A guide for students to get into management consulting
I worked at Deloitte in their management consulting sourcing and procurement transformations group for over 12 years and it was awesome! It was the best 12 years that I had working anywhere (you could point out that I’ve never worked 12 years anywhere else but that’s beside the point). I used to also lead the undergrad campus recruiting for tech consulting for a bunch of years. So, I’m often asked by students: how do I get into management consulting?
So I thought I’d write it down just to make it easier for students to access. These are all generalities but if you can do most of what here then you’re well on your way to getting into management consulting. The earlier you start the better as you’ll have more time to gain more experience and demonstrate “sustained results”. So if you’re in your final year, final term there still might be hope for you depending on what you’ve done so far. Here we go!
Get good grades
For those that follow me, you’ll know that one of my goals is to elevate education. One reason being at my view is that being good at school and getting a good GPA does not mean you are ready for the working world, a great career, or just in for a successful life. At the same time, it does have the promise of certain things which can be a foundation for you to get into management consulting. It won’t be the be-all and end-all, but it is a start. Here are some considerations:
- Adaptability: Getting good grades demonstrates that you can adapt to a new environment. I’ve heard rumours that your marks from high school can be expected to drop 10 to 20 (if not more percent) when you get into university. Maintaining or at least keeping to the lower end of the marks drop demonstrates some adaptability to the new situation. University can be challenging with all of the freedoms and more challenging learning and competition. If you can thrive in that environment, That definitely is a helpful skill for management consulting.
- Ability to Learning (quickly): While, the “quickly” part is subject to interpretation, presumably by getting good marks in your courses then you’ve demonstrated your ability to learn. You’ve picked up good study habits, learning habits, habits in general that allow you to pick up something quickly. And consulting, you’re often required to learn something in a very short amount of time. A new industry, new business process, new technologies, you people policies, whatever it may be. Learning to learn is a great skill to have when you’re a consultant.
- Time/priority management: while getting good grades on its own won’t necessarily get you into management consulting, if you pair that up with extracurriculars and all the stuff you do outside of school while still maintaining a high GPA, that’s a great signal that you’re ready to deal with the competing priorities many consultants face. I also put priority management in there because you have the awareness that it’s not just about class. You’ve taken a look at the bigger picture and realize that volunteering, work experience, networking events, and other things are just (if not more important) than your grades.
At the very least, there are often “grades cut off’s”. In our recruiting cycles there would be thousands of applications during each term. We only had a limited number of volunteers and people that we could review and to restrict it to maybe 200 to 300 we would have the ATS (applicant tracking system) give us that number based on the GPA that was. The cut off fluctuates from year to year. It depends on the number of resume screening volunteers we had. Plus the number of applications received it. The cut off was generally in the low 3.X range. Though in some years it could be higher. I don’t recall A year where it started with a two. The reminder might never be looked at. There is hope if you’re in that pile. I’ll discuss more when I get into the section about being referred.
Is that disheartening to learn that your resume might never be looked at? Or does that drive you to be better to make sure that your resume is looked at by someone?
If you don’t have those good grades, look to improve them as best as you can. At the same time, there still might be hope for you. Keep reading to find out or take a pause to check out these books to help you with your studies which I have read myself.
Limitless by Jim Kwik – think of it as a manual for your brain. A lot of the foundations will help you be a better learner and person overall.
The Only Skill that Matters by Jonathan Levi – More focused on meta-learning (learning to learn) and presents them in different ways than other books.
The Straight-A Conspiracy by Hunter Maats – Focus more on the class and studying parts of learning. Helpful to get break down your learning and build it back up to become more effective and efficient.
High-Performance Habits by Brendon Burchard: While not specifically focused on learning specifically, the habits you establish can make learning that much easier
Stuff I Wish I Knew Earlier by Luki Danukarjanto – I’d be remiss not to include this one 😉
Get some leadership experience
I was going to title this section “get some extracurricular experience”. I decided to focus on leadership as I don’t think general extracurricular volunteering or and participation has as much of an impact.
