Job Hunting in Strategy Consulting
By Jiaqi Wang
Welcome back, prospective consultants! As you know, this is the second blog under the topic of careers in management and strategy consulting, so I will assume that you have already read the first one – Preparing for a Career in Strategy Consulting – and, most importantly, found this career path comfortable and achievable to you, and also I will assume that you have already equipped yourself with the expected qualifications. Now, it is time to go into the woods and hunt for a job.
Before digging deep into the hunting process, I would like to discuss two concerns that most people have, i.e., IVY League degree and MBA degree. These two nagging concerns are annoying to the extent that they may potentially hold you down, making you think less of yourself and display a lack of confidence in interviews. The truth is that although they do matter they are just means to an end but not the end itself. All firms are looking for the right person with the right qualifications. As for how you managed to acquire those qualifications, I do not think this should matter as much.
Issue one: Do consulting firms favor IVY League graduates?
The answer is yes and no. Yes, because an IVY League degree is a source of demonstrated excellence. If you agree that students admitted by top universities are statistically more likely to succeed, then it will not be hard for you to understand that HR will find this source of demonstrated excellence more trustworthy, in terms of employees’ future success rate, than other evidence you list on your resume and reckon relevant merely by yourself.
However, this should not discourage you from pursing this career. As I said, what consulting firms are looking for is the “excellence”. Although you may not have a head start on your diploma, you can demonstrate your excellence in other ways. As a panelist in a recent VersatilePhD.com discussion pointed out, managers would think if you can get the work done you are good in their eyes.
Issue two: Do consulting firms prefer MBA graduates?
This issue is in general related to the first one, but more specific as to one aspect of the “excellence” – business knowledge and acumen. Traditionally, consulting firms consider MBA graduates for their prospective employees. The reason is simple, (a) MBA graduates normally had worked in industry before they went to a business school, so they have a working knowledge of business in the real world; (b) MBA graduates have been trained in business so they are relatively well-versed in business knowledge; (3) MBA graduates have a clearer and more straightforward goal, i.e., working in business, so they are assumed to have better business judgment.
Again, if you can manage to equip yourself with the same qualification even though your diploma says otherwise, I believe you will still be considered as a good job candidate. As you may know, nowadays consulting firms with a broader area of practice prize diversity, e.g., diverse education backgrounds, international experience, and cross-cultural competence. Remember to emphasize how your non-business background can contribute to the company and also your competence in business, I trust this will help you leave a good impression on your interviewers.
So much for the two most common concerns, I hope I put you back in your comfort zone. Now, it is time to know more about the job hunting process.
Step one: Get information
Consult the first blog, Preparing for a Career in Strategy Consulting, for relevant information.
Step two: Prepare your resume and cover letters
There is a good article, Writing a Resume, on our website, introducing you to a multitude of resources that are of great help. Also, our office regularly provides workshops under this topic. You can check out our event schedule here.
Step three: Submit your application
Job application in the consulting world is similar to college application. You have to apply on a recruiting cycle, assuming you are fresh out of graduate school as an inexperienced hire. Check out the official websites of your favored companies for their recruiting cycle. It should be around early fall.
There are several ways of submitting your application:
1. Online application
Most consulting firms have on their websites an online application page where you can submit your materials. Although job applicants in the market have been questioning the efficiency of this channel, suspecting that their applications will just enter into a big database and HR will not look at every one of them. To my knowledge, no one knows whether this is truly what is happening in every firm, but a couple of consultants in a recent VersatilePhD panel discussion think that online application should be the most standard way of submitting application materials.
2. Staff recommendation
It is always good to know friends working in your profession who can hook you up. My personal experience shows that this can be highly efficient if your friends believe you are a good match to their companies. Sometimes, you might even prevail over other job applicants who are slightly more qualified than you.
3. Headhunt agencies or recruiting firms
Headhunters are paid once they make a successful hire at a company, so they will evaluate you in the first place to see if you are worth their time. Talk to them anyway, you might be surprised by their professional evaluation.
4. On-campus career fairs
This is another traditional way of job application. I believe that you all know what this is, so I will not get wordy here.
Step four: prepare for (case) interviews
To start with, a couple of introductory books are recommended: (a) Case In Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation, by Marc P. Cosentino and Joan Oleck 2013; (b) WetFeet Insider Guide. These books, among many others, serve the purpose of providing you with a crack course in (case) interviews in consulting. However, like I said in our first blog, consulting jobs require many soft people skills, e.g., interpersonal and communication skills, so there are no substitutes for face-to-face mock interviews. Following my suggestion for networking, I recommend you again to join a local consulting club or look for people who are also preparing for a consulting job. Pair up and conduct some mock case interviews with them. There is a website of tremendous value in your case interview preparation: caseinterview.com, where you can find overviews of cases, strategies for preparation, and ideas on what is actually important in consulting interviews.
Have fun preparing and hunting for your dream jobs!
– Jiaqi Wang