The question of how to get into consulting is a tricky one. Differently to law or banking, there is no obvious ways into consulting and the recruitment process is complex. Whereas you could start off as paralegal or accountant, there are no stepping stones.
Equally, most companies do not make it particularly clear how to get a job! You will often find particularly oblique descriptions of vacancies on company websites. However, there are some things you can do to optimise your chance of becoming a consultant.
This sort of goes without saying. Going to a great university truly bolsters your chances, perhaps in a different way to other jobs. Of course, don’t fret if you didn’t, we will get to some ways to make up the ground!
Since there are very few ‘technical’ skills required to be a consultant, general intelligence is valued extremely highly. Consultancies assume that they can mould your abilities into a consultant, rather than recruiting a ready-made professional!
One recruitment company estimated that over 80% of the offer holders for McKinsey had been to Oxbridge. Compare that to universities who teach more technocratic or practical courses, rather than intellectual ones, and you will see a far smaller offer rate. For example, no-one would claim that an Oxbridge student is any cleverer than an LSE or Imperial student, but Oxbridge claims to coach cleverness, whereas LSE and Imperial teach facts and practical elements. For example, if you study Economics at LSE you might study a banking module, whereas this would not be the case at Oxbridge. Investment banking values latter whereas consulting values the former.
Beyond Oxbridge, consultancies readily admit that you probably need a good first class degree. Rightly or wrongly, a 2.1 from Oxbridge is equal to a 2.1 at other universities in the eyes of consultants. Extra-curricular activities are important too and university societies where you have managed people, capital or operations are good to promote in your CV and interview. Recently, engaging with leadership of big student organisations has been a big winner. Presidents of Common Rooms, Student Unions and other elected positions of big societies show that your peers respect you and you are highly energetic/motivated!
Compared to investment banking, it is also less important to do a numerical degree. Lots of people transfer to consulting after taking social sciences. However, there will probably be a higher premium on your test results in this case. Similarly, in the case study, make sure that your numbers are spot on if you come from a humanities subject. No matter what consultancies say about wanting a range, they can only hire you if you are equally as good at the analytics as anyone else; don’t give them a reason to doubt you!
Finally, most consultants join after an MBA. An MBA is literally a series of extended case studies and the top consultants generally pick candidates from cohorts at top Business Schools like London Business School, Cambridge Judge Business School and LSE. Anyone is eligible for an MBA after a few years of professional experience. Likewise, if you do get a job straight out of undergraduate, many consultancies will sponsor your MBA.
DON’T WORRY, if you didn’t go to a ‘target’ university or you don’t think you have the raw horsepower. As you will see, there are lots of other ways in.
As you might expect, internships will stand any candidate in very good stead. In fact, some sort of internship or work experience will be required just to get through the door.
Showing engagement with any businesses or even in something relating to finance or the public sector is appropriate. This can actually be a useful way to explain why consulting. You can see that compared to my experience of private equity, I liked the operational focus and emphasis on analysis of people over balance sheets, for example.
Lots of candidates transfer to consulting after a year or two in industry. They usually transfer as specialists after working as strategists for big companies in retail or manufacturing, for example. This is a great way in if you struggled to get any offers straight after your undergraduate degree. Applying to be an junior analyst after a year in another business is a great way to start and your success rate will be much higher. Perhaps, for no other reason than that you have stories and experience of a real business! Don’t be afraid that this is a ‘wasted’ year in terms of progression.
The recruitment process for consulting is fierce. Only 10% of applicants get through to the testing stage after submitting their CV and cover letter. This is ridiculously low. No matter how good you think your application is, make sure that your CV and cover letter are perfect.
Next, at almost all consultancies you will have some sort of test. There will firstly be a psychometric test. The technology for these is always changing, so try to stay on top. Arctic Shores and HireVue are two of the latest interesting innovators in this space.
In addition, there will be an assortment of capability testing. This might be the digital assessment at McKinsey, which discerns a psychological profile, or a more straightforward numerical or verbal reasoning test at another consultancy. Most firms have devised their own problem solving test. See McKinsey’s archetypal PST which has historically set the tone for other testing processes.
Consultancies are increasingly making applicants take one test at home and another in person to make sure there is no cheating! For more on the different types of testing at the different consultancies, have a look here.
If you pass the testing stage, you will have an interview. AT LAST! Sadly, your odds are still slim. OC&C report giving offers to about 50% of their interview cohort, but this figure is usually much lower. At McKinsey interviews, there were close to 200-300 candidates interviewed for 20-30 Business Analyst positions.
Typically, interviews now take place across 2 days. On each, you will have 1 personal fit interview and 1 case study interview. This is a long process and it shows. Make sure you don’t trip yourself up on the last session.
Personal fit interviews revolve around situational questions. The interviewer will ask the candidate to talk about a scenario where they showed…
- Etc, etc, etc.
Its easier to fall down on this part than people expect.
Prepare your stories carefully and make sure they follow the STAR structure.
Situation – task – action – result.
Take care that they also specifically answer what the interviewer is looking for. An impressive but irrelevant story might tank your application.
The case study is very particular task, for which extensive preparation is necessary. Some applicants will have completed more than 100 hours of preparation prior to the case interview.
These are generally business situations in which you will be asked to produce a strategy. This might be a market entry, price analysis, M&A or capacity problem. Depending on the consultancy, you will be required to lead this part of the interview or the interviewer might help with some of the legwork and guide the candidate’s progress. Make sure you know what type of case it is inadvance.
There are plenty of resources out there for how to crack this part of the interview. Sadly, there are no right or wrong answers, so have a look and take your pick!