Don’t get me wrong, volunteering is great. You definitely should volunteer. There is also a marked difference between volunteering for an event for one afternoon or a day. Versus participating and being involved every month, week ongoing for multiple years. Versus being part of the leadership team that provides direction and a meaningful impact on what the organization can accomplish.
That doesn’t mean you start in a leadership role. Oftentimes, in order to become the president or a director of a club, student group, other organization, you have to first start as a member, a volunteer, an associate or whatever name they give. Demonstrate to the current leadership that you believe in their cars and show some qualities that would make for a good future leader and could help steward the organization forward.
Start with a club in your school. See if you can branch out to a club that works outside of your school. Maybe once that’s been multiple schools, cities, regions. Some people ask whether it’s better to be a “big fish in a small pond” (I.e. The president of a 4 person executive team of a small 40-person club in your school)? Or a “small fish in a big pond” (I.e. A director in a club whose team is 15 people for a national student organization with 4,000 members)? As with most things, the answer is “it depends”. It depends on what you’ve done previously, it depends on the brand Of the organizations involved. It depends on what you make of the role and what you achieve while having that title. Generally speaking, it’s better to make a more meaningful impact. Whether that’s part of a large or small organization, what achievements can be attributed to you being in the leadership seat?
Look to your school’s student life website for the various clubs available to you. Take a look at your various community organizations as well. Also, check out these ones (in no particular order – some run case competitions which is mentioned in the experience section below):
- DECA https://www.deca.ca prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management in high schools and colleges around the globe
- Enactus https://enactus.ca a global non-profit and community of student, academic and business leaders committed to using the power of entrepreneurial action to transform lives
- Let’s Get Together http://letsgettogether.ca/ connecting parents, youth and communities
Get some relevant work (consulting) experience
Are use the term work experience here loosely in that you don’t necessarily have to be paid. At the very least, join some sort of case competition. Whether you have your own team or our group randomly with other people, look to do your best at the event. Learn how to work with others. Learn about expectations. Learn how to decompose problems. Learn how to present them. Ideally, if you can place in a competition then that may get you noticed. If you don’t like his competitions, then you might not like working in consulting. Most importantly, when you are in these case competitions, network and build meaningful connections with the firm representatives involved. Not just with the recruiters, with the consultants as well.
Take a look at the various volunteer consulting groups out there as well. Your school will probably have one if there’s a reasonable part of the student population that is interested in management consulting. You might need to dig a little to find it. There are other volunteer consulting organizations out there as well. They will often take problems from not-for-profit our charities and do analysis, then present their findings so that the organization could hopefully implement them later on. Here is where you start honing your skills. Love to make a meaningful impact and see what sort of beneficial advice you can actually provide to the organization. If you can become good at any of the work that you’re doing from a consulting perspective, that makes you more valuable to our potential hiring firm.
Plus, You’ll often have some sort of mentor or advisor in the consulting space. Or at least a senior student. Make sure to build meaningful connections with them as well.
If you can’t find an organization, go and do it on your own. Find a business to help. Find an organization to help. Demonstrate results.
Also, leverage any work environment that you are currently in. It doesn’t matter if it’s retail, quick-serve, data entry, call centre, any job. Take a look at opportunities to improve efficiency or effectiveness in what you do. Do your own research. Present them to your manager and boss. See if you can actually implement the changes. Measure the results. You could do that in pretty much any environment. And you might actually end up making your own work easier day-to-day as well.
