A lot of people want jobs in management consulting. Especially when you’re starting out in your career, it can seem like the perfect first gig — lots of travel, exposure to a lot of different industries and problems… not to mention great salaries and exit opportunities.
The heavy demand for consulting jobs means firms can be extra picky when recruiting. The consulting recruiting process is often viewed as notoriously hard relative to other fields… and landing a position can seem daunting initially.
Don’t sweat it. The recruiting process actually isn’t that bad. Relative to other industries it’s incredibly structured and you get a ton of support along the way.
Here’s what to expect from the consulting recruiting process:
If you’re attending a top tier business school, there’s a good chance that top management consulting firms will be coming to your college campus for recruiting sessions. This will typically involve a bunch of consultants from the local office coming down with a partner or two, giving a quick presentation, and mingling over drinks/snacks.
These info sessions are incredibly useful. You can use them to scope out what your potential colleagues will be like, what the culture of the firm is… and also get to ask questions directly to consultants about their careers. Be careful though as impressions can be lasting — if you have too many drinks you might find your resume near the bottom of the pile.
TIP: If you find yourself developing a rapport with one of the consultants, ask for their card. In the follow-up email, ask them if you can contact them with any questions that come up for you during the recruiting process… you can start developing a relationship with a stakeholder in the recruiting process early.
Pretty standard resume and cover letter (in rare cases there might be an online math-test or a leadership essay, which is typically firm specific). The career management center at your school should be able to give you a great head start here. The key is to really try and differentiate yourself and be specific to the firm you’re applying to.
In your resume, make sure you’re doing a good job not just describing what you did in your previous jobs, but their ultimate impact on the organization that you were working in. Consultants love to see impact. Additionally, highlight organizations where you were involved for a number of years—people who have shown commitment and growth in one role will be preferred over someone whose been bouncing around between extracurricular.
When I was going through resumes of potential hires, the number one thing I saw missing from cover letters was the reasoning behind why the person wanted to be a management consultant — including it can show you have a real passion for the work.
There are two parts to a consulting interview — the case and the behavioral portion. We’ll be delving into how to tackle cases in a subsequent article… but the overview is that they’re like a mini consulting project. You’ll be told of a company that’s facing a particular problem, and you’ll describe to the interviewer how you’d probably go about solving that problem. The interviewer will want to see you a structured and collaborative approach to solving the problem. Good things to show off here are suggesting a solution before asking for help, only asking for the minimum amount of data and not getting flustered when faced with a difficult situation.
The behavioral portion of the interview is more casual — the goal here is to see if you’d be a good cultural fit at the company and if you’re personable enough to be a functional team member. Sometimes this part is left to the very end of the case interview. Typically the case and behavioral portion of the interview are weighted 70/30 respectively.
The first round
Typically first round interviews are held on campus. There will be two back to back case interviews with two different consultants and afterwards they’ll confer on their results to narrow down the list of candidates.
The people interviewing will typically be mid level consultants (engagement managers), and will use the same case with everyone to get a more standardized sense of the candidates. This means that it’s generally a no-no to discuss the interview you just had with someone who hasn’t gone yet. You’ll be putting them at an advantage over you!
The final rounds
The final rounds are the exact same as the first rounds in terms of format. The only difference is the people conducting the interviews are a lot more senior, there are a lot more interviews (4-6 vs. 2 in the first round), and the interviewers won’t typically use the same case repeatedly.
The hardest thing about a final round are the sheer number of interviews… the case-difficulty might go up a bit but not significantly. As long as you’ve had enough practice and know you have the endurance for it, the final rounds shouldn’t be much different than a longer version of your first round.
If your final rounds go well, you’ll receive a call for an offer (can be within hours or can several days, depending on the firm). The call will usually be made by the most senior person who interviewed you. Don’t feel any pressure to accept right away, as thankfully in consulting, exploding offers aren’t really a thing. This means that you can take all the time you need between receiving an offer and accepting it. Consultants are very open to setting up conversations with specific partners that might be able to speak to their firm’s activities in your areas of interest (e.g., not for profit work).
While the consulting recruiting process can be daunting and difficult… it’s really not that bad. There’s a ton of structure and lots of opportunity to put in the extra-work so you can come out ahead. It’s definitely more intense than a typical job interview process... but if you take the time to understand the structure, you can use smart preparation to land your dream job!
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