The Undergraduate’s Roadmap to a Career in Consulting (Podcast)

Undergraduates – listen up. Today, we’re giving you a detailed roadmap to setting yourself up for a consulting career.

Edward shares:

  • The key skills consulting firms look for
  • Choosing a major and classes that will develop those skills
  • Building an attractive consulting resume through extracurricular involvement
  • Developing consulting skills through internships
  • Getting an early start in the networking process

Use this roadmap to maximize your odds of landing a consulting offer. Bon voyage!

Listen on Spotify - Strategy Simplified

Transcription: The Undergraduate’s Roadmap to a Career in Consulting

Edward Collinson

Hi everyone, this is Edward Collinson and I’m really excited to chat with you about building skills for a career in consulting as an undergraduate student. And I think that this is going to be a really interesting podcast, at least for me to record given that I’ve actually just finished my undergraduate studies. I just graduated from Cal Poly, or California Polytechnic State University of San Luis Obispo, if you’re unfamiliar with the abbreviation there, and that’s in the central coast of California. I graduated with a degree in business administration, concentrating in information systems. And I can get into why I chose that a little bit later, specifically, how it actually relates to consulting. But before I do that, actually just want to talk about what the purpose of this podcast is, a little bit of background on me, and then we can jump into it.

So again, as mentioned before, I’m Edward, I recently graduated, and I will be joining Bain and Company this October, actually. And I’m really excited to do that. And that’s actually been a dream job of mine for over two years now. And so I’ve spent at least the last two years of my college experience, actually tailoring it to really try and build myself as a great asset to any consulting firm. And I’m really excited to share that and to get into how you can do that. So, before we get started, I do just want to say, please reach out to team at management consulted. If you’re not sure where to start on your consulting journey, we would all love to guide you and help you find relevant resources just to maximize your chances of landing an offer. 

So, before we want to go into actually how we can tailor this college experience towards consulting, I think it’s really important to actually go over an overview of what consulting is. And more importantly, in this situation, what the key skills and qualities are, that are required for a successful career in consulting. So if you want to know what consulting is, it’s probably a good time to look at a different episode. There’s many on Strategy Simplified that actually go over this in a little bit more detail. But essentially, you are a brain for hire. And you’re there to work with clients to solve their biggest issues, and really answer the question, what do we do? There’s other types of consulting as well, that’s more in terms of strategy and management consulting, tech consulting, might be focusing on the question, how do we do it? And again, this is just really focused on one or two areas, but there are so many different types of consulting. And I think that that’s something that you really have to be aware of when you are searching for the company that you want to work for. Because consulting is a really broad term. And there are many different avenues that you can take with that.

So some of the key problems, or key skills that are required for consulting are number one, problem solving, right? I think that’s pretty evident. And that’s pretty known across the consulting world, but really focusing on being able to solve problems and break them down into smaller problems. In addition to that, articulation and communication are really important. So not just can you solve these problems, but how can you actually communicate that to your client, and put it into actionable steps and recommendations so that they can help improve their company or fix an issue. Next is teamwork and collaboration. I think that’s also pretty obvious. Consulting is not a career where you’re going to be locked away in a office cubicle, doing all the work on your own, it really does require being able to work with coworkers with external resources to get to that problem. So it’s another really important skill there.

I think grit is a really important skill. Both the recruiting and the actual job itself require a lot of grit and determination. You’re gonna feel like you’ve fallen off the horse a lot, so being able to get back on it, it’s gonna be really important. Second to last here is entrepreneurial spirit. I think this is really important. Even if you don’t want to go and become an entrepreneur one day, it’s really good to have that mentality of being able to wear many different hats at once and work in all areas of business.

And lastly is leadership. And I think that that is incredibly important because consulting as a career where you can find leadership very quickly. And well, you’ll also be developing a lot of responsibility along the way, to being able to be an inclusive leader, and foster growth within your team, it’s going to be really, really important for developing your skills as a consultant and progressing in that industry.  So now that I’ve gone over some of the key skills that you need to look out for, I want to talk about classes and majors. That is something that can be pretty daunting when you’re going into college.

