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by Vault Consulting Editors | March 10, 2009

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The experience of the recruiting process for major consulting firms is very educational, but also can be trying on one's psyche. For those of you unfamiliar with the consulting recruiting process, this article gives an overview of the most important topics of the recruiting process.

MBA vs. Undergrad Recruiting
The consulting recruiting process is very similar for MBAs and undergrads. There are similar events at which to meet the different employers, from information sessions to cocktail receptions, and a similar interview process that focuses both on case interviews and behavioral interviews.

However, there are also some differences, highlighted by the length and intensity of each process. MBAs have significantly more reception-type events to attend, where it is important to get out and meet employees at different firms. This is not only important from the standpoint of getting potential employers to know your name and face, but also as a valuable opportunity to meet the types of people that will be your future colleagues.

In addition, case interviews for MBAs are more prevalent and more intense. The consulting firms expect significantly more structured thought from the MBAs they interview, and will expect you to be able to demonstrate how you can leverage your previous work experience.

Case interviews
The case interview significantly differentiates the consulting interviewing process from that of any other industry. To someone who is unfamiliar with this interviewing methodology, it can be hard to explain. Where else does one get asked how many pay phones are in the United States and how you came to your conclusion? When else are you expected to solve a client's question in 15 minutes that a team of consultants has been working for six weeks to try and figure out?

In short, it is your opportunity to demonstrate to the interviewer that you have the ability to critically assess a problem, analyze its pieces, and then discuss how you would attempt to solve each of the different issues involved. What makes the case interview quite different from any other type of interview is that it does not take the typical "question and answer" format, with the interviewer asking the question and the interviewee answering. Instead, after the case is given, the interviewee is supposed to ask questions in a structured manner in order to reach a reasonable conclusion.

~How to ace the case interview
It is nearly impossible to be successful in a case interview without having first practiced with a friend - or even better, a fellow student. Without proper preparation, the case interview can be one of the more stressful experiences of your life. With preparation, it is still a little like going to the dentist's office. However, with practice, you'll feel a lot more confident and be much more likely to hear good news from the firm (in the form of an invitation back for even more case interviews, of course) and hopefully the summer internship or full-time job offer that you've been hoping for. To help in this preparation, practice cases can be found in many published books as well as on the web sites of many consulting firms.

Weighing offers
You have now completed the recruiting process and have been very successful. Hopefully you have multiple job offers from consulting firms, and the question is which job is the one you should take. Most importantly, remember that when deciding between firms, salary should not be one of the most important criteria. All offers from consulting firms will involve a very high salary that for most students, will be a significant increase from your previous job. Instead, try to determine which of the jobs will make you the happiest and be the most rewarding.

Criteria that should be important in making your decision include: firm reputation, firm specialties, type of people, type of projects, and lifestyle. Every consulting firm has a different reputation, both overall and in terms of specialties. Depending upon your individual preference, the importance of each of these will vary. If you have done your homework well and taken advantage of the opportunity to meet people during the cocktail receptions and interviews, you likely will have noticed the differences among firms. This can be another data point to help you decide which firm matches best with your personality and where you will likely enjoy working the most.

~Lastly, consulting firms have different methodologies that can directly affect your lifestyle, including travel schedule, amount of projects that you work on, and length that you are on a particular engagement. Many of these items will be discussed during the reception events, and can also be discussed with other students who have previously worked at the different consulting firms.

Christopher Tapia graduated from Duke University in 1995 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. He worked in marketing consulting for three years before attending MIT's Sloan School of Management. He will graduate from MIT this June with an MBA, concentrating in New Product and Venture Development. This summer he will begin working with AT Kearney.

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Filed Under: Consulting

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