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  • Writer's pictureSam Weeks

From MBB to INSEAD MBA: How this consultant stood out from the crowd

Updated: Feb 1

In MBA speak, MBB stands for the three goliaths of the management consulting world: McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company. This distinguished trio places as much value on an MBA qualification as pretty much any other industry. This means that lots of applicants go from consulting to MBA programs, and vice versa. I’ve even heard HR managers refer to MBA programs as “outsourced consultant training”. However, this also means that consulting applicants face the most competition of any professional group.

Take Joao, for example.

With his MBB experience, he had a shot at any top business school. He worked as a Junior Strategy Consulting Associate at an MBB consultancy, and had previously earned a Master’s in Strategic Management. But he fell squarely into this overcrowded, competitive consultant bucket.

Besides the fact that management and strategy consultants make up such a large portion of MBA applicants, the other challenge is that their hectic roles mean they often don’t have time for impactful extracurriculars, severely denting their MBA application profiles.

But not Joao. Despite working 70+ hour weeks, he still made time for impactful extracurriculars, which demonstrated his leadership abilities. Now he’s in INSEAD’s Class of 2024 (January intake) and is exploring new frontiers at their Singapore campus.

I sat down with him for a brief chat on his new journey as an INSEAD student in the Lion City. We also reflected on what set him apart as an MBA applicant, how his MBB experience shaped his goals, and what’s next for him.

Why an MBA?

Joao already had experience at an MBB consulting firm, a Private Equity/VC firm, and a budding entrepreneurial venture. So why an MBA?

“[To progress] in big companies such as MBB, it’s all about improving your personal skills and areas, either in terms of leadership, networking, or working in a diverse group”.

Joao hit the nail on the head - it’s all about personal development.

In MBB firms, progressing through the ranks is an intense process. Junior consultants are given more responsibility than peers at other firms. Only those who actively build on their skill-set to grow as leaders and communicators make it past their first 2 years. The rigorous on-the-job training programs and performance reviews ensure that MBBs retain the cream of the crop.

An MBA can turbo-charge this development, positioning MBB consultants for an Engagement Manager level role.

For Joao, identifying what he needed from his INSEAD MBA to get to the next level in his role was important. His main goal is to improve his leadership and people skills. He also aims to explore specialisations to gather niche and useful knowledge that can give him the credentials for a leadership role.

What was his ‘It Factor’?

Joao’s resume is impressive. One of his projects is even used as a case study in training new employees at his firm. But that was not what his ‘It factor’ was. Most MBB applicants have similar neat projects to point to, so the challenge for applicants is to go beyond this and stand out.

So when applying to INSEAD we focused on Joao’s motivation. It wasn’t as much about what he enjoyed about management consulting (because they already know about consultants’ love of problem-solving), but more about deeply examining the value of an MBA for him. He ensured that his profile matched the school’s values and demonstrated his potential to make the impact they seek from their cohort.

For example, multiculturalism is important to INSEAD. Joao comes from Portugal (an underrepresented demographic), speaks 4 languages, has worked in 2 European cities, and has collaborated with students and professionals from over 20 different countries.

Second, as I mentioned earlier, it’s uncommon for MBB consultants to pursue extracurriculars or personal projects given the long hours in the office and travelling. But Joao still managed to make time to volunteer at a food bank to give back to his community, which sparked a passion for tackling food security.

Then, when he had the option for a secondment at his job, he chose to follow this passion, showing autonomy, drive, and an entrepreneurial spirit. He launched a startup to provide affordable, high-quality meals to businesses without kitchens so they could remain open during the pandemic, saving hundreds of jobs. One option for him now is to scale this venture to reach thousands more customers in regions where food accessibility is a challenge.

Harsh also received an admit for INSEAD. He's an Indian Male engineer, which poses a different challenge! I sat down to discuss how he got admitted to INSEAD in this interview.

How’s life at INSEAD? What’s next?

“It’s been a life-changing experience for me”, smiles Joao as I try not to punch the air with joy.

INSEAD has a great MBB pedigree: 26% of the school’s student body was placed into MBBs in 2020.

Plus, the school is known for its global campuses and multicultural cohort. Joao is surprised at all the connections he’s making, the diverse people he’s encountering, and the opportunities that he has in Singapore and beyond. He finds that he has a new perspective on things, both professionally and personally. Plus, it’s great fun!

What comes next for him? MBB firms typically require employees to commit 2 years to the firm after their MBA degree to qualify for sponsorship. Joao plans to return to his consulting job, where his INSEAD MBA should help him progress to a managerial role in due course. He plans to seek out impactful sectors like food infrastructure and healthcare, where his firm has substantial expertise.

He also wants to continue working on his startup on the side, and possibly expand operations to Portuguese-speaking African communities in Angola and Mozambique to tackle food poverty.

Any parting thoughts?

Joao winces as he remembers his last-minute application. “I think it’s definitely important to plan ahead… it’s really important to have someone on the outside. I think you had a big part in it. Someone who can tell you how to plan going further in a holistic way”.

If you’re an MBB seeking an MBA to move up in the ranks, or a non-MBB applicant trying to break into MBB consulting, I can help. Drop me a line here.

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Hi, I'm Sam.  I'm the founder of Sam Weeks Consulting. Our clients get admitted to top MBA and EMBA programs.

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