You cannot focus. Everyone is talking. Their prying voices rise to a cacophony:
“What are you doing after graduation?”
“Where do you want to work?”
“What is your GPA?”
And then comes the moment when you are alone with yourself, and the question mercilessly intrudes on your thoughts: “What do I want?” The truth stares you in the face. You don’t know. So, what now?
A consultant would say, “Great question.”
Going into my final year as a finance and business honors student at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) and despite several wonderful internships, I had no clue what I wanted to pursue after graduation. The endless permutations of career and location opportunities crashed on my thoughts like a tidal wave. It was difficult to focus my search because I felt overwhelmed to the point of inaction by the gravity of the decision. Lost, I reached out to a trusted mentor for help.
He asked, “What is your vision for your life?”
I was dumbfounded. What was a life vision? How did that relate to recruiting? He went on to explain, “Your vision for the next five years, 10 years, and your life should shape this decision. Every day, what will you do to aid in the pursuit of your vision? You do not need an immediate answer. Take some time and think about it.”
Thinking about my life vision proved a difficult endeavor. Working hard for accolades in school functioned as an excuse for lack of vision. When I performed well in school, I felt like a success, which was how I measured myself. My excuse would soon dissipate, and I knew prolonging my decision with additional schooling would only delay answering this vital question.
I did not make progress toward my vision until I asked myself, “When do I feel happiest?” The answer came readily and naturally—I feel happiest when I am helping others. Great. Now, how can I turn “helping others” into a vision? I dreamed of a life in the service of others. I saw myself using my expertise and skills to serve others.
I turned my thoughts to recruiting. What career path would allow me to develop expertise and skills while helping others? As of August, my post-graduation plans under consideration included: investment banking, corporate finance, management consulting, or law school (on frustrating days, the list included joining a traveling circus). One option that aligned most closely with my vision clearly stood out: management consulting.
Thanks to classmates with consulting internships, I knew management consulting involved working with clients to solve their toughest business problems. The job honed skills in project management, critical thinking, writing, presenting, technology, research, and communication. It required both quantitative and qualitative prowess coupled with high emotional intelligence.
Out of all my options, management consulting appealed to me because my work would include helping people with real problems while gaining business skills that would prove useful in a wide range of service-focused tracks. This option would require persevering through an exhausting gauntlet to break into the highly competitive field of management consulting—without any consulting internship experience.
The universe of management consulting is comprised of companies with widely varying size, prestige, and expertise. Competition among the business, engineering, and liberal arts students vying for the limited number of positions was fierce. It was mid-August—I had no idea how to answer a case interview question, and I knew my peers had been practicing for months. Knowing there was no better time to start, I gritted my teeth, ordered a copy of Victor Cheng’s Case Interview Secrets, and got to work. I listened to recordings of case interviews while brushing my teeth and walking to class (not at the same time).
Despite my preparations, my first interview was a complete disaster. In my nervousness, I forgot the answer to 8 + 5. I quickly realized there was no substitution for real case interview practice. I coerced my friends to read case interview scripts while acting like discerning consultants so I could practice responding aloud under pressure. After more interviews and more practice, I could develop a hypothesis and audibly walk through a case interview with confidence.
My case interviews morphed from sweaty disasters into second-round invitations, and I unexpectedly found myself faced with a new quandary—where did I want to work? What type of people did I want to work with? What locale did I find appealing? How much was I willing to travel? Going back to my mentor, I asked, “Where should I work?”
He asked, “What are your pillars?”
Again, I found myself mute. Again, he explained, “Atop your foundation exist pillars. These pillars embody your values. You can always depend on your pillars during tough times. They are your source of strength, and they support both you and those around you. The company you work for should align with your core values.”
My thoughts gushed with reminiscences of my hardest and darkest times. What got me through? First and foremost, I knew my community lifted my spirit when I lacked strength. My friends, family, and church gave me unconditional love when I had no love for myself. Without my community, I felt lost and broken. With my community, I thrived. Then, an epiphany struck—my community provided stability in my life. While I craved and often sought adventure and instability, I knew I reached my potential when my life centered around steady people and thoughtful actions. Community and stability—the pillars to my life’s foundation. My community and stability lived in Houston, so I would consult in Houston.
Management consulting companies foster distinct cultures, which was evident throughout my interviews and recruiting activities. At recruiting events, it was apparent what each company valued. Some events felt one degree away from a fraternity party. Others seemed like secret society events with strict pedigree requirements. Using avenues such as company websites, Glassdoor.com, and Facebook, I learned about each company’s expertise and working environment. Numerous reviews described entry-level positions as sacrificing two years of precious youth for a “great exit opportunity.” I refused to apply to companies due to outdated websites or poor Glassdoor reviews such as, “Toxic environment… partners are downright abusive.”
And then there was Credera. I found Credera through the UT Austin business school recruiting tool. The website looked great, the Glassdoor reviews were stellar, and I gravitated toward the company’s technology expertise due to my prior internships in the technology industry. At the UT Austin fall career fair, unlike any other company at the event, Credera used the opportunity as a first-round interview. After a very authentic and warm conversation with a senior consultant, I was invited to speak with Credera’s CEO, Rob Borrego, who happened to be sitting in the Credera booth. Rob took 15 seconds to look through my resume and asked, “You could be anywhere at this career fair, why are you here talking to me?” The honest question felt like a breath of fresh air in the room of nervous and sweaty job seekers. I boldly replied, “I will do management consulting because I want to gain the skills and expertise to help others. I found your company, and I want to learn more about it.” This introduction led to a 30-minute conversation where I not only learned, but felt Credera’s core values: professionalism, excellence, integrity, and humility. To my delight, I learned that Credera strove to staff consultants on local projects.
Rob then asked me, “If I offered you a job right now, would you take it?” Remembering my vision and my pillars, I responded, “Yes, if I can work in Houston.” Rob smiled, and asked, “Why?” Filled with passion, I replied, “Because I want to be a management consultant in Houston. I feel sure in that. You offered everything that aligns with my vision and my pillars. Of course I would accept.” Now grinning ear to ear, Rob invited me to dinner. During dinner, an on-campus interview, and an interview weekend at the Dallas headquarters, I met dozens of Credera team members from consultants to partners. Every step of the process felt right—it seemed almost too good to be true. However, every employee I met confirmed Credera’s values in their own unique story. I felt assured that my life at Credera would align with my vision and embody my pillars.
Four months after starting at Credera, I completed my first project with a Houston-based Fortune 200 company. I feel passion and joy in my pursuits both at work and at home. Every day I am serving my vision, and I truly feel deep satisfaction in all aspects of my life. This translates into a mentality of thankfulness. I am thankful that I fought resistance during the recruiting process. Instead of fixating on other’s opinions or my internal fears, I developed the focus to pursue my vision and my pillars. In consequence, my days as a management consultant in Houston are directed by purpose and filled with thankfulness.
To all college students nearing graduation, I encourage you to seek your vision and pillars in your post-graduation plans. The world outside of school, the “real world,” is your life. What goals, what experiences, what journey will serve your vision? Will you surround yourself with people who value your pillars?
We often assume that we must follow a certain path because it is what our circle tells us is “right”. It is so important to consciously bring awareness and thought to the path we truly want in life. We can eliminate the stress of making decisions, like choosing a career, by bringing purpose to our thoughts and actions. Find focus in the storm of outside voices and internal doubt—your vision and pillars are questions worth answering.