Consulting internships: what you need to know

If you're considering a career in consulting, a summer internship in your penultimate year at university is a great first step towards a graduate job. Many firms recruit for their graduate schemes directly from their internship schemes and from those at other firms.

As a result, it's vital you impress and stand out from the crowd at every stage of the process. To help you do this, we asked recent graduates who've done consulting internships to share their advice on how to make the most of your internship opportunity.

5 things to know before applying

First year schemes are a shortcut to an internship

First year programmes in consulting aren't often talked about as much as their equivalents in investment banking or law but they're an ideal way to get your foot in the door at an employer and bypass some of the internship application process.

Make an effort to seek out first year events and work experience opportunities and your name should be near the top of the pile when it comes to offering internship places.

Don't be blinded by the Big Four

The Big Four (Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC) loom large over the rest of the professional services industry but that doesn't mean they should dominate your thinking when it comes to internship applications.

Many smaller consulting firms offer strong internship programmes which shouldn't be overlooked.

...and don't be intimidated by them either

Conversely, don't let the size and scale of the Big Four put you off applying for them altogether.

All four firms take on large numbers of interns so your odds of getting a place might not be as bad as you imagine, and even if your application is unsuccessful you'll learn things from going through the process which will benefit your other applications.

You need a strong CV

Consulting firms score your CV based on your academic record, leadership skills, involvement in extra-curricular activities, and work experience, so make sure you highlight those four aspects in your application.

Consider structuring your CV into sections that reflect what assessors are looking for ("Education", "Work experience", "Positions of responsibility", and "Other achievements").

Take an evidence-driven approach

Your application should quantify the successes you have had, backing up details with as much information as possible.

For instance, if you've edited the student newspaper, define the number of students you supervised, how many issues you produced and how your readership grew over your time in charge. This ability to be evidence-driven shows you're able to think like a consultant.

5 things to know before your interview

The interview will typically be split into two sections

Consulting interviews typically consist of two halves, a personal interview and a case study question.

In the first, your interviewer will go over your application and ask about your reasons for applying for the position. The second involves finding a solution to a business problem, and is often considered the hardest part of the process. Thankfully, practice makes perfect...

Practice case studies relentlessly

This part of the interview process is perhaps the most different from what you might have come to expect from interviews so it's important to practice repeatedly.

Look at the websites of consulting companies for cases or find sample practice questions. The key to a good answer is to apply structure to the problem and to evaluate it methodically. Get a friend to give you feedback on each example you try.

Be able to show how you've demonstrated key competencies

Interviewers are looking for candidates with skills that align with key consultant competencies such as leadership, problem-solving, and communication skills.

Give specific examples of how things you have accomplished reflect those particular skills, rather than assuming it will be inferred.

Structure your responses

Giving rambling answers to interview questions is an all-too-easy trap to fall into and is especially likely to put you at a disadvantage in an industry that prides itself on succinct explanations.

Try to structure your answers into the Point, Evidence, Explanation format, giving specific answers wherever possible.

Show off your personality

Consulting firms often interview incredibly smart candidates who, either due to nerves or a lack of social skills, come across as very stiff. Be friendly and personable and not only will you feel more relaxed, you'll demonstrate your passion for this industry more easily.

If you're given a difficult question, stay calm and cool, keep a smile on your face and deal with it logically. Doing so will help you come across as someone your interviewer will want to work with.

5 things to know before your first day as an intern

Expect to be given a lot of responsibility

One of the biggest fears about doing an internship can often be that you won't get to work on anything significant and will instead be handed the unglamorous office jobs nobody else wants to do.

In consulting, that couldn't be further from the truth. Be prepared to be given plenty of real, client-facing work once your induction is completed, as departments will treat you like a regular member of their team.

Have an opinion

Partners and project leaders appreciate smart, thought-provoking contributions regardless of whether they come from an experienced consultant or an intern so don't be afraid to chip in and say something if you feel an important point is being overlooked.

Be prepared to seek out networking opportunities

Be proactive from the moment you arrive, taking every possible opportunity to speak to someone within the firm.

Consultants are expected to seek out work rather than wait for it to come to them, so interns with a similar attitude will leave a strong impression on people.

Ask lots of questions

Don't be afraid to question anything you don't understand, especially as it's better to do so at the start than months or years into working in the industry.

You'll soon realise that a significant part of a consultant's job is to ask the right sort of questions, so questioning things around you can demonstrate you have the right mindset to succeed in the industry.

Review what you learn each day

You can expect to encounter lots of different facts, figures, and technical terms throughout your internship and especially on your first day.

Be sure to make a note of anything important that comes up and go over them when you're home at the end of every day. If there's anything you struggle to understand when you go back over it, make sure you ask about it the following day.

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