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Cold water and warm welcome: Internship at innogy Consulting

Before starting your career, you’ll find yourself having to answer a lot of questions. Which employer is right for me? Do I want to specialise in specific industries or occupations? Will I feel at home in this business? I was no different before I started my career in management consulting. That’s why I think doing an internship is a great way for students and young professionals to answer these questions for themselves and get a feel for working life and the employers they might be considering.

I also got my first taste of consulting at the beginning of my career by doing internships, both externally – for example at Horváth&Partners Management Consultants in the Utilities Practice in Budapest, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf – and internally at Deutsche Bank Inhouse Consulting in Frankfurt. This left me convinced that I wanted to start my career in the industry. At innogy Consulting, we also offer internships, giving newcomers to the profession the same opportunity.

Benjamin Hüsselmann also made use of this opportunity. During his internship at iCon from January to March 2017, one of his assignments was to accompany my project “Digital Hiring Strategy”. The project aimed to identify fields of action for digital transformation along the Candidate Journey in the group’s HR department and, derived directly from these, to pilot small-scale measures. The way we worked together was outstanding – no hierarchies, a varied range of tasks and complete commitment from Benjamin. At the time, he was also involved in the “Digital Learning & Development Workstream” and, if he had been working in a completely different area the day before, had to switch back and forth quickly between very different tasks.

He made a complete success of it, and we hired him on the spot. That’s how Benjamin became a permanent member of the iCon consultancy crew at our Essen office in June 2018. He talked to me about his first steps as an intern at iCon, his application and his appointment as a consultant. It’s not a spoiler to reveal that our conversation includes some exciting tips for newcomers to the profession. It’s worth the read:

Kata Soós: What were your goals during your internship at iCon?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: It was my first experience in the area of consulting. Beforehand, I had worked in various departments within corporations. And before long, I knew I wanted to find out what was involved in consulting and what specific challenges there were in project work. Everything was new and, as far as I was concerned, just about any project was bound to be exciting. I was more interested in the “how” than the “what”.

Kata Soós: What were your responsibilities during the internship?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: My remit was to provide my colleagues with a great deal of fact-finding support – for instance, research – and I did a lot of legwork when it came to preparing documents. This allowed me to participate in workshops and to attend coordination meetings as an observer. As my internship progressed, I increasingly became an expert in my own particular specialist subjects. I got involved, for instance, in creating written end products such as recruiting personas to help the hiring team communicate with candidates, or in supporting the “big picture” in digital learning, where we wanted to highlight the way that all measures interconnect with each other and can be continued after the completion of the project.

Kata Soós: How did you find your application phase at iCon?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: The application process was very professional and transparent – from the first moment of contact to the assessment centre (AC). From the beginning, it was clear how the process was going to work: starting with the “classic” written application, through to the online assessment, the telephone call and the selection day. One thing I have a particularly strong memory of is the feedback during and after the application process. I had, apparently, strengths in verbally communicating findings and in staying focused on goals when working. But the feedback also showed me areas that I needed to develop. For instance, I needed to understand better the role the consultant plays in relation to the customer and what is meant by “pyramidal” communication. Feedback like that gives you a certain confidence in your own strengths and at the same time provides you with action-oriented advice on how you can further improve. By the time I was in the final days of my internship, we had already scheduled an appointment for the AC consultancy. Thanks to my internship, I was able to skip the first steps in the overall process – an analytical test and a telephone interview to get to know one another. My AC consultancy on the day, however, was no different to any of the other applicants.

Kata Soós: What tips can you give other applicants for the selection process? What do you think was most important in the selection process?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: An important question that applicants should ask themselves is why they have decided to do in-house consulting. Why not a job in a large or a mid-sized company or as an external consultant? What are you hoping to achieve in this career? It’s important to remember that finding a “personal fit” is an important part of the process. Try and view it as a mutual selection process – the candidate is introducing him or herself to iCon, and vice versa. Also, don't be afraid to ask questions, whether they're about the application process or about how consulting works and what it involves.

