(The informational interviews were conducted by a first-year university student, so for the other first-years out there, don’t be shy or intimidated by networking--there are lots of nice professionals who are more than willing to share!)
If you’ve ever browsed LinkedIn to check out what are the profiles of those who work in top-tier consulting firms, chances are the majority of them are overseas grads and the barrier of entry is out of touch for many of us. With that being said, it is not the end of the world as there are a number of consultants working in these firms who came from modest backgrounds and graduated from local universities. We had the privilege to chat with 2 management consultants a few weeks ago, one from a prominent strategy consulting firm and another one from a Big 4 firm. Both of them came from the background aforementioned and here are some insights that might be useful for those local grads out there who want to break into consulting:
1. Build a strong profile
Leading consulting firms receive thousands of competitive applications every year and there are only a limited number of placements for graduates. To add to that, as a local grad you will have to compete with graduates from overseas universities and consulting firms tend to favour them, so that’s why standing out in front of recruiters is the crucial first step to get it done.
So what’s a “strong profile”? According to both of the management consultants I talk to, they both echo that a strong profile should include:
i. Academics (Get First-Class, non-negotiable)
ii. Leadership (Be the President/Chairperson of your University’s student club,
student council, international organizations such as ICMS and AIESEC)
iii. Interesting spark (Started your own business, social enterprise, projects etc.)
A strong profile equals a strong CV and if done right, you will be putting yourself head and shoulders above the competition. Plus, an interesting profile helps you craft personalized stories to “sell” yourself to the consulting firms as they hire a diverse set of people every year.
2. Cover Letter is super IMPORTANT
Unlike many MNCs and banks out there, recruiters from consulting firms will read applicants’ cover letters as part of the screening process. This is crucial as a single cover letter will determine whether you land the first round of interview or not.
Here are some tips we got from the strategy consultant we talked to on writing a top-notch cover letter:
i. Your credentials (The university you went to, your academic result,
scholarships attained etc.)
ii. Personalized answer on “Why the firm?” (Spoke to XX within the firm to understand what kind of projects does the firm have, the culture of the firm, participated in X event and got to know XX who prompted you to join the firm)
iii. Personalized answer on “Why you?” (The skills you have, quantify the impact you bring to a project/initiative, i.e. Lead the team to fundraised RM XXXX in the first 2 months to help purchase necessities for the underprivileged)
As a local grad, campus recruiters of top-tier consulting firms usually do not come to your university to do campus recruiting unlike the universities overseas. And that’s why networking is essential: to learn about what kind of work consultants are doing and their firm’s culture which distinguishes yourself when answering the “Why the firm?” question on your cover letter and during behavioural interviews. For instance, as we were talking with the consultant from the Big 4 firm, that’s when we only knew most of the projects at their firm involved digital and tech components. Conversations like this are actually great opportunities for you to show that you are passionate about technology implementations in businesses. And you can mention specific projects the firm is working on that you really want to be in to the interviewer, which makes you stand out among your peers.
4. Focus on the approach, not the type of cases
While many of you know that case interviews are the most important component in the application process, many applicants often fail to understand the gist of it. The management consultants we talked to echoed that although practising for cases is crucial for one to get into the consulting firms; however, they do emphasize that the aim of practising cases is for you to learn how to approach specific business problems and not for you to only memorize certain cases and frameworks which may be counterproductive and you will lose your sense of excitement when solving cases. They also mentioned to us that improving on business acumen should also be a priority. For example, being aware of business news from the likes of Bloomberg, The Economists, The Financial Times etc.
Here are some books recommended by the strategy consultant we talked to:
- Bulletproof Problem Solving: The One Skill That Changes Everything - a good start to understanding the fundamentals of problem-solving in consulting
- Cracked It! How to Solve Big Problems and Sell Solutions Like Top Strategy Consultants
To sum up, it is definitely not easy to get into consulting firms as a local grad, but with the right mindset and approach, we can assure you that it is in fact not an impossible feat at all!
That’s all from these insights, we hope you found it helpful and do keep an eye out on our site for future insights like this one.