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Full Interview: Moving Across to Consulting with Duncan Lemieux


Duncan recently made a successful transition across to management consulting with just under two years’ experience outside of the industry. In this interview he shares his journey; the allure of the consulting sector; what preparation he undertook to move across; and the challenges he encountered. He offers valuable advice for those considering a similar path.

How did you come to find out about the management consulting industry?

Well, it started with an internship I had in university. I was working for the Senior VP of Student Affairs at NYU. He brought me in and said “Duncan, would you mind helping me with this project for a student engagement platform? It's very ad hoc. You will have creative liberty over how to go about this, but I want to understand whether this is going to be a good idea”.

I was 19 at the time. I had no idea that this is essentially what a management consultant or a strategy consultant does but looking back to about two years ago – when I decided to move on from my current role at the time – I was trying to think about what kind of work I had done in my life that I enjoyed the most. I came back to this time and thought “what kind of position would enable me to do that kind of thing.”

So that's really where my interest in consulting stemmed from. When I came to this idea, I started speaking to lots of management consultants to understand what their day-to-day was like, what they liked, what they disliked. My interest grew very quickly and fervidly from there.

What about the industry made you want to get involved?

I think it's quite commonplace in any job for your interviewer to say to you “this job is different day-to-day”, “you never know what you're going to get”, “you wear many different hats” etc. I haven’t always found this to be true.

In consulting your work truly never is the same. You might be working on the same kind of problem for two different clients, but those clients are going to be fundamentally different. Even if they're in the same industry, they have different audiences, different issues that they're facing etc. I really think that strategy consulting is one of the very few industries where your day-to-day is very different, and every project is entirely unique to the one that came before.

You were previously in the client services space before you made the move across to management consulting. What plans did you make to transition over?

I did a lot of prep work, to be honest.

I started by having conversations with people who were in my extended network. I didn't really know anybody directly who was a consultant, but I knew people whose siblings or friends were so I would reach out through them. I had around two dozen conversations over the course of the year with consultants in firms of all sizes – including Big 4, MBB and boutique consultancies – I got a feel for what it was like.

On top of that, I also joined UCL’s consulting club. I messaged one of the guys who runs it on LinkedIn and said “I know I didn't go to UCL, and I am no longer a student, but I'm really interested in getting into consulting. Would you mind if I joined anyway?” He asked his superiors and they said “Yes, you're only a year out of NYU and we allow students from other universities to join.”

We did a project over the course of two months in groups and delivered recommendations at the end of it via a presentation to a panel of consultants. That was my first real taste of what it was actually like to be a management consultant. I learned how to put together a slide deck; how to analyse the problem; which resources I should be using and how to interview people.

Through that club, I then learned about Highbridge Academy: a consulting boot camp which I later joined. I did two classes a week with them for several months. Everybody who was leading the workshops were ex-MBB. I also met a lot of other people who were aspiring consultants.

I took all these steps over the course of almost a year and a half before seriously applying to consulting roles.

How did you approach your job search for consulting roles?

I didn't feel like I had any particular sector expertise. However, I was working in the TMT team at my last company, so I had some exposure to TMT-centric projects. I thought that could be quite a good fit. Technology is also just something that I have a natural interest in. It made a lot more sense than going for something like healthcare – which I have no background or particular passion for. I think you need to be engaged with whatever kind of consulting you want to go into.

In terms of my actual search, I went about it the typical LinkedIn route: “jobs in London”, “management consulting”, “strategy consulting” etc. Then I reached out to you. I've worked with several recruitment firms in the past, but I so appreciated your responsiveness and being so on top of things.

I remember when you first told me about Horizon, I said “I'm not sure that will be the best fit for me because I don't have a huge amount of tech experience”. You said, “put that aside, do the interview and see what comes of it”. I am so grateful that I did – it's been amazing so far. Looking at the job description, that’s not something I would have ever applied for myself because I thought I would’ve needed way more expertise in technology.

You have now successfully landed a role within a consulting firm. In terms of the work itself, what have been the main challenges that you’ve faced so far?

Significant increase in workload for sure. You have to be quite a flexible person. I think that's just the nature of the job. For instance, most of our clients are US-based so timings vary. Sometimes they want late calls. If you're approaching a deliverable, you will regularly be working quite late. That's something that you need to understand going in.

That was an adjustment coming from my last job, which was quite structured in terms of hours. I almost never worked on weekends and rarely worked late into the night. Conversely, I think they also recognise how hard you work here and reward that. If the work is something that you enjoy doing, then you are just kind of happy to do it. I feel much more satisfaction knowing that I'm interested in the work I’m doing.

But that's definitely the biggest adjustment – which is industry standard in consulting.

On the other side of that, what part of consulting have you enjoyed the most?

People have such unique backgrounds. When I first started looking into consulting, I thought I wouldn't be able to get a job unless I had been bred and groomed for it – had consulting internships all throughout university or was coming out of an MBA programme. I thought it was going to be near impossible. When you actually get into consulting, you realise that everybody has vastly different backgrounds.

When you have an industry like that, there is so much that you can learn. You can pull a lot of different information out of people, and you learn different ways to think about things. I'm also lucky that my team is very diverse geographically. We've got somebody from the US, Denmark, Belgium, Austria and Poland. So that's something that I am also really enjoying. I suppose that's more unique to my firm.

If you had one piece of advice for someone considering making the transition across to consulting, what would it be?

I'll do you one better. I'll give you two;

  1. I think you have to do a lot of research beforehand to understand whether this is something that you actually want to do because a lot of people will lean on consulting as sort of catch-all. I think it has worked out well for me because I really knew what I was going into. Like I said, I did a lot of prep beforehand.
  2. I think the other thing that is important if you want to be successful in consulting is being able to balance being highly resilient to feedback with standing by your decisions. Clients can come back and say, “I hate this thing that you put together, please redo it”. Sometimes you just have to accept it, move on and redo it. Other times, you need to be able to have the conviction to stand behind your own decisions. If you really believe something has been done the right way, you need to be able to very clearly explain this to the relevant parties involved.

I think those two things are key in consulting.

- by John Barker

Posted by: Beament Leslie Thomas