Overview of the management consulting summer internship – from recruiting to guaranteeing a return offer

Summer internships in management consulting are tough to find because there are so few. Some companies have just begun to expand their internship programs (eg, McKinsey) and some don’t hire summer undergraduate interns (eg, smaller boutiques). However, landing one is incredibly valuable – you get a trial period to determine whether its the right career path for you, and it sets you ahead of the pack for fulltime recruiting (assuming you either didn’t receive an offer to return or wanted to test the field).

The recruiting process

Similar to the fulltime process. Summer recruiting typically begins in January/February at college campuses for undergraduate and MBA. Expect a standard succession of information sessions/mixers/company presentations, then resume and cover letter screens, then multiple rounds of interviews focused on fit/personality and case studies.

The process may be less rigorous than fulltime (eg, one fewer interview round, less challenging case studies) but the competition is equally tough

What if consulting firms don’t recruit for summer interns at your school

I plan to write a full post on this later as its a common concern. You have 3 options:

  • Find contacts at target firms through your school’s alumni database. Get in touch with them to learn more about their firm and express interest in working there
  • Find contacts at target firms through your school’s career center/career development office. This is typically alumni-based as well, but the career officers may have additional resources (eg, headhunter/recruiter databases)
  • Submit resumes and cover letters through each company’s online application process – not all firms have these. Big ones like McKinsey and Accenture definitely well, but you may need to get creative with smaller ones like Katzenbach and LEK

In this situation, your best bet is to network, network, network. Friends, family, university alumni, try to build connections to your target firms and dialogue with those people. That’s the best chance you’ll have of recruiters and HR taking a serious look at your resume

Further reading: What if consulting firms don’t recruit at your school

The goal of summer internships

To receive a fulltime offer! Everything you do over the summer should be geared towards helping you reach this goal. In the process, you’ll learn plenty about the job itself and even if you decide management consulting is not for you, options never hurt.

The standard summer internship structure

You’re assigned to one project that should occupy your entire summer (ranging from 10-14 weeks). There is a very short training period (1-2 days) after which you’re expected to function like a regular consultant – complete with your own workstream and deliverables.

You’ll have several “managers” – someone junior (such as an early analyst or early associate) as well as the standard team leader/engagement manager. There will be an endless stream of social events – designed to help you network with the rest of the office and the fellow “summers“.

How to ensure a return/full-time offer

  • Do your work well. This is an absolute must. Doing your work well comes down to three things: #1, understanding directions and clarifying when you don’t; #2, checking and double-checking and triple-checking your work; #3, expressing your opinions often. Participation is critical to a consultant’s job, and if you don’t speak up, you won’t move up
  • Network, network, network. The more senior consultants that you meet at the firm, the better your chances of receiving a fulltime offer. Strike up conversations based on shared backgrounds, career goals, personal hobbies, whatever!
  • Build a strong relationship with your team leader/engagement manager. They have the biggest influence on your return offer prospects. Create one-on-one time with your manager – setup weekly coffee times to discuss your work, get advice about the job, and so forth
  • Ask for continual feedback. This is a great way to not only improve your business skills, but to build rapport with your colleagues and managers
  • Impress the lead partners. There are usually several partners who are closely involved with your project and client. Through the summer, you’ll have opportunities to get in front of them – whether that’s presenting a small piece of your work, or chiming in during brainstorming and team sessions. Capture these opportunities – the sooner they know your name and the more times that you impress them, the better your chances of landing that valuable offer

We offer resume editing and interview prep. Through one-on-one sessions, we’ll help you stand out from 1000′s of other applicants and land consulting jobs now!

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  • Paul

    It is great to see a website like this for aspiring consultants; your posts have been highly informative.

    I am a new undergraduate student, and hope to eventually get a consulting summer internship. Work experience is clearly a key part of one’s resume, but I only ran an informal tutoring service in high school. What sort of work experience would a consulting firm want to see in an applicant?

  • kgao

    Paul – thanks for your comment. As a freshman, I have one main piece of advice – enjoy your time. It’s still early for you.

    Consulting firms are always looking for people who have succeeded at whatever they do. For an early undergrad, that means a high GPA, extracurricular involvement (and eventually leadership in those organizations), and challenging/interesting/prestigious commitments over the summer – this can be business, government, non-profit.

    As you approach end of sophomore year/early junior year, I’d become more serious about acquiring business experience (in the form of summer internships and part-time schoolyear jobs).

    Best of luck! Feel free to email me with more questions or continue commenting on the posts.

  • http://d misshighnetworth

    What would you say consulting firms consider a high GPA?

  • kgao

    @misshighnetworth – generally 3.5 and above is in “safe” territory. And anything 3.7 and above would be considered a strong GPA. This is school and major dependent as well, but those would be your generalized cutoffs.

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  • timewarps

    Hi there,

    Great to hear from you. Your views are spot on!
    I have a quick question.

    If you have not been successfully for a summer internship (MBA level) at MBB, but have obtained internships elsewhere, will it be possible to apply for a full time position with any of the MBB in your second year?

    In other words, are there more full-time positions available at the MBB than summer internship positions? And will your lack of success during the interview rounds for summer internship hurt your application (full time) in your 2nd year of MBA school?

    Will be great to get your perspective on these few points!

