How to become a management consultant
The process of applying for a job at a top global management consultancy has come a long way since the days of turgid psychometric testing and brutally rigid corporate grading regimes. But big global firms like Accenture and Capco still put potential candidates through a challenging and rigorous recruitment process for management consultancy jobs.
So how does it work? The recruitment process for management consultants varies according to the firm you are hoping to join, but wherever you apply and in whichever sector, it’s likely that before you get anywhere near the interview with actual human beings you’ll be asked to complete in-depth online questionnaires and/or have your CV pass through some fairly ruthless robots. Then you’ll probably go through a phone interview stage, where you’ll be screened by senior management for your motivation and potential.
If you get past them you might find then yourself in an assessment alongside other hopefuls, where you’ll be observed as you work through a case study - usually unseen material that requires you to prepare a plan or another deliverable based on ambiguous information in a short period of time. If you come through that there will be more interviews with partners to assess your overall fit and suitability. The whole thing can take anything from one day to three weeks.
Like any endurance test, it pays be at peak fitness when you enter into these things.
We asked recruiters and insiders for their advice and top-tips for management consultancy recruitment:
The life of a consultant isn’t for everybody. Before you even begin to prepare for an interview, take the time to really ask yourself if consulting is right for you. One insider at Accenture told us: “My consulting interviews questioned me more around my preparedness and desire to constantly travel for the job and to take on client-facing work that could require long hours.” Think about this in advance an have an authentic response that lets them know your are down for this.
Have your house in order
“Accenture and other top-fives go through rigorous background checks” one recruiter told us. “Get everything in order as you will be going straight out into the heart of your clients’ business and reputationally, you cannot afford to have any skeletons in the closet.”
Find a niche
Consultants either win contracts or deliver them. If you can’t do either you will ‘sit on the bench’ and sitting on the a bench is a non-chargeable cost to your consultancy. “Pick a specialism” our recruiter told us. “And become the most valuable specialist in that field, no matter how niche. If you can’t do that yet, think about how you can demonstrate you will pick it up quickly.” he adds. More senior people should demonstrate they have relationships and can win major contracts, know how to handle RFPs (requests for proposals) and tenders.
Prove you can last
Once you reach the interview stages, odds are you have the aptitude for the role; it’s now about assessing your stamina and readiness for the lifestyle that comes with management consulting. A management consultant at Capco told us: “As a new consultant it’s highly like you will be placed in demanding situations that are ambiguous, with difficult stakeholders, so prepare a compelling and objective case as to why you are suited to this kind of work, and where you have delivered in these conditions before.”
Know your stuff
If you make it to the partner interview stage, says our friend at Capco, make sure you research your partner and be aware of some of their key achievements and areas of interest. Prepare some meaningful questions to ask them that speak to this. “Too many people assume this interview is just a chat or a formality when actually this is a more challenging version of the first interview.” he adds. Similarly, demonstrate you understand the culture of the place you are interviewing at and how it differs to its competitors. Consultants are fiercely proud of the things that set their firm apart; show them you get that.
Trust the process, but don’t rely on it
The major management consulting firms are recruiting powerhouses, so once you start interviewing it’s unlikely you’ll fall through the cracks. However, you need to be one step ahead of the curve in case they do happen.
One consultant at Accenture told us: “My recruiter emailed me information for a webinar to help me prepare for my case-study interview. However, he sent the email after the webinar had already happened! Luckily I had started prepping well before the last-minute email. Had I not, I may or may not have gone down a long, dark hole of mock case videos on YouTube.”
Practice, practice, practice
If you’re past the initial interview and looking at the assessment, make time to practice time-bound assessments at home. Be strict with the time limit (use online archives/assessment websites.) It will often involve unseen material that requires you to prepare a plan or a solution based on limited and deliberately obtuse information, all in a short period of time. Time is, as the saying goes, money, and it is far better for you to complete a version of the entire deliverable than producing something which only addresses a subset of the answer, even if it is brilliant.
Network, network, network
Even if an when you’re hired as a consultant, you’re not automatically guaranteed consulting work, that is, staffing on a project. This is one of the distinguishing factors of consulting life. Our contact at Accenture said: “Even before day one, I was messaging and hopping on calls with current consultants who spoke with me about their experiences and always offered to connect me with people who may need an entry-level analyst on their team.” Taking this kind of readiness to your interview will show potential employers you understand the value of networking in this area.
Don’t be afraid to negotiate on your start date
This is a two-way relationship and asking for what you want in the beginning will stand you in good stead further down the line. It can also be valuable to clear some time for you, to re-calibrate and nourish mind and body, before you jump into the demanding world of management consulting.