How to get a job in Management Consulting:
Interview coaching from professionals who have worked at the top management consultants
Getting a job with a management consulting (as opposed to IT or HR consulting) firm or an investment bank is considered by many commercially-focused graduates to be as good as it gets. The perception is that both industries are about as hard as each other to get into, but in fact the top 10 investment banks will hire around 1,500 graduates this year for their London offices, whereas the top 10 management consulting firms will probably only hire around 100 graduates for their London offices. Almost as many graduates seem to apply for management consulting as for investment banking, so statistically the chances of getting into consulting are much lower. One leading management consulting firm that typically looks to hire less than 20 graduates in any year commented on receiving thousands of applications where the applicant had 30 UCAS points or more - good grades therefore don't seem to be enough to get you hired.
Interviews are tough
Unlike investment banking, it is hard to land yourself an interview with a consulting firm by schmoozing or calling the right professional or attending the right presentation. If you can show that you are totally committed to a certain business area within an investment bank, you may well manage to get interviewed. Consultants on the other hand tend to evaluate you much more on your achievements, academic and non-academic, and if you do not pass their criteria at the application stage, you simply will not get interviewed. For excellent advice on applications to management consulting firms check out www.resumerebrand.com. They provide advice on completing your application forms, grade and give you constructive feedback on drafts which you have prepared, and even re-write competency questions for you. They also write résumés and position-specific cover letters for you. You can e-mail them and ask them about your specific circumstances.
Secure the interview
Once you have secured an interview, you still have plenty of hard work. In some firms, you have to sit a numeracy and/or verbal reasoning test and these are often much harder than tests set by other graduate recruiters. As usual, you can prepare for these by doing practice tests.The actual face-to-face interviews will usually be split into three areas. Your problem-solving ability will be tested via the case study method and group sessions, and other characteristics such as teamwork, leadership, personal impact and so on will be assessed by the standard competency-style questions.
The competency-style questions will test your strengths, weaknesses, extra-curricular activities, teamwork, leadership and so on. There are around 25 such questions that come up time and time again. It is vitally important that you are able to demonstrate real achievement in each answer. We coach clients to be able to talk about their 20 most impressive achievements (and I know it's tough to think of 20!), so that they are able to list plenty of evidence to support any assertion they make about how hard working, how good a team player etc they are. Each answer should have a summary that conveys why this achievement or skill would make you a better hire for the firm.
The Case Study
The most fundamental part of the interview involves the case study. Cracking the case study gets discussed endlessly by consulting candidates, but I think the important point to make is that it is incredibly difficult to prepare for these on your own. I am not aware of anyone who managed to land a job offer from a top-3 management consultancy without having significant help on how to deal with the case studies. Before they even start doing the case studies, we get our clients to learn several methodologies that will enable them to ask the right questions and formulate potential solutions to the business problems of the case studies. An example of a methodology is the "4 P's" for marketing - Product (what features will it have), Price (what will you charge), Promotion (how will you make it attractive to customers) and Place (where will you sell it). It all sounds simple enough, yet such methodologies require an understanding of how they apply to real business problems. To help our clients understand this, we conduct many practice case studies with experienced interviewers who have successfully made it through the case study process themselves. The interview coach must be able to replicate the way in which a consultant interviewer gradually releases information about a case and forces you to ask the right questions. What works best for our clients is they coaching they receive from students of the top-5 business schools (e.g. Harvard, Stanford, Wharton, etc) who spent 2 or 3 years at premier consulting firms prior to attending business school.
The group sessions used by some consulting firms as part of their assessment present further challenges. Whilst these exercises will draw on the analytical skills you demonstrated during the case study, the most important aspect of a group session is to show you are a team player. Listen to others, and remember to involve weaker members of the group. Dominating the group is the fastest way to get yourself rejected! Every time you express an opinion, you should ensure that you back it up with 3 supporting points so that you come across as analytical.
My belief is that preparing intensively for case study interviews results in a considerable advantage. The bottom line is that to get a job offer from a top firm, you should expect to spend around 50 hours of preparation - definitely a substantial investment of time, but it will be entirely repaid if you get a job with a top tier management consulting firm!
