5 years ago, I was fired from Oliver Wyman. This is what I learned from it.

Five years almost to the date, I was fired from Oliver Wyman (after 11 months at the firm, straight out of ugrad). This is when I'd walked into the year-end review genuinely thinking I'd be told I was promoted.

There are a few words one never forgets, and the sentence that'll stick with me forever was "based on a few factors, but primarily your performance, we are moving on". No "sorry to say, but...", even.

I was shown a few spreadsheets showing how I did vs my peer group. I scored poorly across 8 of the 14 metrics, and was average in all others. Out of the 8 metrics in which I scored poorly, in 3 I was in the global bottom 10.

Sure, the firm was having a tough year in 2011-2, but I was let go cos of my performance. In the days that followed, some friendly partners reached out and mentioned that they'd noticed my consulting skills weren't great, but I was a solid guy with good people skills, and that I could consider a career in wealth management or something.

I was given three months by OW to find a job, continuing to get paid. They gave me a decent bonus (~3 months my salary). Honestly, while I was of course pissed off at OW, looking back, they were quite humane. I'm grateful for that.

I guess I interview well - I managed to score a gig with an MBB. I vowed to myself I would never, ever, feel like I did when I was told OW was "moving on" from me. On my first day at the MBB, I decided then and there that I would leave consulting on my own godamn terms, not with someone telling me I wasn't good enough.

The reason for this post is that just last week, I was officially made an Engagement Manager, one of the earliest in my peer group here.

I thought I'd take the time to give you 5 learnings I took from being fired and then turning it around 180 degrees. Note that these ARE in order of priority:

1) RELENTLESSLY ASK FOR FEEDBACK

You can pretty much ignore 2)-5) below if you like, but do NOT ignore this. This was my biggest mistake at OW. When I was making mistakes, yet client was reasonably OK with me cos of my people skills, I thought things were fine. When I was doing well at something, my EMs would tell me "nice work", and I'd think that hey, when I get feedback, people are positive, so I must be doing well. Note that it's a lot, lot easier to give positive feedback than negative. Maybe not in say Germany, but in Asia especially, negative feedback only comes in your project-end assessment, and even then it may not be as blunt as it needs to be. YOU need to take it on yourself to relentlessly set-up biweekly feedback sessions with your EM. What I'm guessing will happen is after 2-3 of these, you'll pretty much KNOW you're doing well, and these biweekly sessions will turn into related coffee/beers, but until you know, you need to keep asking for feedback. And needless to say - work on your improvement areas. Nothing worse than the same feedback being given, that's a ticket to being fired.

2) HAVE IMMENSE CORE SKILLS

In your first few years, there are three things you need to be amazing at in consulting. Excel, ppt, and client management (i.e. people skills). Master all of these. Usually, people are good at 1-2 out of these 3, and build up the missing area as they rise up the firm. The high performers have all three sorted by the end of the first year. At Oliver Wyman, I was amazing at client facing, OK at ppt, and shit at Excel. I kept blaming my initial few projects, where I either used SAS or didn’t have much Excel use on my low skills. You know what, no one gives a fuck. Go to the Excel geek in your office and learn. It is embarrassing in consulting to be bad at Excel, but it is debilitatingly (is that a word?) poor to be shit even after your first 6 months. Think of this first 6 month period as your "hall pass" to ask people anything and not sound incompetent. Whether it be Excel or PPT, bug others till you know you're good enough (you'll know when you are). As for client skills, ask your EM or more senior consultants for their feedback on how you are with the client, and areas to work on, etc. Be relentless till, you're not only good, but certifiably great. As you rise up the ranks, you'll want clients saying "we want [insert name] to stay" – that's the kinda shit that gets you promoted.

3) IN YOUR FIRST YEAR, YOU'LL NEED TO GIVE YOUR LIFE TO IT

Here also, I fucked up. I thought consulting was a nice, flashy, high-paying gig where I look cool and have a nice life. The reality is consulting is a decently-paying role (you'll realize as you start hitting your late 20s, others in seemingly random industries are also earning very well), but one that requires your life. Especially in your first year, don't even think about planning weekday dinners with your buddies/gf [assuming you're not in some remote town somewhere, which you probably will be]. If it so happens, great, but actually if you have a free-ish night, you should be eating/drinking with your colleagues. Bonding with them is essential. More on that in 5) below.

