While the Life as a Consultant series usually features current or former consultants, today we have a new guest. Ryan Wegner is a first-year senior at a non-target school, the University of Wisconson-Madison. Regardless of where you are in your consulting career – reading through the interview will be worth your time.
Ryan first contacted me in the height of recruiting season. He’d landed 3 consulting offers at leading firms including Deloitte, Towers Perrin, and PwC and wanted to get my perspective on his options.
Needless to say, I was very impressed. In this economy, it’s tough to land interviews much less multiple job offers. To top it off, he’s an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison – a strong school but a non-target for many top consulting firms.
It was obvious that interviewing Ryan would be a tremendous benefit to readers looking to break into consulting. His story highlights much of the advice I’ve repeatedly offered prospective applicants – to land consulting jobs, you need to focus on the following:
- Aggressive networking – cold emails, cold calls, and building recruiter contacts wherever you can
- Online job search and networking tools – LinkedIn is the 800-pound gorilla
- Pursuit of relevant work experience wherever/whenever you can – for undergrads, this means school-year/part-time jobs. For current professionals, this means augmenting your full-time job with additional training, professional organizations, and/or seeking better job opportunities
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.
1. For the benefit of readers, can you give us a summary of your background?
I grew up in Wisconsin and decided to take 4 years off before going straight to college after high school. I chose to serve in the US Army and was stationed in Germany and deployed to Kosovo, Macedonia, Bosnia, Kuwait, and one year in Iraq. I came back to the states and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Madison because of their strong business school. I am currently a first year senior with a triple major in Finance, Actuarial Science, and Risk Management and will graduate next December.
While in school I knew it was important to begin an internship as soon as possible, so I was an intern at Scottrade (discount online broker) during the summer and continued working for them during my sophomore year. The following summer I worked at a small niche insurance company as an Actuarial Intern. During my junior year I interned at Merrill Lynch (PWM) in the fall working for a few portfolio managers. In the spring I worked at another insurance company in their actuarial department. Last summer I was a Summer Analyst at Credit Suisse and they extended my internship through the fall semester. So, I worked part-time in Chicago and went to school full-time in Madison, WI. Currently I am working for Abbott Labs as a Risk Management Intern in Chicago and still going to school full-time.
Three of these internships were through campus postings/on campus recruiting, while the other three were through networking and cold calling companies to create an internship for me. Each internship allowed me to gain valuable skills in all aspects of consulting and landed me numerous interviews and job offers for this summer.
His advice here is invaluable – the value of school-year/part-time internships, and the opportunities that can be created through effective networking and cold-calling
2. University of Wisconsin – Madison School of Business is a “non-target” school, which can make consulting recruitment more challenging. What’s been your recruiting experience, and what advice can you give others at similar schools?
Depending on what rankings a company or student goes by, it ranks anywhere from 13 to 35 overall. However, the school has top ranked business programs (majors) in Actuarial Science, Risk Management, and Operations Technology & Management. These are the programs that bring in top ranked and well known companies worldwide. So, when these companies come to campus, it is best to network with them at career fairs or information sessions. Or, if a company has a job posting for a position outside your major or a position you are not interested, I would still apply to meet the recruiter to see how I could network my way into another job that I wanted. (example: If your engineering school is the best on campus, get into their career services and tap into their companies.)
Overall, work experience, involvement in clubs on campus, and leadership positions has been a driving force that has moved my resume from the bottom of the pile to the top. Start your internships as soon as you can. If you study abroad or do not have solid internships, it is worth delaying your graduation a semester or two (especially if you are working and going to school at the same time, most recruiters understand).
I did receive my Credit Suisse offer through on campus recruiting. But this was driven by having 3 UW alumni in the office to push the firm to include the school in its target school recruiting effort. Credit Suisse said they prefer Wisconsin kids over Ivy, Northwestern, or U of Chicago kids because they are hard working and do not have big egos. Stay close to your alumni base and use them as your primary source of networking and outreach.
What’s interesting here is that Ryan networked with recruiters even if he wasn’t a fit for any of their current jobs or targeted majors. In addition, his advice about postponing graduation to continue accessing on-campus recruiting is the right decision in a tough economy. Finally, he’s right on the mark with respect to what matters on a consulting-focused resume
3. You received multiple internship offers in a tough economy – an impressive accomplishment. Can you discuss each of these offers and the pros/cons of each in your mind?
I did not interview or apply for Accenture. (I do not think this is the best route to get into MBB or Katzenbach.) Accenture, IBM and other tech consultants can box their career path in quickly. However, going back for an MBA can get you out of that career path) But I wanted to let the readers know that they are reneging offers for internships and full-time over the past 3 months. Insiders at Accenture have told me that they are laying off people that are underperforming.
A. Towers Perrin – If you want to work in Actuarial Services, Employee Benefits, Enterprise Risk Management, HR Function Effectiveness, Design & Implementation, HR Service Delivery & Technology, Insurance & Financial Services, Mergers, Acquisitions & Restructuring, Organization & Employee Research, or Reinsurance Services…this is the place to be a consultant.
They have the best clients of all the competitors and are gaining new ones on a daily basis from Milliman and Mercer. I was very attracted to the M&A and Risk Management consulting and pursued their Tillinghast division. I thought this is where I was going to end up working if it did not pan out at MBB, Katzenbach, ATK, Booz, etc. I started networking with this firm back in October of 2007 and kept in contact with them to ensure I could get an interview with them. Towers came to our campus for initial screening, and would identify top students for second rounds for all offices globally. This is one of the few firms that recruit on campus that is recruiting for all their offices. (most firms focus on Midwest). I was selected for a second round interview, but my top 3 choices for locations were no longer available. This dragged the recruiting process out for 9 weeks. Since I interview at an office that was not on my preference sheet, I had to go through 2 additional phone screens to show interest in their Philadelphia office. The interview was an all day event and consisted mostly of fit questions, and why I wanted to work for them.
