This is the first in a series of posts for Vault by Nick Waugh and Kenton Kivestu on preparing for the upcoming consulting recruitment cycle. Stay tuned for a four-part series on cracking the case interview that will be coming up in August—just in time for the launch of the 2013 edition of the Vault Consulting 50 rankings.
"You didn't summer in consulting?"
Having recruited many second-year MBA students, there always seem to be a number of folks who are apprehensive sharing their 'non-consulting' summer internships. Perhaps they wanted to use their summer to try something different. Perhaps they weren't made an offer by a consulting firm during first year recruiting. Whatever the reason, telling the story of your summer the right way can truly improve your candidacy in the eyes of the large consulting firms.
Tip #1 – How is it relevant?
Frustrated with the time it took him to get his weekly burrito, one candidate we interviewed spent the summer working with a local restaurant chain to improve their operations. He observed daily process flows, did time studies to calculate average throughput, and worked with the franchise's management to understand what they wanted to optimize (e.g., quality vs. time, dish variety vs. efficiency).
When we initially met him, he embarrassingly relayed this experience, failing to realize that it sounded like a scaled down version of what a consultant does every day. He learned to tweak his presentation to focus on points that his interviewers would find relevant (e.g., trying to convince the store manager to change something in which he didn't see the value, presenting insights gleaned from customer surveys).
He was successful with one of the big 3 firms because he made his story relevant to a consultant and focused on the impact he was able to deliver.
Tip #2 – Understand your audience
The big consulting firms love brand names. They love top business schools. They love Ivy League undergraduate degrees. They also love large companies that have recognizable strengths.
Fortune 100 companies that hire MBA interns often go through hundreds of applicants. They have robust interview processes with detailed background screens. Most importantly, their MBA summer interns get exposure to industry leading thinking.
Take Proctor and Gamble. MBA interns get great hands on expertise. They are exposed to a world class marketing and branding organization. They see complex, international supply chains at work.
Consulting firms love to be able to tell clients that one of their consultants earned their marketing stripes with an industry leader and recognizable name. Candidates that understand how to tell the story around internships with these companies and tailor them to a consulting audience immediately can float to the top of the heap. If you didn't get a full time offer from one of these companies, be sure to address it before the interview—it will be the first question anyone asks you.
Tip #3 – What's the point?
As you discuss your experience, summer internship or otherwise, be structured. The interview is short and your interviewer has been sitting through six straight hours hearing the same stories. Get to the point of your internship.
Every consultant we know discusses the interviewee who rambled through their summer internship experience. Main points are missed and it is unclear at the end what the interviewee actually did for 3 months. A simple recipe for structure can add tremendous value:
a) Deliver the headline
b) Define the problem you had to solve
c) Give 3 specific examples of what impact YOU had
d) Discuss the end result (successful or not)
e) Share what you learned
As you succinctly talk about your experience, ensure that each of the above is covered (not in any particular order). Your interviewer will thank you.
One final note: there is a very fine balance between being prepared/structured and sounding robotic or too rehearsed. For many, this comes naturally. For others (usually those that get nervous in interviews), it is less comfortable to strike that balance.
It helps as you prepare to know the main points of what you want to share with the interviewer rather than memorize a script. The headline from all of this, though, is that no matter what you did for the summer, telling the story is essential to making you the most attractive candidate possible.
Nick Waugh is currently with a private equity firm helping to form and implement strategies within it's portfolio. Prior to that, he was an Engagement Manager at McKinsey and Company where he was heavily involved with recruiting out of the country's top business schools. Having been through hours of case interviews, Nick wants to see candidates more informed and thus more successful. He can be reached at email@example.com
Kenton Kivestu is a Senior Product Manager with Zynga. While in business school he worked at the Boston Consulting Group and prior to that was at Google. He has helped to recruit and hire top candidates throughout his career. Kenton has channeled his desire to help others interviewing at consulting firms through his case practice tool www.rocketblocks.me. Email Kenton at firstname.lastname@example.org