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The hiring process for graduate consultants

Team Prosple

Graduates must absolutely be prepared for the consulting recruitment process – here are our tips on how to prepare for the detailed and somewhat nerve-racking process.

Once you’ve decided where you would like to apply, it’s time to get cracking.

Here are the three things you need to do:

  • Go to all the consulting talks at your university
  • Tailor your cover letter and CV to consulting (and to the firms you would like to apply for)
  • Prepare for the interview (including practising for the notorious case interview)

Let’s break it down.

Go to all the consulting talks at your university

The best thing about wanting to do consulting is that consultancies want you too! Nearly all the major consultancies recruit on campus by hosting stalls at career fairs and running their own information sessions.

These information sessions go something like this – each firm will bring a couple of recent graduates as well as more senior consultants. They’ll give a little introduction about who they are, how they came to consulting and why they like it. Then, they’ll dive into what it’s like to work at their consultancy and why it’s the best place for you.

Many of these information sessions will also demonstrate a case interview, so pay close attention to how these are run, as it is likely to be similar to what you will experience later in the interview.

After each session, you’ll often a get a chance to network with the consultants. It’s a great way for you to get to know what kind of people these consultancies hire and what they’re looking for. We recommend preparing a couple of questions in advance as a conversation starter. These might include, for example, asking questions about the last project that a consultant worked on and what they learnt, which clients and projects the consultancy typically works on or finding out what kind of training and development programs are on offer.

Some consultancies keep note of interesting potential candidates they speak with, and as every vote of confidence counts, be sure to put your best foot forward. But don’t get freaked out in having to impress. The purpose of the information session is for you to learn more about each firm and their offering. After all, they’re just as eager to impress you about why they’re so great!

Unfortunately, not all universities will get a visit from every consultancy. Don’t worry – this doesn’t put you at a disadvantage. You can still get the same information from other sources – check out the firm’s website and if you have any contacts in the industry, don’t be afraid to reach out to ask them a few questions.

Plus, at GradAustralia, every year we release the Top 100 Graduate Employers – the definitive guide to Australia’s most sought-after graduate employers, based on more than 14, 000 votes by Australian university students. We’ll be doing this again in late February, so there will be a whole host of new information on our website. For our email subscribers, we’ll be providing special content just for you so make sure you’re all signed up at gradaustralia.com.au.

Tailor your CV and cover letter to consulting

It’s not good enough to have a generic CV and cover letter. Getting into consulting is a competitive process and you need to make sure you tailor your application accordingly.

After all, you want to give yourself the best possible chance of getting an interview.

Applications are typically submitted online. You will have to fill in some basic details before attaching a CV and cover letter.

Remember to check, check and triple check that you have all the basics covered such as spelling and grammar – and that you haven’t accidentally addressed your application to the wrong firm (mail mergers, be warned!). So, what are consultancies actually looking for?

We’ve compiled a list of common attributes

1. Excellent academic results

Let’s face it. Consulting is a highly intellectual pursuit and the best way that employers can gauge your suitability for this is to check out your academic results. This is simply the ‘hygiene test’ and those applications with less than a distinction average will need something pretty outstanding to make up for it.

It is possible though! Maybe your marks aren’t as amazing but you’ve been playing a competitive sport, touring as a musician or running your own business. Who knows? Either way, if your marks are below par, you’ll have to find a way to explain why. Better yet, consultancies are more forgiving if your marks have an upwards trajectory. Crashed and burned in your first two years but smashed an HD average every year after that? Shows promise and hard work.

Again, remember consultancies recruit from a wide range of disciplines, so they aren’t checking that you’ve studied strategy, organisational theory or other.

2. Leadership skills

What does it mean to be a leader? Tell us, or better yet, show us with examples. Maybe you captained a sporting team, became a yoga instructor or led a club or society at university. Anything that you’ve done during your university or work life that shows leadership potential should be talked about in your CV and cover letter. This is not a time to be humble! The thing is, firms are looking for candidates with leadership skills. After all, the higher your climb the consulting ladder, the more likely you’ll be managing other people. So, start talking.

3. Teamwork

Being a consultant means getting to know your colleagues very well. In fact, while on a project, you’ll likely be spending day and night with them. And if your project is in another state, you can expect to be seeing them breakfast, lunch and dinner. All of this means that firms are looking for individuals who can play nicely – and effectively – with others. Some firms even create complex matrices to make sure they have the right skills mix on each project. To that end, you should be demonstrating your ability to work flexibly with others towards a successful outcome. Maybe you’re part of a team sport or university committee. Either way, be sure you include this in your CV and cover letter.

4. Problem-solving

Yep, we know we’ve banged on about it but consulting is really about problem-solving. And so, it’s a no-brainer that consultancies are looking for people who can, well, problem solve. Ok, maybe you don’t have any specific consulting experience (and you’re not expected to), but perhaps there’s something else that you can point to that shows your excellent problem-solving skills. How about that time you were working in your part-time job and you figured out how to create a better experience for your customers? Whatever it is, have a think about areas in your life where there’s been a problem to solve and you’ve come up with a solution.

5. Communication skills

Remember, consulting is all about the client. Being in professional services means you’ll be thrown in front of clients very early on so being able to converse naturally is important. In addition, consultants need to be able to persuade their clients of their recommendations so being able to pull together a good storyline, presentation and then articulate it eloquently and convincingly is critical. This means making sure your cover letter and CV are easy to follow and communicate what you’re trying to highlight effectively.

6. Work experience

It’s a given these days that most candidates will have some kind of work experience. And if not, better get to it stat! Again, remember consultancies recruit from a broad range of backgrounds, so they’re not looking for specific business or consulting experience. Instead, they’re just looking for evidence you’ve been out in the real world and got some experience there. Be specific about your role, responsibilities and achievements – if you can, quantify your results!

Other interesting cool stuff

Ok, that title is a bit vague we know but really, consultancies want to get to know you: what makes you tick, what makes you unique and how might this be of benefit to them. Have amazing academic results but seemingly no life beyond the books? Nope, that’s not going to cut it.

While the emphasis on excellent academic results is strong, consultancies are still looking for well-rounded individuals. That’s why it’s good to demonstrate anything you’ve done that reflects your personality and values. Maybe you’ve learned another language, volunteered in another country or made money on the side as an Instagram star. Again, think about what makes you, you, and how you might be able to talk about it.

Ready for the next step? Here are tips for your graduate consulting interview.