How a Berkeley undergrad secured fulltime offers at Navigant and FTI Consulting

The Life as a Consultant series is back! We have several great interviews queued up from firms including McKinsey, Oliver Wyman, and more.

Our guest today is an undergraduate student at a large state university. He managed to land 2 fulltime job offers: at FTI Consulting within their Restructuring Practice, and at Navigant Consulting within their Disputes and Investigations practice.

Let’s jump right into it!

Please note, the personal views and opinions expressed are strictly those of the interviewee and do not reflect the views of the interviewee’s employers or affiliated entities.

For the benefit of readers, can you tell us about your background?

Basic background about myself. I was born in raised in California and come from a fairly traditional Chinese American family. I’m currently a senior at UC-Berkeley. I’m a business and economics double major and because my business program has a good reputation, my school is considered a target, especially with its proximity to SF and all businesses around Silicon Valley.

I would say I’m an above average student with a 3.6 GPA and have been involved in many EC activities including leadership positions within community service organization, campus investment organization, and one of the campuses main student Christian groups. I would say that I’ve been able to keep everything in perspective in college and have been able to maintain a good balance with academics, EC (extra-curriculars), and just enjoying college. I have many interests including, all type of sports (basketball), outdoors (snowboarding, longboarding), play my fair share of video games now and then, and also am a big movie buff.

In terms of academics, I came into college not knowing what I wanted to do at all. Eventually decided that business fit me well, especially the competitive nature of the program allowed me to work hard to stay at the top of my class. Eventually became interested in finance after taking more classes and learning more about the business world through my various internships and contacts. All in all, I’m just an average college student who tries to have fun, work hard, and stay productive.

As for my previous work experience and previous jobs, I really had no experience in HS besides working at a local tutoring center. I got my big break after freshman year from a family relative with the opportunity to work for Ernst and Young in Hong Kong for a summer internship. It was a great experience and definitely a result of networking. I’ve also had an internship at a local media consulting startup in SF. I basically pitched to local companies about how they can better their business through various online avenues. This past summer, I had the opportunity to work at Morgan Stanley in NY in their middle office “Finance” division. I worked within the Risk Controllers group and overall enjoyed the city and summer experience a lot more than the work itself. I was able to interview for the position through a program called SEO, which is a great way for certain students to obtain summer internships (contact me for more info). In NY I really built on my interest in finance and it was a great launching point for where I’ll be working next year.

If our guest hadn’t “sold himself” to SF media companies, he wouldn’t have had one of the strongest and most entrepreneurial experiences on his resume. Get out there and sell yourself! In addition, programs like SEO are great if you qualify – look high and wide for such nontraditional opportunities

Aside from Navigant Consulting and FTI Consulting, did you recruit for other firms and/or industries? What was your experience there?

I definitely recruited for many other firms and industries during my job search last semester. I was fortunate enough to have some solid work experience, a pretty good GPA and resume, along with a good grasp of networking so during recruiting season I had my hands full. Originally, I really had no idea what I wanted to do, even after my summer MS, but as recruiting went along I soon realized it wasn’t really a problem because I would have to spread out my efforts across the many industries and firms recruiting at my school.

I was just lucky that my school is a target and thus has many opportunities for me to network with firms. Because of the shape of the economy and everyone not knowing how their company would be impacted, the recruiting season was brutal for the senior business class, even at Berkeley. The stories of all the major bulge-bracket banks posting fulltime listings on our OCR (on campus recruiting) website yet cutting half the positions in the end were definitely true. Many times, the firms would interview students just to maintain relationships with the school without even intending on hiring anybody.

In the end, I ended applying to over 50 positions across the finance and consulting industries. I probably had about 20 first round interviews and finally ended up with 4 offers (not including my fulltime offer at Morgan Stanley). I decided early on that I didn’t want to return to Morgan Stanley because of the level of work done in the mid office (can elaborate more later). The overall recruiting experience was much like you would expect it to be. Apply online, wait for reply, attend info sessions and get to know the people, prep for first round, wait for second round, and repeat for all the firms that you were interested in. It definitely took up a huge chunk of time last semester and would not want to do it again if I had the choice.

I have many stories to tell about fulltime recruiting at school and am open to any questions. Ultimately, I found that I would really enjoy consulting more than traditional finance (IBD/IB related work) which is probably what shined through during my interviews etc – finally landing the offers, 3 with consulting firms and 1 with a big 4 firm in their structured finance practice. The toughest part of the whole process was making sure you prepped for everything, whether it be an info session or interview. Motivating yourself to get out and attend all the events, stepping out of your comfort zone to talk to people, and just showing genuine interest in the positions being offered were all essential for any job hunter in our country’s worst job market in probably 20+ years.

You should not miss any career or recruiting events. It may seem basic – but I’m willing to bet every single reader has at some point said “Nah…I’ll skip this one. Just feeling [insert one of the following here: tired/lazy/too busy/it won’t matter that much] today.”

