The Case for Boston Consulting

The firm is looking for high-quality generalists willing to work a 50 to 60 hour week, says the manager of associate recruiting

As Vice-President and Director of Boston Consulting Group, Paige Price has been managing their North American associate recruiting for the last two years. To land a job at BCG, Price says you had better be ready for a slew of case interviews.

A 1992 graduate of Stanford University, Price joined BCG out of college as an associate and has worked her way up to partner level. In 1996, she earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, then rejoined BCG at the analyst level. She recently spoke with BusinessWeek Online reporter Jeffrey Gangemi. Here's an edited transcript of their conversation:

Which schools do you target for undergraduate recruiting?

We do on-campus recruiting at about 20 to 30 schools. We target the majority of the Ivy League schools, as well as other top schools that are local to one of our offices, such as Northwestern University and the University of Chicago for the Chicago office.

Although we target certain schools, we accept applications from others and figure out ways to accommodate them. We're trying to think of creative ways to approach other institutions, like the small private schools in New England. One idea is to host an open event in Boston, but we're still experimenting with that.

When do you start recruiting for summer internships?

In January, we start recruiting college juniors for summer internships. We don't have an internship program for sophomores. We go on campus, do presentations, interview students, and host events. Then, we'll make offers. The internships are compensated on a similar level to other prestigious internships.

What's the internship like?

We put our interns on cases -- real problems with client work. There's no industry specificity, so the work someone does is dependent on the client's current situation. Interns typically do some kind of market research, analysis, and problem-solving. At BCG, you get hired as a generalist and then specialize much later in your career.

Do you hire any specific undergraduate majors?

No. We're not looking for any specific majors, but we are looking for academic excellence: someone who has done well within his or her chosen field of study. We evaluate every part of an application, and as a rule, we are looking for high GPA and SAT scores. We like to see leadership, whether within a school organization or outside of school. We look at the whole picture, however, so no one thing will knock you out of contention.

What are the interviews like, and what are you looking for?

All our interviews are case-based. We spend half the time on a case, and the other half is more behavioral. When they come to the office, students should wear business attire. We're looking for good interpersonal and communication skills and an individual fit.

Does the interview process differ for full-time and internship hires?

The process is similar. For both summer and full-time, there are typically two sets of interviews. The first round is typically on campus, where candidates do two interviews of about 30 to 40 minutes in the same day. If they're brought back for a decision round, we fly candidates to the office to which they're applying. There, they'll undergo three more interviews.

We take our internship program seriously, because it's a feeder for full-time hires. Last year, over 90% of interns got full-time offers. I'm not sure how many accepted, but it was an extremely high percentage.

Where do you place most of your interns?

We have the internship programs in just about all of our main offices -- Boston, New York, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Miami, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Toronto, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Do you provide any training for incoming associates?

We provide extensive training for the first two years. For example, people need to know Microsoft Excel, but they don't need to know it coming in, because we provide lots of training on it. From communications coaching to how to do different analytical evaluations to presentation skills and slide-writing, we have a whole menu of different trainings.

How would you describe the culture at BCG?

We were recently ranked as one of the best places to work. There are some consulting firms with long hours and competitive environments. We don't fit that mold. Since we hire more MBAs than undergraduates, there's always a spot for every associate to go to business school or be promoted, which is a really attractive part of the program.

In terms of hours, I always tell people to expect that they'll be working 50 to 60 hours per week on average, with occasional spikes that go above that. It's a job that's closer to a school schedule, because you'll have presentations that require lots of preparation. It's not a vacation and it's not nine to five, but you can have a life outside of work.

We serve our clients to the best of our abilities, but we staff teams adequately and invest enough in people, so that we aren't working 100 hours a week. We care about our culture and our people, because our people are really our assets.

Do you hire international students?

We don't interview people from non-U.S. schools for North American positions. However, our European and Asian offices do hire students from schools in those regions. For international students at U.S. schools, we will help them with visas. If they want to stay in the U.S., we'll make it work.

What are the most common mistakes that candidates make in the interview process?

In the case part of the interview, sometimes candidates don't listen well, and they jump to conclusions. That can be problematic. When they're trying to solve the problem, candidates should test their assumptions to make sure they're true. In other words, don't make assumptions. Ask. Although the case can be a difficult part of the interview process, people who enjoy the cases normally enjoy the job.