Whether you’re a freshman or sophomore, sometimes you even need to decide your major in senior year of high school, right, and so this can be something that’s really daunting. But I want to straightaway try and ease everyone by just letting you know that consulting hires from every major. At least in management and strategy consulting, you can be working in Arts, in English, in mathematics, engineering, and still be a competitive candidate. Obviously, being a business major, or an economics major does help, because you do have some of that business acumen, as you go ahead and dive into the recruiting process. But with a little bit of training, and there’s plenty of resources on Management Consulted, you really can become a competitive candidate from any major. 

Now, with that being said, obviously, some majors are a little bit more tailored towards developing those six skills that we mentioned above. And so I want to go into some of those in particular. Now, some of the main majors that big consulting firms hire from are business, and also engineering. Engineering is quite a popular choice just because of the nature of breaking down as problems, right? To go into that first skill that we talked about earlier, being able to develop a structure and framework to break down a large ambiguous problem into smaller bite sized chunks, is going to be really, really effective when it comes to both case interviews, as well as the actual job of consulting. So that is one major that you can dive into and that you can find enjoyment in. And if that’s something you enjoy, I really encourage you to do that. 

Obviously, myself and my personal experience, I was a business administration major and I concentrated in information systems. And Information Systems is kind of combining technology with business. But I actually took a bit of a long journey myself. I came in as agricultural business, I thought it might be interesting to combine business with another element such as agriculture. But it turns out, that wasn’t for me. And so I ended up switching to business. And I also started in business looking into accounting.

After a long time in the accounting realm and recruiting there, I actually decided that I wanted to go with finance, because I thought that finance was what consulting firms would want, and I would need those skills most. But after I spoke with some people in different firms and realized that actually, you can choose different majors in different concentrations and still be obviously eligible at the very least. I really found a passion in information systems, which was a lot of coding, a lot of building out systems and structures, and I think that some of those skills have really helped me in my consulting recruiting journey. 

There are actually three types of classes, or three classes that I thought were the most helpful. And I don’t know what there’ll be at every single school in America and also abroad, but if you can find classes that are similar to these activities really, really help with consulting preparation. 

So the first one of these is a general category of statistics. I think taking these statistics classes, it’s going to really help you with being able to analyze data a little bit better. And we’ll get onto that in a second too. I don’t think you’ll need to use every piece of statistical information that you learn in these classes. But I think knowing some of the basic concepts, of standard deviation and mean and getting into confidence intervals and certain types of tests to validate data and hypotheses is gonna be really important when it comes to consulting. 

Now, the second and the third type of class, can be pretty similar, but also offer a bit of variance. And I think they can both be really, really helpful. So the second type of class is a people analytics class. And for those of you who don’t know, people analytics deals with the analytics of analyzing people, right, and whether that be how productive is an individual employee versus how do we assess turnover intentions? Or even how do we assess the effectiveness of a new training program that we’ve bought into a company, right? These are all real life things that a company might need help with. And so I think having these basic few tools on your toolbar is going to really help you when it comes to actually doing the job. But it can also help you be a little bit more wise in those case interviews. 

And lastly is a business analytics class. So being able to actually analyze some of the key components and metrics at a business is also going to be incredibly helpful when it comes to consulting. I just want to caveat with a lot of those things that there are many more classes that you can take. And I’m a real believer in take the classes that you really enjoy, and that you’re going to get the most out of, because you’re really going to learn with those right? Now, yes, you can take some classes that maybe you don’t enjoy, like statistics- if you’re not a fan of that, you don’t have to have a full statistics major or minor to be a great consulting candidate. The biggest thing when it comes to consulting applications is, one, you want to keep that GPA up. But also you want to make sure that you’re really involved and that you are taking leadership in these projects and building some of those other skills at the same time.

Edward Collinson  12:15

And that takes me on to our third main point. And I want to focus on extracurricular activities and leadership roles. This by far was the most helpful for me when it came to my recruiting process. And I think that everyone should do it, regardless of what you’re recruiting for, or what you want to do after college.

Getting involved on campus is the number one way to actually find out what you want to do. It’s how I found out about consulting, and ultimately how I landed my job. But it’s also really good for building those skill sets, regardless of the industry you go into. So with that being said, when it comes to joining clubs, societies, student organizations, I think there’s a few things that you really want to look out for.

