Hi. I have a questions for you. I am currently in the process of interviewing with McKinsey. I am enjoying studying the case questions and am excited about the prospect of potentially working at McKinsey, but was made concerned by a comment that you made in your Harvard lecture videos. You stated that people with short attention spans who are very creative tend to not make good consultants.

I would say that that description accurately describes me, but I am also a problem solver and an engineer by trade. Do you think that it would be feasible for one to acquire the skill of speaking in a client friendly way by studying and practicing, or do you think that the “linear speaking” skill tends to be innate and that extremely creative people with short attention spans will probably never make good consultants?

My Reply:

Let me clarify and elaborate on a few of my comments.

People with super short attention spans that can only stand working on the same thing for like a week or two often find the pace of investment banking more compatible to their styles.

People with somewhat short attention spans (like mine) who can only focus on one thing for 1 – 5 months, fit well with consulting.

People with long attention spans that like working on the same thing for years and decades, fit better working in a company/client.

On the issue of creative+lateral thinkers vs. analytical+linear thinkers, good consultants are almost always the analytical and linear type.

This is by no means to say that this is the only type of person who can be successful in business. It just means that this profile is very highly correlated with those who progress in the consulting career track.

(On a side note, consultants are often good at taking over and running an established business where there is plenty of data and information to analyze. But, often they are terrible at staring brand new companies in brand new industries where there is very little data to analyze… and gut feel and amazing intuition are more useful assets. Phrased differently, no management consultant I know could have done what Steve Jobs has done at Apple… NONE.  And similarly, Steve Jobs would make a lousy consultant. He’s brilliant, super-creative, dictatorial, amazing at sales, but a total boss-hole, and generally lacks client skills.).

Your profile seems very interesting to me. Over the years, I met one other person who had a similar profile. She was an artist and English major at Stanford, but also took super advanced math classes at Stanford, got A’s and perfect math scores on GRE’s. In other words, she had the skills to be engineer, but loved poetry instead. She got into Bain and I never followed her career much after that.

In your case, you may be one of those exceptionally rare people who is both left brained (hyper logical) and right brained (hyper creative). If that’s the case, consider yourself lucky.

Despite your self description, your choice of careers and training in engineering is a sign of the logical side of the brain and those skills. If you did very well in your standardized test scores (SAT, GRE, GMAT, LSAT) and got close to perfect scores on the math side, that’s very highly correlated with the analytical skills that consulting firms like.

Also, it’s my belief that words reveal thoughts and thoughts determine words. If you are a hyper logical, linear thinker, your communication is by default hyper logical and linear. If your thinking is very creative and lateral – jumping from one idea to another… from one tangent to another… then your default communication style will tend to match your thinking style.

It’s not to say you can’t force yourself to use a non-dominant communication approach, but it would take a deliberate effort.., and you may or many not enjoy it.

The best acid test is to see if you enjoy the case interview process. I LOVED doing case interviews as an interviewee. (Yeah, I know… I’m either a sick pup or a natural born consultant). I found it very stimulating, incredibly satisfying for my sense of curiosity, and intriguing. And the fact that an evaluation was going was sort of secondary in my mind.

If you do 5 – 10 case interviews, did well, but hated the the process…. I would bet with 85% likelihood that you’ll hate the day to day job.

I had a 2 or 3 women in my start class that fit this profile. They were good enough to get into McKinsey, but it wasn’t where their style or heart was. One went to help run a non-profit. Another went to be a teacher. And I think a third ending up being Hollywood Screen Writer.

Hope that gives you some food for thought. No need to make any decisions now. See how the recruiting process goes and pay attention to yourself and ask yourself if you’re enjoying the process. The case interview process is remarkably similar to the day-to-day life of a consultant.