Understanding Management Consulting
So, you’re about to graduate and you think you want to be a management consultant or, more likely, you think you’ll spend a few years as a consultant and then move on to other things. Here are some things to keep in mind:
More than half the people in business-related degrees and a significant number of students from social or applied sciences degrees flirt with the idea of becoming a management consultant after graduation. It’s a high-paying, high-profile field that offers students the opportunity to take on a lot of responsibility right out of school and quickly learn a great deal about the business world.
In real life, consultants are hired advisors to corporations. They tackle a wide variety of business problems and provide solutions for their clients. Depending on the size and chosen strategy of the firm, these problems can be as straightforward as researching a new market or as complex as totally rethinking the client’s organisation. No matter what the engagement is, the power that management consultants wield is hard to disregard. They can advise a client to acquire a related company worth hundreds of millions of dollars or reduce the size of its workforce by thousands of employees.
The big names in management consulting are well known. Bain, BCG, McKinsey, and a solid crop of similar firms fight for contracts from the FTSE 250 and Fortune 500 companies. Each firm has a slightly different focus, culture, and approach. Pay attention to these differences so you can show in your cover letters, interviews and networking encounters with people in the industry.
It is important you understand why a particular management consulting firm is superior to the rest of the field, and what makes you the perfect fit. Here are some points to consider when applying, based on the analysis ( by Congrapps) of the successful cover letters of those who made it to the most competitive management consulting firms.
Insiders throughout the industry stress that knowing the differences between firm practices and cultures is critical to getting hired.
Understanding the differences between firms.
Every consulting firm will tell you that it stands out from the crowd: “We make change happen”, “We don’t apply template solutions”, “We have the smartest and most diverse bunch of graduates”. The truth, however, is that most of the big management consulting firms are relatively similar. Having said that, avoid making any reference about it in your cover letter or interview. Instead, try to focus on each firm’s unique selling points.
Consulting firms have a set of practices and cultural sensibilities that distinguish them from their competitors. Graduate recruiters want you to pick up on those differences. As you go through the interview process and, more important, as you seek a good match for yourself, look at the things that make the firms different. To give you a head start on that process, here are two quick points to help you distinguish one firm from another.
The relevant practice areas:
Most consulting firms’ marketing pitches reveal a constant tension between two competing messages: “We’re specialised and therefore different from our competitors versus “We do everything so there’s nothing the competitors do that we can’t do better. However, there are important differences between the various firms. Bain & Co for example is globally famous for its Private Equity-related advisory work. Accenture on the other hand is known for its IT focus while McKinsey and BCG are the best for strategy (some of the main consulting principles and methodologies were born in these two firms). So on your side, look at and refer to their work, their teams, their specialisms, their recent reports – where do they lead the market as well as what changes have they generated that you might be able to comment on.
The project team composition:
The other differences between consulting firms include how many projects you can work on at once, how much the firm integrates client staff as team members, how formal the project team hierarchy is and where most of the work is done. These are all things you’ll want to learn as you go through the interview process—they can have a significant impact on your day-to-day life. Some firms typically require their consultants to take on two projects at once, whereas many other firms assign consultants only one project at a time.
Bain & Company Successful Cover Letter Extract
Dear Sir or Madam,
I am writing to express my interest in the position of the[ Associate Consultant Intern at Bain & Company] I have recently finished the second year of [Social Sciences Degree at Russel Group University London] obtaining[ First Class Honours grade], and I am currently studying [Finance-related degree] at University of [Name of Country] as part of a Year Abroad programme. I will return to London in June 2018 and graduate from [Russel Group University London] in 2019.
My interest in interning at Bain & Company is driven by three main reasons. Firstly, during the ‘Bain Meets Students’ office presentation on the [Date] as well as the Workshops in [Location in the UK], I had an opportunity to meet and listen to [Manager at Bain], who shared some incredible stories of his experience in developing countries such as Pakistan. This made me realise that this type of projects, as well as the fact that Bain & Company operates so globally link to my intellectual curiosity of being able to test my abilities across different geographies, challenging projects in various industries and my passion for travelling.
Finally, I was convinced by the work ethic that characterises Bain & Company. Hard work, the fact that one can face a very steep learning curve and that everyone helps each other on the team, followed by rewarding events that additionally bound the team, is what I believe are the most important factors in a workplace. It both challenges you on a daily basis, keeps you involved and responsible as well as gives you a sense of appreciation in what you do. This is exactly what Bain & Company has to offer.
Why did the above cover letter succeed?
Whether it's an initial application screening or a first-round interview, graduate recruiters can easily determine a candidate's qualifications by asking the candidate to introduce himself/herself (“Tell me about yourself”) and then asking another simple, yet key question: “Why do you want to get into management consulting?”
The answers to these questions are simple, yet they demonstrate intent. They are the first screening someone will do when they read your cover letter. This way they can easily narrow down candidates by implicitly asking just two simple questions. Often, even students at the top business schools just haven't concisely prepared themselves to answer these questions effectively.
In terms of why the above answers led to a successful application, let’s consider what a bad example would look like. Often students say “I want to work with smart people,” “I want to be in a competitive environment,” or “I want to be challenged.” Although these are possible true answers, these answers can apply for many different fields—consulting, law, start-ups or even a nonprofit. The answer to why you want to do management consulting needs to be specific and focus on what the industry is and how it provides value. It also needs to mention to whom it provides value. So, to better understand what a good answer is, it is important to build on your knowledge of the industry.
In the above cover letter sample, the candidate introduces him/herself and jumps into covering all the points mentioned above. He shows his engagement with the industry, his dedication and commitment (illustrated by attending several Bain & Co events) as well as by spending time to learn more about the firm better and develop a better understanding of what kind of work the company does and the influence it has on others. Just consider the following extracts where the above are perfectly illustrated:
[…] Firstly, during the ‘Bain Meets Students’ office presentation on the [Date] as well as the Workshops in [Location in the UK], I had an opportunity to meet and listen to [Manager at Bain], who shared some incredible stories of his experience in developing countries such as Pakistan […].Once you've crafted an ideal story for yourself and you tied it with inside and specific knowledge of what the firm you apply to actually does, it's time to get up to speed technically and prepare for an interview.
Consulting is all about problem-solving. You need to be passionate about it and able to demonstrate commercial awareness. Instead of focusing on drafting a template cover letter, you think graduate recruiters would like, try to focus on your unique selling points and how you stand out of the crowd. This is true for both the application and interview stages. - They’re looking for parts of your interview where you stand out – this is how you’ll get through, focus on where you’re particularly strong and unique compared to other applicants. Try and follow what you’re passionate about rather than applying with a CV full of “quasi-consultancy” experience (i.e. exaggerate about your consulting experience).
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