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So Your Start Date Got Delayed – What Do You Do?

The Harbus talks to graduating ECs on how they plan to maximize their time.

The end of the academic year is a bittersweet moment. For RCs, one of the most formative experiences in their lives is half over, but a summer and second full academic year await. For ECs, their time at HBS draws to a close, but a lifetime of (hopefully) positive free cash flow awaits them. Once the excitement of graduation and post-finals trips fades away, many ECs begin to grapple with the challenges and opportunities of re-entering the workforce. This year, similar to last year, ECs entering certain professions are dealing with a unique challenge – longer than usual delays to job start dates. This problem is increasingly common in the consulting industry – not only in the larger players (McKinsey, Bain, BCG) but also in more niche companies and multi-service providers (e.g., PwC, Deloitte). 

The trend accelerated in 2023, when consulting companies realized that they were overstaffed and grappled with reduced business from clients. McKinsey laid off 2,000 employees in 2023, while EY laid off close to 3,000. Facing a depleted pipeline of projects, it didn’t make sense for consulting companies to bring on hundreds of new MBA associates, who would be getting paid to sit around. One way firms tackled this issue was by reducing hiring overall – Deloitte, PwC, EY, and KPMG collectively cut new hires by 62% in 2023. Even for those who were spared, the question remained of how to best maximize capacity utilization. Firms pivoted toward the option that provided the most flexibility – retain the new hires, but delay their start dates and hope that business would pick back up by that point. Unfortunately this leaves graduating students in a lurch: What are they going to do with all this extra time?

Eric Rasmussen (MBA ’24) is one of these individuals. Rasmussen will be working at Bain’s Boston office post-graduation. He explained that in March, he was notified (along with most other consulting hires) that his start date had been pushed to January 2025. During the interim period, Rasmussen intends to pursue a couple different opportunities.

“I will be moving to Shanghai to study Mandarin in a language immersion school for 4 months,” he explained. “I’ve wanted more flexibility to study Mandarin for some time, and some consultants from the MBA Class of 2023 did language immersion programs last year.” 

He added that he is looking for a summer internship opportunity from post-graduation through September, when the immersion program starts.

Another EC student who will also be joining Bain explained that he is looking for a summer opportunity, likely in the startup world. The imperative to find an interim opportunity is more acute given that many new consulting hires are international students, and need to satisfy Optional Practical Training (OPT) and work authorization requirements to remain in the US. The EC student noted that startup opportunities are very attractive given the level of timing flexibility that they provide.

Dusty Register (MBA ’23) faced this same issue last year, as his start date at Bain was deferred in January 2023. He explained that since his wife had a full-time job, he had a little more flexibility to decide what kind of opportunity to pursue in the interim. Register had an interest in sports and entertainment, and decided to reach out to 100+ HBS alumni in the field. 

“I had probably a 60% hit rate,” he explained. “[Many] were looking more for people with a prior background in either sports or data analytics – I honestly wasn’t a great fit for what they were wanting so I pulled myself out of the running.”

Register said that it was difficult connecting his prior career experience and skillset in supply chain and project management to positions he was interested in, and advised that students may need to “do a bit of legwork” to convince employers to take them on. One strategy he recommended was identifying an organization’s needs and crafting your value-add based on those needs.

“I tried to identify where these lean organizations might have gaps to be filled by relatively inexpensive labor for six months,” he said. “Usually there are projects sitting on the backburner.”

After going on vacation with his wife for five weeks across Europe and Asia, Register landed a role at Milo’s Tea Company in Birmingham, Alabama as a Strategy & Finance Intern for five months. He explained that he wanted to “test-drive the notion of living closer to friends and family” and was really pleased with how it turned out. He recommended that students should pursue things they are passionate about, given that they have another job lined up.

“This is a great opportunity to try something brand new in a risk-free environment,” he said. “The skillset required to be successful in consulting varies so much project-to-project, so there's honestly not too much you can do to ‘get ahead of the curve’ on your future full-time position.”

For those who need ideas on what to do during the interim period, the Harbus has some innovative ideas, ranging from “not productive but will be a great time” to “highly value-additive.” On the fun side of the spectrum, pursuing an extended hiking or immersion trip to a new country has become popular. Within the US, consider taking a temporary role in a seasonal industry, such as tourism, outdoor activities, agriculture, or working as a summer camp organizer / counselor. This would also be a good time to pursue passion projects or moonshot interests. Want to learn a new language or other academic topic? Commit to either teaching yourself via the myriad online platforms (e.g., Duolingo, Coursera, HBS Online (gratuitous mention)) or follow Rasmussen’s lead and enroll in an immersion program abroad. If you’re interested in getting scuba certified or becoming a pilot (side note – the author of this article is looking for those with similar wacky interests), you now have an uninterrupted stretch of time to make this dream a reality. On the practical side, those entering more technical careers (private equity, investment banking, biotech, etc.) should consider refreshing technical skills via tutorials and certification programs. It may be worthwhile to work with employees at your firm on a side research project on a topic of your choosing, providing you contact with your future colleagues while also pursuing an area of personal interest. 

Rasmussen recommended that ECs without firm start dates or those still looking for a full-time role should take some risks before committing. “My advice is to pursue the quirky thing you’ve wanted to do but never made sense, because it makes sense when you have this gap in time,” he explained. “Finances can be scary but give yourself the time to plan everything accordingly, be frugal if you have to, and it’ll all work out eventually!”

Prior to joining HBS, Abhiram Karuppur (MBA ‘25) worked in Houston, TX at Ara Partners, a private equity fund focused on energy transition and decarbonization technologies. A New Jersey native, he graduated with a B.S.E. in Chemical & Biological Engineering from Princeton University in 2019. Outside of class, you can find him biking around Boston’s many trails, dominating (sometimes) at pub trivia, or trying out the local food scene.

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