Consulting remains the second most popular career choice for MBAs, according to the 2010 TopMBA.com Applicant Survey research. It is also the second most common employment background for MBA candidates and students
With a wide variety of employment opportunities, good salary prospects and potential for international travel, consulting is known to be hard yet rewarding work.
As a result, competition for MBA jobs in consulting at the world’s best consultancies is very high. For the consultancies themselves, investing in new talent is a challenge, and an expensive one both financially as well as in terms of the time involved in finding the right candidate.
An MBA internship in consulting is an ideal solution to this problem, allowing both the candidate and the recruiter to know each other and for both to decide if there is a future for them. As some commentators put it, the internship is “a 12-week interview.”
In the world of the MBA job seeker, where performing better than your peers, competing to get into the best business school and competing to get the position that you want as a career, you can tag along with the competition to get into the MBA consulting internship of your choice too.
For those at the best business schools, top consultancies will already have a good idea of the kind of quality people your business school produces, so getting into the best MBA program you can is a good start.
However there are interviews for consultancy internships too and the message from all recruiters here is: be well prepared.
Bain & Co, one of the world’s leading consultancies, stresses that preparation is key, offering advice to MBA internship candidates on how to excel at the interview and even provides three sample case studies for candidates to consider before they come to interview.
“We use a combination of case interviews and experience interviews in the candidate selection process,” the company says. “The case interview is an example of a real business problem typical of the kind our case teams work to resolve every day. They involve qualitative and quantitative questions as well as real-world business situations.
“We evaluate you based on your ability to think about, and structure an approach to solving a business problem, not on whether you get the ‘right’ answer. A good case interview should be fun and thought provoking.”
In this interim period most MBA students undertake their summer internships at one of the many hundreds of MBA recruiting companies. It’s a low cost way for consultancies to screen full-time employees. Consultancy recruiters invest in interns to extend job offers to those they like in the fall of a student’s second year.
The best business schools will have established links with top regional or even international consultancies to facilitate this. Boston Consulting Group (BCG), for example, ties in with Melbourne Business School at the University of Melbourne.
Antony Strong, manager at BCG, says: “Every year Boston Consulting Group provides a two-month internship for Melbourne Business School students. These students are quickly thrown into the mix, working alongside experienced consultants to help our clients address their most challenging problems.
He explains the kinds of roles an MBA intern will be expected to do and how to stake their case for a full-time role.
“On any given day, an intern could be interviewing customers, building the business case for a project or presenting findings to a client. We see these positions as an ideal way for someone to get to know not just the consulting job and the organization, but for Boston Consulting Group to also assess potential candidates for full-time employment.”
Consultancy interns are expected to hit the ground running, and to be thrown into situations they will have to deal with quickly, to show their true value to the business.
Lisa Feldman director of MBA recruiting at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business, says: “Client readiness is the critical criterion for [MBA interns in] consulting. Can the firm put the MBA in front of a client on day one? This requires superb communication skills, a personality that fits with the firm's culture, poise and presence. They look for leadership and drive. Is this person a hard worker who thinks about more than just the problem at hand?”
The skills required for a successful internship go beyond the obvious willingness to work hard, punctuality and being presentable.
“In terms of background experience and skills,” Feldman adds, “consulting firms look for structured thinking in the form of case interviews. Consulting firms like MBAs who have worked in business management roles in industry and understand intuitively the complexities and politics of large organizations.”
For the intern too, the experience, though extremely hard work and very challenging, offers a great insight into the consulting culture.
Haakon Jensen did an internship at international consultants Bain & Co in Oslo, Norway: “I wanted to get my hands dirty and learn a lot over the course of my internship. Not only is the work exciting and challenging, but the colleagues I have make work a new adventure everyday.”
James Rile is a senior manager and recruiter for Deloitte Consulting. He explains that pre-MBA experience is also highly relevant to an internship in consulting, at least initially.
“We’re looking for generalists, although your first consulting experiences will likely leverage whatever you did prior to business school. It’s often good to put people back into industries that they know well or around certain problem sets or competencies that they have some prior experience. But there’s an expectation that you’ll be able to serve sort of multiple industries, multiple problem types.”
The key advice is to look for MBA internships as early in the school year as you can. December is usually the cut off point for interns starting the following summer. So impress your school early and get into the consultancy internship of your choice.