Consulting summer internship: 7 must-do’s before starting work

Last week, we thoroughly discussed consulting interviews. This week, the focus will be on the consulting summer internship – best practices before, during, and after your 3 months as a newbie consultant.

The ultimate goal of any summer intern is two-fold: one, to secure a fulltime offer, and two, to learn more about the job, the industry, and the skills required for success.

That said, here are 7 must-do’s for people preparing to enter consulting summer internships. 95% of the advice is applicable for fulltime consultants as well.

1. Read the Economist and WSJ regularly

I discussed the reasons for doing so in the post on consulting books and periodicals. By reading these periodicals, you’ll have a better feel for business problems and solutions, and be up-to-date on current events once you start the job.

Also, start reading consulting blogs – these will give you a sense for a consultant’s daily life. See the Management Consulted blogroll as a starting point.

2. Contact the consultants from your firm that you met during recruiting

This can be through company presentations, interviews, meet-and-greets. Anything. If you haven’t been in touch, update them on your summer internship offer and ask for advice. They’re usually very happy to give you some pointers. Be specific in your questions:

Specific question: I’ll be working in the Dallas office. Do you have any advice on the right people to meet there, and any particularly good managers that I should try to work with?

Broad question: How can I make sure I do well in the internship?

Further reading: How to network with consultants 101

3. Initiate contact with recruiters and consultants at other firms

This is only if you’re interested in transferring firms post-internship. Say you’re summer-ing at Altman Vilandrie but would prefer to work at a bigger firm like BCG fulltime. By keeping in touch with BCG recruiters and consultants, you strengthen your chances for fulltime recruiting. Often, some of these firms will have summer networking events in preparation for fulltime recruiting

The key here is to be upbeat about your internship, but be direct in expressing your interest. Here’s a sample email:

Hi Sarah,I wanted to followup our recruiting conversations from last month.

First, I wanted to thank you for the interview opportunity. While I was ultimately unsuccessful in final rounds, it’s merely whetted my appetite for fulltime recruiting.

With regards to this summer, I accepted an offer to work for BearingPoint in their Atlanta office. I’m looking forward to deeply engaging in the industry and getting a great experience.

I’d like to stay in-touch with you over the summer months. I’m still interested in building a career at Bain, and could use your advice as fulltime recruiting approaches.

Let me know if you’re free for coffee or a phone conversation in the next few months, and I look forward to our chat.

Cheers, Daniel

4. Get all the business attire that you need

Don’t buy a suitcase until you’re confirmed on a travel case – you shouldn’t buy one upfront.

KillerConsultant has a great post on consulting dress code. My only advice is that it’s more important to dress neat than to dress fancy. From your interviews and office visits, you should have an idea of company dress code. Don’t stray too far from it, and have sufficient backups (for men, at least 2 work suits) so you’re not panicking at 11pm when you spill sushi and soy sauce over your only suit and there’s a big client meeting the next day.

5. Familiarize yourself with Powerpoint and Excel

This is only if you’re a complete novice!

It’s not useful to become an Excel expert now, unless that’s already a long-term goal. But if you don’t know what conditional formatting is, you should find out.

As long as you can Google Search, you’ll find plenty of resources to get started.

The whole point is that once the job starts, you’re going to be overwhelmed with material to learn, meetings to attend, people to meet, and so forth – you don’t want to be learning about VLOOKUPs at the same time. To do well in consulting, you’ll need to be “Excel proficient” if not “Excel expert”. Think difference between “conversational Spanish” and “native Spanish”

6. Start speaking the language

Like the step above, the goal is to minimize the number of times you look like a neophyte. It will inevitably happen, but keeping those situations to a minimum will bode well with clients and partners.

7. Set a list of reasonable, specific goals

Goals should include meeting specific partners who work in areas that you’re passionate about (eg, retail marketing, Southeast Asian expansion) and specific company practices that you’d like to explore (this is more applicable to global consulting firms than boutiques). Having these goals will help you be more targeted and focused when deciding how to best spend your non-project time (which is limited already)

  • Whilst I haven”t been a summer intern, I have noticed that a determinative factor at the firm I work in as to whether or not they get job offers is their ‘fit’ with the firm. Whilst this isn’t something you can game, the best interns I have seen try to take advantage of as many social events as possible to at least give themselves a chance to integrate into the culture. These can be as simple as drinks in the office on a Friday(and subsequent shenanigans), or finding common points of interest with the other consultants outside work. It works both ways too – you may find the firm’s culture is just wrong for you, and its better to find out now than later.

  • summer

    could you comment on women’s attire for the internship? Is it also business professional (skirt/suit)?


  • Kevin

    Consultant Insider – that’s a great point, the right fit is absolutely crucial. At the same time, most new hires have a lot of flexibility to “find the right fit” within their firm – much of that has to do with the quality of your work and your ability to build relationships with higher level people.

    I’ll be covering some of the points you touch upon in my next article on tips for success during the internship.

  • Kevin

    Summer – absolutely. business professional is standard for both genders. mergers and inquisitions has a great guest post on the topic of women’s attire, I would check that out. While it targets IBD, 95% of the advice applies to consulting as well.

  • Darshana Dave

    Thanks pal.. I really got some good tips from your article. I would apply them in my internship.

  • Andy

    Hi Kevin,

    I am trying to secure a summer internship, however, it has been a real battle since I am studying abroad. I am Oxford so all the big consulting firms do come to recruit, but I do not know if they look favorably upon those without British citizenship.

    That leaves me with one option: applying online.

    Any advice on my current situation would be wonderful. Thanks.

  • Andy – I assume you’re from the US and studying at Oxford, correct? In that case, it’s perfectly fine to attend all of the information sessions and recruiting events. Make clear upfront about your situation, and either the recruiters/HR will connect you with those in the US directly, or you may go through prelim screening/interviews with the UK offices. Either way, you’ll have a shot – don’t worry about applying online just yet. Best to meet people first. Hope that helps!

  • Andy

    Yes, you are correct. I have been to almost all the events and information sessions meeting representatives and obtaining contact info. However, HR/recruiters have given me really ambiguous advice about my situation. I’ve been thinking about taking some trips into London to get clarification. Anyways, I have two issues that I wanted to bring up.

    1. I’d have to disagree with your comment about not applying yet. Most firms I’ve talked to, not all, have told me to get the application in asap especially if they are on a rolling basis.

    2. My time at Oxford ends June 25th, however, many of the internships in the U.S. begin early June. This leaves me with quite the dilemma.

    Thanks for the timely reply and I look forward to your response.

  • SC

    Did you ever find a way to intern during the summer? I will have the exact same problem next year (also studying abroad at Oxford for the year) and am wondering if there’s a good way to go about this. Thanks!

  • Eric

    was looking around everywhere for an article like this. So glad you wrote this. Heading into BCG this summer and will definitely be following these tips

  • jennyrae

    Eric – congrats on your summer at BCG! Let us know if the tips work…

    Jenny Rae