Passion Versus Profession – Are Management Consulting and Music Production Really That Different?

As an aspiring management consultant who has also been working as a music producer for several years, composing, arranging, and producing songs for multiple artists, I get a lot of questions about this seemingly strange combination of interests. “If you love music so much, why don’t you do it as a full-time job?” “If you are really that passionate about consulting, shouldn’t you spend more of your free time reading about business trends instead of focusing on your hobby?”

Yes, at first glance the two areas seem very different: Management consulting is thought of as a highly rational and logical process while music is perceived to be purely creative and irrational; it should come from the heart. Consulting is about rigid analysis, solutions founded on facts and numbers, while music is founded on individual taste and perception.

Nevertheless, I don’t think there needs to be a conflict between passion and profession. In fact, most successful consultants I have met throughout the years are really passionate about things that have nothing to do with business – for many good reasons. Not only do hobbies function as a great outlet for work-related stress (and let’s not kid ourselves, a consulting career isn’t exactly stress-free), they also give you a different outlook on many problems you have to solve at work. Let me demonstrate this based on my own experience.

The similarities between consultants and music producers start with the reasons why they are hired in the first place. For consultants, it’s not that companies cannot think of any solutions to their problems themselves. It’s rather that they don’t have the time or personnel to work out solutions, since they have to keep everyday operations running; they don’t always have the necessary experience in the desired area or market; and most of all they need a fresh outside perspective to avoid thinking in familiar patterns.

Likewise, musicians usually know how to play their instruments and have great ideas, but they need producers to guarantee a quick and professional end result. They may not have the necessary equipment to record adequately; they may not have the necessary experience with the mixing process to make a song sound competitive relative to other commercial releases; and most of all they can benefit immensely from a fresh perspective and new ideas regarding arrangement, instrumentation, and effects.

When musicians arrive for a recording session, they usually have a good idea of what they want their song to sound like, but may leave with a very different result. It is also important to involve multiple people in the production process – most songs you hear on the radio have different people responsible for composition, performance, mixing, and mastering, which helps to spot mistakes and prevent what I call “creative bubbles” – when you get so used to thinking about a certain concept that you stop being open to other ideas.

Moreover, the way management consultants interact with their clients is similar to the way music producers interact with artists. Both require a certain degree of empathy and understanding for client-specific issues. At the beginning of each project, it is any consultant’s responsibility to understand the client’s problem, unique background, and boundaries concerning the project. For example, cutting research and development costs when the client’s reputation is based on innovative capabilities wouldn’t make sense in the long run, even if it seems to be the most efficient solution. Likewise, proposing a merger without understanding the two companies’ cultures first may not lead to desired results.

When music producers write or arrange songs for artists, it is just as important to gain a solid understanding of the artist’s musical style, personality, and image. Every sound or word used portrays the artist in a certain way and can make or break a record. The longer you work with someone, the better you get to know them and the better you become at catering to their specific needs. That’s also why many large corporations have been working with the same consulting firm for several years.

Last but not least, good management consultants are just like good musicians because they don’t use standard solutions. Of course, they know what generally works based on experience and data, but they can also tailor successful concepts to the client’s unique situation. While it will be obvious to most readers that consultancies may use statistical tools in order to determine so-called “industry recipes”, similar concepts apply to the music industry. The famous “Four Chord Song” by the Australian comedy group Axis of Awesome, for instance, shows how many popular hits throughout the years have used the same four chords – and while this chord progression seems to be a proven formula, the songs don’t sound the same when listened to as individual tracks. The key is to adjust a successful concept so it fits the singer’s voice, genre, and instrumentation. Similarly, consultants need to adjust business recipes so that they match the client’s core competencies, industry, and organisational structure as well as culture.

It seems as if management consulting and music production aren’t really that different after all and I can guarantee you that a similar logic apply to your passion and profession. You shouldn’t be discouraged to do what you love just because it doesn’t necessarily fit into your job’s stereotype. Actually, spending time on your hobbies can make you better at your job – there’s always much to learn.

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

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Making The Most Out Of A Networking Event at University

If you are going to university, it is likely that you will attend a corporate networking event at some point. Whether you want to form connections with your dream employer, find out about a specific company or industry, or simply go because that’s what all of your friends seem to be doing, these events can be useful, but also somewhat overwhelming. What do people actually do at these events? Who should I talk to and what should I talk about? In this article, I will provide you with some practical advice based on my personal experience attending and organising countless corporate recruitment events at Oxford University.

