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‘Internship’ seems to be the ubiquitous buzz word amongst undergraduate communities, no longer contained within the somewhat more daunting world of university finalists. It’s now hardly surprising to come across first year students seeking work experience for the summer. In fact, many companies only consider students eligible for internships if they have one more year of university remaining, automatically rejecting the thousands of graduates that descend upon the UK job market every year. With youth unemployment at an all time high, internships are increasingly more of a necessity than an advantage; the competition for placements is as fierce now as the standard first-job hunt was perhaps five years ago. So are internships still worth their weight?

It is still true that internships are a good way to transition from a student environment to a professional working one and certainly offer valuable insights into business operations or a particular industry. In addition, an intern can gain new contacts, have a great selling point for their CV and could potentially leave with an offer for a full-time, post-graduate position. They might even find themselves a mentor, learn how to network effectively and leave with tangible accomplishments that prove their contribution to the host organisation.

Interest in internships, however, has reached unprecedented levels. With more graduates striving to enter the UK work force every year, budget cuts and new legislations regarding unpaid internships, opportunities are increasingly limited. Students find themselves embarking on a recruitment process almost identical to that for first-time permanent positions. The Guardian reported in November 2011 that, so far gone are the days when interns were reimbursed for lunch and travel, companies are now charging students for their months’ experience. It also revealed that selling internships had become a business in itself; the Tories last year auctioned off internships at City hedge funds. This in turn was seen as harmful to social mobility since ambitious students from poorer backgrounds could not afford to buy their way onto the career ladder.

Is it really reasonable for employees to make unpaid work experience during or after university a prerequisite for future employees? With escalating debts and living costs, many students use the summer and Christmas holidays for paid work that has no direct bearing on their future careers. In fact, the vast majority of students won’t have figured out the path of their professional life by the age of 20, and so hold off on applying until they have a better idea of what they might do. That can be a risky gamble in itself; once you’ve missed the internship boat, it’s harder to climb aboard once you graduate. One might think that leaves the option of graduate schemes. Not necessarily so. Big employers that offer the best grad schemes will often require prior experience as well as the usual 2.1 degree from a good university. For those who revert back to grad schemes a few years out of university could find that their irrelevant experience can be held against them for not showing the right kind of ‘commitment’ and ‘enthusiasm’.

Internships used to be a great way to research a potential profession or to try your hand at something new. But now the emphasis seems to be on ‘what prior experience do you have?’ Where should companies draw the line? How early are students now expected to start considering their careers? How will this coupled with the current economic climate shape the future of internships and their merits?

‘Sweatworking’; are you fit enough?

I read in this week’s Independent on Sunday that there is a new craze sweeping America and now heading to the UK – ‘sweatworking’ – networking whilst working out!

Apparently business people are now taking their clients to the gym instead of lunch and literally sweating out the details of their contracts.

So, if your New Year resolution is to get fit, is this such a bad idea?

Whilst I appreciate gyms aren’t for everyone, Fitness First is soon to launch a structured business breakfast networking meeting at which people will have the chance to meet and greet one another, attend a spin class, and network at the juice bar. If this proves successful I suspect others will follow.

I for one would love to try it. Let’s face it, most of us battle to incorporate more exercise in to our weekly routine and we all feel the guilt when we over-indulge at the traditional ‘boozy lunch’.

To me ‘sweatworking’ offers a healthy alternative and an opportunity to engage with people on another level.

So my question to you as you read this is, ‘sweatworking: are you fit enough?’ If any of the BLT contacts want to try it, let’s give it a go, it could be a new craze for our monthly breakfast seminar!

Three Cheers for Chartered Secretaries!

As always this year’s ICSA Awards Ceremony was one to be remembered and we were pleased to be able to support this key industry event by sponsoring the ‘One to Watch’ award and hosting a table of fabulous guests; a big thank you to everyone who joined us!

We feel passionately about recognizing the hard work, enthusiasm and commitment of all those operating within or in support of our niche profession and would like to say well done to all of the nominees and award winners, with particular congratulations to Michelle Vassall, Chartered Secretary at Sport England for her success this year and for winning our award!


Caroline Evans proudly presents the CSS award to Michelle here, first published in the Chartered Secretary magazine January 2012 edition

Festive Joke – Management Consultants

A shepherd was herding his flock in a remote pasture when suddenly a brand-new BMW roared over a hill towards him. The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leaned out the window and asked the shepherd, “If I tell you exactly how many sheep you have in your flock, will you give me one?”

The shepherd looked at the man, then looked at his peacefully grazing flock and calmly answered, “Sure.”

The visitor parked his car, whipped out an iPad, surfed to a NASA page where he called up a GPS satellite navigation system, scanned the area, downloaded to a database, and populated an Excel spreadsheet with complex formula. He sent an email on his Blackberry and, after a few seconds, received a response. Finally, he printed out a report on his hi-tech, portable printer then turns to the shepherd and said, “You have exactly 1586 sheep.”

“That is correct; take one of the sheep.” said the shepherd. He watches the young man select one of the animals and bundle it into his car.

Then the shepherd says: ” If I can tell you exactly what your business is, will you give me back my sheep?”

“OK, why not.” answered the young man.

“Clearly, you are a management consultant.” said the shepherd.

“That’s correct,” says the young man, “but how did you guess that?”

“No guessing required.” answers the shepherd. “You turned up here although nobody called you. You want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked, and you don’t know anything about my business. Now give me back my dog.”