FTI and Navigant are both diversified consulting firms and are not typical strategy consulting firms. What attracted you to FTI? Navigant?

Definitely cliche, but the work and the people. The work seemed to be challenging, stimulating, client focused, and overall just more exciting than valuing companies all day or auditing financial statements. The people at these firms were definitely very down to earth, receptive, and I could imagine myself working with them. I did recruit for some of the typical strategy consulting firms but overall, my background in finance really led me to FTI and Navigant and probably turned off some of the recruiter from the typical strategy consulting firms.

Also, because my resume was more diversified and not as consulting oriented, it probably made it much harder to get interviews with the typical strategy consulting firms – especially since it was really the “hot” thing for the top students now that banking was really going down the pipes. I know countless people who switched over to consulting from IBD because of the turmoil and huge position cuts by the top banks. Overall, I’m very happy with how everything turned out and am looking forward to the finance based consulting work I’ll be involved in next year.

Tell us what you know about recruiting for FTI – the interview process, the people

The recruiting process for FTI is basically the typical process of attending their on campus information session. Showing your interest by talking to the people and getting a good idea of the work/firm/people. Next you apply online through your campus career center (or their website/recruiter’s email). Attend the first round and if you make it back to the final rounds, about 3 weeks later, you go to their office in SF. Depending on which position you are applying for you will interview with the people in that specific practice. I had 3 separate interviews for the second round in addition to a group case interview. This consisted of an actual case the group was working on at the time. You split into groups to analyze the case and then present in 1 hour to the entire team. This was definitely a nerve wracking part of the interview because you don’t know how you’re doing and in the end one mistake could mean the difference between an offer or nothing. Lastly, there was also a written test which consisted of basic knowledge of accounting and corporate finance – all skills which would be needed for a starting consultant.

Throughout the recruiting process, the people were very welcoming. They all seemed very down to earth and answered all the questions I had. The main head of recruiting contact was helpful and friendly, really making all the candidates feel at home throughout the interviews. I think you really get a feel of the people just by attending a firm’s info session and observing how they interact with each other as well as potential candidates. At FTI, the people were relaxed, seemed happy to mingle, and really enjoyed talking about their daily jobs. It’s fairly easy to tell if someone likes their job or not and that is an important distinction to pay attention to when recruiting for any firm.

Extremely important point. Observe how the consultants/bankers are with each other, not just how they talk to you. These observations will give you a ton of insight about their company culture

Tell us what you know about recruiting for Navigant – the interview process, the people

The process for Navigant was very similar but overall less intense. The people were more laidback and tried to bring a more collegial, younger and community based feel for their firm (and the general recruiting process). The people had similar backgrounds and positions as FTI and Navigant are essentially competitors in the same general space. The interviews had the same structure but were less technical and didn’t include a group case or written portion. I think I went through 5 second round interviews and had a great lunch (which is always nice on interview days). All in all, it was a very hard decision at the end of the recruiting season and I am definitely going to stay in touch with the people I met at Navigant in the future.

You went to a large public university where there were many applicants. How did you differentiate yourself during the recruiting process?

I feel like I was able to differentiate myself by networking at all the events that FTI and Navigant held at school and just my meeting the people at the events. It is definitely better to get to know 1-2 people very well vs. just introducing yourself to everyone in the room. At career fairs and info sessions, you are always standing with a big group of prospective candidates/students and in order to really stand out you need to do your research (prepping) in order to ask intelligent questions and overall just form a connection with the employees at the firms.

Of course it is also very critical that you work on your interviewing skills and just make a good impression overall. I feel that by getting to know the people who attend the info sessions/career fairs, they really put in a good word for you if you are genuinely interested and show that you can be a real asset to their company. You want to make yourself more than a resume and name, and the best way to do that is to connect by asking questions, talking, and just being an enthusiastic candidate (in addition to the basics of prepping for interviews, company info, academics, etc).

Any last words of advice for prospective consultants?

Well, for me I’m really still a student and haven’t entered the fulltime consulting world yet, but really I recommend exploring what interests you by joining an on campus consulting group or just reading material that is consulting related. I think the most important thing for someone looking to enter consulting is to network and talk to people who are in the industry currently, get a good perspective on the work and the people, and ultimately decide how you can prepare for those consulting interviews when fulltime recruiting comes around. The key is persistence, genuine interest (enthusiasm), and having an internal motivation to get that job.

Last question that I ask all interviewees. Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

In 5 years hopefully I’ll either by finishing my first year at bschool or in my first year at a great program called Teach For America. Because I’ve been heavily involved with education and community service in school I’ve known several people who have participated in the program and had only amazing things to say. As for bschool, I would like to stay on the west coast but we’ll see if my interests change in the future.

How should readers get in touch with you?

They can get in touch with me by emailing truzilla (at) spoofee (dot) com. I would definitely like to be a resource for your readers and I look forward to seeing my own insight on your site!

Are you a current consultant or someone who recruited successfully? Interested in being interviewed? Please get in touch to be featured in the Life as a Consultant series.