Thinking you might like to work for a top management consulting firm? The journey from application through to getting a job offer can be pretty daunting! A current student tells us about their recent experience…
I am a 21-year-old student studying in the sciences at Victoria University of Wellington, and VicCareers have asked me to outline my experiences getting a job in management consulting. This blog post will tell you about how, over the course of three weeks, I secured a job with one of the world’s most prestigious management consulting firms.
If you have no idea about management consulting, don’t worry—you are in the same position as I was a week before I sent out my applications. Basically, management consulting is the practice of advising organisations on specific aspects of their business(es) or policies. The practice is dominated by the ‘Big Three’: McKinsey, the Boston Consulting Group, and Bain. These are the largest and most prestigious firms in the business. None of the firms have offices in New Zealand since the GFC, but do recruit from New Zealand. I applied for all three, interviewed with two, and accepted an offer from one. I also interviewed at, and received an offer from, a global second-tier firm.
The process for most management consulting firms is similar: you apply online through the firm’s website generally with a CV and cover letter. The importance of these cannot be overstated—firms will generally receive 1200-1500 applications from Australia-New Zealand and less than 10 percent of these applicants will get a first round interview. Making the first cut is the hardest; later, I heard anecdotally that 90 percent of applicants to most firms have around an A or distinction grade average, so good grades are no guarantee of an interview. When you apply, you should expect and already be preparing for the interviews, as you’re likely to hear back within a week or two, and be interviewed a few days later. Same goes for second and third rounds; for one firm, I flew to Auckland and back on Monday for a second round interview, was told on Tuesday, and flew to Australia on Wednesday for the final round.
The interviews themselves follow similar formats: a 10-15 minute chat about your background, followed by a case question. This is where you are given a real life case the company has worked on, and asked to work through the problem with the interviewer. There are a lot of resources online to help you with preparing for this. It is the hardest part of the interview process, and requires impeccable communication, problem solving ability, creativity, and some basic mathematics skills. Business knowledge isn’t really required—though you should know basics, e.g. profit being a function of revenues and costs—but I had never done any business or commerce study and was able to brush up in my preparation. I read two books in the week before the interviews (Ace the Case and Case in Point), worked through example cases, and practiced my quant skills (i.e. being able to work out 35% of $21.4 million quickly in your head).
In the 15 or so interviews I had for different firms, I was only ever interviewed by actual consultants, not HR people (though HR does talk to you informally). Interviewers have increasing levels of experience through the rounds, with final interviews conducted by Senior Partners or Managing Directors. They seem more interested in knowing about who you are than about standard canned questions like ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’. You can generally expect between four to six interviews between 30 and 60 minutes long each before securing an offer. These will be held over the course of two or three rounds depending on the firm. My first round interviews were all in Auckland, with second and final rounds held in Auckland, Sydney and Melbourne depending on the firm. Each company covered all my expenses during these times—flights, hotels (five-star), taxis or personal drivers, meals. Some companies had social events like drinks or dinners before interviews, to get to know you on a personal level.
If you get an offer, firstly, well done. You will have about three to four weeks to accept, although this is flexible if you have other offers, and they will offer to defer your offer a year or two if you intend to do further post-grad (especially so if you win a prestigious scholarship to do this). The companies will put on ‘sell’ events which lavish you with gifts, meals, activities and trips to encourage you to join the firm. They will offer signing bonuses anywhere from a few thousand dollars to somewhere in the five-figures. If you get more than one offer, my advice—and the advice of all the firms—is to choose the firm which you feel fits you the best. Get a feel for the people, and if you don’t click with them it’s probably best to look elsewhere. For the firm that didn’t call me back for a final round interview, I was somewhat glad, as I didn’t really enjoy the personalities of the company staff I’d met up to that point.
It’s easy to romanticise or idealise the profession of consulting and from talking to the interviewers after getting my offer, a lot of applicants fall flat because they don’t want the job for what the firms see as the ‘right’ reasons. You might know that as a graduate consultant you will earn significantly more than most of your friends, very quickly. You will probably be the youngest person flying in business class. You might get access to high-level staff (think CEOs, COOs, CIOs, CFOs) in your first year on the job. You will have global mobility options, and a lot of perks (e.g. personal frequent flyer miles, hotel clubs, above-average superannuation contributions). They might pay a few hundred thousand for you to get an MBA at Harvard or Stanford. But, something that is mentioned throughout is that you might not be the best fit for the profession, and the interviewers will spot the people who are there to get a cushy salary at a big name firm. They may ask you pointed questions about your intentions.
You should probably reconsider applying if:
- You don’t enjoy solving problems (if this is you, you’ll hate the interviews)
- You can’t work in teams effectively
- You don’t want to move to Australia
- You don’t want to be working long hours (think 75-80 hour weeks, sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on the cases)
- You have poor grades
If you’re thinking of applying in future this is my advice in summary:
Lastly, be prepared to fail. I applied on a whim and never expected to get a first round interview, let alone second and final rounds, or an offer. I was incredibly fortunate to be one of 12 or so people offered a graduate position at my firm, which is basically fewer than 1 percent of applicants—I wish you the same luck but be prepared that things might not go the way you hoped. That being said, if you are good enough, you will get through. These firms do not have quotas and always need more people. Nevertheless, at each round the number of people left basically halves because most people don’t make the grade. Some people aren’t cut out for consulting work, but I think practice can certainly help your chances of getting an offer.