On-Campus Recruiting vs. Direct Application
You have read a lot on this site and in other places about what Management Consultants do, and perhaps spoken to some Consultants and/or been to some Management Consulting presentations. So what is the “standard” recruiting and interview process for Consulting positions?
For one thing, it depends a lot on which school you might be attending. Larger Consulting firms generally visit “target” schools every year for on-campus recruiting. As part of that process, they will typically host informational sessions at these schools during the year. In addition, you will be able to apply for Consulting jobs directly through your school’s recruiting center as part of this process. Typically, they will have a certain number of core (target) schools at which they interview on-campus each year; often they allocate a certain number of job slots from each school for their incoming Analyst and Associate Consultant classes.
For another thing, it very much depends on firm size. Larger firms tend to recruit at a broad set of schools, visiting as many as 20 to 30 campuses every year. Smaller firms may target a handful of highly favored schools. Regardless, the process will be easier for you if you attend one of the schools that a given firm recruits at. (The flip side of this it that it will also be easier for all of your classmates to apply to those firms, so the process will be competitive.)
If you have the opportunity to apply for a position with a firm at your school, there will be a designated process and timing for submitting your resume. Be sure you have the resume and cover letter completed ahead of time, and submit them on time with your school (or, alternatively, you might submit your resume and cover letter through the firm’s website or HR department).
If the firm does not recruit at your school, you will need to apply to the firm directly. The honest truth is, it won’t be easy. In some cases, the Consulting firm may not consider you at all—some firms are very rigid about which colleges/graduate programs they recruit from (especially top-tier firms). Others, however, are more flexible, but you will have to get yourself noticed.
Recruiting season runs on a specific schedule: recruiting for full-time hires occurs during the fall semester, so if you are looking for a job after graduation, you really will need to begin searching at the beginning of your final year. Internship hiring, meanwhile, occurs during the early spring. Each firm has its own recruiting schedule, and information on deadlines and the process to follow will be available on the firm’s website.
VERY IMPORTANT: While applications can be submitted year-round on many Consulting firm websites, your odds for an interview are highest during the aforementioned periods when firms are looking to fill seats for next year’s starting class. If you fail to follow these timing guidelines, your odds of success are very low.
Here are a few things you should do to maximize your odds of getting an interview with the firms you are interested in:
- Join the Management Consulting club at your school to ensure you receive any news of recruiting events and job opportunities at your school.
- Network, Network, Network: Even before the firms present at your school, identify any school alumni currently working at the firms (ideally people you know or friends of friends) and reach out to them to express interest. The reason for this is that the Consultants’ firms may hold small information sessions at your school that are not targeted at you (for example, they may be recruiting for graduate students while you are an undergraduate, or for full-time hiring while you are applying for summer internships). You should attend the sessions if you are allowed, but you might have an opportunity to connect with a few Consultants at your preferred firms before those sessions. If all goes well, you might even be invited to attend those sessions. Anything that gets your name registered in their minds (in a positive way!) early on can only improve your odds.
- Attend Company Information Sessions and Social Events (a.k.a. “Mixers”): The dominant purpose of these recruiting events is not to inform you about the firms. It is to give students an opportunity to network with Consultants at the firm and to show their interest (in fact, some firms mark down who attended, and if you are not on the list, you are less likely to get an interview!). To be certain, the sessions also provide the opportunity to learn more about the firm—but you should do your homework ahead of time. Importantly, you should avoid asking silly questions at these sessions. The Consultants are likely to remember you and asking an inappropriate question is a good way to set off the recruiting process with that firm on a terrible start.
- Follow up with all Consultants you meet: See whether you are able to meet for an “informational” session, which basically means going to their office and meeting with him/her (or to grab a drink with them when they attend your campus for recruiting). You can ask questions about the job and the firm and the consultant typically tells you about their experiences and why Firm X is such a great place to work . This is an opportunity to gather insights into the actual firm and if you build rapport, it can be valuable both in getting an interview and later in the interview process. Note: ask politely, but don’t be pushy. Remember, the goal is for the Consultants at the firm to get to know you and to like you.
