5 Steps To Securing a Consulting Internship

Few internship schemes are as competitive as those offered by top management consulting firms – for many good reasons. Instead of making coffee, you will work on challenging projects as part of a team. Your salary will be more than decent. And even if you find out that consulting is not for you, the knowledge and skills you’ve acquired will be highly appreciated by any employer around the world. To get an internship though, it is important to know what to expect from the application process and crucial to prepare before it’s too late.

Here are 5 steps that will help you secure your dream internship:

1. Get to know the firms you’re applying to

At first glance, a lot of consulting firms seem similar and they all promise to solve their clients’ business problems in the most innovative manner. Once you do your research though, you should be able to figure out what sets them apart from one another. Who are their clients? Do they serve specific industries or do they have functional expertise in certain areas? Do they work on the client site or from the home office?

More importantly, however, you should get to know people at each firm. Most consultancies hold company presentations, networking events, or workshops for students at target universities, which enable you to get to know them better. If they don’t, you can try to contact alumni from your school or university who now work in consulting and arrange a phone call with them. Nothing tells you more about a firm than meeting the people who work there – the notion of a ‘company culture’ may sound like a cliché at first, but it genuinely provides insight. If you don’t like the people at the firm, will you really be able to spend long days working with them?

2. Spend some time perfecting your CV and cover letter

Consultants and recruiters often spend no more than a few seconds looking at your application when shortlisting interview candidates. To stand out among other applicants, you should not just meet most of the screening criteria – such as a good academic track record, relevant work experience, extracurricular activities and interesting hobbies – but should also show that you know the firm you’re applying to. Research what each firm is looking for in a candidate and adjust your CV and cover letter to match that profile. Think about why the firm you’re applying to attracts you and resort to the conversations you’ve had with its employees if appropriate.

3. Practice aptitude tests before taking them

In many countries you will have to take aptitude tests after you’ve sent in your application, either online or as part of an assessment centre. If you are naturally good at these numerical, verbal, and logical reasoning tests, don’t worry too much about it. If you’re not as confident though, then it should definitely not stop you from getting your internship! There are plenty of free practice tests around, so make good use of the resources available to you and be sure to analyse the correct answers. Soon you will discover certain patterns and learn what to look out for.

4. Get comfortable with case studies and develop your own style

Case studies are business problems you have to solve with the help of your interviewer and they are arguably the most difficult part of the application process. They involve coming up with a structure, calculating relevant business figures, and developing recommendations for a hypothetical client. Given there are hundreds of websites out there explaining how case studies work and how to approach them, I will not go into any details here. I will, however, stress the importance of practising them with others: Reading a case at home and doing it under time pressure with another person staring at you while you calculate large numbers in your head are two completely different things. Try to find other aspiring consultants in your area and set up meetings with them. If you can’t find anyone, use websites such as PrepLounge to find case study partners and start practicing at least a few weeks before your first interview. While you should definitely not overdo it – ultimately, your interviewers want to see how you think and not how well you can memorise solutions that may not even fit the case given – practicing case studies will help you develop your own way of structuring the problem and working towards the solution. Using your own methods instead of blindly following common frameworks will definitely help you stand out among other applicants.

5. Think about your past achievements and prepare for tough competency questions

Case studies only make up about half of each interview. The other half will be spent talking about your CV, your skills, and your attitudes towards topics such as teamwork and leadership. Of course, this part of the interview can vary significantly depending on your interviewers as well as your individual story, but it is worth thinking about some potential questions beforehand. Make a list of skills your potential employer may be looking for and write down one or two examples from your past where you have showcased each skill. Also think about problems you’ve had to face during past ventures, why they occurred, and how such situations could be solved. It is likely that your interviewer will drill far beyond the surface, so be prepared to discuss each statement you make in great depth.

If you’ve followed all of these steps, there’s only one more thing you can do to get your dream internship – show up on time, be confident, and rock your interviews. Good luck!

Max Kulaga is a finalist reading Economics and Management at the University of Oxford. As a former intern at L.E.K. Consulting in London and President of one of Oxford’s largest business societies, the German-born is keen on sharing his experiences and knowledge about the consulting industry.

Image: Pexels

Management Consultancy 101: How to navigate your first application

So you’ve decided you want to be a management consultant? Congrats, you’re now one of thousands competing for the same job! And there’s your first problem: how do you stand out? The first step is always the hardest and sadly the most important, so here’s my guide on how to tackle your first consultancy job application.

Step 1: Why you?

