A Strategy Consulting Career: Where do I Start?
Get help from ex-consultants who have been through it all
Are you thinking about applying for a job in (strategy) consultancy? Getting to know different firms, practicing case interviews, drafting your resume, introductions to the right people. Wouldn’t it be great to get some help from experienced strategy consultants who have been through the process themselves? That’s why ex-Roland Berger strategy consultant Matthijs has founded Consultancy Mentor. Our goal is to be the independent, objective partner that helps students navigate through the consultancy application process.
The consultancy landscape
To start off, it is important to realise that the image you have of a consultancy firm as a student, is not the same as the image that these firms have towards the rest of the world. There are three main differences.
Firstly, the processes of building a brand amongst students (potential employees) and amongst senior executives at companies (potential customers) are completely separated at most firms. This recruitment department has a different team of people, different budget, different KPIs, and often even a different website with a message and branding tailored to students. Secondly, there are over 20 great strategy consultancy firms, but only a handful have the budget and resources to market themselves to all universities and build a brand name under the student population. Thirdly, the bof consultancy firms changes per city and per year, depending on what type of new employees they’re looking for. For some years a firm may want to get more beta-minded talent and direct its recruitment resources for example TU Delft , whereas other years getting female talent becomes a higher priority and more resources go to Amsterdam or Utrecht recruitment events.
The first contact
Applying for a job in strategy consulting is exciting. But knowing what to expect can make a huge difference. The first contact is often made by sending an application form or by means of a business course. During an (often) multi-day business course, recruiters get to know you and get an impression of your capacities. It is therefore advisable to register yourself for such events. This is not only useful because recruiters can see your strengths, but also to get a good overview of the different consulting firms for yourself.
We notice that students often focus on the top five consulting firms and actually have little insight into other offices. In addition to the fact that business courses offer you the opportunity to stand out, it will also increase your view of the existing offices. It is good to consider in advance which sector and which specialism appeals to you.
After you have decided to apply for an office, you will have to send the necessary documents (resume, cover letter and study results). A recruiter looks at this carefully and determines whether you initially have the right profile for the office. If this answer is affirmative, you will be invited to a first round of interviews. The choice to invite a candidate is mainly determined by the candidate's resume. Besides that, study results play an important role. Especially the top firms require excellent study results (often looking for 7.5 and higher).
Recruiters look for leadership, problem-solving ability and achievers. Keep this in mind when putting together your resume. A good resume includes only relevant information. A job as a waitress is not necessarily relevant. Unless you were in a leading position or had to fix specific problems. Looking for a good template? Here is the resume template with which ex-Roland Berger consultant Matthijs got hired.
When a recruiter sits down at her desk with a cup of coffee at 10 a.m. and goes through a stack of ten new applications, what distinguishes a suitable candidate from an unsuitable applicant? It is her job to be the first to separate the wheat from the chaff. She scans the resumes, lists of study results and letters to see whether candidates meet the most important preconditions:
- University masters degree (often beta study or business administration, but all fields are possible)
- Top 10% of the class (great high school / college grades or other academic highlights)
- Social and analytical personality (board year, relevant side jobs, committees, volunteer work, etc.)
- Relevant work experience (great plus, but not a necessity)
The application process
If you have been selected based on your resume, study results and cover letter, the interviews start.
The application process is different at each firm but often has the same approach. Usually this phase consists of two rounds of (several) interviews. The first interview will mainly be an introduction to a recruiter. The recruiter tries to find out whether you are the right fit with the firm and what your motivation is to work in strategy consulting. You’ll speak about your resume and why you think you are a good fit for the firm. The reason the recruiter does the first interview is to ensure they don’t waste the time of their high paid consultants on candidates who obviously are no fit. So don’t try to oversell yourself in this conversation because as long as you come across mature and genuinely interested in consultancy, you should be fine. In fact, it is better to see this as a two-way conversation in which you can learn something about the firm as well without having to stress yet about solving a case.
Next is a case interview in which a consultant, usually with 1-5 years work experience, assesses whether you are able to solve complex problems in a structured way. Keep this in mind when solving the case. Structured thinking is more important than the eventual result. Take the interviewer through your thinking process and show them how you came to your answer. To help you prepare we have compiled a list of the most useful online resources and books here.
The third round will often be one or two interviews with partners of the firm. Often including a case again. The partners will assess whether they want you on the team and also whether you can perform under pressure.
Interested in consultancy and could use some personal help?
Consultancy Mentor has been founded to be your objective partner on this journey. All our services are free for students. We share our honest advice about which firms do and do not fit your profile, and provide you with the knowledge, case studies and templates to prepare optimally. And if we think you’re a great fit with a firm, we will personally introduce you. Sign up here and follow us on Facebook and LinkedIn to see upcoming interviews with consultants and specific information.
Ready to apply? Check the vacancies on the Financial Career Platform!