Insider's Perspective to the Consulting Recruitment Process
We’ve all probably heard the statistic that approximately 90% of people surveyed consider themselves above-average drivers. Considering that by definition, it’s statistically impossible for more than 50% percent to be above-average, there are a few people out there overestimating their driving skills.
Along the same lines, if you ask any consulting manager about their personnel, he or she will tell you that they only hire the best and the brightest.
I suppose that’s possible if you consider that ‘best and the brightest’ is a judgment call. If you declare that this is the team you want and wouldn’t change a thing, who am I to argue?
As a consultant, I’ve been involved in hundreds of interviews from both sides of the interviewing desk and I’ve seen a wide variety of recruiting techniques by consulting firms. Based on my observations, hiring good consultants is more of an art than a science. But here is a summary of some aspects hiring firms look at and how they use it to make a decision.
How much do grades matter?
Because firms get many applicants for just a few available positions, they need some way to filter the applicants down to a manageable group. Because they want smart people, they most often use a candidate’s grade point average (GPA) as that filtering tool.
If it were only about grades, they would simply extend offers to the highest GPAs and be done. But firms know that good grades don’t necessarily translate to good consultants. They do know that good grades may indicate that the individual is more likely to be a go-getter and can comprehend difficult concepts easily – both critical skills for a consultant. Firms know that by using a person’s GPA as a threshold eliminates many viable candidates. But they have to draw the line somewhere. Once they pare the candidates down to a manageable number, some additional criteria that consulting firms use to select a candidate are:
Does the candidate have expertise in a specific technology or industry that would allow her to add value when assigned to a client project? Whether a firm is hiring someone right out of college or a worker with a few years of experience (experienced hire), they want to know that you have some practical level of training or skill that will allow them to bill you out to a client.
It’s not enough to hire someone who’s smart and knows a technology or industry. Firms want a candidate with the maturity, ethics and character to deal with peers and clients respectfully. One of the key characteristics of this is communication skills. A firm can learn a lot about your professionalism based on your resume, cover letter, any email correspondence and conversations you hold with their representatives.
A much more ambiguous measurement, fit is similar to professionalism, but also covers the applicant’s personality and how well it meshes with the firm’s culture. Firms that are interested in maintaining their culture will be careful to hire people that will fit in with their cultural norms.
Firms will assess all of the above criteria in a number of ways throughout the interviewing process. Keep in mind, that the interviewing process covers a multitude of contacts. For instance, when a firm participates in a job fair, they will judge you on how you approach their booth, shake hands, make eye contact, and even how you dress.
If you visit their offices for an interview, you may be asked to join them for lunch or dinner. As a consultant, you may have to dine with clients. A firm will observe whether you practice appropriate table manners and how you carry yourself while dining in a professional setting.
Here, the interviewer reviews the candidate’s resume and asks him to expand on an item that looks interesting. “You organized and led a team to raise funds for a local orphanage? Tell me about that experience”. They may ask an open-ended question like that to assess whether you can tell a story to explain the experience and sell yourself to the firm. The type of answer they’re looking for is “This is what I did, this is what I learned from it and this is why it makes me a better candidate to work for your firm.”
As the name indicates, you may be asked to explain a situation in your past where you faced a particular challenge, how you handled it and what you learned from it. Examples include, “Explain a time in your past where you had to deal with a very difficult co-worker” or “Tell me about a time when you failed at something and had to tell your superior about it”.
The case interview is most commonly used by management consulting firms. In this type of interview, they will give you background on a hypothetical company, its industry and a challenge that it faces. The interviewer will ask you to explain how you would resolve this issue. In most cases, you’ll be judged more on the questions you ask and the logical approach you use to break down the issue and sort out the pertinent facts from the superfluous, than the ultimate resolution you provide.
Every firm’s process is different and it often depends on the individual that performs the interview and the mood that person is in that day. There is no way to know the perfect formula for getting the job.
The best bet is to do your homework and be yourself to insure that you find a firm that matches your skills, personality and philosophy as closely as possible.
If you want more information on the recruitment process, click here.
Lew Sauder is the author of Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting. He has been a consultant with top-tier and boutique consulting firms for seventeen years.