The sector in 2012: how to apply, where to find the jobs, and what you’re letting yourself in for….

Management consultancy and investment banking are the two top career choices for business school graduates. Join a consulting firm and you can become comfortably off: choose investment banking and you’ll be obscenely rich. But it’s about more than the money, isn’t it? Isn’t it?

My contention is that consultancy is the better choice. In the course of your time as a consultant you’ll see a wide variety of businesses across a wide variety of sectors, work alongside a wide variety of skilled professionals on a wide variety of problems….and be able to take all that experience off into the real world when you finally decide to get a proper job (typically after 3-5 years as a consultant, for reasons I’ll explain later.)

The UK consulting industry is recovering after three awful years. Firms are hiring again, but the competition is fierce. So the first thing you need to do is to polish up your CV. You need to stand out from everybody else in your class who’ll be applying. Any application, whether by post of email, must be tailored for the specific opportunity. And a cover note needs to highlight: what you’re good at, what you can bring to the firm, and how they’ll benefit from hiring you.

If you’re hoping to join a strategy house (McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain are the ‘holy trinity’ of the top tier firms), get on to their websites right now. The closing dates for applications are generally about a year in advance of start dates, so you need to apply early. (Hint, if you’ve missed the deadline, still apply. Other applicants may drop out/choose investment banking instead, and you might get lucky…)

Most other firms, however, recruit on an as-needed basis. Check out their websites for current vacancies. Remember, these requirements are listed around 4-6 months before the new recruits are expected to start, so there’s no point in applying too early.

As well as a consultancy firm’s own website, look for advertisements posted on job boards (eg, and trawl around social media (YouTube, Facebook etc) for other recruitment announcements.

But don’t just wait for an opportunity to be advertised. Be proactive. Find people you know (friends, alumni) who are working in consulting firms and ask them to put your CV in front of a hiring manager. (Almost all organizations encourage their staff to do this now).
Scour the business pages of quality newspapers for comment from consulting firms (journalists frequently solicit quotes from consulting industry figures for analysis pieces on issues of the day). Make that the reason for introducing yourself to them. (“I saw your comment in the FT about supply chain disruption and…… By the way, I’m finishing my MBA shortly with a view to becoming a supply chain and logistics consultant, and I wondered if you could introduce me to….”)

Don’t just target well known consultancies. Although a big consulting name on your CV will resonate widely when you move out into industry, a small consultancy which specializes in the sector in which you intend to make your long-term career can be just as valuable. (Hint: think about your exit before you even enter a consulting firm. Say you plan a long-term career in the pharmaceutical industry: why not seek out the niche firms who consult in this sector?) There are many good reasons why a consulting career with a boutique (ie small) firm makes sense: you’ll be exposed to the problems that keep that industry’s CEOs awake at night, you’ll learn at the shoulder of a director or partner of a boutique consultancy (rather than just a senior consultant or manager at a large consultancy), and you’ll have more dealings with the CEOs of the companies you’ll want to join when you eventually leave consulting.

If your course requires an internship or summer project, why not find a placement in a consulting firm? Even a few weeks in consulting will demonstrate you know what consulting is like. And 70% of interns are offered a permanent job at the end of a placement.

Be realistic: not everyone can become a strategy consultant. Most business school graduates who go into consulting will join a mainstream consulting firm (eg Accenture, Deloitte) and will be hired not just for their intellectual horsepower but also for their pre-business school experience. So if you have a background in the insurance sector, say, then look for opportunities in the financial services team at a consultancy. Or if you’ve been as software engineer, try to position yourself in IT advisory.
And don’t get hung up on rank. Unless you are nationally known speaker in your field, you’ll join at the standard entry level….even if you’ve been a senior vice-president managing scores of staff and managing a budget of tens of millions. You’ll need to go through consultancy boot camp just like everyone else.

Salary? Again, you’ll have to take the ‘going rate’. It’s currently around £60,000 in the UK. That’s base salary: expect a bonus (but don’t rely on it to pay the bills) of 15%, a pension contribution and local market ‘big company’ benefits such as private healthcare and life insurance. Holidays: around 25 days or your local market average. And if you’re good, and you last that long, you’ll double your base salary in around 4 years.

So…why do I think you won’t last that long? It’s the baggage that comes with consultancy which makes consultants leave after 3-5 years. Work life balance? It’s all work, and no life.
Expect to spend around 70% of your working year away from home. (Some consultancies will ask you to sign an agreement to spend 100% away.) That means three nights in a hotel and four days on the client site – which might be five hours journey time from home. The working week averages 50 hours, and a stretch of 70 hours a week to bring a project in on time is not uncommon. Think of the impact that has on your personal life….and you’ll understand why I think you’ll last 3-5 years before you move on.
Still want to go into consulting? Good. I think it’s the best possible choice for consolidating your business school education. And just look where former consultants end up: UK Foreign Secretary (William Hague); former HSBC Chairman (Stephen Green); Enron CEO (Jeff Skilling)…ok, maybe not that last one.

Whatever you choose – investment banking, setting up your own business, or consultancy – study hard, enjoy your time at business school, and good luck!

Copyright Don Leslie 2011

About the Author: Don Leslie is a recruiter at management consultancy recruiters BLT. That’s his day job. What he really enjoys doing is evangelising for the consulting industry. You can contact him at BLT via

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