Now that you’ve laid the groundwork to the best of your ability, it’s time to look at the action steps in participating in the Consulting recruiting process:
- Apply: For firms that target your school, there will be a standard protocol for applying for a position. Typically, students will submit application through the school’s recruiting center, online, or through a designated Human Resources contact at the firm. The typical application involves a cover letter and resume (often, there will also be a few additional questions to answer online and a request for a copy of school transcripts). Note: A difficult decision to make is whether to apply to just a handful firms or a broad set of firms. We have no definitive answer on this issue, but we believe that in most cases, you are better off applying to more firms rather than less firms to improve your odds of finding a job in the industry. Consulting jobs are highly competitive, and the firms are highly selective. Unless you are certain that there are only a select number of firms you’d want to work for, you will improve your odds by applying broadly. You will also benefit from more interview practice, and other than some basic research and drafting separate cover letters, the incremental time to submit applications to more firms is very small.
For firms that do not target your school, you will need to apply to the firm directly. Once again, this is a bit of a long-shot in Management Consulting, but the best way to maximize your chances of getting an interview is to get noticed. Try to contact alumni from your school that work at the firm, or friends of friends and family, that might be able to help get your resume noticed.
- Consultant resume review: Once applications have been submitted, Consultants at the firm (typically representative alumni from the school under consideration) take the submitted resumes and select a given number of applicants for first-round interviews. This explains why that extra bit of networking makes all the difference— if you are a marginal candidate, it can definitely help you get over the first-interview hurdle if you have an internal advocate at the firm.
- First-Round Interview: Getting an interview is already a small achievement, so well done! The majority of first-round interviews will be conducted in person, although occasionally first-round interviews can be by phone (especially if you are applying for a foreign office). The first-round interview differs by firm but typically consists of two interviews: one primarily behavioral/experience interview (with a guesstimate case) and one full case study interview. Be sure to see our guides for Interview Questions and Case Studies—and practice, practice, practice before the interview comes!
- Second/Third Round Interviews: Second-round interviews nearly always consist of two full Case Study interviews with engagement manager-level consultants. Occasionally one of these interviews involves a presentation or written component. Third-round interviews are common at some firms, but not at all of them. They are often used when a final decision cannot be made among a few applicants. These third-round interviews are usually run by partners at the firm. Note that at most firms, if you have made it to the second round of interviews, you are more likely than not to get an offer. Therefore focus hard on preparation for any second-round (or later) interviews, because the odds are high that your hard work will pay off!
- Receiving an offer: This is the ideal outcome and it is the point at which you realize all the preparation, planning, studying and networking was worth the effort. If you receive offers from top firms, Congratulations! You are one of a small percentage of applicants that received an offer, and you have been chosen from a very talented group. But importantly: do not say “Yes” the moment that you receive word of your offer. Also, do not ask silly questions, such as details about your future bonus! The best thing to do is to politely say “Thank you” to the partner who is calling to let you know of the offer; you should make it plain that you are thrilled to receive the news. HR will soon reach out to you with all of the details of your offer. It will then be up to you to think about whether to accept the offer.
- Reflect on the offer(s): If you’ve done well in the recruiting process, ideally, you will be in the enviable position of being able to select among offers from a few different firms. At this time, send updates on your recruiting process to any alumni or other Consulting contacts you have at these firms, especially those you have networked with during the process. Let them know that you received an offer—they will likely take you out for dinner and discuss the benefits of selecting their firm versus another.
- Enjoy life: You’ve earned it. You now simply have to decide which offer to accept, and begin preparing for your new career.
Other Recruiting Considerations
As we’ve discussed, Consulting recruiting will be much easier, and your odds of success higher, if you attend a school that the firm recruits at. If not, you will need to get noticed to have a reasonable chance of landing a job offer at that firm.
Therefore it is essential, if you have a “star” quality—something that makes you stand out tremendously, such as being the top student in your class (even if not at a top school), participating in a major sporting event (such as the Olympics), won a celebrated international competition (whether it be poetry or math, etc.)—that you make this information obvious to the firm you’re interested in. You certainly have a strong chance of being interviewed if you can get that message across, even if you did not go to a top school. So don’t simply write it down on your resume and cover letter and hope for the best. Contact the firm—speak to someone. Make sure it gets known.
General Tips and Tricks
Outside of that, there are a few tips and tricks that will increase your chances, and they all revolve around one word: networking.
- Network with your peer group. This can be a very effective way to get your resume at least looked at. Many consulting firms pride themselves on their culture and are looking to hire like-minded individuals that will “fit in.” Recruiting departments therefore look to analysts and associates within the firm for input on potential candidates. If you are able to hit it off with someone in your peer group at your target firm and they recommend you, your odds of an interview will significantly increase. Firms often also run “hire-a-friend” programs off-cycle if they need to quickly add employees, and provide financial incentives to those doing the recommending. It goes without saying that if you have a family friend who has a contact at one of the firms, do not be shy and request an introduction.
