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Best advice to entering the world of professional consulting?

I am very curious about the consulting industry and have some exposure through my on-campus non-profit consulting club, but would love to learn more about how to prepare for recruiting in the professional consulting realm.
#consulting #curious

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Jon’s Answer

Consulting is wonderful career path and it will certainly open many doors to you, but it also does come with certain nuances to be aware of.

Even in consulting, you generally need to determine what field you are interested in pursuing. Information technology, public service, healthcare, engineering, accounting/auditing, etc., really the list is truly endless, so you would need to have a reasonable idea of where you want to head so you can tailor your schooling, certifications, etc. around it.

Next you can start to choose between really large well-known companies, smaller niche shops, or medium-sized regional firms. Each has its benefits. Large firms with big national names look great on a resume, but you will also see a lot of competition in ranks and you be narrowly focused at first. Small firms will expose you to a lot right from the start, but they may or may not offer the "rungs on the ladder" for you to easily move up in your career. Medium firms will offer a little bit of everything. Just getting started is typically the most important thing, but do consider this aspect.

One thing to be aware of up front... consulting can have its challenges. Many gigs come with tight deadlines, long hours and a fair amount of "stress" with that. Some consulting firms will take on work that be may slightly outside their comfort zone just to keep you "billable" with paid client work. If you can't find a way to get and stay "billable", you'll find consulting a challenge. And finally, consulting can sometimes imply a lot of travel; some times this travel is 4-5 days a week too. When you are younger, travel at that pace can actually be exciting, but when you have kids, it can be a drag as you aren't there for your kids events. Just have awareness on this as you go into interviews and think about your preferences now and for the long-term.

Lastly, consulting is not necessarily a final destination. Many people start by consulting, earn their reputation and experience, and then use that to springboard into a well paid corporate position. Of course that takes you out of the consulting field at that point but hopefully you've found the field you're interested in and a good salary and benefits are often worth it.

Good luck!

Thank you so much! This is really helpful! Sydney P.

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Lance’s Answer

Lots of good content in this thread! If I had to give my own little summary of what I consider most important when preparing for a consulting interview it would be the following:

1) Be yourself! It may seem silly or cliché to say but recruiters see tons of candidates during recruitment so bringing forward your personality and how you uniquely contribute to the work culture will help you to stand out in the recruiters mind! Also, different companies and consulting firms have varying cultures, some of which might feel more natural for you than others. When you talk to the recruiters, imagine yourself working with people who are similar to them and ask them questions about the company culture. By doing all of these things you can do your best to work somewhere that feels right and to work with colleagues you enjoy being around!

2) Have realistic and achievable goals. Knowing what you want from a career or position allows you to seek opportunities that will help you achieve those goals! Knowing things like what industry you are interested in (e.g. health, finance, insurance), what skills you want to develop, and defining short-term goals are all good preparation steps for an interview. Consider why you want the position, this can help explain your interests and goals in a practical sense (e.g. "I want to work at [insert company name] because I want to develop [skill] so that in two years I will have successfully become an experienced consultant").

3) Practice! It may seem obvious but practice will be your best friend for acing interviews! It's normal to get nervous during an interview and forget some of the things you planned to say, but by practicing a lot you don't have to worry about forgetting things. If you are comfortable coming into the interview, it will flow more like a natural conversation and you can bring up details about your experience that fit into the conversation! Speak out loud into the mirror if you can, or practice with a friend.

4) Lastly, don't be afraid to put yourself out there and try even if you feel like you don't have all of the right experience. Proving that you are enthusiastic about learning and growing can sometimes mean more to a recruiter than having an answer to everything! Once you enter the workforce and potentially start consulting, the learning will never stop because there is so much to learn and we can always better ourselves.

Best of luck to you and be confident!

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Alan’s Answer

I am alum of one of the top 3 global management consulting firms, having spent quite a number of years through the ranks in Asia and Europe, and now working for a major international bank.

A few suggestions on navigating consulting recruiting as a student, based on my experience as an interviewer and also coordinator for campus recruiting for my office from my consulting days:

1. Understand industry landscape and prioritise
There are many different types of consulting within the broad category of management consulting. And there are different types of firms in terms of size, focus, international footprint, culture, career progression, etc. Thus there's a need to first understand the industry landscape and prioritise your recruiting efforts for the firms that match your interests well. But generally speaking larger and reputable firms are preferred as consulting and post-consulting career opportunities are quite prestige-driven, and larger firms offer better opportunities to explore different practice areas and client industries. Check with your school's career office and library for more resources.

2. Get connected
Consulting firms generally focus graduate recruiting on a list of target universities. Check with your university's career office to see if any consulting firm regularly hires on campus at your school. If yes, register for the recruiting events early, participate actively in the events, and network well with the consultants. If your school is not on the shortlist, don't stop there. Sometimes the firms don't go to a certain university not because they don't accept applications from the students, but simply because the school's location is a bit out the way to make a recruiting trip work. So do reach out to the firms directly by email or phone, and leverage your school's career office and alumni network to find "warm" contacts.

3. Show commitment and interest
Consulting work typically involves heavy workload and traveling, and is not easy physically and intellectually especially in the 1st 2 years. Meanwhile, every year there're way more resumes than job vacancies, in particular at the the large firms. Thus a clear demonstration of commitment and interest in the industry and the firm is close to a must to get hired. This can done through your smart questions asked at recruiting events and other encounters with the firm's consultants, your active networking and follow-up's with the contacts you've made at the company, and also through shaping strategy / consulting-like experience similar to what you have at your school's non-profit consulting clubs. Even better, if your school is in a location where there's a substantial presence of consulting firms, check if the firms can offer part-time research / internship opportunities that you can take side by side your school work. In some locations these part-time research / internships often lead to formal summer internships and/or full time job offers.