There are different types of corporate events that involve networking, such as company presentations, workshops, and dinner or drinks events. While some events may have a formal part in the beginning or in between, the networking more or less always looks the same – you grab a drink or a bite to eat, gather around some employees, and try to engage in a conversation. After a while you move on and try to get to know another person. Some people despise this sort of event – after all, it’s only meaningless small talk, isn’t it? Actually, it doesn’t have to be. If you know what you are doing, you can benefit from attending such events and may even find them enjoyable.

First of all, you need to decide what you want to get out of the event. For specific questions concerning your application, it is often useful to talk to the recruitment team. They will not only answer your questions, but may even give you exclusive tips on how to stand out as an applicant. However, often the answers you receive may not be any different from the material presented on the company’s website – so why waste your time at the networking event if you can read through the FAQ much faster?

If you have already browsed the careers website and think that you know most basic facts about the firm as well as the recruitment process, I would advise you to talk to some of the employees in the area you are interested in. They can give you what no amount of research can: a personal narrative. Find out what they personally value about the company’s culture. That way, you can understand the work atmosphere better and simultaneously get a perfect guideline for your cover letter – after all, identifying with the corporate culture as presented by employees is a great reason to choose this firm over any other. Ask company representatives about their day-to-day work and their favourite (or least favourite) projects. Getting an impression of what the work at this firm is like will help you decide whether you want to work there, but it also makes for a good conversation starter if you would like to dig deeper. The more in-depth the conversation becomes, the more memorable it will be for the employee – which only has advantages for you. Sending a follow-up email asking another question about your conversation is also a good idea to make yourself noticed.

You have to keep in mind though: quality is better than quantity. Contrary to popular belief, a networking event is not a competition to see who can collect the most business cards. Having an interesting conversation with one employee followed by an email or LinkedIn exchange is worth much more than a brief chat with ten employees, consisting only of standard questions. Personally, I have stayed in touch with several people I met at university networking events and received useful advice on my applications as well as personal recommendations that got me to the interview stage.

Likewise, networking events can also help you meet fellow students with similar interests. Don’t forget about this aspect – these people may well help you prepare for interviews or tell you about their experience with recruitment processes that you have not gone through yet. After all, a networking event is supposed to be useful for everyone attending. So don’t be nervous – as long as you know what you want to get out of it, it will definitely help you progress your career in one way or another.

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

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5 Steps To Securing a Consulting Internship

Few internship schemes are as competitive as those offered by top management consulting firms – for many good reasons. Instead of making coffee, you will work on challenging projects as part of a team. Your salary will be more than decent. And even if you find out that consulting is not for you, the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired will be highly appreciated by any employer around the world. To get an internship though, it is important to know what to expect from the application process and crucial to prepare before it’s too late.

Here are 5 steps that will help you secure your dream internship:

1. Get to know the firms you’re applying to

At first glance, a lot of consulting firms seem similar and they all promise to solve their clients’ business problems in the most innovative manner. Once you do your research though, you should be able to figure out what sets them apart from one another. Who are their clients? Do they serve specific industries or do they have functional expertise in certain areas? Do they work on the client site or from the home office?

More importantly, however, you should get to know people at each firm. Most consultancies hold company presentations, networking events, or workshops for students at target universities, which enable you to get to know them better. If they don’t, you can try to contact alumni from your school or university who now work in consulting and arrange a phone call with them. Nothing tells you more about a firm than meeting the people who work there – the notion of a ‘company culture’ may sound like a cliché at first, but it genuinely provides insight. If you don’t like the people at the firm, will you really be able to spend long days working with them?

2. Spend some time perfecting your CV and cover letter

Consultants and recruiters often spend no more than a few seconds looking at your application when shortlisting interview candidates. To stand out among other applicants, you should not just meet most of the screening criteria – such as a good academic track record, relevant work experience, extracurricular activities and interesting hobbies – but should also show that you know the firm you’re applying to. Research what each firm is looking for in a candidate and adjust your CV and cover letter to match that profile. Think about why the firm you’re applying to attracts you and resort to the conversations you’ve had with its employees if appropriate.

3. Practice aptitude tests before taking them

In many countries you will have to take aptitude tests after you’ve sent in your application, either online or as part of an assessment centre. If you are naturally good at these numerical, verbal, and logical reasoning tests, don’t worry too much about it. If you’re not as confident though, then it should definitely not stop you from getting your internship! There are plenty of free practice tests around, so make good use of the resources available to you and be sure to analyse the correct answers. Soon you will discover certain patterns and learn what to look out for.