To be able to convince employers to hire you, first you have to convince yourself to hire you. Understanding what you are good at is vital to answering later questions of why you would be a good consultant and why you want to be one. After all, employers often say they want to hear your passion and enthusiasm for the job – if you don’t really understand why you’re applying, how can you expect them to know? What I did first was research what a consultant actually does and the skills required. The key skills I found are as follows:

  • Problem solving
  • Understanding of businesses/organisations
  • Research and data collection skills
  • Being able to analyse the info collected
  • Presentation skills
  • Being able to manage projects
  • Leadership and teamwork skills

Now you know what you need to do, the next question to ask yourself is: can I do it and what evidence do I have to prove it? Under each skill, write down an example of when you demonstrated said skill. Try to use a variety of examples- you don’t want to seem like you only ever achieved one thing and have done nothing else since then! More recent examples work better too for the same reason. You don’t need to have done loads of work experience or have been the president of 3 different student societies – you just need to show that you have carried out that skill well. If you can find a list of the firm’s values, make sure you can demonstrate that you adhere to these values through your examples too.

Step 2: Why them?

Once you’ve understood what a consultant does and why you would be good at it, next you have to ask why you WANT to do it. You could be the perfect candidate for this job but if you’re not passionate about it, then what’s the point in even trying? The question pertains to both why you want to be a consultant and why you want to be a consultant for that particular firm. First, make a list of all the reasons why you want to be a consultant (aside from the obvious reason of money because that’s TOO obvious). This should be relatively easy – if it’s not, then maybe it’s time to rethink that career choice.

Next it’s time to do research on the consultancy firm you’re applying for. Try to extend your research to more than just the firm’s website – though it’s important to know the firm well, there are many things that the website will say that is a) Convoluted media spiel and b) Not applicable to you. You’re applying for the experience of working there, so talk to current employees at careers fairs, look at online forums for what people have said about their experience and look at profiles for the firm that have been written by someone outside the firm. Plus, all of this will show that you have thoroughly researched the firm and so you must really want to work there! Make sure your reasons for applying pertain to your own priorities and interests – employers are shopping for you too.

Step 3: The CV and cover letter

Writing a good cover letter is essential to make sure you stand out and allows you to bring all the research that you have done together. I tend to structure my cover letter like this:

  1. Short introduction – who are you, what are you studying etc
  2. Why you want to be a consultant
  3. Why you would be a good consultant
  4. Why you want to work for this firm
  5. Thank you and goodbye

Since you already have all the information on hand, all you have to do is turn that information into coherent and grammatically correct sentences. Make sure your sentences aren’t too convoluted and long – graduate recruitment have to read hundreds of these letters, so make sure your writing is succinct and to the point. Remember, your cover letter only needs to be a page long! When you’ve finished, read it out loud to see if it makes sense and that you have got all your points across clearly. Hold it away from you and look at the page – is it just one solid block of text or have you clearly signposted your main points through indentations/your paragraphs? Before you send it off, make sure at least one other person has read it. It’s easy for you to miss spelling and grammar mistakes and it’s useful to get a second opinion from someone who probably has more experience applying for jobs than you.

Usually firms will ask you to send your cover letter along with your CV. The same rules apply here – hold it away from you to make sure your points come across clearly and make sure someone else has read it. CVs pretty much all follow the same set structure, so look online to find out what this is and set it out accordingly. The only thing you can do to stand out here is through your relevant work experience and extra-curricular activities – the same examples you have used in your cover letter but reduced to several bullet points.

Once you’ve sent it off, you’re done! (for now). Now comes the sweet torture of waiting to hear if you’ve progressed to the next stage. What comes next won’t be easy, but that’s another story for another time…

Vivien Zhu is a student studying History at the University of Oxford and is considering a career in Management Consultancy. She currently resides in Hertfordshire, England and is a regular contributor to student publications such as Spoon University and the Cherwell.

(Image Source: Pexels)

CV and Cover Letter Basics

CV and Cover Letter

(Source: Flickr)

Top consulting firms receive thousands of applications per year, and so your cover letter and CV form a crucial first step in your application that will determine whether you secure a first round interview.

You need to tailor your cover letter and CV for each application and highlight your most impressive and relevant credentials and experience to demonstrate that you are the right person for the job.

The recruiter will be looking for evidence of:

  1. Strong academic performance
  2. Ability to work in teams
  3. Leadership experience
  4. Noteworthy achievements
  5. Differentiating factors – academic or extra-curricular achievements
  6. Relevant technical skills, e.g. software, finance, economics

For more information on preparing your cover letter and CV, please download our dedicated guidebooks:

  1. How to Create a Winning Résumé
  2. How to Create a Killer Cover Letter

[For more information on consulting interviews, please download “The HUB’s Guide to Consulting Interviews“.]

Cover letters win interviews

1. The importance of a cover letter

A COVER letter is a short one page sales letter that accompanies your resume as part of your job application. The cover letter is important because it creates a first impression of you with your potential employer.

The main purpose of a cover letter is to obtain an interview, not to tell a lengthy story. A cover letter needs to capture the employer’s interest, indicate why you are writing, show how you will benefit the company, express interest in the position and, most importantly, convince the employer to give you an interview.

Writing a cover letter is like creating a work of art. While there are some general rules that you should follow, each cover letter you write should be distinctive.

