The most popular way to get a foothold in the hyper-competitive management consulting industry is via a top MBA program. But it isn’t easy when more than half your classmates, who are equally capable and ambitious, are also vying for the same role.
ISB grad, Kanav Sharma, who has successfully navigated the consulting recruitment maze, takes us through the process.
During the Orientation week at Indian School of Business or the O-week as it is popularly known, if asked about the future career plans of the new students, around 70% will list consulting as their first choice. During the course of the ISB journey, however many realize their inherent interests and the congestion towards the consulting companies eases out a bit. Having said that, for many at ISB, getting a consulting job still remains a preferred choice.
To restrict the scope of the article, I would confine the discussion to shortlisting and selection procedures of McKinsey& Company, The Boston Consulting Group, A.T. Kearney and The Parthenon EY Group since the procedures and the criteria of these firms are very similar to each other. Just a rough estimate, in our ISB Class of 2016, around 450-550 students applied for one or the other of these firms with a total of 50 offers being made.
A bit about these consulting firms, hence forth, The Firms. The work these firms do can be divided into a 2X2 matrix as shown below (indicative). The columns list industries they work in and on the rows are the functions (Like Strategy, Operations, etc.). The rows show the functions/services/capabilities.
These firms are mostly present across the matrix with each one of them specializing in one industry or the other. The Parthenon EY group here is an exception since it is present only in Strategy (Function) in the Education (Industry Sector).
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These companies are background agnostic unless they are looking for some specific vacancy in a specific vertical and a specific function. The industry you were working in is not a killer nor is it a deal clincher.
Your resume and the way you present it is a very important step in getting a shortlist from these firms. A typical resume has 3 sections – Education, Work Experience and Extra-Curricular activities and you have to shine in all 3 areas to get the attention of these firms. Few exceptions can be those candidates who have something outstanding in any one section. Examples include, winning some national games, getting your name in the Limca book of records, holding patents in your name or having published research papers in reputed management/engineering journals.
Apart from the content of the resume, working on its structure is extremely important. Your resume is like a real estate property in a hot area; each inch of space has to be used very judiciously. Every point you mention in your resume has to cover 3 things, abbreviated as CAR – Context, Actions, Results. This not only makes it easier for the recruiter to acknowledge your actions and their impact, but also exhibits the seriousness and effort you put in towards the job you are applying for.
Needless to say that all the pointers in the resume should be connected to bring out a personality or a story. Any reader should be able to guess your personality type by going through your resume.
Get your resume reviewed by at least 2-3 people. 1-2 peers who you think would give genuine critical feedback and 1-2 alums in the consulting industry. Don’t be scared of iterations of your resume. Probably, your 25th or 30th version will be the one you would end up uploading.
After shortlisting, you will be treated with kid gloves. You will be assigned buddies and mentors who would guide you throughout the preparation process. They are generally very helpful and would be available to answer all your doubts and queries.
The employees (mostly alums) of these firms will come to your campus almost every weekend to help you prepare for case studies. There will be networking dinners organized by these firms to interact with you, to know you beyond your resume, understand your aspirations, to help you know more about the firm, to clear your doubts about the role and to help you understand and evaluate the culture of the firm.
Case studies form a very important part of the consulting interviews and it is inevitable that you dedicate serious time and effort towards its preparation. I would recommend Case in point, Indian School of Business (ISB) Case Book, Kellogg Case Book, Harvard Business School (HBS) Case Book, IIM Ahmedabad Case Book and INSEAD Case Book. Of course it is not required to go through all of them in detail but the more your practice, the better it is. It is highly recommended to read and practice cases in Case in Point thoroughly followed by any 3-4 case books you feel comfortable practicing from. Do occasionally pick up some other case book and do some cases from there. I practiced mostly from Case in Point, ISB, IIM A, HBS and Kellogg case books.
Keep your course concepts handy and revise them to increase the efficiency of your case solutions.
The best way to practice solving cases is to make case study groups of not more than 3-4 people and meet every day once or twice to discuss and solve cases. It is recommended being a part of at least 2 such groups. During our peak preparation days in November 2015 (Day 0 was on December 5, 2015), we used to solve 3-5 cases on an average per day. Also make sure that you cover different types of cases during your practice session.
As mentioned, shortlisting is followed by case preparations workshops and networking dinners. Though no one knows what the reality is, the grapevine says that you are being judged during these interactions. The judgment is not stringent but the assessing team might form a general opinion about you. So in words of one of the partners of the above mentioned firms (not A.T.Kearney) during a networking dinner, “We just want to know that you are not an asshole”.
All the interviews take place during the same day. The interviews are dominated by case studies but there would be general interactive discussions from your resume as well. And of course, you could be asked the typical questions like Why MBA? Why Consulting? Why this firm?
As we keep on clearing several rounds, in general the discussions become more and more dominated by cases.
The interview panelists’ profiles are generally shared by these firms a few days prior to the D day. It is highly recommended to do your research on the interview panelists to have an interactive discussion with them. Some of them might have a background similar to yours and this could help in getting more clarity on how you can excel in the new role and what this role has to offer forlong term goals.
There are 3-4 rounds of interviews and these are generally in the following sequence
In whichever round the panelists are not clear about the assessment, they will take another round at the same level.
After all the rounds you would be told about the decision of the firm. It is undoubtedly a euphoric moment to get selected in your dream consulting firm. You will be taken out for drinks and dinner on the same day so that you can now know and interact more freely with your future colleagues.
I graduated from NIT Kurukshetra in 2011 and started my career in Analytics. After a brief stint of about a year in analytics, I shifted to Jabong.com in their Performance Excellence team, the in-house consulting team of Jabong.com. After a little more than 1.5 years in Jabong, I ventured on my own in the retail space aiming to carve out a niche in the Home Décor & Furnishing with a combination of online and offline channels. We had online presence with Shawpers.com and Brick & Mortar presence under the Calificar brand. The startup did not push ahead as expected and I ended up realizing that there is much more to be learnt to succeed in life. This is when I decided to go for an MBA and joined ISB’s Class of 2016.
I wanted to get into consulting because of the learning involved by working with some of the best minds in the world. By working across various verticals and services, the kind of exposure a consultant gets over the course of his career is overwhelming. The due diligence and structured approach to solving problems helps us develop a mental framework with all the right checks and balances before taking any important decision.
It is a small step for the consulting company to hire you, but for you it can be a giant leap for your growth and development.
Disclaimer – All views are completely personal and have no authentication from either ISB or any of the firms mentioned above.