Kata Soós: What did you do before and after your internship?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: During my internship, I was in the middle of studying for my master’s degree in Business Psychology and Management. Previously, I had already completed several internships in corporations, especially in the field of human resource development. After completing my master’s degree and a semester abroad in the UK, I went straight on to work as a consultant at iCon. During my internship, I had already been able to make some initial contacts, and this made me even more excited to join iCon and to take up the great opportunity after my master’s degree.

Kata Soós: Did certain experiences stick in your mind and influence your decision to join iCon?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: I have a particularly strong memory of a sprint workshop lasting several days to develop a human resource development program, in which I was also able to help moderate sessions. It opened my eyes on how to develop tangible results within a short period of time and how to assume the dual role of the consultant – how both to moderate and to bring something to the table as a participant on the same topic.

Kata Soós: Did certain experiences stick in your mind and influence your decision to join iCon?Kata: What were your first days like as a consultant? Did it feel like you'd been thrown in at the deep end or were you given a warm welcome?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: A mixture of the two! The expectation is that a consultant needs to be made to feel welcome from the very beginning. It can take a few days or weeks to fully orientate yourself, as so much is happening all at once – from training to your first project assignments, or other involvement in the company. But you should never have the feeling your experience is a one-way street: if you’re willing to contribute and provide a lot of input from day one, you’ll get a lot back, and you can have a go at exploring your own abilities in a variety of situations. That’s a great incentive to perform at a high level.

Kata Soós: What has changed since you became a consultant and are no longer an intern?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: First and foremost, I now feel more responsible for my own tasks. Even as an intern, you feel very much part of the team, and this just increases as a consultant. You simply have more opportunities to control your own input and find ways to collaborate that work best both for yourself and for your team.

Kata Soós: When you go from being a student to starting out in a job, what, in your opinion, is the best way to optimise you work-life balance?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: As a consultant, you work a lot, of course, and there’s a clear contrast to the last stage of your studies, in which you have the freedom to decide your own timetable when working on your dissertation. The old saw is true: there’s a big difference when you start to work professionally and a sharp learning curve. Intensive teamwork also gives you the opportunity to exchange ideas about subjects and methods, as well as find out what your strengths are and which skills you need to develop. In that respect, consulting gives me the opportunity to work in ways that I often missed at university: direct and immediate feedback and applying theoretical knowledge to practical tasks.

Kata Soós: From your point of view, what is it that makes iCon special?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: The feedback culture and the steep learning culture. From day one, you realise that it’s important to coherently develop both your personal and your professional skills. The two aspects – feedback and training – seamlessly dovetail with one another. If, during a feedback session, your project manager or team leader recommends that you need to develop specific areas, there’s almost always a training course to specifically meet that need.

Kata Soós: Tell us what you find particularly appealing about your everyday professional life. What aspect of your work really excites you?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: Most days in a project do follow roughly the same structure, dictated by recurring meetings and votes, but when it comes to the substance of your work, every day is different. By working in a project team, especially as a newcomer, you’ll often find yourself being given the opportunity straight away to implement your suggestions on how to improve particular issues. It’s once again the case that, if you are looking for a lot of feedback, you will always find someone in the team who can share their observations with you. That’s the way to learn something new every day.

Kata Soós: What career prospects and opportunities for advancement do you see for yourself at iCon?

Benjamin Hüsselmann: I follow a particular maxim as a beginner in the industry: “Take things one day at a time”. It’s only natural to have plans for the future and look around for ways to get ahead, but, above all else, I believe that iCon can offer you a way to continuously develop and improve your most important consulting skills. The fact is that performance and development are always valued and rewarded. Project managers and superiors will give you clear information about your career path, and you’ll find yourself learning a lot from the challenges you are set as you progress one step at a time towards your goals.

An article by

Kata Soós

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