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How to prep for fall consulting recruiting over the summer

Turner Willett, Consultant at Bain & Company, Darden MBA
Published: July 5, 2023

Finishing strong | Relaxing | Case interview prep | Behavioral interview prep | Firm selection & networking | City selection

Before I walk you all through my advice for preparing for consulting recruiting the summer before starting your MBA, I wanted to briefly share my background.

Prior to business school through Teach for America, I taught reading and writing at a new all-boys public school. I don’t have time to get into those stories, but as you can imagine, there was never a dull moment!

I also worked as an analyst at an education nonprofit where I synthesized student test score data, financial analyses, and community voices to create compelling narratives aimed at convincing state legislators to increase education funding.

I deeply enjoyed using both quantitative and qualitative data to try and change people’s minds. That is what pushed me to consider a career in consulting, where I knew I could continue to grow these skills while exploring the private sector. I couldn’t be more excited to start at Bain where I hope to pursue a mix of tech and social impact work.

Deatiled guide of how to prep for fall consulting recruiting

Now, onto why you are here. The summer before business school I prioritized three items: finishing out my current role in a strong fashion, traveling, and preparing myself for the fall consulting recruiting season.None of these three things are a deal breaker if are not able to do them all. I recognize that everyone is coming to business school from a variety of situations! That being said, I truly believe the way I used my time over the summer played a crucial role in my recruiting success.

Below I will provide details for each of the three items, with a heavy emphasis on preparing for consulting recruiting. If you have a good sense of how you plan to finish out your current role and perhaps any plans to relax over the summer, feel free to skip ahead to the consulting prep points.

1. Finishing strong (Top)

Finishing out your current role in a strong fashion is important for two main reasons.

First, it is likely that in the fall you will reach out to your old organization looking for potential consulting networking connections. Often times there will be coworkers who know someone in a consulting role that would be beneficial for you to connect with. Doing a particularly great job in your last months makes going back to your company for networking connections a much easier and more fruitful task.

Secondly, given that you will be talking about your recent work experience as you network in the fall and during your interviews, it is helpful to finish strong at your current role so you have an excellent array of experiences to draw from in these future conversations (and also for when you update your resume to send to consulting firms).

Specifically, your last couple of months can be a time to make sure you have clearly created a positive impact in your role (and can quantify that impact) and taken on some sort of leadership (whether official or unofficial). If you find yourself coming up short in one of these two areas you still have time to rectify that!

2. Traveling or relaxing more generally (Top)

I certainly understand that not everyone will have the luxury to relax or travel, but if possible, I cannot recommend it enough. It does not have to be a trip to an exotic locale! Something simple like a weekend road trip to visit family can be fantastic. The fall will undoubtedly be a busy time so taking time to recharge over the summer is immensely beneficial. Plus, traveling (or other types of relaxing) gives you a bit more to talk about during your numerous networking calls in the fall!

3. Preparing for case interviews (Top)

  • I strongly advise against starting to case over the summer. From what I have seen, there is plenty of time in the fall to master this skill. The three main issues with starting to case too early are developing bad habits without knowing they are bad habits, becoming overly formulaic and robotic in your approach, and getting burnt out on casing.

  • If there are areas you know you might be weaker in that are important in case interviewing (math, general business knowledge, presentation skills), take small steps to improve those areas. To improve your math, check out apps like Elevate and spend a few minutes every day getting more comfortable with numbers. If you are feeling like you have not had enough exposure to a wide variety of businesses, take 10 minutes each day to listen to a podcast like the Wall Street Journal’s “What’s News”. If you are worried about your presentation skills, see if there is an opportunity at work to present when you usually would not. One funny example of this was I remember my friend creating a PowerPoint deck of apartment options for business school and making his family be the audience for his presentation.

  • There are a couple of books on case interviewing that could be worth reading if you are interested. Marc Cosentino’s Case and Point is a classic that details all the intricacies of case interviewing. Another option is Case Interview Secrets by Victor Cheng. My only hesitation with these books is that once you read them, you will want to start running actual cases, which I do not recommend over the summer.

  • I think the best way to prepare for case interviews over the summer is to develop a casing frame of mind. The casing is about structured analytical inquisitiveness. When you read about a business going through a challenging period or one that has set an ambitious new goal, ask yourself questions like, “What are the areas I would need to explore in order to give this business advice” and “What are the company or industry-specific pieces of data that would allow me to determine the root cause of their challenges”. As you think through these questions, always remember to keep in mind the primary goal that the company is trying to achieve and why the information you want would be helpful in achieving that goal. This type of thinking is what you will do not only in the case of interviewing but in your future role as a consultant. Starting to practice this on real-world examples that you read about in the news or hear about at work will change the way that you approach problems to ultimately improve your casing in the fall.

