Researching consulting firms: what do you need to know?

THIS article looks at why, how and what to research for your consulting case interview. To get started with your interview preparations, take a look at my list of consulting case interview practice questions.

Preparing for an interview with a consulting firm can be a difficult task. Having obtained an interview, you will need to do some thorough research of the firm. But why, I hear you ask, do I need to spend so much time researching when I have been successful in gaining an interview? And, where should I start? These are very valid questions and hopefully this article will help get you thinking the right way about researching consulting firms.

This article is broken up into four sections:

  1. Why should you research?
  2. How should you research?
  3. What should you research?
  4. Making the most of your research

1. Why should you research?

The objective is to get a job offer. This point sounds obvious, and it is, however it can be easy to take your eyes off the prize. After having spent days preparing resumes and cover letters for your multiple consulting firm applications, getting invited for an interview can feel like a success. Being invited for an interview is only the first step in the recruitment process. You need to do your homework if you want to increase your chances of being successful in the interview process. Neglecting to do your research can be the difference between a job offer and a rejection letter.

It is important to show a genuine interest. Being knowledgeable about the consulting industry and the firm for which you are applying shows that you have a genuine interest in working in this field. It is important to remember that, regardless of your university grades, the firm will need to train you from the ground up once you start. A consulting firm does not want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on training a young graduate who isn’t keen to be there.

Take control of your professional career. Researching a consulting firm doesn’t just help you do well in the consulting interviews; it also helps you decide whether the firm you are applying for is where you want to be. In more general terms, your research will also help you decide whether you are really interested in pursuing a career as a consultant.

Keep the stress levels down. Being well informed can help to lower your stress levels and present at the interview in a more relaxed and confident manner. For example, if you have done your homework before hand, questions like “Why do you want to work here?” and “What is it about our firm that interests you?” should not faze you in the slightest.

2. How should you research?

Read the firm website. The amount of information that firms provide on their websites will no doubt vary but, at the very least, this is a good starting point for your research. All big consulting firms will have a website. Making yourself familiar with the firm website should provide you with all of the basic information that you are looking for. The website will often provide you with information on the firm’s history, the firm’s vision and values, firm culture, clients, areas of expertise, office locations, recent news, and the names of important employees.

Talk to people. The best source of information about a consulting firm is from people who have had direct contact with the firm in some way. Talking with current and former employees, friends who have gone through the interview process and to company recruiters can be an invaluable source of knowledge.

Read widely. In general, the more you know about consulting the better. Some good publications include Vault Career Guide to Consulting, and Vault Guide to the Case Interview.

Stay abreast of the news.The internet makes this job a lot easier that it would have been ten years ago. Staying abreast of the news will allow you to put the firm’s work into a broader context and help you to understand the nature of the firm’s work, and who the firm’s main clients and competitors are.

3. What should you research?

Know the company basics. The basics include:

  • firm history,
  • firm vision and values,
  • culture,
  • current practice areas and industry specialisations,
  • areas of expertise,
  • recent news involving the company,
  • key factors that distinguish the company from its competitors,
  • the names of major clients,
  • the names of important employees, and
  • office locations.

Know the core competencies or skill set that the firm is looking for in potential candidates.

Understand how the firm interviews. Do they ask case questions? Does the firm put an emphasis on asking questions with a numerical component? Are there multiple interview rounds? Does the firm use interview panels, or is each interview conducted in a one-on-one format?

Read the firm’s annual report if it is publicly available.

4. Making the most of your research

Research is not an end in itself. Use your research to help you structure your thoughts, to provide substance to your discussions with the interviewer, and to ask intelligent questions.

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