How to get a consulting job!

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What you're in for: a 12 - 16 minute read

What you'll get: Practical advice to help you find and land a new consulting job!

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How to get a consulting job - the Explore Consulting guide

Consulting is an amazing springboard career, and consulting jobs are rightly in demand for many people at the start of their careers.

However, consulting is also notoriously difficult to get into! From stringent academic requirements, to a grueling interview process, it can feel like a real mission to even get a foot in the door. There are often 50+ applicants for every job offer at a given firm!

I've screened thousands of consulting CVs and interviewed hundreds of candidates. I also spend a lot of time talking to consulting firm leaders about the type of people they want to hire. So, I'm here to help! Read on for the inside track on how to land a new consulting job.

This guide will take you through a few ways to ‘hack’ your consulting job application and give yourself the best chance of finding a way into consulting. You can also apply to become an Explore Consulting Candidate and benefit from our support to find your perfect job.

Right now, we’re going to cover:

  • Finding a firm that needs YOU
  • Building your experience to supercharge your application
  • Making a killer application
  • Getting ready for interview

If you find this helpful, please share with your friends and join our community of people, like you, who are targeting a consulting career on www.exploreconsulting.careers

Let’s get stuck in!

1. Finding a firm that needs YOU

Consulting firms come in all shapes and sizes. When you start researching the consulting industry you’ll quickly hear about the ‘Big 4’ of KPMG, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and PwC, or the leading strategy consultancies Bain, McKinsey and BCG (Boston Consulting Group). But did you know there are hundreds of specialist consulting firms in every sector and area of expertise? You can get to know some of them in our Companies section.

There’s a good chance that your skills, mindset and personality will be a good fit for at least one consulting firm!

The big firms offer great brands for your CV – both the firm, and the clients you’ll work with – as well as global opportunities and the confidence of a ‘gold standard’ training and development programme. Smaller firms can offer more direct development, as you get chance to step-up to lead projects earlier in your career. They can also offer a more collegiate work culture, better work-life balance, and a strong sense of community with your colleagues.

So, how can you find the right firm for you?

Firstly, think carefully about what matters to you. This can get pretty deep! You need to think about your career goals - what impact do you want to have with your professional life? What’s the right balance of learnings, earnings, and lifestyle? How does your work fit in with other priorities you have in life?

These are big questions, but one of the great things about getting experience as a consultant is it typically opens more doors than it closes. Most importantly, try to develop an understanding of what you energises you – consulting or not, the key to a rewarding career is finding something you’re good at that you really enjoy doing.

Once you know what you love, it’s time to turn the tables. Think about what YOU can offer a firm. Many smaller firms specialise in specific sectors - like healthcare, or financial services - or specific service areas - like data management, or commercial due diligence. Was your degree in a relevant subject, or do you have particular passion for a topic? If not, don't worry, there are plenty of generalist firms out there!

Think also about your personality type. Are you particularly good with people? Then a firm that specialises in change management or leadership may be great for you. Do you enjoy getting deep into the detail of a subject? Maybe look at data science firms, or a pricing specialist (coding or statistics skills are helpful too!). Are you super creative, and also able to think practically and commercially? Then an innovation consultancy could be the perfect fit.

Once you have a sense of what you want, and what you can offer, then you can start researching specific firms, and figuring out what it takes to make a successful application.

2. Building relevant experience

As we've said, consulting can be really competitive. That means it's critical that you can demonstrate your skills and interests - consulting firms love data!

This means you need to actively build relevant experience, which takes some effort. But it's well worth it to stand out from the crowd of other strong applicants, and make sure your CV makes the cut.

What sort of experience do consulting firms look for? Here are some examples:

  • Actual consulting work! A previous role, an internship (especially if you got a job offer at the end of it), or pro bono / student consulting is always good
  • Other work experience - the closer to consulting the better
  • Evidence of drive and initiative - i.e. making something happen! That could be starting a charitable initiative, setting up a student society, undertaking some major travel or an expedition, or even over-coming a tough start in life to get to where you are now.
  • Leadership skills - in any context, be that sport, arts, politics, business or anything else
  • Academic achievement - good A-levels and solid degree-level performance. Many firms are agnostic to degree subject but some firms may require specialist technical knowledge. If you don't have a degree you'll need to demonstrate "smarts" in some other way - usually through significant impact in your work history

The critical thing with building this experience is being able to quantify the impact you've had. More on that in the next section!

Remember it’s important, in life, to align your career to your passions. If building experience that consulting firms value doesn’t appeal to you – maybe consulting isn’t the right career. On the other hand, if you’re excited to get going with something new, you could be on to something! Finding something you’re passionate about and get stuck in. But remember, it’s worth being smart about where you focus your energy and effort to get the best return on your time investment.

3. Making a killer application

Your application is, at first, mostly about your CV. This is 1-2 pages for you to get all of your relevant skills and experience across. You also have just a few minutes of attention on your CV, and need to make every second count so you get to that all important interview stage. Not an easy task!

The CV is so important to your application that we created a FREE course to help you create a Killer Consulting CV – click the link to register and get started straight away.

