IT consulting was a totally new concept to me about a year and a half ago. I went blindly into the Big 4’s recruiting period my first week of grad school. I was ill-prepared for the whole process. This included preparing my resume, going to a firm’s social, and learning more about these companies. Needless to say, I did not get an internship, let alone the first interview. The consulting internships I applied for later in the year went better but I still didn’t land that coveted consulting internship.
I was prepared this year. After a co-worker at my summer internship recommended the firm she used to worked at, I gave it another shot. This time I focused on one firm and dove in deep. I conducted informational interviews, spent time my resume, got help from a career advisor, and learned more about the firm. Fortunately, my efforts landed me the first interview! I attended a social with all the first-round interviewees and a few current employees, another opportunity to get advice and network.
After a couple of days of anxiously waiting, I got the email I was progressing to the next round! This is a day or two of interviews and events, usually in a central location. This is when the panic started to set in, I only had a few experiences with a case interview and networking is not my favorite thing. Fast forward a few weeks and went through the meet-and-greets and three very long interviews. After that, I was just proud of getting through all of it relatively unscathed and thought I did a pretty good job!
Of course, this story would be pointless if you didn’t get the ending! About a week after my second-round interviews, I got the call. I still remember picking up and as the recruiter said they’d like to extend me an offer, my roommates and I jumped up and down as I tried to compose myself. I ended up accepting the offer and I’m so excited to start in the fall.
So how’d I do it? Here are some tips to help you throughout the process!
Step One: Company and Industry Research
Before you even start applying, you need to do your background research. It’s easy to get caught up in recruiting hype if it’s all you hear about and it’s what all your peers are doing. My mistake the first time I applied was that I submitted similar applications to all 4 due to lack of time and knowledge of the differences between each firm.
Is there a specific horizontal (consulting lingo for a category of consulting) you’re interested in? Or types of projects you want to focus on? Even if they are all similar, there are key differences between each firm, Big 4 or not. Look at each firm’s website, what people are saying about them online, and set up several informational interviews to get a better feel for what type of people work at that company. Making these connections will also help you later on in the process!
After I talked with my colleague at my internship last summer, she connected me with someone she knew in the Seattle office. I learned about what he did on a day to day basis, how consulting worked, and why he decided on the firm. It was so helpful and I knew I made the right decision.
Step Two: The Application
The application itself was just like any other job application. If you are applying for an internship or job through campus recruiting, the deadline is during the first half of the year. At my campus, the Big 4 recruited heavily through a few departments in October. When I applied for the job position, I made sure to give myself a few weeks to work on it.
Like with any other job application, make sure you fill it out thoroughly. Work on your resume and do some research into what keywords are applicable to the position you’re applying to and work off of the job description. Use action verbs and quantify what you did in your previous positions and projects. There are a LOT of resources out there and I’m sure you will be able to find resources within your own campus that can help!
Step Three: First Round Interviews
Once I applied via my university’s online job posting and the company specific application, the next step was the on campus interview. Before arriving, I reviewed my resume and came up with questions they might ask about my background. I also prepared answers to why I wanted to work at this firm, what my background was, and how I would succeed at this position. I also made sure to prepare questions I would ask the interviewer at the end. The interview lasted about 30 minutes and the recruiters said they would contact us within the next few days about the next interview.
The day before the interview, I was invited to a social with the first round interviewees. The social was a week after my first interview and a great opportunity to ask consultants about working at the firm and connect with via email.
Step Four: Second Round Interviews
After the social, I was invited for the final round interviews in Dallas. I followed up with the consultants I met at the social thanking them for their time and asking them for advice for the final round. I also emailed the consultant I met at the Seattle office about this development. It was a great feeling to know people who have either gone through this process a few years ago or were senior enough to let me know what the interviewers would be looking for. All three of the people I emailed were extremely helpful.
Types of Interviews
The firm I interviewed at has three interviews with different people each with it’s own area of focus. One is for people skills and experiences, one for career development and growth, and, of course, a case study. Make sure every story follows the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). I also came up with a solid answer on why I wanted to work for the firm and more specifically, this domain. The five areas that I focused on were:
- Team work: stories about planning, collaboration, decision making, and flexibility
- Time management: managing conflicting priorities
- Difficult situations: delivering a difficult message, handling a difficult team member, or helping a teammate
- Leadership: demonstrating ability to lead
- Inclusiveness & Diversity: working with others with different viewpoints and backgrounds, how I found a solution and show respect to others
Talk about work, project, and personal experiences and what the results were. Provide clear and strong examples, and 4 or 5 strengths and experiences you want the interviewer remember after the interview.
The case interview is it’s own beast and there are plenty of resources out there like Victor Cheng and practice case interviews. It depends on what your domain is to figure out what kinds of answers the interviewer is looking for. My domain is tech consulting so I looked for gaps in the fictitious company’s technology and how they could improve cybersecurity and infrastructure. A few minutes were provided to read through the case and start structuring my argument on paper. The rest was talking through my thoughts and asking questions. By the end, I made my case and what I thought should be the next steps. Practice with your friends, peers, and career counselors!
Step Five: Accepting the Consulting Offer
Congratulations on the offer!
Think about what consulting entails and what the expectations are at the firm you’re looking at. At a Big 4, you are expected to travel often and work late; will you be okay with that? Are you comfortable with focusing on you career for the next few years and giving it most of your time? What kind of doors will it open and is this what you want to do in the long run? Think about the offer and what kind of commitment it will be. It can be a rewarding and lucrative but you need to have the right personality and goals.
Good luck on this journey and do what’s right for you! Don’t apply do consulting gigs just because that’s what everyone else in your program is doing; there ARE other options out there. If you are interested in consulting, do your research! You can do it but it will take some hard work. If you’ve gone through the process, leave your top tips down below!