2. Personalise your cover letter

One of the most important things about a cover letter is that it differentiates you from all the other applicants. To do this a cover letter should connect with the employer, and reflect your unique personality and the requirements of the job. Here are some points to bear in mind:

2.1 Address a specific person

You should not address your cover letter “to whom it may concern”, this is lazy. If you are unsure who to address your application to, call the company and ask. Make sure you get the person’s title and the correct spelling of their name.

2.2 Own your achievements

You should use the active voice, i.e. you should avoid expressions like “this experience gave me the opportunity to…” or, “these goals were met by me.” You don’t want to sound like everything happened to you or was done by someone else.

2.3 Tailor your story

Tailor your story to the job requirements. You should adapt your cover letter so that you mention the specific skills that the employer is interested in.

2.4 Establish rapport

You need to establish a connection between you and the employer. Mention a mutual contact you might have, explain why you like the company, its culture, or why you have a particular interest in some area of the company’s business.

2.5 Mirror their wording

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If the employer uses specific terms or industry specific language in the job advertisement, mirror this language in your cover letter.

2.6 Be positive

Sell your skills in a positive way. Never complain about past employers, or grumble about any past experiences.

3. Structure your cover letter

It is important that your cover letter follows the right structure. The body of your cover letter should be broken up into four paragraphs.

3.1 Paragraph 1 – Why are you writing?

In the first paragraph you should briefly explain why you are writing to the company in a way that engages the reader. Name the position you are applying for. If you heard about the position through a mutual contact, this is worth mentioning. You may also allude to your career goals in this first paragraph.

3.2 Paragraph 2 – Why are you interested in consulting, and the company?

Explain why you would like to work in consulting, and demonstrate that you would like to work for the company by showing that you have researched the position. Companies want to know that you’re interested in them and understand what they do. For example, you might want to explain specific reasons why the position fulfills your career aspirations and is consistent with your ambitions for the future. You may apply for hundreds of different jobs but you need to make each prospective employer think that their job is the one you want.

3.3 Paragraph 3 – What do you have to offer?

Explain why you are qualified for the position. Use your most important qualifications and skills to show that you have the experience and skill to perform the tasks and fulfil the responsibilities of the position. If you are responding to a job ad that lists selection criteria, you should say how your skills and experience meet each of the criteria they’re looking for. Make sure that it’s clear how your education and skills are transferable, and thus relevant, to the position that you are applying for.

3.4 Paragraph 4 – Suggest the next steps

Direct the employer to your enclosed resume. Provide your contact information (phone number and e-mail address) and welcome them to get in touch. Indicate your availability for an interview and, if you want to be assertive, state when you will contact the company to set up a meeting. If you are merely enquiring about possible job openings, indicate when you will phone to follow up on your enquiry (ten business days is a pretty good guide). It’s important to finish off by thanking the employer for their time and consideration.

3.5 Signing off

Conclude your cover letter with an appropriate sign-off like “Yours sincerely”, and leave four blank lines to allow space for you to sign your name. You should use blue ink instead of black ink to sign your name because black ink may look like a photocopy.

4. Polish your cover letter

In addition to personalising and structuring your cover letter, you also need to make sure that your cover letter is polished and professional. Here are some things to keep in mind:

4.1 Be concise

Keep the length of your cover letter to one page. Don’t use more words than you need to. Use short sentences and simple language. It might be a good idea to use bullet points to list your key skills.

4.2 Be informative

Don’t just summarise your resume. Consider the job description and highlight the skills and experiences from your resume that fit the employer’s requirements.

4.3 Keep it relevant

Keep your message relevant and to the point. The purpose of your cover letter is to highlight your resume and obtain an interview, not to tell them everything you’ve ever done.

4.4 Be professional

Don’t be too colloquial, for example, break down contractions like “I’ve” and “I’m” to “I have” and “I am”. Your cover letter should never be hand written. Also, make sure you include your contact details on the cover letter.

4.5 Proofreading is important

There are likely to be lots of mistakes in your cover letter after you have written the first draft. You should get friends and/or family members to proof read your cover letter. It is important to have at least one set of fresh eyes look at the document before you send it out.

4.6 Check your spelling and punctuation

Use spell check, it’s not that hard. Spelling mistakes make a bad first impression and are easily fixed by running a final spell check before sending the cover letter. Also, be careful when using words like “there/their/they’re”, “your/you’re”, “effect/affect”, “its/it’s”, etc.

4.7 Adapt your cover letter for online

If you are submitting your application by email, you should indicate the position you are applying for in the subject line of your email. Before emailing your application, send it to yourself first to make sure there are no formatting errors. You should attach your cover letter and resume as a single document; if you were sending an application by post you wouldn’t send your cover letter and resume in two separate envelopes.

5. Samples and Templates

We invite you to download our Guidebook on “How to create a Killer Cover Letter” which includes FREE access to the current version of our sample and template cover letters (to access the download, you will need to sign up for a member account).