When it comes to clubs. Most campuses have clubs, whether it be a finance club, or a consulting club, or an accounting club. It’s very easy to join these clubs. But it’s also pretty easy just to be a member and just to go to the meetings and kind of sit around. And that’s totally fine if you just want to dip your toes in and learn a little about whatever the club focuses on. But I really, really encourage you to get involved. 

I was incredibly involved in my campus accounting club, and I’m not going into accounting, and I knew I wasn’t going into accounting probably my sophomore year of college, or my second year of college. And so with that being said, I still stayed involved because I really benefited from the community that that club had, but also from the leadership experience that I was able to get there. And so again, I encourage you to join clubs and find communities where you can find not only advantages to recruiting, but you could also find some, some great people there and a great community. And those people might ultimately be there to help you case interview, to help you with your application process, or look over your resume. So I really encourage that. 

There’s also other types of organizations. My main involvement when I was an undergraduate, was actually being part of a consulting firm run by students within my college. And so we actually worked and we did consulting engagements. And that was so beneficial for me, because learning how consulting looks in the real world through a smaller project and a smaller version on a student level was really, really fun. And also, it taught me a lot and so I recommend doing something with that as well.  The fourth point is internships and experiential learning.

And I think that this is also something that’s, again, incredibly beneficial. And again, remember as we go through all of these, you don’t have to do every single one. It’s quite good actually sometimes to really specialize in one, but at the same time, I think It’s good to take bits and pieces from all of these points. So find what you’re interested in and really hone in on that. Because when you’re really interested in something, you’re going to learn a lot more, and you’re going to get a lot more out of it.

When it comes to the internships and experiential learning, internships, they build your resume, and they’re going to be really important for actually getting that interview at your consulting firm or your job of choice. So being able to put on some concrete experience at a company is going to be really helpful.

Now, with that being said, you can actually work with Management Consulted to land your internship. Our coaching team can help you identify target roles, firms, they can help you prepare your resume, develop a networking plan, and really get you ready for interviews. So learn more with the link in the show notes below. 

Next, I want to talk about networking and professional and building for professional relationships. I think this is, again, other than on campus involvement, this was one of the most helpful things for me. When people think of networking, they can think of, you know, spamming, LinkedIn, and emails and coffee chatting with 1,000,001 people. But I actually want to reiterate that that’s good. But I think that it’s also really important to build deep connections with people. You shouldn’t be just coffee chatting with people to try and get your numbers up, you should really be chatting with these people to develop a connection and because you want to chat with them. This is a huge aspect in consulting recruitment, cold applying versus applying when your name has maybe been mentioned here or there by some employees makes a huge difference.

And with that, I think there’s a few different strategies that you can employ to build your professional network. Again, as mentioned before, one of them is actually being involved on campus. Another thing is also in attending career fairs at your ideal school, or industry events.  And lastly, and then again, those are all great, but I think the most beneficial is informational interview. And so when you hear the phrase Coffee Chat, that’s what this is referring to, is sitting down for 15 to 20 minutes, and chatting with someone from a company that you’re interested about, and really learning more about their experience, as well as the company culture and the company itself. And for these, I think this is more of an extra credit from the previous things.

So an example of that might be you go to a career fair, you chat with a few professionals at a consulting firm, you really liked the look of this consulting firm, you like the sound of it, so you get their business card, or you give them the your email, or you even send them a cold email. And there’s plenty of tools out there to assist you with that. And that’s where you can ask them, you know, for some time out of their day.

It’s really important to be flexible and polite here, these professionals are often very busy. And so you want to be polite and flexible for them to make sure that it’s convenient. With that being said, once you can sit them down and chat with them, it’s really easy to learn a lot more about the firm, and find out if this is something that you align with and if this is something that you enjoy.  Next, I want to talk about developing case interview skills. This isn’t necessarily helping you get the job, but once you get the interview, this is going to be the most important thing. So case interviews in consulting are essentially looking looking through the window on what the job actually looks like. And so when it comes to recruiting, consultants who are conducting your interviews really want to see that you can do a lot of the skills as mentioned before, at the beginning, but they also want to see that you are able to deal with the pressure and to break down these problems. So some some ways to actually get better at this is finding that community. And what I mean by that is finding a few people that you can case with, because that’s going to be really important, is going to be a  live case. So being able to case with a few people, it’s going to be very helpful. 

