As with law students, future consultants may want to get their feet wet by applying for summer internships with consulting firms. This is a great way to learn the ropes and to determine what you like and dislike about a firm’s practices.
This is also a valuable tool for business majors who are unsure which direction they want to head upon graduation. Business is a highly diverse field, and it helps to have a head start before receiving your diploma.
Consulting is a great career choice for recent graduates because the entry-level salaries are much higher than with other professions. Consulting firms also offer great benefits as well as avenues into other fields, including entrepreneurial dreams.
There are large firms available (more than 5,000 employees) as well as smaller firms, which might be composed of only six or seven partners. Determining the size of the firm with which you would like to intern will depend on your ultimate goals and on the experiences you would like to obtain.
Larger firms are usually big names, and have more positions available. These firms work with Fortune 500 companies, which might give you more high-level experience. You will probably be working with teams of other interns from whom you can learn as well, and you might have an opportunity to work in several different areas.
With smaller firms, there will be fewer positions, but the competition won’t be quite so intense. You will probably be working one-on-one with a senior level consultant who can personally advise you about your strengths and weaknesses. You might also have opportunities to handle cases yourself, and to get your feet wet with clients on an individual basis.
Consulting is becoming an in-demand field, and students are fighting tooth and nail to be accepted for an internship. Depending on where you live and what type of firm you choose, you could be in the running against thousands of other applicants.
The most important thing is to get your application in on time. Most firms accept applications during a relatively brief window of time, which means that you must make the deadline or risk being rejected. Carefully research firms well in advance of the start of the internship to make sure that you are considered.
Here are some tips for beating out the competition:
1. Network. Find someone – anyone – who knows someone who works at the firm of your choosing to give you a reference. Having an inside reference will put you heads and shoulders above other applicants because someone in the firm’s employ can vouch for your capabilities. This person can be a consultant, an executive assistant or even a janitor. Talk to teachers and classmates for leads.
2. Extracurricular activities. Even if they have nothing to do with business, consulting firms look for activities on your resume. Volunteer work, membership with an organization, sports, music and jobs are all valid examples of extracurricular activities. List them all.
3. G.P.A. The competition has become so fierce that firms will often only accept applicants with a 4.0 G.P.A. or higher. If you’ve just begun thinking about consulting, there isn’t much you can do, but if this is only your first or second year, make sure to keep the grades up.
4. Cover Letter. Write a professional cover letter to be submitted with your application, and mention specifics about the consulting firm with which you hope to intern. Read material about the firm beforehand – their clients, their past cases, their operations – and refer specifically to these factors. It will show your enthusiasm and your dedication.
The interview process for a consulting internship is usually composed of multiple visits to the office to meet with different executives, the last of which will include a case interview. You will be expected to understand the various factions of the firm and to be familiar with consulting lingo and terminology.
Each interview will be different, and you will need to stay on the tips of your toes. Answer each question confidently and without pause, and never show that you are nervous. Dress in a professional business suit, and carry a legal pad and pen to take notes during the interview.
When applying for an internship with a high-profile consulting firm, you must remember that there are thousands of other applicants. Make yourself memorable by expressing your personality and by asking lots of questions. In fact, prepare a list of questions to ask at the end of the interview; the consultants will be impressed with your preparedness.
Consulting internships are high-pay, high-stress, high-volume jobs that require many hours and intense concentration. You can’t look forward to a relaxed summer when interning with a consulting firm, but you can look forward to learning quite a bit about your chosen profession and possibly making contacts that will eventually help further your career.
Most consulting interns make upwards of $20/hour, and can expect to work fifty-hour weeks alongside the consultants of the firm. You can expect to make coffee, get cars washed, prepare spreadsheets and answer phones, but you will also have an opportunity for hands-on experience.
Just remember: if you work hard and play your cards right, you may be working long hours toward a permanent position after graduation.