When Julie Leary began classes at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business last fall, she did so with a common goal for many full-time MBA students: making a career switch.
But Leary’s planned switch was less common, especially at a place like Foster. She wanted to use the general management MBA to pivot from her career in tech to consulting.
“I thought that consulting was the right place and role for me,” Leary says of her planned pivot into consulting, admitting it was a bit of an “oddball” move when so many use the Foster MBA to transition into tech instead of out of it. “I wanted some time to explore that and make that transition.”
SOME 20% OF THE 2022 CLASS INTERNING AT CONSULTING FIRMS THIS SUMMER
Last year, Foster placed 19% of its 125-member class into the consulting industry. It was the second-most popular industry — but still distant second to tech, which claimed 53% of the 2020 Class. Over the past several years, Foster MBAs entering consulting has stalled and declined while tech has surged in popularity.
But that could be changing, says Leary — and some Washington Foster officials agree.
Leary, who will intern this summer at Boston Consulting Group in Seattle, is one of 22 Foster MBAs interning in consulting at eight different firms this summer. Four of those will be interning at an MBB firm, which Leary believes could be a record for Foster. Naomi Sanchez, the assistant dean of MBA Career Management at Foster, says it is too early to confirm employment stats for this year, she did say consulting interest among MBA students at Foster has recently risen.
“We do see an increase in the employment numbers,” Sanchez tells Poets&Quants, noting there has been an increased interest among consulting firms in moving to the Seattle area. “We have the roster of consulting firms. We work with large multinational firms, mid-market-sized consulting firms, and smaller, boutique consulting firms. And we also have international consulting firms.”
Wendy Guild, the assistant dean of MBA programs at Foster, says she’s seen an increase in students interested in consulting enrolling at Foster.
FOSTER TO MOVE ITS CORE STRATEGY COURSE TO THE FIRST TERM FOR THE FIRST TIME THIS FALL
Foster has been making slight curricular changes to assist students wanting to recruit in consulting. Guild says this fall, for example, for the first time ever, Foster will move its core strategy course to the first term for incoming MBA students. Then those students can go into the applied strategy course during the winter term.
Leary says it’s a combination of the school’s MBA curriculum Foster’s MBA Consulting Society, which she is now the President of, and the alumni network that helped her make the switch from tech to consulting. “Baked into the curriculum is a lot of applied work that actually gives students the chance to do consulting work,” she says.
The Applied Strategy Projects, which is part of the required Applied Strategy course MBAs take during the winter term, places each student with a real company to solve a real problem. Sanchez also mentioned the school’s Center for Leadership and Strategic Thinking and Foster’s award-winning strategy professor Charles Hill as two additional resources helpful to Foster students looking to get into consulting. “He is beloved by his students,” Sanchez says of Hill. “And has done an amazing job bringing strategic thinking to the forefront.”
GROWTH IN FOSTER CONSULTING SOCIETY CLUB
Leary immediately joined the Foster Consulting Society club, which she says has grown in membership and activity compared to recent years. Sanchez says the club has begun partnering with her office to develop training and frameworks to help navigate the consulting interview process.
Alumni and second-year MBAs who serve as mentors to first-year students have also helped MBAs land internships and jobs, Leary says. “We owe a lot to our alums,” she says, noting the school’s small population of MBAs. “We have a strong and passionate network of alumni willing to give back to Foster,” Leary continues. “We can retain tight-knit relationships thanks to the small program.”
Guild agrees alumni have played a role in the consulting interest uptick. She says students often come into the program with a role in mind but when they talk to more recent alumni, gain interest in the learning opportunities that naturally come with a career in consulting. “It allows them to continue to grow as a professional and future leader,” Guild says.
FOSTER AND SEATTLE’S INTERTWINED CONSULTING GROWTH
Foster’s established spot in the top-25 of Poets&Quants and other MBA rankings has no doubt helped the school increase its MBA talent pool. “The caliber of students has risen over the years,” Leary says. Foster’s establishment as the highest-ranked MBA program in the Pacific Northwest has helped as firms grow their Seattle offices.
“There’s a lot of expansion going on in consulting, and more and more, they’re looking to Foster to fill those expanding offices, versus importing those consultants from the East Coast or other West Coast schools,” Leary says. “They’re starting to see Foster as a way to continue that West Coast growth.”
Still, both Foster and Seattle remain strong tech and healthcare hubs. “Foster is definitely a tech hub. Tech is our specialty,” Leary maintains. But growth in those industries is only good for MBAs looking for consulting roles, Sanchez believes. “Consulting gives them another portal into these industries,” Sanchez says.
“Consulting is incredibly exciting,” Sanchez continues. “It is a crossroads of technology and the future of technology and also where they can make a difference and where there are purpose-driven perspectives in the consulting firms.”
‘PEOPLE COME TO FOSTER TO EXPLORE AND MAKE CAREER PIVOTS’
The general management nature of the MBA curriculum at Foster is conducive to career-switchers. “Foster has a lot of people from non-traditional backgrounds,” Leary says, noting students coming in with nursing degrees and backgrounds in the military and nonprofit sectors. “People come to Foster to explore and make career pivots,” she adds.
Guild sees it the same way.
“We’re very purposeful and mindful not to stack a whole program with students who are going to just be product managers at a tech company,” Guild says. “We want to attract students who are going to provide a diverse set of peer experiences as well. That’s important to who we are as a school,” Guild says. “We’re excited about people who want to be consultants. We’re excited about people wanting to go into technology. And we’re excited about people coming from all backgrounds and have different interests in the economy.”