And I really recommend another thing that I think is really important, which is utilizing resources. So yes, management consulted has resources. There’s also often a campus career center that can help you with that as well. For example, my campus had a career readiness center. And I did a lot of cases there and they also had resume people who could look over your resume, people who could help you with your cover letter, people who could help you find the job that you’d like and so really leverage that and, and get help from that. 

With that I also recommend, and with all these things, really seek feedback. A big a big part of consulting is having a growth mindset and constantly wanting to be better. So make sure when you’re doing these cases, you’re getting really excited to hear feedback and to hear how you can get just that little bit better every time. Second to last, I want to talk about enhancing your communication and presentation skills. There are many ways to do this, I actually took some unorthodox approaches when I was preparing for this.

Something I did in preparation of the fear of doing a case interview with a, you know, a partner or a senior manager at a consulting firm was, I went out and did some public speaking in the form of stand up comedy, which sounds crazy, but for me, that was going to be the most scary crowd to present in front of right. And so once I’ve done that, case interviews felt a lot easier. You don’t have to go and do stand up comedy, though, to be ready for consulting interviews. And so what I want to say with this is really focus on just the significance of strong communication, presentation skills. These are incredibly important in consulting. You’re presenting to very high up people often with little time, and so your words mean everything. 

Now, there’s a few different ways that you can do this, you can go to writing workshops, public speaking courses, but I think an easy one to do is presenting in class, if you’re doing a group project, and you know, not everyone has to present or even if everyone has to present, really take the lead on that and present with your team, obviously make sure that they can as well, but use that as an experience to get better at public speaking. 

Lastly, but definitely not least, I want to talk about some transferable skills, and consulting specializations. So as I mentioned at the beginning, not all consulting is the same. There’s management consulting, strategy consulting, there’s tech consulting, risk advisory consulting. But there’s so many different types of consulting. And so this is where you should almost begin, to research the actual type of consulting firms that you want to apply to, because there’s a lot of transferable skills.

 So for example, in technology consulting, you might require some skills that you would learn from a concentration, like I took, such as information systems, right, knowing the software development lifecycle, or what ERP is are, or how to actually build systems from scratch, or with software it’s gonna be super beneficial for you when you’re applying because that’s a lot of things that you’re gonna be required to do when you join the job or join the company. 

With that being said, there are, again, if your campus has many different resources, and organizations, getting involved in all of those is going to help you build transferable skills, such as public speaking, such as being able to read data and actually develop analysis from that. those things are all going to be transferable into many different types of consulting. 

Okay, so I’ve gone over quite a few things that feel free to rewind, go back to different areas that you find, maybe you didn’t understand, or you want to listen to again. But I think the biggest thing to remember here is that when it comes to undergraduate, it’s a very unique experience, no two people are going to have the same experience in college, or university. And so really just take that initiative, and go make it your own and make it how you want it to be. I think that’s going to be the most beneficial way to get what you want out of college, is to figure out what you want. And just understand that you don’t have to do what everyone else does. 

Now, with that being said, if you do need help with some of these things, and you can’t get them from campus, again, Management Consulted has a lot of resources available such as coaches, free resources, they have a million and one case interviews and drills that you can go and use and they’ve actually helped me in my consulting recruitment as well. And there’s plenty of links in the show notes below, so get excited for that. And, you know, enjoy, enjoy college, it’s not going to be all work and it shouldn’t be all play. find that sweet spot and really go out and make it your own and enjoy. Enjoy the recruiting experience.

Thank you all so much for listening. It’s been a pleasure to talk about how you can further tailor your undergraduate experience to better prepare yourself for a career in consulting. Once again, check out the links in the show notes and description below. For more information on how you can work with Management Consulted to even further prepare yourself. Thank you once again.

Filed Under: Case Interview, Consulting Networking, Consulting Resume, McKinsey Consulting, Strategy Simplified