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How is it to interact with C-suite client contacts as a job beginner?

Anonymous A

What does it feel like for someone fresh out of b-school to interact and even advise (!!!) someone in the senior leadership of a client, like a CEO or CFO?

Does anyone have some experience or advice?

I imagine it also depends a lot on the country you're in...what do you guys think?

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Elias
Expert
replied on 12/13/2016
Experienced consultant, now running own consulting business

Hi Anonymous,

I agree with most of what Marco has said.

Although there are so many factors at play here:

  1. Personality of the CXO: I have been on projects where the CXO of the billion-dollar company went directly to quite junior people in meetings once they had figured out (which they do quickly, they're good at that) that they were the subject matter experts. Be prepared to sweat blood. Of course it also matters how important hierarchy is for them - some people are very laid back and informal, others are not (geography, industry and company cuture play a big role here)
  2. Personality of the Partner / Project Leader: Same as for the CXO - how much do they stick to the hierarchy, how much trust and room for growth do they give their people.
  3. Your own personality and skills: How secure and outgoing are you? How well can you read people? Are you sure that what you are about to say holds water under scrutiny from a 50+ manager with 25 years of experience who eats consultants for breakfast, lunch and dinner?
  4. Project setting: Of course this also matters. If you are doing a longer project with a client off-site where you spend 2, 3 days together with your client, the likeliness is much higher than a project where the CXO is only involved as part of a monthly steering committee.
  5. Situation: It is very unlikely that you will discuss stuff at length before a boardroom full of people in your first month. But you might very well run into the CXO in the restroom, while waiting for others to arrive to a meeting or late in the evening when the CXO stops by your project office to discuss something etc.

My advice:

  • Be as prepared as you can be. It can happen, and quicker than you think. It is not very likely in your first year or so, but you want to be a ready as you can
  • For the less formal situations described above: Remember that CXOs are just people, too. So if you are able to make polite conversation and not make a complete fool of yourself, you should be ok.
Marco
Expert
replied on 11/30/2016
Specific coaching: company you are applying for; 1st or 2nd round; your professional background; ...

Hi there,

I think there's a little distinction to be made here between interacting with a C-level manager and advising him or her.

In terms of interaction, it is generally up to partners / directors to talk and present to people at that level. If you just graduated from Business School you should expect little to none direct commication with CEOs, CFOs, COOs, etc. There are obviously exceptions, the most common that comes to my mind is when a client is relatively small and C-level managers end up interacting with consultants on a daily basis.

That being said, when working on a project you WILL be providing advices to a company and they will go all the way up to the senior management team. Even though you probably won't be the person talking at meetings and steering committees, the slides presented will be the result of your job and you might need to comment specific details of the analysis or of the results. In my opinion, this can be very satisying and ends up being a very valuable "training" for when you will progress in your career.

Cheers,

marco