For eager young go-getters a job at a consulting firm is the ticket to a high flying career. You get to solve exciting new problems, travel the world, work with brilliant and powerful people, and build a network that will serve you the rest of your life. What is consulting you many ask? Consulting is a broad term that can encompass everyone from a political advisor to large multi-national IT outsourcers. For our purpose we’ll focus specifically on management consultants. Here’s how to get hired as a management consultant.
Management consultants are sort of the elite class of the consulting industry. They jet in, help top tier corporations solve big meaty issues, then jet out again onto the next challenge. Companies hire management consultants because the problem to be solved is either too hard or too specialized to solve themselves. This can be things like entering new markets (like China), launching new products, overseeing an acquisition or restructuring the company. Some of the top leaders in business and politics, such as Mitt Romney, Jeff Immelt (GE), Sheryl Sanberg (Facebook) and Meg Whitman (eBay/HP) all got their start as consultants.
Every year tens of thousands of eager young graduates compete for a position at a prestigious consulting firm. The interview process can be intimidating and most will tell you they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. If you’re interested in pursuing a career in consulting, here are 3 steps that will get you started:
Do Your Research:
Most people go into consulting for the challenge and the opportunity. There is no other career that provides the learning and exposure that you’ll receive as a management consultant. However, it is not all roses. Consultants work long hours under incredible pressure. It is important you understand what the job entails, as well as the different types of consulting and consulting firms. It is important you really have a good sense of what you want to do and where you want to work. You need to understand the differences between each firm. Once you actually start interviewing, firms are going to expect that you understand what sets them apart and have a clear reason for why you want to work at that specific company.
Create a Network of Contacts:
Once you understand the industry and the firms, you need to establish some level of contact at any company you want to interview with. Prestigious consulting firms don’t typically have open on-line job applications. The easiest way to do this is to tap into your school’s alumni database. Your school likely has an active database of recent graduates that lists where they work and how to contact them. Sort through that database for alumni working at the firms you’re interested in. When you find one, send them an email mentioning that you also attended XYZ University, are interested in going into consulting and was wondering if they would be willing to have a brief 10 minute phone call to answer some questions you had about their background and their experience at the firm. You’ll get a lot of no responses, but maybe 1 out of 10 will be willing to talk. This is your opportunity to both impress them and try to leverage that call into an introduction to others in the firm. By the time you actually reach out for an interview you want to be on a first name basis with at least 2-3 influential consultants at each of your target firms.
Learn Everything There is to Know about Case Interviews:
In addition to typical interview questions (tell me about your experience, why do you want to work here, etc.) consulting interviews contain a fairly intimidating section called a “case” interview. In a case interview you are asked a specific business situation. For example, you might hear “your client is a major retailer whose profit has declined by 10% the last 3 years, I’d like you to tell me why and what they should do about it.” You’ll spend roughly 30-40 minutes discussing the situation with the interviewer and providing a recommendation. Case questions are purposely vague and do not have a set answer. You are expected to structure the conversation and ask specific questions that allow you to gather information and come up with logical conclusions. Asking case questions allows a firm to see firsthand your problem solving skills, analytical rigor, creative thinking and communication capabilities. This is why firms put so much emphasis on the case interview, and why you, as a candidate need to put so much effort into preparing for the case portion. To crack a case you need to be able to frame the problem and the big buckets of information required; you need to ask intelligent questions and show structure in your thinking and conclusions; you need to show fact-based analysis and you need to summarize everything into a clear set of recommendations. There are a wealth of resources online to help you prepare for case interviews as well as entire books on the subject. The best method is usually through a dedicated case preparation course. Get started now learning and practice case questions.
Understanding the industry, building contacts and preparing for the case interview are by no means all it takes to get a job as a consultant. They are just the start, but if you are interested in starting your career as a management consultant they will absolutely set you up for success.
Kevin Kennedy is co-founder of College2Consulting.com, which helps students and applicants land jobs with top tier consulting firms. You can download a free a copy of their new ebook The 7 Steps to Becoming a Management Consultant.
Featured image via Ashley Ella Design.
This is a guest post by Kevin Kennedy.