4) HAVE A SORTED PERSONAL LIFE

I don't know if this is only applicable to me, but having an unsettled personal life during my first year really fucked my performance at work. I was into this girl, didn't ask her out cos I knew she was sorta still seeing her ex, got way too emotionally attached without getting anything out of it, etc etc. Whatever, I was stupid and 22. What was not cool, however, was that this really affected my work. I used to travel Mon-Fri, and just be thinking about this chick (I haven't spoken to her in 4 years, and aint that the best decision) – even during working hours. My delivery skills slowed, my energy to crush work really ebbed, I'd be texting this chick and/or emailing random friends trying to while away the week till Friday till I get to see her - all that sappy, dumb fuck shit. DO NOT DO THIS. You need to be settled. I started dating another girl soon after joining the MBB, and have been with her since – we're getting married this winter. I cannot tell you how much it helped me being settled and calm about my personal shit. Of course it isn't easy not seeing your girlfriend/wife for 4 days out of a week, but if you're committed to each other, it really doesn't hurt your r'ship. It hasn't hurt mine, and it won't hurt most of yours, if you really like the girl.

5) MAKE FRIENDSHIPS AT WORK

My life as a consultant, being on the road all the time, got a LOT better when I started making an effort to get to know my colleagues. Think about this – you guys have literally everything in common. You all are hard working people who have fantastic GPAs in college, you're all driven, you all chose consulting over banking, you're all earning well, etc. Odds are, at least where your peer group's concerned, you will absolutely get along and make some very good friendships at work. Again, and there's a pattern here, I didn’t do this at OW. When in my home office, I would grab lunch with my "regular" friends, and bounce early rather than chill with colleagues. When out of town on project, I'd retire to my room early, or do lunch at my desk (cos I was "soo busy", which is bullshit), etc. Don't fucking do this. Get to know your colleagues. I honestly think most do this naturally, but in my case I had a very small cohort of "new hires", and on my first day at OW no one took me to lunch or anything, which kinda scarred me? Either way, the onus is on you as a newbie to make these connections, and I realize this now. However, to this date, if there's a new hire, I always make sure to ask them for lunch if I can to settle them in.

--

I was back at home right after I was made EM, and I made a cursory comment to my mom about how it feels good to be made an EM in an industry that had fired me. My mother does not show a lot of emotion, but when I looked back some seconds later, she was wiping tears and told me how worried she was for me when I got let go, and how happy she is that I kept fighting and believing in myself.

I spoke earlier about how I can never forget that sentence "…we're moving on". I'll also never forget the hug my mother gave me right after she said that.

--

Consulting's not easy, but if a 'bottom 10%' can become an EM, so can you.

Mod Note (Andy): Best of 2016, this post ranks #1 for the past year

 

My favorite story on WSO for a couple of reasons:

1) You owned your failure(s) and didn't pass the buck 2) You were relentless in trying to improve yourself, your work habits, and the quality of your work product 3) You prioritize performance over personal comfort 4) your advice is applicable to everyone and not just the outliers we routinely see on here 5) you're still humble as fuck

Next stop will be partner, if some client doesn't pluck you away first. SB'd

 
Best Response

Wait - am I the only one here who finds this topic most disturbing ? Having a rich, vivid personal life is important, and it's definitely not something you should strive to suppress. And it's only fair that you would have a large portion of your life to dedicate to it. Having friends outside of work who have never heard of a CAGR, is particularly important. A manager who cannot bother to tell you when something is wrong with your work and just ends up giving you a negative evaluation or firing you is a shit manager.

I understand that getting fired from OW got to you, but I feel so awful reading that.. It sounds like you hammered your life into the perfect consultant just to get some validation from McKinsey guys who - and perhaps it's not highlighted enough - spend the better years of their life running statistics through a massive spreadsheet to determine which brand of milk sells best in supermarkets that have their cheese section in front of their ice creams section. Money is elusive, you can make it in the most unbelievable places doing the craziest things. And even as a consultant at MBB you don't make that much, it's mostly the senior partners you're funneling money to right now. Hoping for a chance to sit at their table and eat a piece of their cake one day, perhaps. I hope by then, you won't be missing tons of other things and you won't regret having forgotten that girl you felt strongly about a few years ago when you were at Wyman.

In a nutshell - great for you if you bounced back into consulting and if you feel successful there. I wouldn't however wish that kind of success to anyone.

 

I thought the bad management was pretty obvious but something is missing. Weren't you made aware of the goals you were supposed to hit? If it's ever made clear that not hitting a quote will cost you your job, you gotta be all over where you stand if you care about your job. I've seen people who are aware of targets and find it so hard to keep up that they let the job go or find a new job. But never one that gets surprised with their standing like that.

