Fast-paced, demanding hours, lots of travel, challenging clients, good pay, stimulating environment, and intense teamwork. These words describe the corporate culture of consulting. If that intrigues you, read on.
Competition for a spot at a top consulting firm is fierce; only a small percentage of those trying out will succeed in landing an entry-level position. Williams students, however, tend to fare well in securing jobs in this industry. It demands a stellar academic record, serious preparation, and extreme poise during the interview process.
Employers often begin recruiting for consulting internships and full-time positions mid-summer, a year before your start date. Preparing for the consulting interview process is labor-intensive and takes time and practice. We encourage you to start early.
Check out this video about the day in the life of a management consultant. In the following steps, we will go into more detail about four different types of consulting.
Management consulting tackles problems faced by heads of companies. Questions might include “How do I deal with declining market share?” or “How should I manage operations in my organization?”
Strategy consulting is a subset of management consulting that deals more with high-level strategy as opposed to operations or implementation. It focuses on questions such as “Why did the company’s profits dip this year?” or “Would it make sense to acquire our competitor?”
Staffing models make a big impact on culture and help differentiate between management or strategy consulting firms. Some firms will be network-based, in this instance, you have to network with more senior consultants to be assigned to a case. Other firms are systematic, meaning that you have a person dedicated to staffing up cases who will meet with each consultant to discuss preferences before assigning them a case. Consulting projects are a team effort and how those teams are structured varies by firm or project.
Global or national teams are made of members from different offices anywhere in the world, although most teams are grouped continentally (a U.S. or Canadian case will have mostly U.S. or Canadian-based consultants). Regional or local teams are made of consultants based in the same region and will mostly work on cases in that region. Home staffing will create teams made of members from the same office, but the case could be based anywhere in the country.
Examples of Organizations:
Economic consulting firms advise corporations and government organizations regarding the intersection of business, economics, and law. Analysts work with data, develop models of specific markets, and provide testimony in public hearings and in lawsuits. Many graduates find that a few years of experience in an economic consulting firm provides a solid foundation for an MBA, law program, or graduate study in economics.
Examples of Organizations:
Health Care Consulting is a management and strategy consulting with a focus specifically on health care. Clients are healthcare organizations, hospitals, clinics, pharmaceutical companies, medtech, etc.
Examples of Organizations:
Nonprofit consulting firms advise clients on fund development (fundraising and funding alternatives), governance, and strategic planning.
Examples of Organizations:
Consulting and the liberal arts are an excellent match. Your academic courses at Williams are preparing you to:
- Conduct research
- Analyze data
- View problems from multiple perspectives
- Solve problems
- Work as part of a team
These are the core skills sought by consulting firms. In addition, all majors are welcome in the industry.
With this in mind, please feel free to explore your academic and career interests by taking a variety of classes and trying internships in different industries. Keep in mind that consulting firms pay close attention to academic performance. Take advantage of Williams's academic support resources to maintain a strong GPA.
SAMPLE RECRUITING TIMELINE:
Sophomore Year: Internships in consulting are an option; however, they are competitive and can be challenging to find. Broaden your search to include internships in industries with similar skill sets (ex., marketing, business development, data analytics, economic research). Consider them as stepping stone positions to internships and jobs in consulting.
Summer into Fall of Junior Year: Attend on-campus information sessions sponsored by the Career Center, network, and apply for internships.
Consulting firms often make full-time offers to their summer interns, so, in that context, you may be doing your full-time job search. Internships in consulting are highly competitive, don’t panic if an offer doesn’t come your way. Consulting firms fill many full-time positions in the summer and fall of senior year.
Summer into Fall of Senior Year: Attend on-campus information sessions sponsored by the Career Center, network, and apply for full-time positions.
Now that you have a clearer understanding of the consulting industry, it's time to reflect on your own skills, interests, values, and even personality.
- What interests you most about consulting?
- What work energizes you?
- What types of work fit you best?
- What kind of company do you want to work for? Consider the size of the organization, values, culture, etc.
Identify your strengths and the skills you may still need to develop. For additional insights, consider taking the StrengthsFinder. The strengths finder has a $20 fee, but eligible students can apply for the Career Access Fund to cover the cost.
Review your work values to align with work cultures.
It can also be helpful to consider your personality preferences when exploring your options. The 16 Personalities assessment and PrinciplesU both provide feedback on how you think, make decisions, work with others, and apply yourself. Both are free!
Make an appointment with the Business Advisor in the '68 Center for Career Exploration and continue reading for the next steps.
As mentioned earlier in this guide, consulting firms seek candidates who can conduct research, analyze data, solve problems, present findings clearly and articulately, and work on a team. In addition to internships, they seek candidates who have demonstrated leadership skills and community involvement.
Alhambra and Polaris Consulting are examples of two student organizations at Williams where you can hone your consulting skills, gain directly related experience, and demonstrate your interest in the industry.
Volunteer for a leadership role in one of the many student organizations at Williams. Some examples are Junior Advisor, Business Manager for The Williams Record, SAAC Board Member, or Treasure for Ultimate Frisbee.
CONSIDER A WINTER STUDY COURSE
Skill-building courses are offered each year during Winter Study. Keep an eye out for consulting-related courses.
Sophomore and junior year internships can be the first point of entry for consulting firms. However, internships in other industries with similar skill sets (ex. marketing, business development, data analytics, economic research, policy research) are also excellent stepping stone positions to internships and jobs in consulting.
Make an appointment with the Business Advisor in the '68 Center for Career Exploration to explore your options.
SUMMER BUSINESS PROGRAMS
While not required, summer business programs can be good options during the summer after your first year or sophomore year.
