Most people with 12-week consulting internships hope to impresses their employers during this time to earn a full time job offer. 

The assumption tends to be that all 12 weeks of the internship count equally towards the decision on whether or not to extend you a full time job offer.

At a practical level, this isn’t the case. Let me explain why.

Consulting is fundamentally a relationship business.

It is about the relationship between the client and the partner; between the intern and the people who worked with him or her.

In any business that’s relationship based, your REPUTATION matters a LOT. It must be protected at ALL TIMES.

There are two kinds of mistakes you can make:

1) Learning curve mistakes

2) Deal breaker mistakes

A learning curve mistake would be formatting a spreadsheet or presentation slide in a technically accurate way, but not in the firm’s preferred formatting style. You made a common mistake that wasn’t technically wrong; just not done in the preferred way.

It is okay and expected that you will make these kinds of mistakes throughout your internship. Assuming you learn from these kinds of mistakes and don’t continually repeat them, making these mistakes won’t cost you a full time job offer.

What will cost you a full time job offer are what I call “deal breaker” mistakes. These are mistakes that are pretty much unforgivable.

A deal breaker mistake is a mistake that does (or could have) threatened the reputation of your firm. There is no faster way to get fired from MBB or to not receive a full time job offer than to risk damaging the firm’s reputation.

NOTHING, and I mean nothing, pisses a partner off faster than damaging the reputation of her firm.

It is not actually necessary that your firm’s reputation be damaged for the mistake to be considered a deal breaker.

or example, if you make a deal breaker mistake and your manager catches it (by accident) before the client sees it, that’s still a deal breaker mistake.

In this case, the manager you work with will not endorse you receiving a full time job offer.

Here’s why.

The manager is thinking to himself, “Geez, if I hadn’t caught the intern’s mistake, we would have totally embarrassed ourselves in front of the client. And he keeps making these kinds of mistakes. So far I’ve caught all of them, but what if one day I miss one. That makes me extremely nervous.”

Now if you actually do damage the firm’s reputation by making a deal breaker mistake in front of the client, then it will be the partner who will freak out and refuse to extend you a full time job offer.

Here’s why.

In this case, your mistake might have cost the partner the quality of the relationship with the client. (Like I said earlier, consulting is a relationship business.)

Over the next 10 years, the relationship might produce $10 million – $30 million in revenue. And guess what, now the partner has doubts about whether the relationship will last that long. And the person she has to thank for adding that risk to the client relationship is… YOU.

Will a partner give you a second chance?

The answer is not “no.”

It is “hell no.”

Partners do not give second chances on reputation damaging mistakes – especially for an intern (and often not for full time consultants either).

This is such a major mistake that even 5 years later, the partner will STILL remember the mistake you made.

When you make a reputation damaging mistake, you cease to become an asset to the firm. You become a THREAT.

Never, ever damage the reputation of your firm… EVER.

In my next article in this series, I will give a few examples of reputation damaging type mistakes that consulting firms consider “deal breakers.”

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