Landing a consulting job takes a lot of time and effort, and company research plays an important role in a candidate's preparation. Prior to the 1990s, information on companies was not very easy to find. Candidates relied on word-of-mouth insights, company literature ordered through the mail, or books that exposed a particular company's internal culture. With the advent of the Internet, the process of researching a company changed dramatically. Candidates now are expected to read a company's web site, understand certain parts of the company's makeup, and be prepared to talk about it in interviews. Avoiding this step in your preparation can be the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.
How one researches a company in today's environment is the source of constant debate among job seekers, but there is no need to overcomplicate the process just because information is more accessible. Consulting firms do not expect you to be an expert; they merely want you to have a basic grasp of their firm's history, current practice areas and targeted industries, and recent news developments pertaining to the firm.
Acquiring this knowledge should take no more than one hour per firm. Spending more time than that or reading everything ever written about a particular firm is a waste of time. Overzealous candidates make that mistake very often. They feel compelled to ask three-layered questions about revenue streams and utilization rates or show recruiters just how much they prepared for the first interview. Recruiters are not fooled by this. Recruiters meet hundreds of candidates every year and are not interested in "show-offs" or people who cannot stop themselves from exhibiting the extensive company knowledge they have gathered.
Keep your research simple and focused. Go to a company's web site and learn the basics, and as part of your homework, be sure to find out the firm's core competencies or the skill sets that they expect each new hire to have. If a firm's core competencies are "ability to work in teams," "results orientation," and "analytical thinking," then chances are very high that the firm's interview questions will address those areas. More importantly, a firm's core competencies can have a large impact on their culture, so knowing them will help you decide if the work environment will be agreeable. Remember, company research is not just to help you do well in an interview; it also will help you decide if the firm is where you want to be.
How do they interview?
Aside from learning about a company through their web site, you could benefit from knowing how the firm interviews. Do they ask case questions? Are there multiple interview rounds? Does the firm use interview panels, or is each interview conducted with a one-on-one format? Finding this information beforehand can lower your stress level and make you a more relaxed candidate. Where you find this information requires a little creativity, but the best source is people you may know at the firm or friends who have gone through the interview process already. Armed with this information, your focus on the day of the interview will be much sharper, and your discussions will cover only the topics that matter most.
A little goes a long way
Once you've done all the necessary research on a firm, store it away in your memory for the actual interview. Use it in a very limited fashion, or seamlessly mix it into with discussions about your work experience, your personality, and your goals. Think of your newfound company knowledge as a fail-safe cushion for question such as "Why do you want to work here?" And "What is it about our firm that interests you?" A little company information goes a long way with these questions. Leave your doctoral thesis at home, and do not be afraid to express your ignorance on certain topics, because recruiters do look for a certain level of intellectual humility.