Overview of the Management Consulting recruiting process – from information sessions to interviews to negotiating the offer


This is post #1 of our series on recruiting. Below, we’ll touch upon the main components of the consulting job search and what we believe are the key do’s and key don’ts. Feel free to post comments below or email us with any questions and followups. We want to thank our readers for making these first 2 weeks of blogging a very interesting time – blogging is a 2-way street where the writer learns as much as the readers.

We’ve also lined up our first “personalized consultations” (for one college student preparing for summer internships and one recent grad interested in switching industries).

Now, on to RECRUITING. The key components are:

Note that each of these sections is worth a long post alone (similar to our first post, Management Consulting and the Consulting Industry 101). This is a Cliffs Notes version for now.

#1 Company presentations/mixers/information sessions

Far more common if you’re currently in school (undergraduate, MBA) where consulting firms ranging from Boston Consulting Group to Mercer HR to Kurt Salmon will swarm campuses, giving presentations, holding social mixers, etc in an effort to publicize their firm and identify “high-potential” candidates. Handling a company presentation is like, as a quick sports analogy, being the heavy favorite as a nationally ranked, Division 1 team in a game against an unranked, Division 2 team. In other words – there are 10,000 ways you can mess up, but very few ways to truly beat expectations.

Definitely Do: -dress sharp (refer to our Interview Tips page, tip #2) -meet at least 3-4 consultants/recruiters present, ask for their business card, and FOLLOW-UP to ask for advice/interview tips

Definitely Don’t: -spend the entire time talking to your friends -spend the entire time by the snack bar -hand your resume to recruiters or consultants unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED -ask 50 questions – people remember the ANNOYING APPLICANTS

#2 Application – resume + cover letter

This is where the wheat begins to be separated from the chaff. At this point, you’ve decided management consulting is a potential career path for you. You may not be 100% sold over other options (eg banking, accounting, corporate, etc) but are interested enough to invest significant time. There are many variations of how this process works: if you’re currently enrolled in school, there are typically resume submission periods followed by a selection process to determine who receives interviews. If you’re not in school (or your target firms do not recruit at your school), it typically means submitting your resume through internal friends, HR and recruiting contacts, or even in-person at job/career fairs and waiting indefinitely to hear back. Either way, a top notch resume will ALWAYS STAND OUT. Cover letters, on the other hand, present significantly more room for error and have limited upside.

Definitely Do: -build a consulting-ready resume (refer to our Resume Tips page) -make sure you have the RIGHT FIRM, ADDRESS, ETC on your cover letter -follow-up with recruiters if you haven’t received confirmation upon submission -let contacts within firms know that you have applied – they can send a positive recommendation to recruiters if they are inclined to do so

Definitely Don’t: -send more than 1 email asking about the status of your application -have more than 1 page for either your cover letter or your resume -send additional materials (eg, portfolio work, letters of reference) unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED

At some point you may need to narrow your scope – we recommend submitting resumes/cover letters to as many firms as possible, but if you’re lucky enough to receive tons of interviews you should really consider which firms are best for you so you can focus on the ones that matter. This post on global management consulting firms versus boutique firms may help

#3 Interview (phone)

Self-explanatory. Phone interviews are usually fit-oriented, and if done are either because #1, the firm doesn’t have enough resources to immediately hold in-person interviews or #2, you’re a “borderline case” and they need additional information about you and your background to decide. The approach with phone interviews should be to focus on answer quality, and less on building interviewer rapport given the difficulties of doing that over the phone. Cover the bases below and you’ll do fine.

Note that not all consulting firms will have phone interviews. Some may skip directly to in-person interviews. Some may have several phone interviews before any in-person meetings

Definitely Do: -place the call in a QUIET AREA WITH GOOD RECEPTION, preferably a land-line -ask for time if you need to collect your thoughts – but don’t take longer than 30 seconds -have a notepad handy for technical questions -ask for their email address to send a THANK YOU NOTE/FOLLOW-UP EMAIL

Definitely Don’t: -conduct the phone interview while on a train from Lumsford, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas -be too casual – it’s easier to make this mistake on the phone – remember that it is a JOB INTERVIEW. No excessive laughing. Keep discussion of personal matters to a bare minimum unless directly asked

#4 Interview (in-person)

Also self-explanatory. If you’ve made it here, congratulations! They clearly think highly of what you’ve accomplished and now want to know you as a person – your communication skills, your on-the-spot thinking and analytical abilities, your presence and personality. This is truly the most difficult part, as I can guarantee that at this point you’re up against some very qualified candidates. To stand out, the keys in management consulting interviews are to really ACE THE CASE, have well-rehearsed but NATURAL RESPONSES to non-case questions, and be well-informed about current business news. Sounds simple, but takes many many many hours of solid preparation to make this happen.

There are two components to interviews (both phone and in-person) – the case study, and the fit/behavioral questions. We will dedicate separate posts to each, but the important thing to know is that the case study accounts for at least 50% (and usually more) of your final “score” in determining whether you get an offer

Definitely Do: -everything we wrote on our Interview Tips page

Definitely Don’t: -forget everything we wrote on our Interview Tips page

#5 The Waiting Period

Like #1 Company Presentations, there’s not much upside but you can do a lot to ruin your prospects. Be patient and focus on other priorities – and NEVER STOP LOOKING FOR OTHER JOBS.

Definitely Do: -wait patiently and if you have upcoming interviews, prepare for those -if you have no response after 1 week of the “final interview”, send an email to the recruiter asking if they need anything more from you regarding your application; CC one or two consultants you interviewed with or talked to extensively in the process

Definitely Don’t: -assume you have an offer and stop the job search process -send an email a day to recruiters/consultants at the firm inquiring about your status

#6 The Offer!

CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve done it. It’s extremely difficult to receive offers from management consulting firms – their scale is simply an order of magnitude smaller than financial service firms (as an example, McKinsey’s New York office, one of their largest, occupies about 10-15 floors of one skyscraper. Goldman Sachs in New York has 3 skyscrapers all to itself). Now is time for thorough due diligence and diplomatic negotiation if necessary regarding final terms, start date, etc. Again, congratulations on a job well-done and welcome to the challenging and wonderful world of strategy and management consulting.

Definitely Do: -thank them nicely for the offer -send an email to firm contacts that you’ve met through the application process and thank them/notify them as well. Set up time to discuss the offer and ask questions of them -gather as much information as you can from current and former employees, friends, books, etc -ask your primary HR contact with any “administrative questions” eg salary, benefits, etc

Definitely Don’t: -accept the offer immediately unless you are 100% sure that’s the job for you -ask non-HR contacts any “administrative questions” unless you know them well -immediately negotiate details of your offer without fully informing yourself first. And as a general rule of thumb, don’t negotiate anything that won’t SIGNIFICANTLY change your decision or satisfaction in the job

 

Still wondering if you’ll make it through recruiting on top? Our Networking Bible is an excellent resource that gives you insider tips on what not to do, what to do and how to leave a memorable impression throughout the whole recruiting process.