Peter Harrison (email) is a former Executive Director of Goldman Sachs London and spent a summer internship at McKinsey London while attending Kellogg Business School in the US. Harrison Careers Services helps students get jobs with consulting firms.
How to get a job in a City Law firm:
Interview coaching from professionals who have worked at the top City law firms
Securing a Training Contract with a top City law firm is extremely competitive and difficult. Bear in mind, however, that the reason the selection procedure is so tough is because of the value of the prize on offer, and the huge number of candidates chasing the prize. To have a chance of getting hired, your application or interview has to stand out from thousands of others.
Why become a lawyer?
As a lawyer in a City law firm, you will be extremely well remunerated throughout your career. It was recently estimated in Legal Week that the career earnings of a partner in a Magic Circle firm could be as high as £20 million. You will also have a comparatively secure job, by comparison with other careers in the city such as banking, and hold an invaluable professional qualification. The opportunities for career progression within private practice are numerous and well-defined - it's a realistic goal, for a talented and hard-working individual, to attain partnership within about 8 years of qualification.
Career opportunities outside private practice are vast and varied. Lawyers are employed in-house in Investment Banks, Management Consulting firms, FTSE 100 companies and by the Government. Equally, your legal training will equip you for a relatively easy switch to a different industry such as finance, business or commerce, because the qualities developed during the traineeship - e.g. attention to detail, corporate understanding, financial acumen, clarity of expression, etc - make lawyers sought-after commodities in the City.
The key to a successful application to a City law firm is simple: you must have excellent content and substance, and present this clearly to the reader. Every sentence of your application should have sufficient content to convince the recruiters that you would be a successful and industrious Trainee, and you must exhibit attention to detail - no spelling or grammatical errors! You should be able to display an understanding of the following:
The composition of each firm you are applying to - be aware of all of the different departments in the firm and how they interact with one another on major deals. Understand the various sub-categories of those departments. For example, within the Banking and Finance department at Allen and Overy, how do the Asset Finance and Project Finance teams differ? Who are the major Partners in each department and what deals have they been actively involved with recently? The firms' websites are an invaluable tool in assimilating this information, as are publications such as The Lawyer.
Recent high-profile deals within each department of each firm you apply to. Who was the client, and what part did the firm play to achieve the wider business objectives of the parties involved in the transaction? Try to avoid general comments in your answer, rather focus on what the firm actually achieved for the client.
Which department of the firm are you most interested in and why? You must have at least 5 convincing arguments why you want to work in the Capital Markets or Corporate department of a major City law firm - e.g. relevance of subjects you studied during your degree, work experience in that area etc.
How the firm is seeking to develop key sectors of its practice in the context of the general macro-economic climate. For example, how did the recent downturn affect the Corporate M&A team? Can any decline in corporate work be related to the profitability of the Insolvency team in the Banking and Finance department?
Recent hot topics within the legal world such as current regulatory and compliance issues affecting private corporate practice. For example, what issues are currently influencing the structuring of derivative contracts?
It is difficult to acquire the requisite level of insight without working with a lawyer, or someone else with legal experience, to help you prepare your application, but the point is that you need to carefully research each law firm and demonstrate an awareness of current legal issues.
Every time you write to, or meet with, a legal recruiter, you must communicate your content in a confident, professional manner. Research the firm you are applying to, then tailor your skills and achievements to that firm - different firms assess résumés in slightly different ways, according to the type of person they wish to recruit. An application that may be successful at Macfarlanes may not be successful at a more traditional Magic Circle firm such as Slaughter and May, because each firm values personal qualities differently.
Be clever when you are talking to law firm representatives at presentations or with your friends/contacts who are already in the legal profession - try to get inside knowledge of the firm's structure, clients or business dealings which is not available on the website or in brochures.