~Stay Golden
 

depends upon the nature of the goals you are supposed to achieve and metrics used to assess an employee, in consulting it can be difficult to have clearly defined metrics and the manner of calculating the metrics is not usually a straight forward job, metrics are not something as precise as 3 mistakes in a PPT or an excel model will give you a score of 5 or 8 out of 10 ... many times with metrics opinions are needed so an employee cannot be very sure as to how he/she has performed or is performing, until the person judging their performance tells her/him .. so i guess it is safe to assume a lack of communication in terms of clarifying goals and metrics most probably could have been a problem

it is very weird that individuals as managers have a tough time providing critique but not such a difficult time saying "...sorry to say, but..." ..why even let an employee reach that point?... employees need to be weaned off, there need to be quarterly updates (if not appraisals) for employees to know about their performance (according to rankings or standards) and if they still cannot improve after further instruction/training/informing then they should be let go off, yes this costs a lot but then again, finding a new employee is also a costly process (will vary from one org to another), even though it is reasonable to understand that detailed performance checking/appraisals also incur a cost in terms of a quality HR workforce and immediate bosses who handle their subordinates and orgs do not want to incur that cost, specially in an industry where turnover is high, so they orgs usually say why bother training someone too much or wait to see if he/she should be weaned-off when that person will most likely leave after 2 or 3 or 4 years

 

I too find this awfully disturbing. If you didn't make it first year at OW, and hammered yourself to be a decent EM at MBB, with a wife you "really like" but probably settled on so you could concentrate on being an Excel monkey, I guess some would call it success.

 

I'm not denying that I hammered myself to be good at what I do, but you wouldn't know why that's important till you're fired and told you're not good enough. What you do next can determine the rest of your life - whether you want to stay "the guy who got fired and settled for an easier job" or the "guy who got back up and gave it a good fucking shot". I'd rather be the second guy. None of us would be on this forum if we were not motivated, ambitious people.

As for your assumption that I settled on my future wife, I guess it's easy to say shit like that when you're anonymous.

 

I agree with you here. It's not clear to me whether he really loves consulting or whether he was intent on proving OW wrong. Also, his point about getting your personal life sorted before working in consulting got to me. Protip: your personal life will NEVER be sorted--relationships fail (and start) very unexpectedly, and you need to put in effort to maintain the friendships you have. It's never figured out.

 

I never post on WSO anymore, but writing to say this is a great story with lots of stellar advice. Thanks for sharing it. I am a recent analyst to associate promote and while I am in banking and not consulting, I can definitely echo a lot of what you get at here. Thanks for the humility and honesty. Young monkeys, pay attention.

 

congrats :)) in terms of making new office friends, what would you advise to people who are experienced hires? making a move soon myself as an experienced hire soon...and i dont want to sound like a retard, but do people just generally first start off with their teams / direct peers / people sitting close to them etc or do they literally go round the office and try say hello to everyone in the first 1-2 weeks? i guess probably easier if there are friday office drinks etc just feel like it would look silly walking around randomly introducing yourself to everyone in the office first week.

 
moneytrail:

i guess probably easier if there are friday office drinks etc just feel like it would look silly walking around randomly introducing yourself to everyone in the office first week.

I'm surprised by your concern, honestly; for two reasons: - Don't you get introduced to everyone when you start a new gig? Anywhere I went, I got introduced to everyone in the office; each and every intern, analyst, director, support staff... - Also, on my first day at any place I ask people left and right of me if and when office drinks take place and - in case none is set for the first thursday/friday I'm there - I offer to set a date/place and buy the first round. Brands me "the socialite" from day one.

To OP: Thanks for sharing; seems you really learned a lot.

 

Thanks for the read and the good wishes, guys. A few comments:

1) Sarusse you bring up absolutely valid points. I definitely did give my personal life a big fuck you, but as I wrote - I did so in the first year 'mainly'. My post above is more "what to do in your first year". After my first year, I was a lot more even and while it wasn't always a smooth ride, and while I did sometimes prioritize work over personal stuff, I wasn't as "psycho" about it. I definitely got more time in with the gf/fiance, met friends, played sports on weekends, etc.

To be honest, my goal was to become a "Sr Associate", i.e. "get promoted a couple of times and then quit consulting", cos I agree it is harsh on your life. Harsher than IBD cos it involves a lot more travel and you get into a hotel bed most nights, not your own. However, I've ended up staying because for the last 1.5 years or so, I've been doing a project I really like in an industry about to blow up, and I couldn't pass that over.

