Paying it Forward: Reflections from a Peer Leader

By Suraj Sridhar, MBA2024

I find it interesting that ‘paying it forward’ and ‘giving back’ are often used to mean similar things in identical contexts. While a few interpretations of the difference between them exist, one caught my eye: the former involves helping those unrelated to the initial giver while the latter implies direct reciprocity. Taking this as gospel (only for the next 700 words or so!), my time as a Peer Leader at LBS was a ‘paying it forward’ endeavour and a gratifying one at that. Read on to find out why.

About the Peer Leader Program

Building careers in industries such as consulting, investment banking, and technology (to name a few) is typically high on the priority list for students at LBS. While company presentations, networking opportunities, and Career Center guidance provide solid avenues to progress on that journey, the value of learning from peers is unmatched. The Peer Leader program formalises this by allowing a group of students with either an internship or formal career experience in a certain industry to support those aspiring to follow suit. Through one-to-one sessions, Peer Leaders will review CVs and cover letters, conduct mock interviews, and even help with negotiating job offers in some instances. In essence, the program is set up for students to help other students in a self-sustaining closed loop; the fact that it is a paid position adds to its attractiveness! Having interned at a consulting firm this past summer, I have been a Peer Leader for the industry during the second year of my MBA.

Early motivations

One of main goals at LBS was to pivot into strategy consulting after almost 5 years in corporate banking. While I came in with a foundational understanding of the industry, my limited knowledge of consulting recruitment made securing a summer internship seem daunting at the outset. Regular self-doubt and periodic rejection were staples of my journey and, looking back, I had mentally given up on more than one occasion. That this phase ended happily was in large part due to the graciousness of Peer Leaders from the MBA2023 class. Through reflections on their own recruitment and honest feedback on my candidacy, I understood the structures and methods that were required to achieve successful results. Most importantly, they were direct when I needed it and encouraging when I deserved it. I knew as early as my third session that I would love to be a Peer Leader the following year if the opportunity presented itself. To me, it was as great a means of making a difference as any at LBS.

Conducting Peer Leader sessions

I was very conscious of my responsibilities as a Peer Leader. For example, an inaccurate observation or a speculative suggestion could quite clearly affect a person’s preparation, mood, and confidence. Moreover, the fear of not adding any value made me invest in every interaction to the best of my ability. The format of each session would vary slightly based on the topic discussed. During CV and cover letter reviews, I would take time to read both documents in the first 5-10 mins such that I could offer specific suggestions on content, structure, and language. These ideas were underpinned by three main things: a) the individual’s goals, b) feedback I had received on my own CV and cover letter, and c) independent insights from other in-person and online chats with consultants. From November onwards, I mostly ran mock case interviews in line with the impending consulting interview season in January. I felt it important to have practice sessions simulate live conditions (as unnatural as that felt!) in terms of format and tone to help my peers best prepare for the real thing. Doing so also gave me the right lens from which to highlight strengths, identify areas for improvement, and offer advice to move forward. As I was told at school many years ago, practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent. The right kind of practice makes perfect!

Summary and learnings

After conducting 100+ Peer Leader sessions over 3 months, I realised that being authentic and providing reassurance were the two most reliable ways to make a tangible impact. I really believe that, more than technique and ability, consulting recruitment boils down to mentality and confidence; the mentality to stay resilient under pressure and the confidence to believe in preparation and instincts when challenged. My purpose as a Peer Leader was to support as many of my peers across these aspects as possible. In the process, I developed my ability to listen with intent, share constructive feedback, and deliver tough messages – invaluable skills in both my professional and personal life.

In late January and early February, I was very happy to read messages from my peers describing the offers they had received and the value that they felt I had provided during their preparation. To know that I was able to contribute in my own small way towards their positive outcomes filled me with satisfaction and renewed energy to keep paying it forward!

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