May the best resource win

Fifteen minutes to wait. 

Mark sits down and looks round. It’s a room much like all those other rooms he’s encountered on his job search: Several chairs, the token potted plant, untouched issues of Consulting magazine. He hasn’t been massively impressed by the selection process so far. While this firm checks the box salary-wise, it’s been somewhat haphazard when it comes to staying in touch, with six days, nine hours and 43 minutes between the acknowledgement of his application and the email that invited him in for his first interview. Not that he was counting. The partner he met then seemed pleasant enough, keen to impress him with the iconic clients the firm works for, but he’s not yet had a chance to see where he’ll be working or meet his potential co-workers. He’s worried, too, that this will turn out to be one of those roles where you just do the same thing over and over again, whereas he’s really after something that stretches his abilities, gives him a chance to really think outside the box. 

Ten minutes to go before the case study test.

Mark mulls his career to date. He likes the fact that more of the work he does is focused around building software assets as part of consulting engagements—there’s something inherently satisfying about designing an elegant solution that allows much more data to be processed more quickly than would have been in the case in the past, and there are always opportunities to demonstrate his ability to generate superior insights. When you think back to how consulting used to be… All those junior analysts creating spreadsheets that they then struggled to populate with half-decent data. The clients getting stressed about the need to find the data the consulting team needed, scrabbling though filing cabinets. Interviewing people was faff: You could only speak to a small number of people who invariably told you things you already knew. Now, with the tools he had at his disposal, you could gather data from a far greater range of sources and about far more people in an organisation. On the other hand, he still struggled with presentations: He didn’t feel he’d quite found a distinctive “voice” yet and too many clients spent time glancing at their phones rather than looking him in the eye. It was something he was working on: Just last night, he’d downloaded a new book on the subject. 

Five minutes.

Career path is a worry of course. The days when someone joining a consulting firm out of business school could be reasonably sure of making it to partner by the time he was 40 have gone. If anything, the gap between the partners, those really senior consultants with their Ivy League backgrounds, and the rest of the firm seems bigger than ever. He can’t quite believe that the partnership would ever admit someone like him, not with his background.

Two minutes.

He scans the only other candidate, in the corner to his left: Not too much of a threat, looks as though he’s been around the consulting houses a few too many times, but no obviously loose screws. His competitor looks up and nods almost imperceptibly in acknowledgement—they’ve been here before, they know the rules. 

Mark settles into a little light algorithmic exercise. May the best robot win.