4. Sharpen Excel and PowerPoint skills
Some firms in certain locations may ask candidates to do some problem solving with Excel and PowerPoint, in the form of a timed test, before the interview process. This is not surprising as this is the core work for analysts at almost all consulting firms, and commercial realty in certain markets requires graduate hires to hit the ground running more readily on Day One. No one should expect a candidate to write professional Excel model and slides during recruiting; otherwise there'd be zero need for multi-year training and apprenticeship, but certain basics still need to be demonstrated.

5. Ace the "case interviews"
2 to 3 rounds of interviews, each round 2 interviews, each interview about 1 hour, should be expected before an offer is made. Most firms have a combination of CV and "case" questions in each interview. CV questions are very similar to those in any job interview, such as why consulting, why our firm, what are your strengths and weaknesses, tell me more about a success and a failure of yours, etc., typically for the first 5 to 10 mins. Then the "case" questions kick in. The interviewer will give the candidate a problem statement, then let the candidate to ask probing questions, get data and collaborate with the interviewer to "crack the case" in the next 35 to 40 mins. After the "case" candidates typically are given roughly 10 mins to ask questions about the firm, role, etc.

As you may already tell from the time allocation, "case interview" basically decide the interview outcome, except for those who do very poorly in the CV questions. You may pass with a fair CV interview and a great case interview, but definitely not if a great CV interview but just a fair case interview. Interviewers typically look for a proper framing and clarification of the problem statement, a clear problem solving structure defined and communicated, a logical step by step exploration of key areas following the structure with good implications drawn, ability to refine / correct the course as new information is given while not disrupting the problem solving structure too much, and a good summary highlighting key findings and recommendations towards the end. Very often candidates try to find a good answer to the question asked, but miss demonstrating what the interviewers really look for: structure, logical thinking, communication and rapport, common sense and some level of creativity in problem solving. It's okay to get no good answer, but it's definitely not okay if no structure, thinking or communication properly done.

I would not elaborate in detail on how one should prepare for case interviews, as there are already many references easily available from M/B/B recruiting websites to common tips books like Vault that are common in school career offices and libraries. But one cautionary note I'd highlight is that one should avoid copying and pasting textbook / tips book frameworks directly into the case interviews as it'd feel very rigid and very often not fit the problem to solve; and also avoid using consulting jargons, which in fact many consulting professionals don't like much. Just do the right amount of prep, be yourself in the case interview, and enjoy the problem solving process with the consultant interviewing you. This is a close reflection of the day to day job of consultants, and if you don't enjoy the case interview process much you may not like the job much even you've got and accepted the offer, so just relax and have fun.

Hope the above helps!

Thank you so much! This is really helpful! Sydney P.

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Kiran’s Answer

Hi Sydney - I shared this article with someone earlier and might help you as well. Good luck!


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Trevor’s Answer

So many great answers on here that I think really hit the nail on the head! What I would say is probably the #1 item to focus on is what TYPE of consulting you want to do. Consulting is so broad that nailing down exactly what you want to focus on in consulting is one of the more important things to check off the list!

I wish you luck in your research!

Thank you so much! Sydney P.

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Victoria’s Answer

Hi! The best advice I would say:

1) Network and Talk to People: I think a lot of people think that consulting is for them without a good understanding of what it is. People also have the tendency to speak upon the most positive things about their job and may not focus on the negatives which are also important to hear about.

2) Victor Cheng: If you have cemented the idea that this is what you want to do - I recommend his free online resources. Then keep on practicing, read the news, etc and really think about how you would fix problems in your daily life.


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Robin’s Answer

Given the world we are in today, get comfortable working remotely! Learn to use virtual tools, facilitation and design thinking skills.

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Rajani’s Answer

Great answers above! I would summarize them by saying, be open minded when starting new. Observe and learn while trying to find one's own interest in industry type, project type etc. Focus on being a great team player, be always available and most importantly ask for help when required. No one succeeds alone ever :) Other than that, soft skills helps a lot. Learn, improvise and perform almost every day :)

Thank you so much! This is great advice :) Sydney P.

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Chris’s Answer

Consulting requires a good ear as much as knowledge. Being s good listener to the issues client is facing and asking open ended questions is key. You also need to learn and gain experience. Do not over stretch, but get help when issues are outside your comfort zone.

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Paul Anthony’s Answer

Networking is one of the most important parts of the recruiting process. If you attend a school where consulting firms do on-campus recruiting, you should attend every recruiting event you can and get to know some of the people that are attending. Chances are at least one of them will be on your interview panel and having a connection with one of the interviewers can improve the flow of an interview. Networking is a bit of a long-form interview about how well you interact with people. You want to make connections with people, but be aware, and show good EQ. Don't be a pest or hog the time with your questions. Help others get involved in the conversation. Then make sure you are listening, you can utilize what you pick up in a networking environment to help shape your interview answers. It also helps if you do a little homework on the company before attending so you can have some intelligent questions to ask.

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Trevor’s Answer

A lot of great answers already here, but I'd just add that be open to being uncomfortable. You will constantly be in projects with new (but exciting!) challenges that might require a lot of thought and research.

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Ani’s Answer

For consulting you need the following:

(1) having an open mind for problem solving as there are no definitive steps solve consulting problems. Such problems typically need a lot of brainstorming.

(2) get exposed to the field of Data Analytics as these skills could come in very handy for you enter the consulting world

(3) Be prepared for 80% travel to Client places. You shouldn't be afraid of being a road warrior.

(4) get interested in solving puzzles

(5) develop good presentational skills and the art of public speaking

Thank you so much! This is really helpful! Sydney P.