2) moneytrail - I was 'sort of' an experienced hire, so I initially was a little concerned about 'making friends' in office too. However, I soon realized that you just have to be normal, not over-eager. I was lucky in my new workplace people were a lot friendlier than OW, called me to lunch a few times, got talking, and it just grew from there. What I'd say is in consulting, bonding with colleagues is quite easy cos you're often away on projects with 3-5 people, and in each project, you can get to know a few people very well. Is there a similar situation in your role? Maybe an industry-specific team, or a deal-specific team, etc? If so, first try and bond with them - but frankly, be yourself. More clearly, be an 'open' version of yourself, not 'closed' one. Unless you're clinically introverted, you'll be absolutely fine.

3) ChicagoCT - Good question, I almost addressed this in my post but it was getting too long! I do not have an MBA, but am applying this year, and waiting to hear back now from a couple of M7 schools. In Asia, it is less structured than say the States, you can become an EM without an MBA. In my case, my long term goal is to NOT stay in consulting, and because as mentioned in 1) above I am enjoying my current project, thought I'd ride it out till I was EM before calling time on a helluva ride.

4) TheGrind - you brought up the one factor we all need to aspire to, humility. I was not humble at OW, I thought I'd made it and all that BS. I'm a lot more humble now, in fact, perhaps to a fault. For some reason, a lot of my favourite athletes/sportsmen(women) are extremely humble, and it's a trait that I think I value over all others. It certainly helped me.

 

All the very best. Depending on your long game, you could consider taking 1-2 years in China/Africa/India, killing it in something, and turning it into an M7, if not HWS offer. I know someone who did this, had a blast in India for 1.5 years and got into Booth. He's now juggling multiple insane job offers...

On your question, your answer here needs to be very logical, as Spock would say. I basically said that OW is a risk shop that panders to middle management, while I'd always been into consulting cos I wanted more strategy, more implementation, and want to work with CxO-level people only, not report to the VP of Risk. I had to embellish OW's deficiencies, while kissing ass to the MBB. People bought it because essentially it is not untrue.

 

I wasn't asked for a YER from OW by MBB. My story of wanting to switch because I wanted to do more strategy projects was an easy sell, given OW's very heavy risk reputation, and was not probed much. In the interview I was treated like a regular guy trying to break into a first-year's role, and I'm pretty good at case studies so managed to do well in them.

 

Thanks for the response here, everyone!

I wanted to clarify a point that's come up in a few PMs I received. It is this - I am by no means a "rock star" at my MBB. I didn't suddenly go from fired to top 5%. I'd say I'm top 20-25%. Top 25% at MBB is still decent though, and if the odd client really likes you, and you get good upward feedback, you can be promoted pretty quickly. In the past year both these things have gone off well for me, hence I got an early promotion.

I think the other lesson is - what you're naturally good at, let that really work for you. If you're a whiz at Excel, you should hold meetings with Partners where you're just crushing Excel on a big screen and whipping out analyses in 5 mins. If you're good at client facing / public speaking like I am, invite your Partners to client meetings where you know you will look like a boss. Also, if you're a "nice guy" PM, don't think you have to act like an asshole with your teammates to get them to get the job done. Let that work in your favour and create a motivated team that enjoys working for you.

 

Thanks for posting this great story - though I am shocked that a company actually gave you 3 months to find a new job (was this severance) ? The fact that you were able to get a job at MBB post OW is absolutely incredible. I remember I didn't get an offer from my junior summer internship and it was almost impossible for me to land anything full time because every interview I had unfortunately would focus solely why I wasn't going back to the place where I interned.

 

Yes, I treated the 3 months as severance. The word 'severance' was never used but given that I got a good bonus + 3 months salary, a good chunk of money, I didn't ask for more. Crucially, cos I was an int'l and not a citizen (I'm based in Asia, not the US btw), I badly needed 3 months on the payroll to look for a job cos otherwise I'd have to leave the country. So, being on the payroll vs. getting a lump-sum severance worked well for me.

As for how I got MBB post-OW, I networked as hard as I could to land off-cycle interviews, got a couple, and converted 1 of them. I will say this - recruitment in Asia is not as structured as it is in the States and you can definitely squeeze in off-cycle interviews if your profile is compelling enough.

 

99% of "success stories"- while pretending to help other monkeys are quite frankly the equivalent of an instagram post. This is one of the few that shows genuine humility and a desire to help others. Really appreciate that you included the point about you reaching out to new consultants as well. Shows that you practice what you preach instead of an all too common "eat what you kill" philosophy which is BS.