I am frequently asked what advice I would give students looking to get into consulting. My answer remains the same whether the student is in undergraduate school or business school. The first thing you have to remember is obtaining a job is more about the people interaction than anything else, unless you work in a highly technical field. The people emphasis is exponentially more important in consulting.
In fact, you will likely hear people talk about how this is a “people business” at least 600 times as you go through the process of pursuing a consulting opportunity. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should also warn you that the people aspect becomes the primary way of managing your career once you join a consulting firm. If people do not want to work with you, it doesn’t matter where you went to school or how smart you are – your stint in consulting will be short-lived if you don’t understand how to manage and navigate people.
That being said, let me explain a few of the key ways you can show your saavy in effectively handling people and their different personalities. Some of these may seem like a “nice to have,” but these behaviors need to be the baseline for you to even have a chance to be considered as a viable candidate.
1. Show Up
|Always Show Up|
If there is a firm that you are serious about pursuing you need to show up at every event. Every time a firm visits campus or has a job fair, you need to be there. If there is a coffee chat or some other off-site activity, you need to be there. If they offer some sort of mentor or buddy program, you need to sign up for that, too. I think you can see a pattern here. There are several reasons why you need to do this.
First, it gives you a chance to meet people that work at the firm, and the more positive impressions you can make, the better. Please not that it’s not just the senior partners that will influence your fate. Think about it this way, if you were choosing between two comparable people on paper for a job opening and you already knew you enjoyed being around one of the two people, which one would YOU choose for the job?
|Reason for the “airport test”|
When I was interviewing for my current position, I had multiple people explain to me the importance of the “airport test.” This is when an interviewer is imply looking to determine if they would want to be stuck in an airport with a candidate. Sounds simple, but this test is the reason that many people don’t receive consulting offers form their target firms. I can’t emphasize enough that if you are not able to connect with people around you, establishing credibility as a potential consultant will be impossible.
Secondly, so many people apply to consulting firms every year but don’t show the right level of follow-through. Simply by showing up to every event and putting a face to your name, you can differentiate yourself from many peers pursuing the same positions.
This is a “gimme.” Please don’t mess this up.
2. Be a Problem Solver
|Always have a solution|
Consultants are professional problem solvers. Clients hire us because their problems were too challenging to solve on their own. If you can demonstrate that you already have a history of strategizing and executing solutions/plans then you’re already ahead of the game. For, example, let’s say you organized a fundraiser from conception to execution in order to reach a specific monetary goal. This shows me two things: 1) you have a vision and 2) you know how to follow-through on that vision to achieve the desired outcome. These two skills are invaluable to a consultant.
3. Speak With Confidence
Everyone recruiting for consulting positions assumes that the way you speak to him/her is the way you will speak to a client. Clients hire consultants to be experts who can resolve complex issues. The last thing a client wants to feel is that you don’t even believe in what you’re doing. If you have a well thought-out perspective based on facts, you should deliver it with confidence. Don’t get nervous about the “right” answer as there is rarely a single solution to address a particular issue. If the client (or interviewer) disagrees with your conclusion you be comfortable explaining your assumptions and collaborate to come up with a suitable approach to reach the desired outcome. If you come undone or fold every time a suggestion of yours is challenged, you will come off as indecisive, or worse, not knowledgeable. Many times, a question really is just to make sure your points are understood, not to imply that you done something incorrectly.
Focusing on these three points will get you a long in obtaining that consulting offer that many people strive for. Feel free to add other good advice from your experience or more specific questions on making this transition in the comments.