Losing my consultancy virginity – Internship at Virgin Care, UK

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About the Author: Rebecca is pursuing MSc in International Management from University of Exeter Business School, UK. She shares insightful details about how she got her first consultancy internship at Virgin Care group.

Henri Poincare, a French mathematician and one of the founders of the chaos theory, once said, “It is far better to foresee even without certainty than not to foresee at all.” Well, this quote relates perfectly to my journey in the picturesque city of Exeter in Devon, UK. It began at the Careers Camp hosted by the University of Exeter Business School during fresher’s week in September 2016, when a bright brown-eyed girl was asked what her dream job would be. My answer to the question was to work with either the Virgin Group (for Richard Branson) or in Syco Productions (for Simon Cowell) as a management consultant. Little did I know that by the year end, I would get an opportunity to work as a consultant for Virgin Care in two areas that I feel passionate about – marketing communications and autism.

At the University of Exeter, each student who took up the MSc IM program was provided with the option of a dissertation or a business project, a compulsory module worth 30 credits. The internship was a part of the business project that was specially devised to give every selected student the opportunity to combine the investigation into an authentic business challenge with a more in-depth research report. I had to earn the spot as we were a total of 140 fresh faces. Only 5 spots were available for the business project option and so the competition was tough. The selection procedure began with the screening of cover letters and CVs. Our grades and communication skills were also being observed by the faculty for 4 months before the fair, for selecting the ‘right candidate for the right organisation’. Thus, 8 of us were shortlisted by the faculty for the next round.

The second stage of the selection process was a personal interview. It was carried out by our program director and coordinator. We were all treated like candidates heading into a job interview, and my interview lasted about 40 minutes. Numerous questions were asked about my previous work experience, key skills, and passion. I also had to share the reasons for choosing management consulting and the domain that I preferred more (from finance, marketing, or technical.) I talked about my 3.5 years of work experience (jobs and internships) with different organizations like Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, Ogilvy & Mather, etc. and my various profiles from being corporate relations manager to CEO of a startup. I shared that my key skills were project management, corporate relationships, security analysis/portfolio management, communication, international business management, and leadership. I said that management consulting is simply helping the management in locating the loophole to the problem they are facing, and being a people’s person, I had always been passionate about communicating with people and finding solutions to their problems. Finally, I chose marketing as the domain that I preferred most.

5 of us cleared the interviews and were informed about the clients we would be handling. To my delight, I was selected for VirginCare – Devon Integrated Children’s Services as a marketing communications consultant! To say I was excited, would be an understatement! The last seven months have not only been a roller-coaster ride but also an eye-opener for me from both personal and social aspect. From the very first meeting with Mr. O’Friel, Head of Strategic Business Development, and the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) task & finishing group at the end of January 2017, my dream was unraveling. This meeting was the beginning of the research process that addressed various issues concerning Virgin Care.

Devon Integrated Children’s Services was set up with the purpose of providing individual attention to autistic adolescents, empowering their families through the provision of sufficient information, and acting as a consistent support system. This project was a breakthrough as it encouraged reconsideration of numerous decisions with regards to the autistic diagnostic process. It was inspired by monotonous occurrences of long waiting lists of 18 months and numerous cases that lose out on the support because of the waiting period or wrong diagnosis due to an overload of referrals made by parents/carers, General Practitioners (GPs), and Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCO) from schools. However, the response from families has been rather overwhelming and given rise to many referrals to seek a diagnosis for autistic spectrum conditions and associated diagnostics.

The Gantt chart that I initially prepared allowed me to set deadlines and work within them. Due to time constraints of the various stakeholders involved and my pragmatic approach to data collection which involved questionnaire surveys designed for parents, GPs, and SENCOs, personal interviews, focus groups with a sample of the population that was interested, and desk research, I would conclude that this research has not reached its real potential. On the flip side, smaller suggestions with an urgent requirement made by us with regards to altering and transforming the company website were considered and implemented timely. These changes included removal of jargon, an introduction of sound and visuals for people with sensory disabilities, ease of navigability, and retrieval of desired information.

Though time restricted me from meeting with all the GPs and the SENCOs of schools, I was able to interact with four mothers who had children living with already-diagnosed autistic spectrum conditions but were still on the waiting list. On hearing their concerns, we realised how imperative it was to minimise the issues with the system and the handlers. New mothers exposed to the system for the first time are rather distraught and clueless as to the length of the process, the diagnostic assessment, and what follows in the future. Single Point Access (SPA) that was set up as a toll-free number provided physical presence yet lacked professional help. They stated that there were numerous calls providing false hope and no follow up calls or emails to provide assurance. I did an in-depth investigation using an appropriate research methodology providing primary and secondary research into the issue faced by the management and offered a set of recommendations and an appropriate solution.  As my interest continued growing on this project, unfortunately, the project deadline approached. Mr. O’Friel was kind enough to let me continue the survey and attend meetings with him till the end of July.

With my past experience and understanding in the field of internal audit, I eased into my role as a consultant and was on high alert to any whistleblowers or benchmarks that popped up along the way. Mr. O’Friel was a proactive client who provided information with accuracy and time-sensitivity. Our weekly update meetings helped me reach the desired area of concern with precision and provided maximum recommendations which were taken into consideration and the results of which can be viewed on the website and through feedback from a parent that has been attached as one of the appendices in the business project.

Are you also looking to lose your corporate virginity? Apply to these cool MBA internships and gear up for some action!

Editor’s note – If you also have an interesting story to share, you can now participate in Your Internship Story Contest 2017 and win cash prizes and goodies worth INR 1 Lac!

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