Cons: They were concerned that I had too many internships and would be bored doing entry level work. This tipped me off that the work was not going to challenging or provide me a chance to make an impact. Office culture: Tillinghast was being rebranded as Towers Perrin, but there was a huge information wall and clash between the practices. Employees were not from top tier universities. Their office was driven on finding hard working talent from non-ivy league schools (that is why they wanted a Wisconsin kid). I picked Philadelphia because I was hoping to go to Wharton. However, Towers does not send employees back for their MBA and does not have any relations with UPenn. HR was very secretive about pay and promotional information and would not tell me what grade I would come in as. However, employees were open about this and told me stats without me even asking. The overall summer pay/housing was $3400 per month plus $1000 for living expenses. But, I heard that entry levels can make up to 72K out of school.
B. PricewaterhouseCoopers – They came to campus this year to recruit for Actuarial Consultants for their Chicago office. After an easy second round, they made an offer. They did not test my intellect nor challenge me during the interview process. This offer would have been more attractive, if the process was more selective.
I was trying to use this interview to get into their advisory consulting service (M&A) for the summer. But, they do not allow interns in this department. And for full-time employees it takes 2-3 years before they let you transfer into this department. One of the positive things about PwC is they let you be a generalist in the actuary world and you get exposure to all the practices. Most actuarial jobs slot you in one field (P/C, Life, Health, Pension, Compensation, etc.). The office culture was very laid back, but I did not feel the right connection. Also, a few of the younger consultants were bashing their competitors and assured me that they were not firing anyone. If they are not cutting their bottom 10% on a yearly basis, how is this work environment going to be competitive? A Big 4 Accounting firm that does not have a separate consulting firm like Deloitte would not put me in a good position for full-time interviews next year.
The summer pay was a little bit below average ($23.80 per hour plus a $2,000 sign on bonus), and they were not certain if they could offer subsidized housing this year.
C. Deloitte Consulting – In the end I accepted with Deloitte, because they are the one who offered me the chance to work across multiple disciplines and would not put me into one type of consulting role. They have the most flexibility that will allow me to work from a human capital role and be able to work on projects with strategy and operations. Their reputation does not say management consulting, but they have a strong name brand and the work that I will be doing will have an impact and be interesting. The culture was extremely important to me, and Deloitte’s culture is a great fit.
The interview process was challenging with individual case questions and group case questions as well. During the group case question, they would have partners in the room watching how you work in a team and come to a final solution. Then as a team we had to present to senior partners. The process was intense and challenging, and that is what I was looking for. After they gave me the offer, I was still trying to get into MBB, so a different person from Deloitte called every day until I accepted. This was the biggest selling point to hear from so many consultants that I did not interview with and find out why they are working at Deloitte.
The summer pay is $5,000 per month plus $2,000 sign on bonus. Starting salary can be up to 69K with a $10,000 sign on bonus.
I pursued almost every management consulting firm that you can think of, and they all say the same thing: you do not go to a target school, our internship program is in its pilot stage or too small, please apply for a full-time position next year. However, this has led me to securing interviews with McKinsey for full-time positions.
The more people you get your resume in front of, the more people you will have on the inside pulling for you.
It’s worth repeating Ryan’s last point – the more people that review your resume (provided it’s high-quality) – the better your chances. Securing a McKinsey full-time interview is no small feat, and Ryan accomplished this through aggressive networking and a consistent focus on building quality work experience. Finally, if your ultimate interest is top strategy consulting, careers in IT consulting may limit your options.
4. What general tips about the recruiting process – resumes, interviews, networking – can you share with readers?
Use your alumni network to its fullest capability. If you have no alumni at a firm, look for someone on LinkedIn. Send them an email or cold call them at work and find out how they got to their current role. I get 1 out of 2 people who I email to respond to me, but with a phone call you will get a live person on the line, who you can talk to and build a rapport with.
Your resume is the most important piece of paper, so this must be immaculate and tell your story. Join a club at school and be a leader that makes a difference in that organization. Look for internships and other meaningful work while you are in school as well. Consulting firms are looking for someone that can balance school with work and other meaningful activities.
Be yourself in interviews – some interviewers do not want to hear the canned answers that you read in a book or rehearsed the night prior. Come across as a yourself and be relaxed.
The people who hesitate to cold call are the same ones who won’t get job offers. My personal recommendation is to introduce yourself via email first, and then followup with a call and reference the email
5. Any last words of advice to prospective consultants?
I knew that in the economic down turn I would have to start early in getting my resume and name out to the prospective firms. I started in August looking up alumni on LinkedIn.com and through school’s alumni database. In addition, I have started lining up interviews with firms for full-time recruiting in Fall. For the firms that do not have a strong undergrad internship program, do not give up and keep on pursuing them for a full-time offer. Start contacting companies now for next years recruiting cycle – it is never too early, and networking cannot be done overnight. Doostang.com is another site that I used to apply to jobs that are not posted on my campus’s career website.
Be relentless and never give up on your dream of becoming a consultant.
Online recruiting tools such as Doostang and LinkedIn are invaluable if you’re looking for an edge
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.
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