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Zoom Into Consulting

An Introduction to the Consulting Industry

This post summarizes key takeaways from current and previous consultants at McKinsey, Accenture, Kearney, EY, Guidehouse, and Stantec at YNCN’s Consulting Panel event held on November 19, 2020. You can also view the slides and recording.

What does your day-to-day life look like in your current role?

In Management Consulting, common themes were project management and coaching clients, focused mostly on one project at a time. Other common tasks included learning about a certain topic to prepare for a project, creating Excel financial models, and PowerPoint strategy decks.

For environmental consulting, the projects tend to take time to pan out, so consultants are often managing 6–8 projects (large and small) at a time as a technical expert and project manager.

Why did you decide to go into consulting? Why did you choose your career path?

  • The breadth of consulting — the ability to do projects in different industries and functional areas — without having to start a job in each one is very valuable.
  • Travelling is really fun
  • Solving tough problems with smart people, at an accelerated, fast pace, while also having high impact and client interaction
  • Consulting firms invest heavily in your growth through resources and internal coaching

What is the most interesting case that you have worked on?

  • Working with a traditional retailer with physical stores making the switch to e-commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic. It involved lots of stakeholder management and finding gaps in their organization that could be optimized
  • Working with large manufacturing plant to reduce the wastewater from manufacturing processes to 0. They ended up creating a patented process for reusing 70000 gallons of wastewater in the plant itself
  • Working with the military on a project, as they have a different working style and dynamic that isn’t the same as corporate workers who go to an office every day
  • Cloud strategy for a tech company — it was interesting because in this space, everything changes so fast, there wasn’t a lot of research out there
  • Distribution synergies opportunity assessment for pharmacy retailer — this was interesting because Amazon has very recently announced it will be delivering prescriptions, which has disrupted the market

Looking back, was there anything you would change or is there any advice you wish you had received?

  • Pursue stuff you are interested in as early as possible!
  • Try different experiences to see what you like and don’t like
  • Reach out to alumni and chat about their experiences
  • Participate in case competitions — this develops your consulting skills and also shows you how other competitors tackle the same problem
  • Network with consultants and develop relationships. This is also helpful when trying to understand the differences between consulting firms and standing out from other applicants!

How can students excel in the interview/application process? Do you have any advice for case interviews in particular?

  • Explore the website of the consulting firm you’re applying to — firms often publish articles of their research on there, as well as more about the firm’s mission, culture, and job requirements. This will help you tailor your application
  • Firms generally hold recruiting events, which you can sign up for through their website or your school’s portal. This is helpful for networking as well as ensuring you don’t miss the recruitment deadline for your firm!
  • Cultural fit is really important! Show your personality and be expressive in both your networking and interviews
  • Boutique consulting firms and technical consulting firms may not ask you to do a consulting case interview, but generally, management consulting firms do. Technical firms are more likely to ask about scenarios and see what you would do in them. You should check with the consulting firm you are applying to regarding their interview process.
  • Get your case interview basics down through watching YouTube videos and going through cases from casebooks. Do some practice, but don’t overdo it to the point where you approach cases in a mechanical, robotic manner. Appearing natural and conversational is important in the case interview
  • Keep track of each case you practice, noting down what went well and what could be improved
  • Prepare for your case interviews with someone else so that they can assess your structure and delivery of information. You can also observe how they solve problems and communicate their thoughts

Other Questions, Insights, and Thoughts

  • There are long hours in consulting due to the accelerated career path, but it’s worth it when working with the right people and with fulfilling work. Explore what you’re interested in so that you can specialize in what you like! Scope out the projects you are on to make sure it is doable in the timeframe. Firms generally also support you with flexible work policies and limiting the amount you have to travel if needed.
  • Even if you’re a junior consultant, you will be given lots of ownership and opportunity. Don’t be afraid to share your opinions!
  • Be flexible with the projects you take on and participate in side projects at your firm too. This will help you develop relationships with a wide variety of people
  • Long-term, most consultants leave after 3–5 years. Commonly, consultants exit to strategy departments of companies, private equity firms, or work as a product manager, depending on the interests and expertise they developed through their consulting work. If you stay at the consulting firm, you can work your way up to the partner level, or you can manage a product that the firm offers to clients alongside the firm’s consulting services.

We’d like to thank our panelists, Andrew Kidd, Randy Sinukoff, Jessica Ma, Xavier Tang, Alvaro Lara, Janos Mann, and Amreen Poonawala for sharing their wisdom and expertise with us.

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