- Harvard HBX CORe: The Language of Business
- Tuck Bridge Program
- Stanford Summer Institute for General Management
- University of Chicago Booth School Summer Business Scholars Program
DIVERSITY, EQUITY, & INCLUSION PROGRAMS
Networking (also called Informational Interviewing) is a very important step in the consulting recruiting process. Informational interviews are the equivalent of checking out a human library book about consulting.
Through conversations with alumni and other industry professionals, you will clarify your interests, learn about the industry, write stronger application materials with the information you gain, and stand out in this highly competitive industry.
It takes time to build meaningful relationships and trust, so start early.
- Use EphLink, the Alumni Database, and the Williams LinkedIn Portal to identify alumni contacts.
- During your summer internships, grab a coffee with your coworkers to learn about their career journeys and perspectives.
Nervous or intimidated about talking to alumni? Watch this video: How to Reach Out and Talk to Alumni.
Unsure of how to approach informational interviews? Watch this video: How to Conduct Informational Interviews.
- Keep track of your contacts with this spreadsheet, or create your own version as you network.
- Thank you notes are essential every step of the way.
In consulting, a case interview is a hypothetical situation presented during the interview process to determine how a candidate thinks about a business problem and how they would solve it. Preparing for case interviews is labor-intensive and takes practice, so we encourage you to start early.
Books & Websites
- Case in Point
- Case Questions Interactive - an online practice program created by the author of Case in Point. Check out the videos and the section for practicing consulting math. (Register with your Williams email address for free access.)
- Management Consulted - on online source with wealth of free information about consulting firms and case interview prep.
- CaseInterview.com - A former McKinsey consultant provides tips on preparing for the interview. This site has many free resources, and his book, Case Interview Secrets, is available on Amazon.
- PrepLounge - A case interview community where candidates with similar career goals can get connected, practice cases, and sharpen their consulting skills. There is a monthly subscription to PrepLounge; however, they also have free resources.
Company Case Guides
- Bain & Company Online Practice Cases
- Boston Consulting Group (BCG) Interactive Case Prep
- McKinsey Interactive Case Questions
Practice, practice, practice!
There is a significant difference between studying frameworks in a book and solving problems out loud in front of an employer, which is what you will be doing in an interview. To ace your case interviews, it's important to practice.
- Join the Ephs in Consulting group on Eph Link to identify alumni who have volunteered to help students with interview prep, including case interviews. (Click on More Filters and then click on Interviews/Mock Interviews under Help Topics.)
Helpful Advice from an Eph
"Case guides are undoubtedly helpful and should provide the starting point for anyone on the consulting grind. However, do not simply read and hope to digest the material. The case interview is not a standardized test. The most important part of preparation is practicing cases and fit questions with friends and Williams alumni. Find a buddy and run cases with each other on a regular basis. I found that playing the role of the interviewer who gives the questions and critiques the interviewee is extremely valuable. In fact, I would argue that playing the interviewer taught me more about how to perform well in a case than playing the interviewee.”
You have identified your skills and work values, learned about the consulting industry, attended employer information sessions, etc. What's next? You need an action plan!
GET YOUR DOCUMENTS IN ORDER
- Gear your resume and cover letters to the consulting industry and the specific employer. Management Consulted's Resume Guide is a terrific and free resource, as is their article How Consultants Review Resumes.
- Make an appointment with the business advisor in the '68 Center for Career Exploration to have your resume and cover letters critiqued.
- Now is the time to ask your professors, supervisors, coaches, etc., for references. Watch Building your Personal Advisory Board and Requesting References/Recommendations.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BRAND
- LinkedIn is a great tool to bring your resume and personal brand to life. Put your best foot forward with a professional headshot and a bio highlighting your personality and passions. Customize your LinkedIn experience by following companies and organizations that interest you.
YOUR TARGET COMPANIES
Put together your list of target companies. Google "top consulting firms" and you will find many lists to help you get started, including America's Best Management Consulting Firms (Forbes).
Identify alumni networking contacts at each firm and conduct informational interviews. It is the best way to stand out as a candidate.
Update your Handshake profile with current career interests and experiences. Save preferred job search criteria to receive email notifications of new opportunities that match your interests.
Watch the "careers" section of company websites.
PARTICIPATE IN CAMPUS RECRUITING EVENTS
Career Meetups, Career Treks, and Employer Information Sessions offer a chance to build connections with employers and alumni while learning about the company and job opportunities. For details, keep a close eye on the Events section of Handshake.
Congratulations! Now take a deep breath and remember that you don't have to accept an offer on the spot unless it's your dream job, and that is your intention.
Employers typically give candidates two to three weeks to accept an internship or full-time offer, and sometimes that deadline can be extended.
Take this time to:
- Schedule an appointment with the Business career advisor to help understand your offer and strategize negotiation tactics, including extended acceptance deadlines.
- Reach out to the other firms that are still on your wish list to inquire about your status as a candidate. Let the recruiters know that you have an offer with an upcoming deadline. They may offer to speed up your interview timeline with their company.
For more information:
Watch Salary Negotiation (with Eph Alumni!)
Ignite your Career (negotiation tips from author and Eph parent)
Advocate For You: Smart Salary Negotiation for Women (alumni panel)
Check out this Salary Negotiation and Self Advocacy alumni presentation.
Review all offers carefully and follow up with questions to ensure that you can make a well-informed decision.
Once you accept an offer, gracefully notify other organizations to withdraw applications or decline offers.
Please notify the ‘68 Center for Career Development upon your acceptance and celebrate your outcome!