Take a look at here for some consulting experience resources:
- UTSC Management Consulting Group: https://www.utscmcg.com/
- UT Mississauga IMI Competition Group: https://www.utm.utoronto.ca/management/career-support/imi-competition-group
- Rotman Commerce Consulting Association: https://www.rotmancommerceconsulting.com/
- TRSM Ryerson Consulting Association: https://www.ryersonconsulting.ca/
- Schulich Consulting Club: https://www.schulichconsultingclub.com/
- Inside Sherpa https://www.insidesherpa.com/
- Management consulted https://managementconsulted.com/
- Case Interview (Victor Cheng): https://www.caseinterview.com/
Build Meaningful Connections (BMC)
To connect with consultants, Leverage the events that are put on by your school. Be it the career centre or alumni Association or student clubs. Leverage industry events to meet people as well. Leverage platforms like LinkedIn to connect with folks. At the end of the day make sure to build meaningful connections and invest in your social capital.
Who do you know at the very consulting firms? More importantly which of them actually knows you? Network not to get into consulting, instead be interested, curious and add value. Be so good that they can’t ignore you. If your “being good“ is not grades, then what leadership experience have you had? If it’s not “leadership experience“ and what consulting experience have you had? If it’s none of that, then what do you have to offer consulting? I don’t say that to be harsh, I say that to be real. If it’s just the promise that you’ll be able to do really well in consulting, what have you done previously that would help them make that bet on you?
If you think about it, when someone refers you into the firm, they are putting their name on the line. They are making a bet on you. If someone with a strong GPA, lots of leadership experience, and relevant consulting experience is referred into the firm, that makes sense. If someone with a mediocre GPA, a volunteer thing here-and-there, one case competition they participated in and I didn’t do very well then, what makes it compelling to join the firm?
I’ve had that happen multiple times. Occasionally I would go back to that referral and say what were you thinking? Oftentimes they were not as highly regarded in the future by their peers. Not a great reputation to develop.
The unwritten part is: if you get referred in by a partner or senior executive. Oftentimes the recruiting team feels pressure to move this person through the process anyways. I personally feel that merit is required. They may not be a 9 out of 10. But they can’t be a 5. After all, they might be on my project. I vaguely recall being in a few awkward conversations where I had to tell a partner that their nephew/niece/whomever really didn’t demonstrate the qualities that we would expect for someone that we would want to hire. The concession was that they were hired into their service area and would be responsible for their performance. I’m not sure if those projects went as well as they could have.
A referral will probably have the most impact on the hiring process. It will get you out of the hundreds of resumes to be reviewed in a shorter referral list. It may not guarantee you an interview so it will put you closer to the top of the pile. And make sure you’re not only targeting the senior leaders. Oftentimes it’s the mid-level and even junior folks that have the year of those leaders. If you can demonstrate value to them then they’ll often be great cheerleaders to help you get on board. So make sure you are building meaningful connections, no one likes feeling better being used.
Prepare yourself to get into consulting
Whether you’ve done all of these in the past, use whatever time you have remaining to get as much of it as possible. In order to do all of this, you need to develop some amazing habits, time management skills, analytical skills, communication skills, and lots of other skills. The benefit is that if you don’t get the consulting, you’ll probably be a good candidate for many other roles as well.
- Get good grades (more about what the grades signify vs the grades themselves)
- Get leadership experience (allowing you to demonstrate what you’ve learned)
- Get relevant work (consulting) experience (to practice and hone your skills)
- Build meaningful connections (to build your reputation and value)
If you’re unable to get in through the campus hiring process and are still really interested in getting into management consulting, you don’t have to rely only on the undergraduate recruiting programs. You can continue on and get a masters and go to the campus having cycle all over again but at a higher level. You can also look to break into consulting after graduation. The process is relatively similar though has its own nuances as you’re no longer in school.
Best of luck!
If you’ve been paying attention to what’s written here, it’s really hard to be successful in pretty much any area. Replace management consulting with anything else and you’ll have a winning recipe for general career success.. Many jobs might not need all of What is specified so it wouldn’t hurt to have them.
There is no secret handshake or any real shortcuts to get into management consulting. You can be a little bit more efficient with your time. If you spent time developing really good habits, that would make studying easier. Which would allow you to spend more time on your extracurriculars? Which would allow you to network and build more meaningful connections and have more value to add to others. Which will allow you to be more successful in management consulting or whatever career you decide to choose!Follow: