What is Consulting?

Being a consultant is an exciting opportunity to learn the ins and outs of running a business in an effective and profitable way. Regardless of your major, if you’re a creative problem-solver who is interested in different types of business models, then being a consultant might just be for you.

Here are some of the key things you need to know about working in consulting.

What is consulting?

Consulting is a fairly broad term that can have a variety of meanings depending on the industry it refers to. For example, you can work as a marketing consultant helping companies create and optimize their marketing campaigns or as a software consultant, designing software systems for an organization. However, although the term has many applications, it’s generally used to refer to management or strategy consulting, the practice of helping companies increase their efficiency and profits by addressing the major operational or strategic challenges they’re facing.

What do consultants do?

Consulting roles can vary greatly depending on the type of consulting firm you work for and the companies you work with. For example, if you work for one of the large management consulting companies (such as McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group) you’ll be following a fairly structured career path, starting off as a junior consultant and moving up to a senior consultant role within two to three years. Working at one of the larger consulting firms also means that you’re more likely to be a generalist in your early years since you typically only become specialized in a particular vertical, industry or type of work after working in consulting for several years. At smaller consultancies or boutique firms, you’ll generally focus on a particular industry from the beginning (such as healthcare or technology) and work exclusively within that industry.

What are the challenges of working in consulting?

Being a consultant is an exciting career path but it does have its share of challenges. One of the main ones is traveling. Although many other careers require travel (e.g. sales), few are as travel-intensive as consulting. In fact, it’s not uncommon to hear of consultants who travel four out of five days of each work week, meaning that your non-travel time will usually be limited to weekends. Additional challenges include long hours (12-hour days are standard) and working closely with a new team every few months. Although these factors might take a little getting used to, most consultants adapt to them fairly quickly and are able to thrive in their roles.

What are some of the benefits of working in consulting?

One of the main benefits of being a consultant is having the opportunity to learn about multiple industries and business models. In fact, this knowledge will serve you well throughout your consulting career (and beyond), allowing you to quickly spot operational and managerial problems and come up with creative solutions to solve them. And although travel can be a challenging part of the job, it can also be an exciting one, giving you the opportunity to see new parts of the country (and helping you build up some frequent flyer miles in the process!). Consulting will also improve your presentation skills, teaching you how to build impressive presentation decks and communicate your point effectively to any type of audience.

What is a typical consultant salary?

One of the other benefits of being a consultant is the high earning potential. In fact, consulting is one of the most lucrative professions around and it offers great salaries for recent graduates. Entry-level salaries for management consultants typically start at $63,000 (including bonuses), though this can vary depending on the size of the firm you work for. Consulting salaries increase significantly with each year of additional experience and can go up to $250,000 for a project leader or even $500,000 and above for a partner.

Although consulting is certainly a challenging field, it’s also an exciting one that presents many opportunities for recent grads. The best way to find out if being a consultant is a good fit for you is to intern at a consulting firm and get a hands-on feel for the role and the culture of the industry.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Handle Back-to-Back Interviews and find answers to common interview questions such as Tell Me About Yourself.

How to Become a Consultant

If you’re interested in consulting, then you probably already know that it’s an exciting and challenging field with a lot of opportunities to learn about different industries and business processes. But you might be wondering about the best way to get started. Should you submit applications to all the major consulting firms and hope for the best? Or is there something else you can do to increase your chances of landing a job in this industry?

Here are some of the key things you need to know about becoming a consultant.

1. Understand the different types of consulting jobs and identify your area of interest

Consulting is a broad term that can have many different applications. In order to get started in the field, it’s important to first identify what type of consultant you want to be by learning about the different types of consulting and the roles associated with them. For example, if you’re interested in a specific industry such as marketing, technology or healthcare, you might want to work for a boutique firm that specializes in that particular industry. On the other hand, if you’re interested in business operations and management at a more general level, you might want to go into management consulting, working for a larger firm such as McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

Pro Tip: If you’re not sure what type of consulting would be a good fit for you, spend some time doing research on the various types and getting a sense of which one most closely aligns with your interests.

2. Know what recruiters look for

Regardless of what type of consulting you choose to pursue, it’s important to know what recruiters look for when assessing candidates. For example, since consulting requires the ability to address problems effectively (and often creatively), recruiters look for candidates with strong problem-solving abilities and also those with a basic level of business knowledge. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to be a business or finance major to succeed in the recruitment process. It just means that you need to be able to demonstrate an understanding of how businesses operate and an interest in the technical and operational problems that you’ll encounter in the position.

Pro Tip: Building up your business knowledge and technical skills can be done in a number of ways. While taking a business management or accounting class is a great idea, you can also supplement this knowledge with reading materials specific to the industry itself. For example, magazines like The Economist can give you a general sense of business and finance trends impacting relevant industries.

3. Understand what a case interview is and how to prepare for one

Case interviews are designed to test your ability to understand and solve problems effectively and they are a big part of the recruitment process for management consulting jobs. During a case interview, you’ll be presented with a series of business or logic problems and asked to come up with solutions. Common questions you’ll encounter can include things such as “How many wheelchair users are there in the U.S. this year?” or “How do we increase the revenue for Company X by 15% in this calendar year?” In order to succeed in a case interview, it’s important to ask relevant questions and to show the thought process behind your proposed solution. This is because hiring managers are primarily interested in how you approach problems and being able to demonstrate a cohesive problem-solving process will go a long way towards impressing them.

Pro Tip: Acing your case interview is all about practice so make sure to spend some time learning about common case interview questions and thinking through your answers. A number of resources can come in handy here including books such as Case in Point: Complete Case Interview Preparation and sites like Case Interview.

4. Take an internship at a consulting firm

Few things are as effective at building relevant skills as internships. In fact, having internship experience will not only give you hands-on experience of what it’s like to work in consulting, but it will also help you decide whether a consulting role is right for you. The best way to find a consulting internship that fits your interests is by researching opportunities at several firms and then either applying on WayUp or reaching out to their recruitment team to find out more about the roles and the requirements.

5. Build your network

Having a strong professional network is important in every industry but it’s especially important in a field like consulting, which relies heavily on teamwork and collaboration. Luckily, networking is essentially built into the consulting industry with firms sponsoring social events to help consultants get to know one another and build relationships both within and outside of their firms.

Pro Tip: One of the most effective ways to build your network is by reaching out to alumni from your school. You can do this by attending career fairs that your school offers or even by looking through your school’s alumni network on LinkedIn to identify those who are working in the industry. Added bonus: Many alumni are actively involved in recruitment efforts at their alma maters so connecting with them before the recruitment process starts will put your on their radar at the right time.

Working as a consultant can be both challenging and exciting, giving you the opportunity to learn a lot about how businesses function and how you can help them succeed. The best way to find out if being a consultant is right for you is by interning at a consulting firm and getting a feel for what the industry is all about.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Write a Thank You Note After an Interview and find answers to common interview questions such as What Are Your Strengths?

Top Consulting Interview Questions and How to Answer Them

Management consulting is an exciting field with plenty of opportunities for consultants to develop effective business strategies and help clients thrive in their respective industries. If you’re interested in becoming a consultant, you may be wondering about the best way to approach the interview process. For example, what should you expect and how can you prepare?

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the consulting interview process typically consists of two types of interviews: (1) Fit interviews (also called experience interviews), which focus on your skills, background and professional aspirations, and (2) case interviews, which focus on your ability to analyze and solve problems.

Here are the types of questions you can expect in each part of the interview and what you need to know to answer them successfully.

Fit Interview Questions

The fit interview focuses on your background, skill set and your interest in the role. A typical fit interview includes questions like, “Tell me about yourself” and “What are your strengths?” but also focuses on your leadership style and your interest in consulting. Some key questions you’re likely to encounter include:

Why are you interested in consulting?

This question is designed to test your knowledge of the industry and your interest in becoming a consultant. When an interviewer asks this, it’s because they want to know that you’re genuinely interested in consulting as a career path and that you’re committed to bringing value to the firm and to your clients. To answer this question effectively, focus on one or two aspects of consulting that appeal to you (for example, the opportunity to learn about various business models or to develop new marketing strategies) and explain why you find them appealing. In addition to talking about your interest in the industry, you should also talk about your skill set and why it makes you a good fit for the role. Since interviewers look for candidates who are able to solve challenging problems with creative solutions, being able to demonstrate your interest and your potential impact will go a long way towards impressing the interviewer.

Tell me about a time you displayed leadership.

One of the major skills required in consulting is leadership. This is because a large part of consulting involves working with a team to strategize, develop and implement solutions related to the problems businesses face. When preparing your answer to this question, it’s important to focus on a time when you demonstrated leadership and to highlight the outcome of that situation. For example, if you were responsible for managing a charity fundraising event for your sorority, you should outline the steps you took to organize the event and explain how those steps led to a successful outcome.

Why do you want to work for this firm?

This question is designed to test your knowledge of the consulting industry and your motivation for picking a specific firm. When answering this question, it’s important to highlight some of the key reasons for your interest in the firm you’re interviewing with. For example, if the firm is credited with pioneering a specific approach to marketing or revolutionizing a specific industry, mention this. You should also talk about the company’s values and how they align with your own. For example, if you have an entrepreneurial spirit and you want to work alongside others with the same drive, it’s important to highlight this in your answer. By demonstrating how your skills, interests and values align with the company you want to work for, you’re likely to impress the interviewer and get one step closer to landing the job.

Pro Tip: Doing your research on the firm you’re interviewing with is extremely important. You can do this by attending company info sessions on campus (if they’re offered) and by visiting the company’s website to learn more about their work and what they value. When preparing for your interview, focus on the aspects that really resonate with you and refer to those in your answers.

Case Interview Questions

The case interview is the counterpart to the fit interview and it’s designed to test your problem-solving ability. During this part of the interview, you’re likely to encounter questions that focus on your ability to assess a situation and provide a structured, solution-focused answer. The types of case interview questions you’re likely to encounter include:

Market-sizing questions

Market-sizing questions (also known as guesstimate questions) are designed to challenge your ability to come up with reasonable assumptions and estimations in situations where you have limited information. Questions can include things like, “How many wheelchairs are purchased annually in the U.S.?” or “How many people wear green on any given day in New York City?” To answer market-sizing questions, it’s important to ask relevant follow-up questions to gather additional information. Once you have all of the facts related to the case, you should come up with an answer that shows that you’ve considered the different factors at play in determining the size of the market (e.g. groups of people who are likely to be wheelchair users, age demographics, etc.) and then deliver the answer in a structured way, explaining your thought process along the way.

Pro Tip: Treating each case as a presentation is a great way to ensure that you’re structuring your answer in a clear and engaging way. In order to do this, you should sketch out your approach on a sheet of paper, explaining the different factors, the assumptions your draw from them and your answer.

Segmentation questions

Segmentation questions typically follow on from market-sizing questions and are focused on testing your understanding of more detailed market segments. Going back to the wheelchair example in the previous case, a segmentation follow-up question could be, “What are the different segments of the wheelchair market in the U.S.?” To answer this question effectively, it’s important to once again ask the interviewer questions designed to further your understanding of the case. For example, you can ask whether you should consider manual and electric wheelchairs separately or whether different types of healthcare facilities would constitute different segments. Once you’ve gathered the data, come up with a structured answer focused on three different segments of the market (in this case, those segments could be hospitals, healthcare facilities and personal users). When explaining your answer, be sure to touch on each of these segments and to explain the thought process behind each one.

Data analysis questions

Analyzing and summarizing data is a big part of a consultant’s day-to-day tasks, and data analysis questions are designed to test your ability to do this effectively. These questions typically involve being presented with data and asked to identify key insights related to business growth or market size. In order come up with a great answer, it’s important to analyze the various aspects of the data you’re presented with and to identify unusual or unexpected trends such price changes or sharp increases or decreases in sales. Once you’ve identified these insights, lay them out for the interviewer as you would in a presentation, referring to the original data for emphasis.

Value proposition questions

Being able to determine the value of a business is an extremely important part of being a consultant and value proposition questions are designed to test your understanding of this concept. An example of a value proposition question might be: “The client is a restaurant in San Francisco. Their main customers are locals from the Bay area. What are some factors that those customers look for in a restaurant?” To answer this question effectively, it’s important to first identify the different factors at play (type of food, location, price, etc.) and then come up with an answer based on how each of those factors would affect what customers look for in a restaurant. When presenting your answer, be sure to lay out the different factors you’ve outlined in a structured way, while explaining how each one impacts the overall value proposition of the restaurant.

Although consulting interviews often involve several different types of questions, the key to doing well is always the same: practice. Work with classmates and friends to run through fit and case interview questions and come prepared with relevant answers to questions you’re likely to encounter. Most of all, try to relax and enjoy the interview process.

Working in management consulting is a wonderful opportunity to learn about various types of businesses and to help companies reach their goals. And although interviewing for a management consulting role might seem a bit intimidating at first, by knowing what to expect and practicing for each part of the interview, you’ll be able to prove that you’re a great fit for the role and that you would be an asset to the company.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as Top 10 Things You Should Look For in a Company and find answers to common interview questions such as Tell Me About Yourself.

How to Prep for a Case Interview

One of the keys to becoming a management consultant is successfully navigating the interview process. This involves being able to talk about yourself and your experience during the fit (or experience) interview and also demonstrating your problem-solving abilities and analytical skills during the case interview. Although the case interview might seem a bit intimidating at first, with a good amount of practice and a structured approach, you can ace the questions and get one step closer to landing the job.

Here are some case study interview tips to help you prepare.

1. Know what to expect from a case interview

Case interviews consist of several questions designed to test your problem-solving abilities and your analytical skills. These questions come in three formats: 1) Creative questions such as, “What are the different segments of the wheelchair market in the United States?” 2) Market-sizing questions such as, “How big is the market for eyeglasses in the U.S. this year?” and 3) Analytical questions such as, “Given this data, synthesize and determine the best approach for entering the Indian market and doubling revenue of Company X.”

While there may be some people who have a natural ability to answer these types of questions, most people need to establish a framework for solving these sorts of problems. This is where having a structured approach comes in.

Here’s how to come up with your answer:

Frameworking: Lay out a logical path to the answer by analyzing each part of the question in turn and then looking at the question as a whole. You can use specific frameworks to do this (which you can find in prep books like Case in Point), but you should keep in mind that you need to be able to adapt these frameworks to the particular question you’re answering.

Data gathering: Ask questions that will give you a better understanding of the problem and use the answers to reframe your thinking. Once you’ve obtained some additional information, repeat it back to the interviewer to make sure that you didn’t miss anything. After all of the information has been presented and you’ve asked your follow-up questions, you can ask the interviewer a final catch-all question like, “Is there anything else I should know about?” This will give the interviewer a chance to offer you any remaining information before you begin your analysis.

Pro Tip: If you’re going to make an assumption during the data gathering process, you should be explicit and tell the interviewer the exact assumption you’re making. This will show them that you’re approaching the problem thoughtfully and filling in the gaps in a strategic way.

Analysis: Once you have your framework in place and you’ve gathered the necessary data, ask the interviewer for 30 seconds to analyze the information. Then, combine this information with your own assumptions about the problem to come up with your answer. Having sheets of paper in front of you and actually drawing out slides in front of the interviewer can be especially effective here since consulting relies heavily on presentations to deliver solutions to clients. Be sure to explain every step of your analysis as you go through it since this will give the interviewer a chance to step in if you make a mistake or go the wrong way.

