Last year I put together a team of three MBA students from a prominent university to help develop our nonprofit evaluation strategy.  I met the president of the Net Impact club on campus, a nation-wide MBA club with chapters in nearly every business school.  We developed a simple project description, emailed it out, and got stellar resumes.  The project results were stupendous, the students on the team were fantastic, and our nonprofit partners we have today all came out of the analysis and recommendations they put together.

This year I’m taking it even further.  I met last night with the presidents of the Net Impact club, the marketing club, the operations club, and the consulting club.  We developed two projects for students depending on their interests – one helping flush out some of our supply chain questions and the other helping develop marketing campaigns. The social enterprise element permeates through it all.

Everyone was excited to be a part of it and the project descriptions went out today.  Cutting across both projects are opportunities to:

  • Work on real-life issues instead of business school case-work
  • Be a part of a start-up company that will hopefully be a household name one day soon
  • Work on a social enterprise that will provide real benefit back to society

B-School students eat this stuff up and I’m super excited to get all this work done (for free – yay!).

If you have projects that are sitting on the shelf in your office because you haven’t had time to get to them, or feel like you lack the specific skills to address them, I highly recommend a b-school consulting project as one way to go.  Every business school has on-campus clubs whose presidents would love a chance to bring something interesting to their club members.  And getting ahold of them is easy – just look on the business school’s website.  Reach out directly – you’d be surprised how receptive they’ll be. Or, just contact the career management office at the school and they’ll tell you what to do.

That said, a few things to be aware of when working with students:

  1. They are really really really stressed. Business school students are usually cramming 5 classes at a time, often very short classes (5-8 weeks long) with papers, tests, and assignments due every week.  They are job hunting, spending hours in mock interviews, resume reviews, and networking.  They belong to more clubs than they can handle, and they’re usually partying down whenever they have a spare moment.  You have to be respectful of their time and don’t expect more than 3-5 hours a week, which is probably enough if they’re working in teams.  That said, always remember that in this relationship you’re the client so be firm enough that they realize this is a real commitment.
  2. Be very clear in the scope of the project. Like all consulting projects, identify the timeline and deliverables ahead of time, so it’s very obvious to the students what needs to be done and by when.  Give them the flexibility to figure out how to do it, but don’t leave any of your expectations unclear.  They will lose interest quickly if they don’t know what they’re working towards.
  3. Offer them further incentives. Find other ways to make the project meaningful for students other than the resume builder.  Some universities will let students do projects with a professor’s oversight for a grade.  Be gracious and sign the papers so students can get the credits for doing something they love. Let them take part in conference calls and in business development opportunities. Give them access to your vendors and partners so they can not only get more comprehensive information for their work but also gain the extra experience of working with outside organizations.
  4. Make it as strategic as possible. No one is in business school to do grunt work.  Students go to business school so they can get away from their mundane jobs and get into high-thinking strategy jobs (they don’t realize they’ll still do grunt work after business school – no need to burst their bubble).  Make sure your project has at least one deliverable that’s strategic in nature and forces them to really think through problems that need to be solved in a creative way.
  5. When the results come in, ingest them like an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurs need to know every facet of their company. It’s fine to outsource projects but that doesn’t mean go on autopilot. When push comes to shove, it’s your company and your solution. Know what decisions the team made and why, and understand their outcomes fully. When a VC asks you why you made a particular decision, the answer better not be, “because that’s what my MBA consulting team reported.” They will not be impressed.

These are my personal experiences, both as a student and now as an opportunity provider.  I’d love to learn how you’ve worked with students in the past. What advice do you have, and what lessons have you learned?


One Response to Consulting Projects Rock!

  1. Danielle Decatur says:

    Amen to #1, and may I submit that I am forgoing the “partying down” aspect this Saturday night in favor of career development?!

    But seriously – great post, Ian, keep these coming.

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