Be aware how each law firm wishes applications to be made, and by when. Application deadlines will usually be the same for all firms, but some may differ - check the recruitment section of the firms' websites for up-to-date information, and do not be caught out! Similarly, most firms require applications to be submitted on-line, but a small number want hand-written versions. Failure to comply at this early stage will be disastrous. For firms that don't use applications forms and only require submission of a résumé, ensure that you write a clear and concise covering letter, explaining why you are a suitable candidate for that particular firm.
When completing your résumé, make sure your details are correct and that the content is of as high a standard as possible. Think carefully about participating in activities designed to impress legal recruiters. Seek to acquire skills and qualifications to include in your résumé, to highlight the skills you have which lawyers are looking for. Make sure you find the best possible format to present the content of your application.
For excellent advice on applications to law firms check out www.resumerebrand.com. The person who runs that company is an ex-City lawyer, so HelpMeGetAnInterview has a pretty good idea of what law firms are looking for. They provide advice on completing your application forms, grade and give you constructive feedback on drafts which you have prepared, and even re-write competency questions for you. They also write résumés and position-specific cover letters for you. You can e-mail them about your specific circumstances here.
If you reach the interview phase, the job is yours to be won or lost, and your success depends wholly on your personal impressiveness and preparation. Make sure that you are well-prepared to answer questions on every aspect of your résumé and application form, especially your work experience and academics. Concentrate particularly on areas of content within your application that you consider may have been a little weak. Prepare thoroughly and don't be caught out. If you are found wanting in this respect you will look lazy and will fail to give a good account of yourself for the remainder of the interview.
Ensure you have prepared answers to obvious questions like 'Why do you want to be a lawyer?' Make sure your answers are full and convincing, and give a good impression of you to the interviewer. Speak to lawyers and legal careers advisers to understand what sets lawyers apart from other professionals, and make sure that you bring these points up in the interview. Think about why you are suited to following a career as a lawyer - what do you think would make you successful at a top law firm?
Prepare for the classic personal competency questions, such as leadership, team-work, greatest achievement etc. You should have a mental list of your top ten achievements from every area of your life, e.g. work experience, university, clubs or societies etc. Be able to link the achievements smoothly to specific questions, without undue delay or difficulty. Revise your general knowledge and current affairs, especially in view of recent events in the legal press. Be prepared to think on your feet and spend time thinking about your attitudes to political and humanitarian issues.
Develop an understanding of macro-economic factors and be prepared to demonstrate a level of financial knowledge and commercial awareness. Read the Financial Times or the business section of any major broadsheet newspaper. You should speak to lawyers and other professionals who work in the City - listen to their opinions and then develop your own. Use your contacts to keep up to date with the most current issues in the business world. You must be able to demonstrate a level of competence and display general enthusiasm for business, finance and the City.
It is crucial to research in detail the firm you are applying to. Use as many sources of information as possible including careers advisors, magazines and internet resources - the firms' own websites are invaluable in this preparation. Be prepared to describe to the interviewer how you went about researching the firm. However, nothing is as constructive or as highly regarded by recruiters as knowledge gleaned from lawyers with experience of private practice.
The Vacation Placement/Internship
The best way to find out information about a law firm is to complete a vacation placement or an internship at the firm. However, there are fewer vacation placements available than there are Training Contracts and as a result they are even more fiercely contested. Every year several thousand students apply for roughly 80 vacation placements at each Magic Circle firm. Of those invited to a first interview about 1 in 10 will be offered a place. If you are good enough to secure a placement you are in a good position to get a full offer at a later date, providing you do not actively disgrace yourself during your placement.
City law firms look for certain skills and knowledge to be demonstrated to them in a particular way. Legal recruiters in city firms follow fairly uniform application and interview formats and look for predictable qualities such as inter-personal skills, attention to detail, work ethic etc. If you are willing to prepare properly for your application and actively seek out lawyers and legal careers advisers, you will pick up valuable inside information that will assist your application and give you edge over the thousands of other applicants after your job.
If you are offered an interview with a top City law firm, Harrison Careers can help you prepare for it. HCS has an outstanding track record at helping its clients convert interviews into job offers and get hired by the Magic Circle law firms. Contact us here.