Recommendation: Now take the output and turn it into something actionable that the client can use, ensuring that your insights are data-driven and your assumptions are explicitly stated. For example, if you’ve discovered that a client’s product does best with a millennial consumer base and millennials are much more likely to buy these sorts of products online, your recommendation could be that the client increase their eCommerce efforts, focusing specifically on promoting their products through Amazon and Facebook.

Delivery: The way you deliver the solution is as important as the solution itself. Combining an articulate, structured, confident approach with humility is key here since you need to be able to convince the client that your solution is both solid and data-driven, while also leaving room to make adjustments as needed.

2. Practice interviewing with other people

Being able to solve problems quickly and consistently is all about practice. This is especially true because case interviews don’t test what you know, they test how you think. The most important skills to develop are mental agility and consistency, and practicing with others is the only want to ensure that you can develop these skills effectively. This is for two reasons: The first is that you’ll get feedback on different aspects of your problem-solving and communication skills and the second is that you’ll learn how to communicate your answers clearly to a broad range of people.

3. Look at everyday problems as case studies

Analyzing case studies from a book will certainly go a long way towards preparing you for the interview process but to really train your brain to think analytically and creatively all the time, it’s important to start thinking about everyday issues in the same way you would a case study. To do this, it’s not necessarily important to create real-life scenarios that relate to specific types of questions (creative, analytical or otherwise) but to practice shaping your thoughts and decisions in a very structured way. It’s important to remember that practicing for the case interview is about training your brain to think of the world at large as a problem waiting to be solved.

By knowing what to expect from the interview process and coming up with a structured approach for analyzing case studies, you’ll be sure to navigate your case interview successfully and make a great impression on the interviewer.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 6 Things to Do in Your First Week at a New Job and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Travel?

5 Common Case Interview Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Interviewing for a management consulting role can be a challenging and exciting process. If you’ve already read up on consulting interviews, then you know that they involve a two-part process consisting of a “fit” interview (also known as an experience interview) which focuses on your background and experience, and a case interview which focuses on your ability to solve problems creatively and effectively. And if you’re preparing for the interview process, you might be wondering not only about what you should be doing but also about what NOT to do.

Here are some of the most common case interview mistakes and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Not having pens, pencils or paper

In our technology-driven world, we usually rely on our laptops and phones to help us take notes and transmit information, but in a case interview it’s important to have pens, pencils and at least three blank sheets of paper available since you’ll be using these to map out your answers and present your solution to the interviewer. When preparing for the interview, be sure to pack a portfolio folder with spare copies of your resume (enough for each person you’ll be meeting with) a stack of blank white paper and several pens and pencils. This will help ensure that you’re able to map out your answers in a clear and impactful way.

2. Not having a structured answer

Few things are as important in consulting as having a structured answer. This is because cases are essentially problems that need to be solved. To structure your answer effectively, it’s important to understand how to create a framework and then use that framework to develop a clear and direct solution to the problem. By thinking through the problem in a focused way, you’ll be able to deliver an answer that is much more likely to resonate with the interviewer and to help you land the job.

3. Not taking time to think

Although consulting is considered an industry where you always have to think on your feet, taking the time to analyze and solve a problem carefully is incredibly important during the case interview since it will increase your chances of delivering a great solution. How much time? We recommend 30 seconds. This will give you enough time to assess the case and start formulating a solution without making you seem unprepared or unable to think on your feet.

Pro Tip: Always ask the interviewer if it’s okay to take time to think and, if you’re going to do so, be specific about how much time you need. So if you ask for 30 seconds, be sure you only take 30 seconds though it’s okay to take less time than you asked for.

4. Not preparing for the fit portion of the interview

Although the case interview might seem like the more challenging part of the interview process, it’s important to remember that both parts are equally important and that preparing for each one is key to a successful outcome. The best way to do this is by researching some of the most commonly asked fit interview questions and practicing your responses with the same structured approach you use to practice case interviews.

