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Getting a job in management consulting

How to get a graduate job as a management consultant

The majority of management consulting jobs are located in large international cities such as London, Paris and New York. Management consultancy firms usually have well-advertised graduate training programmes, with the selection process managed centrally. However, firms with overseas offices will sometimes recruit locally, and more informally than through a graduate scheme, so it’s worthwhile contacting them directly if you are looking for work abroad (check the company website for a list of office locations).

Very large, multinational consulting firms typically operate across all industry sectors, whereas smaller, niche firms specialise in particular sectors or service offerings.

Applying for a graduate scheme with a management consulting firm

Most large management consulting firms have structured graduate entry programmes which have been in existence for quite a long time. The firms are quite clear about what they are looking for and the stages of the recruitment process and this is usually explained clearly on their website.

Large management consultancy firms have formal graduate recruitment programmes with closing dates usually in November and December but some can be as early as October. Smaller, niche firms, may recruit year round. Deadlines for summer internships may be slightly later than for the graduate programme. It is always important to check with each firm as late applicants are rarely considered.

The application process tends to be rigorous and very structured. Application forms are very common and the majority are online. Sometimes a CV can be attached as part of an overall application so you will need to have one up-to-date. Smaller firms may only require a CV and covering letter as the first stage.

Competition for entry is always intense, and consulting firms are known to only consider the very best candidates, so your application has to be of an extremely high standard. Apply early and do plenty of research.

To be successful you will need to demonstrate:

  • consistently high academic grades: results really do count for a lot in these firms.
  • participation in a variety of extra-curricular activities (this could include organisational, fund raising or promotional activities).
  • some work experience, ideally an internship in a consulting firm but any relevant office experience is beneficial.
  • other skills such as IT and languages.

Interviews for management consultancy jobs

The selection process is rigorous and can include psychometric tests, assessment centres and a lot of interviews. Assessment centres are very common and can take place over two days with activities such as psychometric testing, case studies, group and individual tasks, interviews and social events.

Competence-based interviewing is standard: this means you will be asked to give examples of times you have demonstrated various skills in the past. These competences could include attention to detail, project management or working under pressure.

Before your interview, practise some case studies. Many consultancy firms have example test studies on their websites, and you will improve with practice.

It’s also important to stay up to speed on current affairs as this is a common topic in interviews and assessment centres. In particular, read the business pages to improve your commercial awareness.

How work experience and internships can help you get a job in management consulting

Work experience will significantly improve the content and quality of your application. It will give you industry sector knowledge and help you develop key skills such as organisational ability, interpersonal skills and commercial awareness which are absolute requirements to gain entry to management consulting. And it gives you a wealth of examples that you can use at interview to prove you have the key skills required.

Work experience that would have a very positive impact could include experience in a large (recognisable) firm with a good level of responsibility, possibly but not necessarily office based, and some client/customer contact. Try to get good summer jobs if you possibly can (start your search early) and consider returning to the same employer where you might be given increased responsibility.

The most relevant work experience you can get is a summer internship in a consulting firm while you are still in college. Many consultancies offer internships for penultimate year students, and if you can get one of these it will give you an edge when you apply for permanent positions. You will see how these firms operate and the type of assignments they work on, and you will get a real sense of whether consulting is for you or not. Also consider internships in industry or in investment banking: there is a great overlap between the skills gained in all of these sectors and they are equally impressive to employers.

Closing dates for internships are usually in early January of your penultimate year – check with your careers service as closing dates are strictly adhered to.

The skills needed to work in management consultancy

While there is no specific academic qualification to enter management consulting – firms recruit from literally every degree discipline – you are still expected to have performed extremely well academically throughout university.

Key personal qualities required include:

  • analytical ability: being able to diagnose a problem and see the component parts.
  • being good with numbers and statistics.
  • innovation and creativity, to develop solutions to client problems.
  • interpersonal skills: communicating with clients and colleagues.
  • communication skills: writing reports, making presentations.

Finally, due to the project based nature of the job, you must be able to stay calm under pressure (you may have competing deadlines) and have high levels of stamina. In short, management consulting is hard work: consultants are regularly pushed to their physical and intellectual limits to provide the best service to clients.

If you don’t get on a management consulting graduate scheme

If you don’t succeed in getting into a management consulting firm, consider other high profile graduate programmes. People often transfer into consulting after they have gained a number of years’ experience in a particular industry sector, such as healthcare or oil and gas.