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How to adress late-bloomer issue

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How to adress late-bloomer issue [#permalink] New post 13 Apr 2013, 14:22
I'm a late bloomer. I lost five years in studies ill suited for my personal capabilities (mecanical engineering). I was, in general, just not mature enough to study anything back then.
My grades were awful with occasional glimpses of brightness. I always knew that I could do more and I could'nt cope with failing. I deluded myself into thinking I would finally succeed in those studies. I wasted my time "studying" hard but in a completely useless way just to calm myself. In short, this was not very funny.

At the age of 23, my parents allowed my to start from 0 again.

Now everything is fine
[*]I'm studying "business engineering", it's a business major with an engineering minor, many language classes and also some econ (MBB loves this profile)
[*]I want to start my career in management consulting
[*]My GPA is 3.66 according to an auto convert tool. However, I think this is an underestimation, I'm in the 98-99th percentile. I know current BCG consultants who had significantly lower GPAs in the same studies.
[*]My school is one of the best in the country and definitely a target for McKinsey and BCG recruiting teams
[*]I speak four languages fluently (German, French, English and Dutch), which is absolutely uncommon and really really usefull in Belgium.
[*]I have a bias towards the IT industry (I am currently responsible for a project that promotes free software on the campus, I have two different intern-ships in startups...)
[*]This is also a good selling point. I know that BCG Brussels searches very explicitely for people who master the interface between IT and management
[*]I have a few other extra curricular activities like being a private tutor, helping my father with his small business (producing and selling tablet PC accessories) and I'm also in the frat of the german speaking students on this french speaking campus
[*]Next year I might be responsible for organizing company presentations on the campus (easy acces to recruiters)
[*]I will be able to do the CEMS Master in International Management and go to LSE/HEC Paris/St Gallen for one term
[*]I'm preparing for case interviews with Victor Cheng's material and I feel as if I had been born to do this

At the age of 23, I felt as if I could live up to my full potential for the first time in my life.
Now I'm 25 and since that moment, everything I touch essentially turns to gold.
But I lost 5 entire years, I will be 28 when I have my master (nobody get's recruited right out of undergrad in Belgium).
I can honestly say that this experience helped me form my personality, that my unusually strong motivation comes partly from this mistake.
Personally, I made my peace with it. I know, that I would have failed in business school had I started directly at 18. I was just not mature enough.

But I'm afraid that lazy recruiters will ding me just for my age without looking at anything else.
I figured, that the obvious solution to this problem would be networking. If they know me a little bit, they will at least read the resume and probably invite me.

The question is how do I adress the elephant in the room.
Should I ignore it unless the recruiter asks me explicitely?
Or should I adress it myself right at the beginning of the interview?
I don't want special treatment because of my age.
I don't want/need any achievements from before my 23rd birthday to count.
But I certainly don't want that they calculate the mean of my very bad and very good years to conclude that everything is average.

I usually mention my mistakes in cover letters without any excuse but I mention that it helps me being much more ambitious and independent now.
This has always worked but the competion was not nearly as hard as it's going to be when I apply at McKinsey or BCG.
For example, for the McKinsey explore workshop you are asked to send in a one page resume and an essay on leadership experience.
On the resume I will just mention "2006-2011 Unsuccessful studies in mechanical engineering". Otherwise they will think I was in prison or something.
But should I really try to slip in this issue in the leadership essay. I don't see how, but otherwise there will be no explanation whatsoever.

Does anyone know similiar cases and how they worked out?
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Affiliations: Columbia, Wharton, LBS
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Re: How to adress late-bloomer issue [#permalink] New post 13 Apr 2013, 18:36
This is a case where honesty works best - especially since you turned your life around on all fronts. Everybody loves the story of a great turn-around and your life is a perfect example of that. However, you seem to focus on the wrong aspect of your credentials and experience - the negative aspect where you lost time - instead of the positive aspect where you are focused, grounded, self-aware and hungry. Just in what you present - the stories of your apologies got somewhat tiring to read but when you spoke of your subsequent successes -- I wanted to read more and learn more about what your goals and motivations are. Just remember this as you go through the process and value all of your life experiences (both good and bad) a bit better.

Kimberly Plaga
Senior Admissions Consultant
Manhattan Review

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Re: How to adress late-bloomer issue [#permalink] New post 14 Apr 2013, 02:27
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Oh yes don't worry. In that post I really forced myself to write down the negative things.
I neither think nor speak like this very often. The vast majority of the time, I'm focused on the present or future and how great everything is :)
The problem is not to sell my later achievments but to get this old issue off the table so that I can concentrate on the good things.
The culture of failing in Europe is not the same than in the US. In America you don't need to be ashamed of falling as long as you get up again.
In Europe it's more like "once a loser always a loser". I'm not willing to accept that and I won't be held back by it.
Nevertheless, I can't completely ignore my past and it's not easy to find the right balance.
What I would want to do is mention those five years only when asked and maybe in other specific stories like the one about tutoring in this post.
Doing so, I sometimes get "too agressive, not humble enough" feedback from my friends but they may be biased...

A few examples of how I naturally speak:

The free software project was a great opportunity to develop leadership skills. Big changes needed to be made at the beginning. The project had become kind of a nerds only club.
I became president of the project under the premise to change the target group. The goal was to attract many new users to the free software community.
We doubled our publicity efforts, we even had 8 minutes prime time on national television (show about consumer protection).
This worked, instead of always the same faces, we had many new people at our activities.
It was not easy though. I had to constantly remind the other nine project members not to be too technical in their explanations and not to be condescending either.
Engineers don't do that on purpose, nevertheless it's often an issue. I also learned a lot about client friendlyness during that project. They sometimes approach you with stupid ideas and you need to convince them they're wrong without offending them.
The invited speakers at the conferences we organized were also not at all used to having such a heterogenous audience.
In the end, it all worked out. We more than doubled the number of people present at our activities in comparison to last year and feedback surveys indicate that everybody is happy.

This would be the story I tell in my leadership essay but I have many others.
For example concerning the tutoring job. Since I know first hand how it is to fail miserably and to suceed, I can help all kinds of pupils.
I know how to turn arround an almost hopeless case and I am also able to provide the subtle details needed to get from "good" to "excellent".
Not many tutors can do that. Most are good at only one of the two scenarios.
Also, my pupils tell me that I'm able to motivate them just by being
(in fact not only my pupils but more or less everybody I meet tells me this)

What I liked most about my intern-ships in IT startups is the dynamic work environment and the many opportunities.
However, this fast pace comes with a trade-off. These startups are not always the most professionnal workplaces.
From time to time things get screwed up or just forgotten and then nobody wants to be reponsible.
The team members can be very young on average. Business maturity is an issue (or just plain business familiarity, I know startups with engineers only staffs).
This brings me to management consulting. MC is without doubt a very dynamic work environment but at the same time it's more professional than startups are.
I like the fact that the problems you have to solve are multidisciplinary and open ended.
The structured and linear way of solving them is just how I think all the time anyway.
Consulting is a great opportunity to work only on the most interesting problems from many different industries.
I don't mind travelling at all. I would love to work abroad permanently after the first few years in Brussels.
I can't wait to be in teams with very smart and ambitious people, I'm looking for opportunities to grow.
Re: How to adress late-bloomer issue   [#permalink] 14 Apr 2013, 02:27
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