5. Not talking through your process

Since interviewers use case studies to understand how you think, walking the interviewer through your thought process is incredibly important. In fact, even if you deliver a solid answer during the interview you’re unlikely to be successful unless the interviewer has a sense of exactly how you arrived at that answer.

Pro Tip: Talk through each point of your answer in a detailed way, offering the interviewer an overview of the solution before breaking it down into segments and explaining how each segment contributes to the whole. This process will not only make your delivery more effective, it will also help you slow down and think about the viability of the solution as you discuss it.

Although it’s not always possible to avoid mistakes during the consulting interview process, by knowing what to watch out for, you’ll be more likely to avoid common mistakes and to ensure a successful outcome.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 10 Tips for the Perfect Cover Letter and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Travel?

Investment Banking vs. Management Consulting: How to Decide

For ambitious college students who are interested in a challenging and exciting career, the choice often comes down to two industries: investment banking and management consulting. Why these industries? Beyond their high earning potential and their reputation as intriguing fields, the two share a number of traits such as the fact that they offer excellent exposure to different business models and a chance to learn about what makes companies profitable.

Here are some things to consider if you’re deciding between these two fields.

How do the investment banking and management consulting career paths compare?

Investment banking generally begins with a summer internship followed by a two-year entry-level role as a financial analyst. For those who stay in banking, this is typically followed by another two to three years as an associate before moving up the ladder to VP and managing director. Similarly, most consultants start out in a business analyst role for their first two to three years before moving on to an associate or senior consultant role.

Although the career tracks for banking and consulting follow a similar path, it’s important to note that investment bankers are much more likely to do an internship before applying for an entry-level role. This is because banks do the bulk of their recruiting during internships. Consulting firms, on the other hand, don’t put quite as much emphasis on internships, though an internship is definitely recommended for anyone interested in pursuing a consulting career.

What are the different skills you need in each industry?

The skills needed for these industries are also quite similar though there are some notable differences. For example, although both industries rely on analytical, numbers-driven approaches to problem-solving, investment banking focuses on the financial side of business and therefore requires strong Excel skills and a solid understanding of financial modeling. Consulting, on the other hand, focuses on the operational aspects of business and requires strong PowerPoint skills as well as the ability to communicate effectively.

Pro Tip: Because of the huge overlap in skillsets, we recommend focusing less on your specific skills and more on your interests. For example, if you’re interested in the financial aspects of business, then banking is probably the industry for you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in the operational side of business, then consulting is most likely a better fit.

What does work-life balance look like in these industries?

If there’s one thing consulting and banking have in common, it’s their reputation for long hours. In fact, both industries are known for having some of the hardest-working people around. So what do those hours really look like and which industry offers more of a work-life balance? It depends. Although investment banking is generally considered to have longer hours (with 75+ hour weeks being common), it typically involves very little travel. Consulting, on the other hand, generally has more reasonable hours (typically around 60 hours a week) but can involve as much as four days of weekly travel. When deciding between these industries, it’s important to determine your comfort level with traveling and also your willingness to trade shorter hours for less time at home.

How do investment banking salaries compare to consulting salaries?

Investment banking and consulting are both lucrative fields, but when it comes to earning potential (at least in the first decade), banking comes out on top. This is because entry-level salaries for management consultants typically start at $63,000 (including bonuses), whereas entry-level roles for bankers typically start at $100,000-$125,000 (including bonuses). Although significant salary increases are standard in both fields with each year of additional experience, it’s not until consultants and bankers reach partner/managing director levels that their salaries start to even out at the $500,000 and above mark.

With exciting opportunities for learning and advancement, investment banking and management consulting are both great career paths. The only way to know which one is right for you is by taking on an internship and experiencing these fields firsthand.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as How to Write a Resume That Stands Out and find answers to common interview questions such as Tell Me About Yourself.