I pen this article to lend my perspectives and help candidates, who are thinking about a career in management consulting. While the substance of the article speaks to CAs, the essence of it is relevant to anyone who is interested in a consulting career.
Working in the management consulting industry, especially at a top-tier firm, is a very rewarding professional and personal experience. I joined The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in 2014 after I completed Chartered Accountancy (CA). Consulting gave me an opportunity to learn and create impact across different industries and functions. The career allowed me to work and build relationships with the smartest and most interesting colleagues and the top management of many esteemed organizations. If you are someone who delights in travelling and new experiences, you’ll love the job for it will take you to different cities (even countries), allowing you to find abode in star hotels five days a week while giving you the flexibility to fly back home on the weekends. The career is also a great launching pad for it opens the doors of other respected organizations and institutions as you consider your exit options.
The professional education model of CA and the off-campus nature of recruitment of consulting firms make the exchange of firsthand information challenging until recruitment kicks in. I’ve come across strong CA candidates who either miss the bus and chance to apply to the firms in the first place or fail to impress with the resume and case interviews. I hope this article will offer clarity early on and help more of you gear up to be the best version of yourself and put your best foot forward to land the dream consulting job.
Academics: Nerd it up because it is worth it
For the Associate level, consulting firms shortlist CA rank holders. Passing the three levels of CA in the first attempt and a rank in at least one level of CA is essential to be shortlisted for the interview. Work towards a rank in all the three levels but don’t fret if you don’t secure one. Your chances are not entirely lost. There have been many instances of people getting into consulting without a CA rank when they have pursued an MBA from a top-tier business school after CA. Some consulting firms also hire CA interns during different parts of the year based on project demands. Such internships might not lead to a full-time offer but can be a fantastic way to learn and build your network.
Work-experience: Build solid experience and let your resume speak about it
An articleship experience at a Big Four accounting firm is highly respected and considered most favorably during shortlisting. However, you will not be precluded because you did your articleship at a smaller firm. The shortlisting will depend largely on how lucidly you elaborate the details of your work experience in your resume (nature of audits, impact, size of client etc.). It is even more important to get to the details if you have pursued an articleship in a smaller firm. Refrain from generically describing your work experience. An industrial training in a reputed organization and some strong post-qualification experience up to 3 years (not mandatorily required) can also help boost your resume significantly.
Extracurricular: Be interesting and pass the flight test
Consulting firms really like well-rounded candidates. Your extracurricular involvement can help differentiate you. Explore your non-academic inclinations and participate in activities that you truly enjoy. If you are attending college, sign up for culturals and competitions aligned to your area of interest. While pursuing a rigorous course such as CA, it might be tempting to get soaked up in academics but keep the bigger career picture in mind. The extracurricular activities will also be a great opportunity to hone your passion and relax during the weekends. If you are not attending full-time college, seek opportunities outside. Play a favorite sport with a local team, learn music, dance or art, join Toastmasters, engage in a community cause that you believe in — the possibilities are endless. You don’t have to do it all but do what you like and be that person who is interesting to sit next to on a flight (remember you’ll have to take at least two flights every week!)
Networking: Seek people and show interest
Networking is very important in consulting. It is even more important for CAs given that recruitment is outside the campus. Once you get your exam results, reach out to your CA friends in consulting firms either directly or through mutual friends. If you don’t perhaps know anyone, shed your inhibitions, and cold e-mail CAs working in consulting firms on Linkedin regarding your interest. People will be happy to help. Participate in networking dinners or lunches before your interview and come across as someone who is eager, well informed about consulting, polished, and intelligent during your interactions with people from the firm.
Interview: Crack the case and dazzle them with your personality
There are two parts to consulting interviews — a case interview and a personal interview. Some firms might also have a written problem solving test. The firms will assign a buddy to help you prepare for the interviews. You could have anything from 3–6 rounds of interview depending on your performance. For your case interview, you will be asked to solve a business problem. Make sure to leverage one or two good case interview books (Case in Point, Case Interview Secrets) and business school case interview resources available online for preparing for the interviews. Your buddy will give you a couple of cases for practice. In addition, ensure that you find a good companion to practice cases with. Reading up cases from books by yourself will not help much unless you have adequate practice. Team up with friends and listen to them solving cases with their buddies to have more exposure to different variety of cases. You could also record yourself and hear yourself out to judge your performance and correct your perceived flaws. Approach every case like you are the CEO of the business and don’t be clogged by frameworks. The ownership mindset will allow you to think naturally and intuitively. Your personal interview will essentially be questions about you to judge the fit and interpersonal skills. Questions could revolve around your personality, education, work experience, extracurricular activities, your interest in consulting, and your goals (nothing on the intricacies of IFRS or tax laws). Make sure you look up those questions and think through the answers or jot down bullets before the interview. The mirror can be a great ally to practice with!
The preparation leading up to consulting interviews can seem daunting at first but refuse to be intimidated. Apply to more than one firm to increase the odds of success. If you don’t make it the first time, remember you can always leverage the learning experience and apply again after gaining some good work experience elsewhere. You can even consider going to a business school before giving it another shot if you strongly feel consulting is your calling. Prepare well, stay confident, be yourself, and the rest will fall in place. All the very best!