By now you've decided to pursue a career in consulting. You've spoken to real-life consultants, had a heart-to-heart with your career services counselors and made peace with the potential for long hours and brutal travel in exchange for intriguing project work and financial rewards. Now it's time to get started and choose prospects for where you'd like to work.
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 or the occasional book. With the advent of the internet, the process of researching a company changed dramatically. Candidates are now expected to read a company's website, understand the company's makeup and be prepared to talk about it in interviews. Completing this step in your preparation can be the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.
Learn the consulting firm basic information
With all the information on potential employers readily available, it's all too easy to overdose. Consulting firms do not expect you to be an expert; but they do want you to have a basic grasp of their firm's history, current practice areas and targeted industries, major office locations, recent news developments and what key factors distinguish them from their competition. The important aspects are genuine interest in the consulting industry as a whole, the problem-solving prowess to excel as a consultant and the personal skills to work well with both the client and your project team.
Be comfortable with the basics of each firm, but don't let your research become an end in itself. Overzealous candidates often make this mistake. They feel compelled to ask three-layered questions about revenue streams and utilization rates to show recruiters just how much they prepared for the first interview. Recruiters are not particularly impressed by this behavior. On the other hand, they have even less patience for candidates who exhibit no knowledge of the firm whatsoever.
Understand each firm's core competencies
Keep your research simple and focused. Go to a firm's website and learn the basics, making sure to find out the firm's core competencies or the skill sets that it expects each new hire to have. You should read the firm's annual report if it is publicly traded. If you are still in school, look up the firm of your dreams on LexisNexis and look for recent articles on the firm. Search your alumni database for folks employed there and ask to pick their brains over coffee. Vault's consulting firm profiles are a great resource for learning about a firm's core competencies, as well as firm culture and hiring practices (see below).
A firm's core competencies can have a big impact on its 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 does the firm interview?
Aside from learning about a company through its 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 in a one-on-one format? Getting this information before the interview can lower your stress level and make you a more relaxed candidate. The best source is people you may know at the firm or friends who have gone through the interview process already. You can even address these questions to company recruiters. Armed with this information, your focus on the day of the interview will be much sharper, and your discussions will cover the topics that matter the most. For insider information on the hiring process at top consulting firms, the Vault Guide to the Top 50 Management and Strategy Consulting Firms and consulting firm employer profiles are key.
A little knowledge goes a long way in the hiring process
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 mix it into discussions about your work experience, your personality and your goals. Think of your new-found company knowledge as a fail-safe cushion for questions such as "Why do you want to work here?", "What is it about our firm that interests you?" and "Why are you a good fit for our firm?" 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. Recruiters appreciate a certain level of intellectual humility.
--From the 2010 Vault Guide to Consulting Careers by Laura Walker Chung, Eric Chung and the staff at Vault
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