Written by Hande Altun – HBS Graduate and Bain Consultant (Check out her LinkedIn)
Choosing consulting as my first job
I started considering management consulting as a career option during my junior year at Yale- the companies were heavily recruiting on campus but I wasn’t sure what consulting was or if I was the right fit for the job. I was a political science major and I knew that I wasn’t cut out to do graduate school or stay in academia, as I have always enjoyed participating in more practical and “business-y” activities during my time at college. I also knew that I enjoyed spending time on a variety of subjects and got easily bored if I just focused on one activity for a long time. When I spoke with friends who started doing consulting after school, I realized that launching my career as a consultant might be a good opportunity for me to be exposed to a variety of different industries and learn business early on from the best strategists. I went through the application process and started working at Bain’s Boston office right after my graduation.
If you decide that you want to explore a career in consulting, the first step is to build a strong resume and a cover letter, clearly laying out why you are interested in working in consulting and why you’re applying to the specific firm that you’re applying to. The recruiters read hundreds of resumes and cover letters so make sure you stand out. I’m not talking about using multi-colored, fancy layouts. You should stand out by preparing a well thought out application highlighting your education and experience in the most professional way possible, communicating your drive and enthusiasm to the recruiter. Of course, job applications are not supposed to be fun, but I think during the application process you get a great perspective of your past experiences and how you want to shape your career in the future. As you put together your cover letter, and reflect on why consulting might be a good fit for you, you learn about yourself as well, and I find this really rewarding.
The second step is to prepare for the case interviews- and you cannot do this only by reading a book. You need to find a friend, an acquaintance or a career counsellor, and go through some practice cases with that person. A case interview is different than a regular interview; you are expected to solve a business problem in a clear and structured way. When I’m interviewing recent college graduates, I look specifically for the following characteristics:
Structure: Can the interviewee break down her solution to tackle the business problem to meaningful steps and follow this structure while solving the case? Is she trying to force fit an answer into a textbook framework or has she actually thought about the question at hand? A good structure is at least 50% of cracking the case.
Quantitative and analytical skills: Does the interviewee have the necessary “hard skills” for the job?
Business judgment: Does the interviewee have a nose for value? Do her recommendations feel sound?
Communication skills: Can the interviewee clearly communicate her way of thinking and the results with me? Would this person thrive at a meeting with the senior team or the client?
Coachability: Is the interviewee open to receiving feedback and changing her course if necessary?
I think the application process reflects the job itself quite well: you’re supposed to solve business problems and communicate them effectively every day at your job. So if you enjoy the case interview process, at least solving the business problems, it’s a sign that consulting might be a good option for you.
What is the job like?
Businesses hire consultants to solve their strategic problems and to help them with complex implementation issues. The task might be building a revenue and profitability growth strategy blueprint for the client for the next 10 years, or to help them through an integration process after a merger, building the right organizational structure post-merger and realizing synergies.
The length of the client engagements vary by the type of the project: if the client is a private equity firm asking us to perform a time sensitive due diligence on a potential target, the project may last only a few weeks. If, alternatively, our task is to create a growth strategy plan for a client, the project can last a few months. Depending on which firm you’re working for, your client can be in any industry such as retail, consumer goods, financial services or industrial goods. Due to the project-based nature of the job, a management consultant at a top-tier firm typically gets to learn about a few different industries and clients after a few years or even months at the job.
Consultants are advisors to the client, and therefore the projects are usually structured around a few touch points during which we share our recommendations and observations with the client. The preparation for these touch points (usually in the form of Steering Committee meetings in which key stakeholders from the client and the consulting team meet to discuss the project’s progress) require a lot of structured thinking, analytical work and collaboration with the client. During this process, we work in close collaboration with our clients, involving them in every step of the decision making process- this way, we can use their expertise and combine it with our firm’s know-how. This way, our recommendations are co-created with our client, so we get their buy-in, and they know exactly how they should perform implementation and change management.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the job is that you get to work in teams- a typical team is led by a manager and has a few consultants working on different pieces of work within the project scope. For example, if the project is building a growth strategy for a company, three consultants may be working on building the strategic and financial blueprint of the company while two other consultants may be working on revising the company’s organizational structure to support this growth strategy.
Consulting is a fast paced job that often requires working long hours and travelling to the client site (which might be in a different city or even a different country than your home office). It’s a great way to learn about business as a recent graduate, and if you’re planning to get your MBA, working in consulting is a great experience since you experience a lot of different industries and companies.
Personally, the most exciting part of my job is spending time with my teammates who are smart and driven. They challenge me through formal and informal feedback and support me whenever I need brainstorming help or any ideas –no matter how complex an analysis is, there’s someone else in my colleague network who has tackled the same type of problem before. Management consulting is a stimulating job that you should explore if you like working with smart people to solve business problems and challenge yourself in a continuous learning environment.