- Networking with firm leadership. The same principles apply here, but your networking efforts are much more effective. While recruiting departments will definitely factor in the input that a peer at the firm provides, they will likely act on a favorable recommendation that comes from firm leadership (e.g. partners, principals, managers). If you have any connection to leaders of your target firm–college alumni network, friends of friends, etc.–it’s worth acting on, even at the risk of feeling embarrassed or worrying about imposing. After all, the worst thing they can say is “No.” If you’re successful, you’ll walk away learning more about the firm (and whether or not you are interested in joining it) and if it goes well, you’ll have significantly increased your chances of an interview. Furthermore, your interviewer will know that a senior person in the firm recommended you during your interview, which can have an influence the interviewer’s thinking.
- Attend Informational Interviews. Some firms have what are known as “informational interviews.” Informationals are informal meetings where you generally spend 15-20 minutes meeting with a Consultant to learn about the firm. Informational interviews are more common in investment banking, but if you make the effort and ask firms whether you could come in for an information interview, this is often a way to get a foot in the door to network in addition to learning more about the industry and that firm. While the purpose is for you to learn the basics and to get to know the Consultant(s) running the Informational, be prepared for the possibility of behavioral and/or experience interview questions coming up. We address these topics in this guide in a later chapter.
Location for Non-Target Recruits
In our experience, successful candidates that were not recruited from a top school tend more often to secure a position at a location near their school. We think the reason for this is that offices of firms, especially in smaller cities, have an appreciation of candidates who have knowledge of and experience with that region. Therefore, if you are not recruiting from a top school, be sure to scout to local contacts to network with, and be prepared for the possibility that the job you receive will have you based out of a nearby city.
Summer Internships vs. Full-Time Recruiting
If you recruit for a summer internship at a Consulting firm and do not receive an offer (or even an interview), you might be very disappointed. However, the fact of the matter is, it’s very hard to get an internship in Consulting relative to getting a full-time offer. There are far fewer spots (for example, there may be only 5-10 summer internships at a firm that recruits 30 full-time hires annually), but yet roughly the same amount of applicants (in some cases, there are even more—sophomores and juniors might apply). Furthermore, it is not uncommon for candidates to be denied a summer internship, only for them to re-apply during their senior year, and get a full-time offer upon graduation.
Here are a few things you can do to increase your chances of getting a full-time interview/offer if you do not secure a summer internship at the firm:
- Maintain your relationship with the firm. If you have formed any good relationships during the summer internship recruiting process, maintain them leading into the full-time recruiting season. This can be as simple as sending an email at the end of the summer succinctly describing what you’ve been up to over the summer and reiterating your interest in the firm as the full-time recruiting season begins. Consulting firms really do want to hire candidates that show interest in the field and the firm, so make sure you display your passion.
- Find a summer internship that is resume-enhancing. Even if your summer internship ended up not being Consulting, it still can help you greatly in your quest to obtain a full-time position. During full-time resume reviews, firms will look to see that you had a meaningful summer position – whether at a brand-name financial institution (i.e., investment banking, private equity, sales and trading, equity research, etc.) or in a role that provided consulting-like experience (such as project management, product marketing, or quantitative analysis or research).
- Take any feedback from the interviews seriously. If you received any feedback from your summer internship interview about areas to address in your career development (for example, add more structure to your case interview responses, or take more challenging math courses), make sure you work on it. Many firms keep the feedback from prior interviews and pass it along to subsequent interviewers so they can know what to be on the lookout for. A definite way to impress potential recruiters from the firm would be to clearly demonstrate that you’ve worked on the areas for improvement that they’ve identified.
- Find other ways to reiterate your interest in consulting. If you don’t have an internship in Consulting, there are still plenty of ways to boost your skill set and show your interest in the field. Many schools, for example, have clubs that allow you to consult pro-bono for small businesses, or entrepreneurial ventures in developing countries. Take advantage of those kinds of opportunities and get involved to highlight your interest and learn the skills required to excel as a Consultant. Be sure to mention these experiences on your resume and with whomever you’ve made contact with at the Consulting firms during summer internship recruiting.
- Re-apply during the full-time season. Remember, full-time recruiting is a different game than summer internship recruiting in Management Consulting. It is much easier to get a full-time position because there are a lot more slots available. Make sure you reapply full-time, even if you were turned down for a summer internship after several interviews (or even if you never got an interview in the first place!).