    Thanks in advance!

  • kgao

    @timewarps,

    It’s still possible to apply for a fulltime, and no, your performance during the summer internship recruiting process will not adversely impact your fulltime recruiting chances (unless you made a major mistake in terms of offending someone). Where will you be interning now, if you don’t mind my asking? Feel free to email me if you don’t want to share publicly.

  • Asra Khan

    I like to apply for an Internship this summer please advise. Thank you.

  • http://imran.shah.org Imran

    I am a 2nd semester freshman pursuing a degree in I/O Psych for a career in management consulting. I learned a lot from reading your article; thanks for the tips.

    For this coming summer I am actively looking for an internship at a firm to help me gain some experience. From some of the previous comments, I saw that extracurriculars are also important; what sort of activities are they looking for? Only academic, sports, social, religious, etc?

  • http://www.isquareit.ac.in gourav kumar singh

    hi
    i am gourav kunmar singh from international institute of tecnology .i am looking for internship in business management and information technology management .can you suggest me the place and how to get it .

  • Janessa M

    I’m an undergraduate who’s graduation plans have changed and missed the summer internship window. I was wondering if firms offer part-time internships during the school-year or if that is more of a case-by-case situation? Thank you very much.

    Janessa

  • Habeeb

    Hi Kevin,
    Firstly,I would like to thank you for your incredible work.Your posts and articles are amazing and have been very helpful for consulting aspirants like me.
    I would like to give you a brief insight about my background.
    I did my engineering in India and later worked as a software engineer for 28 months for one of the leading software firms in India.am currently doing my full time MBA in Italy.
    My MBA is a 11 month program and after that i will be doing my Internships (april 2011). My desire is to become a consultant in one of the top firms and i am seriously working on it.
    I could see that most of the top 25 consulting firms have their offices in Italy.I am planning to apply for my intern in Italy.But i would like to know what is the process if i need to apply to other offices in Europe,UK or US(just to widen my options).Can i apply from Italy and take interviews in one of the Italian offices for positions in other countries or is it necessary that i need to be in that country if i am applying to that specific office?
    How does this work?Can you please give me some insight on this.
    Thanks for your time and consideration.
    regards,
    Habeeb

  • Karl

    Hello,
    I am currently attending a university where as a junior I can apply to a number of positions at BCG in their IT and Accounting departments. I think that I would like to work there after graduation as a consultant. Will having one of the back office jobs help me in getting into their summer consulting internships in my senior year?
    Thanks

  • anon

    I apologize if this is an inappropriate question, but I couldn’t find any reliable info on it elsewhere. So here it goes: do consulting firms drug test? I am particularly interested in knowing about MBB. I am not a habitual or heavy drug user, but as a college student, I do OCCASIONALLY toke up. That being said, I am currently interviewing at several firms for summer internships and I don’t want to do anything to jeopardize my chances. I could (and would) easily stop if thats what it takes, but I am wondering if it is necessary.

  • Anonymous

    Anon-

    I’m very interested in this question too. Could we possibly get an answer, or at least some anecdotal evidence?

  • Anonymous

    Here’s what I got in terms of anecdotal evidence:

    A friend of mine that started at an MBB firm this past fall (the same firm/office where I’ll be working) was never subjected to any type of drug test.

    However, being the paranoid person I am, I don’t want to assume that this is the norm since its only one example. Am I being overly paranoid? Do any of you have other examples?

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  • Eric

    Hi Kevin,

    Absolutely great site! You and Brian are just killing it out there with all these valuable information.
    I am here with a question I absolutely need your guide over. Through chatting with one of my alumnus the other day, I was told that McKinsey has not completely but shifted the majority of its business/focus onto IT/Technology. I didn’t straight up question the alumnus about the info because it was kind of a rushed situation and I had to get my answer on something else. It isn’t exactly the end of the world for me when I heard this, but definitely shocking. For long I know McKinsey has built up its reputation through its outstanding portfolio in Management Consulting and perhaps in something else (things that I might not know or have not heard of…), so to me it seems quite unreasonable that it would give up its expertise and focus on something else they have not been doing a lot of. Is it just another false alarm or perhaps there is a story behind its movement?

    Thanks

  • TryingToHelp

    Column Technologies, a small IT Consulting firm based out of Chicago (they have offices all over, the one my friend applied to was in NYC) does actually use HireRight and they do drug test through LabCorp.

  • http://twitter.com/iPerfectionista Tatiana A.

    Amazing!!! I am so delighted to have found this post. This was more informative than SIOP!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000002260912 Jason Cai

    What if I missed the deadline? How do I go about still finding a good firm to do an internship in?

  • jennyrae

    Jason – thanks for your note. We’re happy to help talk about your options – send us an email. Our overarching answer will be that you need to network like crazy for someone to hire you in an informal internship (you’ve probably missed the boat on the formal ones) – but these create-your-own experiences can be very valuable if you pick them well.

  • Democritus

    Correction: for most firms, competition for the internship is MORE rigorous than full-time. This is a fact. During my Bain final round, I waited in the HR lady’s office between rounds and they had a huge whiteboard that said: Fulltime: 20 offers, 19 accepted; Interns: Target: 6
    On average 3-4x as many full-time spots as interns per office.