A female MBA student chats to a colleague in the sunshine.

A consulting career that started at Cambridge Judge

27 July 2022

The article at a glance

From Bain to BCG, we meet three consultants who found their passion and achieved a global consulting role during their MBA year in Cambridge.

From Bain to BCG, we meet three consultants who found their passion and achieved a global consulting role during their MBA year in Cambridge.

Hai-Ly Nguyen.
Hai-Ly Nguyen (MBA 2017)

Hai-Ly Nguyen (MBA 2017) was recently made Associate Partner at McKinsey, less than four years after she joined the firm as an Associate straight after her MBA. “I’ve just been promoted, even though I am about to go on a year’s maternity leave. Yet before I came to Cambridge, working in consulting did not appeal to me. The general perception was that consultants don’t have a life.”

Hai-Ly’s own experience could not have been more different. “McKinsey have never rejected any suggestions that would help me personally. During the pandemic I was also given the flexibility to do projects Vietnam to be closer to my family”

Mckinsey recruit early on Cambridge campus

Hai-Ly admits that she did not know a great deal about consulting before starting her MBA. At Unilever, where she had worked for nearly five years in Vietnam, the focus was on in-house capacity, with an internal global strategy team.

“I had reached a good moment in my personal and professional life to reflect. I wasn’t thinking of switching career at the time, but Cambridge came up in my mind. A couple of years before, I had seen my first snow here as a tourist. But it wasn’t just the beauty of the place – all the intellectual passion seemed to soak into me on that first short visit and I knew then I wanted to be a part of it one day.”

A one-year MBA seemed the perfect opportunity. “Cambridge Judge was the only business school I applied to in the UK. I passionately wanted to study in Cambridge, and I was interested in the higher education. And then of course I arrive in Cambridge and found that the consultants start recruiting very early in the academic career. It was McKinsey specifically who brought consulting into my world. For the first time I saw it could be an interesting intellectual challenge.”

Transitioning into BCG from engineering 

Hendrik Westerink.
Hendrik Westerink (MBA 2020)

Hendrik Westerink (MBA 2020) is relishing the experience in his first year as a consultant at BCG in Toronto, Canada, “The work is certainly fast-moving, and sometimes even adrenalin-inducing, but the Cambridge MBA set me up well to transition into this role from engineering. I love the fact that I am still learning every day and continuing to build on my Cambridge MBA experience working in diverse teams.”

Hendrik arrived at CJBS with consulting very much on his mind. A civil engineer by training, he had worked as a bridge engineer for seven years in British Columbia, Canada and was looking to broaden his horizons.

“The summer before my MBA, I had several coffee chats with ex-engineers working in different consultancies who gave me tips on the process. I had gone to school with engineers and worked with mostly engineers, so I was especially attracted to the diversity of professional backgrounds in the Cambridge MBA class. As someone interested in digital transformation in construction, I was also drawn to the tech eco-system at Cambridge. These factors combined to give me the groundwork needed to pursue my career goal of transitioning to consulting.”

Changing direction with Bain and Co

Kohilan Sarvanandan.
Kohilan Sarvanandan (MBA 2018)

Kohilan Sarvanandan (MBA 2018) has been a Manager at Bain and Co for the last two and a half years, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He applied to study for his MBA after nearly a decade in corporate banking and strategy. “I wanted to change the direction of my career. I enjoyed client engagement, but my work had largely been transactional and then focussed on fundraising. I wanted more client exposure, more diversity, a wider range of business topics.”

Kohilan’s number one aim post MBA was to transition to consulting, although he was also considering moving to work for a large investment house or a Sovereign Wealth Fund. “I felt I could do with some external perspective. I had just got married and had the opportunity for a year’s career break. I wasn’t looking for the standard business school experience, I wanted to be part of a wider university. During my year studying in Cambridge, I was exposed to a wide range of different perspectives, both among the student cohort and the teaching staff.  And I didn’t expect it, but I became very involved in rowing!”

Time for a career pivot – change starts here

These three MBA students join the 82% of sector switchers post Cambridge MBA, as reported by the latest MBA Employment Report. Part of a general trend, their individual experiences also reflect the opportunity to find the right fit of consulting firm through the recruiting process.

Hendrik Westerink worked with contacts in consulting, including other Cambridge MBA alumni, to gain perspectives on how to highlight relevant experience in the recruitment process. “I knew many of my existing skills, such as modelling and problem solving, were transferable to consulting, but as I got into the interview process, I had quite a few chats with consultants to learn what to expect and how to highlight transferrable skills in my application.”

Hendrik was especially attracted to BCG due in part to its highly developed industrial goods practice in Canada, which aligned well with his engineering background, but also because the firm is seen as being at the forefront of work on climate change and sustainability. “The more I learned about BCG and consulting, the more interested I became in joining the industry. The Cambridge MBA experiences, like the Global Consulting Project, were a great way to gain a flavour of what consulting is like before joining the industry.”

A different location – switching countries

The MBA Employment Report shows that 59% of post MBAs working in consulting have switched locations. Hendrik was open to job offers from around the world but was happy to accept BCG’s offer to work back home in Canada. Recently married Kohilan, who spent the year of his MBA away from his new wife who was working back in Malaysia, focussed his applications on South-East Asia.

“My preference from the outset was to work for Bain if I could. I liked what I had heard about the culture, and especially their reputation for a more pragmatic approach. They have a wide consulting practice across the region – right now I am based in KL, but I spend every other week in Thailand on a project.”

A little older than some of his MBA cohort, Kohilan also found himself older than many of his new colleagues on joining Bain. “Your boss may be younger than you, but you bring different things to the table and a certain kind of maturity. You do need to be mindful of your energy levels – there is no doubt the hours are long, though they are better than my early days working in banking. That’s what you sign up to, and the trade-off is the huge satisfaction in problem solving for your clients.  And in my experience when needed it is all-hands on deck, from Partner level down.”

Finding the right fit for you – the culture in consulting

Initially sceptical about her fit with consultancy, Hai-Ly was drawn to McKinsey through the firm’s approach to the recruiting process. “I felt they were really invested. Their recruitment path was very clear and early on a McKinsey Partner came to Cambridge to give a talk I found inspirational. That encouraged me to apply, and I found I enjoyed doing the case studies. I am a maths nerd who likes problem solving so I was soon hooked.”

In her work now, Hai-Ly appreciates the internal practices within McKinsey that value individuals’ expertise from their previous careers. “From the outset of recruiting, McKinsey reached out to woo people like me who were unsure. There was a webinar specifically aimed at women, and they sent an engagement manager to campus to help us with case study training. That was the first time I thought working in consulting might be a real prospect, because the experience was intellectually fulfilling.”

Hai-Ly’s advice to any MBA student considering applying to a consulting firm is to over-invest in your CV. “However good you are at cases, it won’t count unless you get the opportunity to present yourself. The CJBS Careers Team is very helpful for CV review. Make your profile interesting enough that your interviewer wants to meet you! And if you make it to interview round, do the case practice – peer-to-peer review is very useful but keep your passion alive and remember that what matters is your personal story and experience.” With plenty of experience under her belt, Hai-Ly knows what counts in consulting is the team. “It’s not just about crunching numbers, we get our hands dirty. I am a strong believer in the holistic approach to any consulting project. Working at McKinsey has opened up the horizons of the world for me – and Cambridge was my first step towards that goal.”

This article was published on

27 July 2022.