How to get consulting jobs from a liberal arts and humanities background


*courtesy of toothpaste for dinner*
Liberal arts and humanities majors are often criticized for being “soft majors” – with unchallenging classes and lack of “real world” skill development leaving them unable to land competitive business jobs. Fortunately for all the budding English and Philosophy majors out there, that’s simply not true.

This is the second of our series on entering consulting from “non-business” backgrounds

It’s very common for those from a liberal arts/humanities background to be interested in management consulting. It’s a great introduction to business and opens many doors – from non-profit to government service, from corporate management to further schooling (eg, MBA, grad school, etc).

We’ve been receiving some feedback that much of this advice is tailored towards current and recent undergraduate students. We believe much of the advice to be broadly applicable but it’s most useful for this group because their career tracks are less restricted. If you’ve been a journalist for 10 years or a geneticist for 8 years, it’s tough to break into management consulting unless you shoot for an MBA or are in the top 1% of your field

As a liberal arts and humanities major, you may have the following concerns about your suitability for a consulting career:

  • You don’t have enough business experience on your resume
  • You don’t understand the consulting industry sufficiently
  • Recruiters won’t give you a fair shot since they assume you have insufficient analytical/quantitative preparation
  • You are nervous about the interview process, in particular, how to conquer those tough, complex case studies

In this post, we’ll address each of the above concerns, discuss what strengths you should market and develop, and share tips that will serve you well during the management consulting recruiting process.

What options are available as a liberal arts major?

  • Global management consulting firms – while the industry is increasingly quantitative and analytical, the cornerstone of success is simply logical thinking. Plus, there’s a definite premium for creative insight. Some firms (eg, BCG) have a reputation for innovation in “out of the box” thinking
  • Boutique consulting firms – the choices here are plenty, from industry specialists like Kurt Salmon in retail to functional specialists like Katzenbach in strategy and organizational issues

What are your strengths as a liberal arts major?

  • Extra time outside of classes (assuming they’re less time-consuming) – hopefully you’ve leveraged this to tackle more extracurricular work, part-time jobs, and leadership opportunities
  • Creative “out of the box” thinking – always tough to test/measure, but can be highlighted by showcasing your entrepreneurial initiatives, significant academic and professional risk-taking, etc
  • Strong written and presentation skills – skillset #1 for consultants; opportunities to showcase these include in your cover letter, resume, and interview process

How do you mitigate perceived weaknesses as a liberal arts major?

In the order listed above, and this does not differ much from our post on engineers:

  • Business experience – if you’re still in college, find business-related summer internships and part-time jobs during the school year (provided you can manage the workload). If you’re not, tailor your resume to focus on skills and experiences that consultants look for, such as people-leadership, quantitative impact, and entrepreneurial initiative
  • Insufficient understanding of management consulting – it’s your responsibility to learn as much as you can. Check out Management Consulted; email me with questions; read the Vault Guide to Management Consulting; network with contacts in the industry
  • Recruiting biases against liberal arts majors – a good GPA will go a long way towards addressing doubts about your analytical chops as it shows you can work hard and work smart; highlight analytical/quantitative jobs and experiences in your resume; become an expert at case studies so you can dominate them during the interviews. I will be writing posts about case studies in the future
  • Insufficient recruiting preparation – like the second point, it’s dependent on the time and effort you invest; we offer a coaching service that you can look into; read this article and follow its advice

Not sure if consulting is the right career choice for you? Take our tried and tested Consulting Roadmap on your journey of discovery and find out if management consulting is the right fit for you!