In that course we take you through the core principles behind a great CV:

  • Be specific - avoid using generic language (we know you're an "enthusiastic self-starter"; we want proof of what you've done with that mindset), or generic examples
    • "Captain of the university hockey team" is less interesting than "Captain of the university hockey team - a 100 member club fielding three teams each week. I drove a 20% increase in player numbers by introducing free nutrition programmes for new players"
  • Keep it relevant - tailor your CV to the firm you're applying to and what you know they are looking for. It’s perfectly normal to have multiple versions of your CV
  • Make it easy for them - you are trying to stand out from the crowd! You have 1-2 minutes to influence the consultant reviewing your CV and make them choose you. Aim to make it a no brainer for them to want to talk to you!

Also part of your application is likely to be a cover letter - a chance to explain why you like the firm, and what you'd bring to it. You can also use this to give context to your CV - e.g. if you had to self-fund your degree with part-time work, or if you care for a family member alongside your current job. It’s also a great chance to show case what you love about the firm you’re applying to – try to take a unique perspective that shows how much research you’ve done, don’t just copy what’s on their website.

You may also be asked to sit some online tests. These vary by firm, but could include numeracy, critical thinking, verbal reasoning, or personality profiling. Don't try to game these! Each firm is looking for a certain profile, who they know will be successful there. If you don't present a true picture of yourself you risk ultimately joining a firm that doesn't work for you - this is not a recipe for success.

4. Getting ready for interview

So you found some great firms, built experience they valued, and sent in a killer application that got you an interview. Well done!! The odds of getting that coveted offer are much improved from here on in - maybe as good as 1 in 3.

So what should you expect at interview? Each firm is different, so crucially you should ask them - or your fellow Explore Consulting Candidates - what to expect. Get as much detail as you can. We also provide information on how many interview stages you’ll have to go through on our Jobs pages

Typical types of interviews include:

  • CV discussions
  • Behavioural profiling
  • Case studies
  • Group interviews
  • Role plays
  • More tests!

The key to getting through the interview is simple - Preparation, and Practice!

Preparation means writing out the answers to typical questions - Why do you want to be a consultant? Why do you like our firm? What do you expect to find challenging as a consultant?

You should also think through your CV in detail. Be ready to talk through examples step by step with a focus on what YOU did, and the impact of that. Detail and specifics are important, as is the awareness to talk through what you learnt and how you might do things differently in a similar situation in future.

Practice is critical for case study interviews in particular. This is where you are given a question, and maybe some supporting information, and need to work out an answer. It's rarely about getting the answer right - although it's important that your answer is credible, internally consistent, and commercially viable. Rather than the answer, the interviewer is interested in how you THINK. Key to this is being structured.

This is a big subject that we can't do justice in an article - we have a two day course, Structured Thinking Bootcamp, that will give you hands-on expertise - but here's my top 5 tips on how to structure your thinking:

  • Think about the issue from multiple angles - "top down" (starting with the big elements and then breaking them down), as well as "bottom up" (starting with the underlying items and then building up)
    • For example, if you are asked to estimate how much the UK spends on Valentine's Day each year, you could do it:
      • Top down - 70 million people, estimate £20 average spend, so total £1.4 billion, or
      • Bottom-up - by estimating how many cards, flowers and chocolates are bought and the average price of each
      • Critically, you need to do both, to sense check your answer
  • Learn some basic business structures
    • For example Profit = Revenue - Costs; Revenue = Price x Volume; Costs = Fixed costs + Variable costs
    • Those three frameworks will get you through most situations!
    • Others, such as the 4 Cs (Costs, Customers, Capabilities, Competitors) or the 5 Ps (Proposition, Product, Pricing, Placement, Promotion), can help with brainstorming creative ideas or ensuring you don't miss something obvious
  • Learn how to put together a driver tree
    • This takes a data point and breaks it down into underlying "drivers". For example, if you are looking at the size of a given market 5 years from now you can break this down as:
      • Future market size = Market size today x market growth rate
        • Market size today = number of customers x spend per customer
          • Spend per customer = units bought x average price per unit
        • Market growth rate = population growth x change in % buying the product x change in spend per customer
    • Once you've figured out the key drivers that have biggest impact on your potential answer, you can then start estimating values for them in a logical way
  • Make your structures MECE – Mutually Exclusive, Collectively Exhaustive
  • This means that each section should stand by itself, but all the sections together should cover everything that’s important to the question
    1. E.g. don’t talk about Revenue in one section of your structure and Price in another – they aren’t mutually exclusive subjects
    2. Similarly, don’t just talk about Price and Cost without considering Volume – that’s not a collectively exhaustive structure

Put the most important things first

  • If you want to estimate how much is spent on watching professional sport in the UK each year - start with football, not snooker

There is no substitute for practice when it comes to structuring. Make use of the various case study prep resources available online - free on many consulting firm websites, or available to buy from sites such as Vault. When you're ready to take your skills to Master standard, join our Structured Thinking Bootcamp.

We've covered a lot in this guide! We went over:

  • Finding a firm that needs YOU - identifying firms you like, and the skills you have to offer
  • Building your experience to supercharge your application
  • Making a killer application - using our free Killer Consulting CV course, writing a great cover letter, and why not to game online tests
  • Getting ready for interview - Preparation (for standard questions), and Practice, Practice, Practice!

Please ask us questions in the comments, check out our other free resources, and when you ready apply to become an Explore Consulting Candidate!

Find your perfect consulting job here