand that this is part of the process and your personal growth. So I always try to see feedback as a chance for me to grow personally and professionally. I also think back to what I did not like in University: It often took several months until you received the first feedback through your mid-term exams. Now I receive feedback every day. I know where I stand, I know my performance and I have the chance to improve and grow every day.
What’s your biggest productivity hack?
- I meditate every morning. Just for 5 minutes. I started doing it because my girlfriend convinced me to. It took a while until I could feel a change. Now I notice that it helps me to focus on one particular task without having several other things on my mind. This increases productivity immensely. I use the headspace app for meditation.
- Every evening I finish work by going through my To-Do list. This way I make sure I did everything I had planned for the day and I already start organizing my next day. Do I have all the information I need in order to do my tasks for the next day? If not, I send a quick email to collect the information and hope that I already have the answer when I come in again the next morning.
Another great advantage of ending my day with the To-Do list: It helps me to shut down. I know that I did not forget anything and that I am organized and prepared for the next day.
What do your career plans for the next five years look like?
During my internship I had the chance to get to know a broad range of different industries. I so far found telecommunication very interesting. It is definitely hot again with so much about to happen. The consumer demands have changed drastically over the last few years. And now well established firms have to respond to that by restructuring their products.
I would like to focus more on this industry and sooner or later permanently move into it.
Thank you for the conversation Martin. It was thrilling to talk to talk to you. I look forward to staying in touch.