4. Get comfortable with case studies and develop your own style

Case studies are business problems you have to solve with the help of your interviewer and they are arguably the most difficult part of the application process. They involve coming up with a structure, calculating relevant business figures, and developing recommendations for a hypothetical client. Given there are hundreds of websites out there explaining how case studies work and how to approach them, I will not go into any details here. I will, however, stress the importance of practising them with others: Reading a case at home and doing it under time pressure with another person staring at you while you calculate large numbers in your head are two completely different things. Try to find other aspiring consultants in your area and set up meetings with them. If you can’t find anyone, use websites such as PrepLounge to find case study partners and start practicing at least a few weeks before your first interview. While you should definitely not overdo it – ultimately, your interviewers want to see how you think and not how well you can memorise solutions that may not even fit the case given – practicing case studies will help you develop your own way of structuring the problem and working towards the solution. Using your own methods instead of blindly following common frameworks will definitely help you stand out among other applicants.

5. Think about your past achievements and prepare for tough competency questions

Case studies only make up about half of each interview. The other half will be spent talking about your CV, your skills, and your attitudes towards topics such as teamwork and leadership. Of course, this part of the interview can vary significantly depending on your interviewers as well as your individual story, but it is worth thinking about some potential questions beforehand. Make a list of skills your potential employer may be looking for and write down one or two examples from your past where you have showcased each skill. Also think about problems you’ve had to face during past ventures, why they occurred, and how such situations could be solved. It is likely that your interviewer will drill far beyond the surface, so be prepared to discuss each statement you make in great depth.

If you’ve followed all of these steps, there’s only one more thing you can do to get your dream internship – show up on time, be confident, and rock your interviews. Good luck!

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

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How to get a head start as a first-year student

Every now and then, I meet students in their final year at university who are worried about applying for graduate jobs in consulting. “It seems like a great job – but I just don’t think my CV is good enough” is something I have heard many times.

True, graduate schemes at top firms are very competitive, and while some people are able to succeed without any previous relevant experience, it is useful to get a head start as early as possible. Likewise, if you are in the lucky position to know you want to go into consulting during your first year at university (or even your final year at school), it may seem difficult to get a grip on what exactly you can do now to stand out later.

The following list of options should serve as a rough guide, but keep in mind that there is no ‘right way’ and you may find that other activities are a much better fit for you. The options are mainly targeted at undergraduate students in the United Kingdom, but could also serve as inspiration for students from all over the world.

Consulting Insight Programmes

Some firms, such as McKinsey, BCG, and Oliver Wyman (among others), offer short insight programmes to give you some idea what consulting is all about. These programmes are probably the best way to find out whether you are interested in applying for summer internships after your penultimate year or graduate roles, while also providing you with a serious career advantage.

Not only is having a big brand name on your CV a valuable gain, you will also meet people from all over the organization who can give you advice and help you get a summer internship the year after. Insight programmes usually take place in the spring, with deadlines in December or January.

Investment Banking Spring Weeks

Even if you don’t want to go into investment banking, doing a spring week will help you gain some relevant experience and might give you an edge over your competitors when it comes to consulting internships or jobs. The good news is that almost every investment bank offers a spring week or insight programme, which means that there are more spaces available than for the consulting insight days. Nevertheless, these programmes are still highly sought after and require a basic understanding of finance.

In addition to upgrading your CV with a major brand name, doing a spring week can highlight your interest in business-related topics. As the name suggests, most spring weeks take place in the spring of your first year (although some banks also offer summer insight programmes) and require an early application, given that the majority investment banks recruit on a rolling basis. Applications usually open in August or September and close in December or January.

Extracurricular Commitment

Another way to stand out is through extracurricular activities. For example, you could join a student society, take on a part-time job (such as a campus ambassador role for a large company), or enter a business-related competition.

While you should obviously enjoy what you are doing, it is also important that your commitment allows you to showcase transferable skills like teamwork, leadership, analytical thinking, and communication. In the end, anything that requires you to develop or improve those skills will increase your value as a potential employee and can serve as a great topic of conversation.

Networking events

Alright, if you are in your first year at university, you definitely won’t need to spend every evening at a different networking event. However, it may be useful to go to one or two on-campus events to find out what they are like. That way, when it comes to the point at which you will be applying for internships or graduate roles, you will be much more confident and better at holding interesting conversations and connecting with representatives of your dream firm.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many ways into consulting. None of the paths listed in this article can guarantee you a job, and simultaneously, you might succeed without any of them if you have a great skill set and an interesting story to tell. But if you are keen to get started to build your profile as early as possible, hopefully this list is of help.

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

(Image Source: Pexels)