Five mistakes students make during consulting season and how to avoid them

Hopefully we have convinced you by now that consulting is the place to be after B-school.  Great.  Now, we need to talk about the hard part – getting the job.

Before we discuss strategy and pitfalls, let’s drive home one important point.  Your odds of landing an offer at a given consulting firm is low.  At top firms the acceptance rate often hovers around 2%! Your focus as an aspiring consultant should be to intelligently spread your bets to improve the odds wherever possible. To do that, we’re going to focus on high-impact points in the recruiting timeline to make sure you avoid common mistakes:

  • Mistake #1 – Not taking the requisite time to ensure consulting is a “fit” for you

Listen, we get it.  Consulting sounds exciting and it probably feels like half the class is dying to get a consulting gig but for more than five years we have watched students invest significant time energy and effort into the process of preparing without really examining their internal motivations for an internship.  Understand that between networking, case practice, and behavioral interview practice this process is easily more than 100 hours of preparation on top of school.  Your time is limited and the more you spread it around the less likely you are to be successful for consulting jobs (and the other pursuits you are tackling simultaneously).  We aren’t saying you must know what you want to be when you grow up right now.  We are saying is that if you want to land a consulting offer now is the time to fully explore that option before embarking on the long journey ahead.

  • Mistake #2 – Focusing on the interview too much before getting the interview

Another common error is jumping right into case practice without putting together the pieces that help you get the interview.  The first step is to have a consulting-ready resume.  This means taking your b-school application resume and cultivating it to match the consulting industry – high-impact, quantifiable results, polished communication skills, leadership experience, and an entrepreneurial drive.  Once that foundation is built you need to build your, “story.”  This is your 60-75 second informercial that tells the interviewer who you are and why you’re there.  Every coffee chat, networking event, and interview starts with these two ingredients so you need to get them right.

Last and most importantly you must develop a networking plan.  This is your strategy to identify and target firms and an actionable plan for conducting your outreach.  Put all of this together correctly and you will increase the interview opportunities you get down the road.  Fail to do this well and you will be limiting yourself right out of the gate.

  • Mistake #3 – Not understanding what excellence looks like in a case interview

Every year we are asked, “how many cases do I need to do?”  The reality is that it depends on a lot of factors – who are you practicing with, how effective are your sessions, what is your natural communication style, etc.  Casing is a skill, and it requires time and practice to build.  Some individuals pick up casing faster than others, but rest assured everyone is terrible on case #1.  You must invest significant time and energy to reach a point where it all clicks, and you understand what is going on and what the case is about.  Congratulations!  You have achieved basic proficiency.  This is the start line of your race, not the finish.  The reality is that you must be excellent to get the offer.

Our recommendation is that you find a group that is going to commit to working hard and rotate partners regularly to get different looks.  We also recommend mixing in partners who have received offers (2nd years, 3rd party companies, etc.) so that you are constantly pushing yourself further towards excellence.

  • Mistake #4 – Focusing too much on the case and not enough on behavioral interviewing

This is the number one error year in and year out.  Aspiring consultants focus entirely too much on the case and forget about the behavioral interview.  Every firm is different, but this element makes up anywhere from 25-75% of your total interview success so ignore it at your own peril.

Like casing, behavioral interviews are a skill that must be honed.  We recommend an initial brainstorming phase to generate a viable list of stories followed by a culling of the list to focus on the most impactful ones. Finally, lots of repetition to master the delivery.  This is not your basic behavioral interview that you likely saw out of undergrad.  This is the big leagues!

  • Mistake #5 – Failing to ‘show up’ on interview day

It may sound obvious, but we need to state it – you have to ‘show up’ on interview day.  This will read more like a laundry list but here are the most important items to put yourself in great position for interview day:

  • Rest – Get plenty of rest the week of the interview and do not try to cram everything in at the end. If you have ever run a marathon then you know the days leading up to the event are about tapering.  You need to do this for interviews as well.
  • Avoid scheduling land mines – We have seen for years how students will harm their chances by scheduling B2B2B interviews, often with the most important one last. That would be like scheduling three GMATs in a row and then when you’re tired and hungry make you take one more that actually counts.  Don’t do this!
  • Relax – You will be nervous because everyone is nervous. The difference between success and failure in the interview room is not letting it rattle you.  Our experience has shown us that more practice equals less nerves so let that be your comfort.
  • Be positive – Something will inevitably go sideways. Remain relentlessly positive and inquisitive no matter what happens.  This attitude will get you back on track and gives you bonus points for not getting rattled.
  • Be personable – Let your personality shine through during the interview. Remember, your interviewer is sitting through these all day.  They are tired, hungry and potentially very bored.  Anything you can do to lighten the mood and put them at ease makes the process more enjoyable for both of you.

We know that was a lot to take in.

The good news is that you have us – your WayFinders.  New this year, we will be teaching a weekly course (Saturdays 9-10:30 am) to walk you through the entire process and it is completely free.  It won’t replace the hard work you must do, but it will supplement and guide so that you can be as efficient as possible.

To learn more about the course and ask us questions, we have setup an information session on Friday, September 10th @ 4pm.  This session will be in room 214.

We look forward to seeing you then.

Thank you for joining us!

Matt and Ryan

By Matt Thurman (MBA ’15) and Ryan Heider (PMBA ’15)
Matt Thurman (MBA ’15) and Ryan Heider (PMBA ’15)