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4. Preparing your stories for networking and behavioral interviews (Top)

  • Behavioral stories will play a significant role in your recruiting journey. Almost every networking call starts off with the consultant saying, “Tell me a little bit about yourself”. Having a concise, compelling, and natural answer to this question will ensure that your networking chats get off to the right start. Fast forward to when you interview, and there will undoubtedly be multiple series of behavioral questions. Your answers to these questions provide firms with insights into how you interact on teams, the skills you can bring to the firm, who you are as a person, and many other areas. You can be phenomenal at case interviewing, but without strong behavioral stories, it is unlikely you will land the offer.

  • There are two main reasons why taking time to prepare your behavioral stories over the summer is better than waiting until the fall. First, because you are finishing up work, the stories and their specifics are easier to recall because they are freshest in your mind. If you wait until the fall to write out your behavioral, it will be harder to remember the revenue growth your brilliant idea achieved or exactly what the ambiguous problem was that you were trying to solve. Secondly, the fall semester will be busy. Between classwork, social events, recruiting commitments, and preparing for case interviews, it will feel as though there is no time to prepare your behavioral stories. Given the importance of these stories, it is critical to allocate time to them now. Further, creating a compelling narrative takes time and a certain creative frame of mind that might be harder to get into during the busy fall. This summer you might have a little more time to think through how your stories should flow, the key points you want to include, and how to communicate them to someone who could be unfamiliar with the industries you worked in.

  • As you make notes on the work experiences you want to use for your behavioral stories, make sure to use a structured approach. I used STAR, which stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result. Placing your stories within this structure ensures that the interviewer can clearly follow what you are saying. It doesn’t take very much time to organize them this way and in the fall you will have a nice anthology of stories to refer to as you start your practice interviews.

  • I also recommend sorting your stories into thematic areas like using data, dealing with conflict, creative thinking, strengths, dealing with ambiguous problems, changing someone’s mind, etc. Sorting your stories into these areas will ensure that there are no areas that you overlook. Don’t worry though, some stories can be sorted into multiple thematic areas, making them useful for answering many types of behavioral questions.

  • If you have held multiple types of positions or worked for different organizations, think about highlighting your diversity of experiences. Because I was a teacher and an analyst, I tried to have at least one story from each of those experiences for typical behavioral questions. That way I could highlight my impact across different types of work. If you have not worked for different kinds of roles or for different organizations, consider including an anecdote about a volunteer role you held or a school leadership position to see if it helps to round out your portfolio of stories. If you do choose to use that type of story, make sure to run it past someone else to see if it makes sense. Also, try to stick to relatively recent stories from roughly the past four years.

  • As a final note, these stories will also form the basis for your updated resume. Taking time to reflect on your achievements to create these stories will help you decide on what should be included in the updated resume you submit to firms.

5. Firm selection and networking plan (Top)

  • Before I started school in the fall, I created a tracker with a list of firms I was targeting along with a list of current contacts at each firm. Creating the firm list was relatively straightforward given that I was targeting large management consulting firms. Depending on your goals, your list might look different (firms with digital practices, implementation focus, etc). For the list of contacts, I focused on thinking through how well I knew them, when I planned to reach out in the fall, and what I hoped to learn from them. One final thing I did was look at LinkedIn to see what sort of alumni from my undergrad and future business school worked at the office I was targeting. I even broadened my search to include people who came from similar backgrounds. Adding these folks to the list gave me an idea of who I might request to chat with later in the fall after reaching out to my initial networking contacts.

6. Thinking about your city selection (Top)

  • Doing a little research or even making a decision about what cities you would like to work in is a very helpful step before the fall. As I experienced, although firms say that you can take your time getting to know many offices and cities, it is more helpful if you have a narrow list of cities (or even one!) early on so you can form deeper connections more quickly.

  • When you are thinking about city selection, you need to have a reason why you selected a city. Most importantly, that reason should be as specific and unique to you as possible. Firm representatives will want to know not only what city you are interested in, but why you are interested. This can be particularly challenging for international students. Effective approaches I have seen involved research the summer before to create not only a list of cities but a list of personalized criteria that were important to the person by which they could evaluate the options. The more specific and personalized the criteria the better. I had one friend who loved exploring restaurants, but instead of saying that he chose a city based on its restaurants, he had three specific restaurants that had recently been nominated for restaurant awards that he hoped to try when he first visited the city. The level of detail added to the richness and authenticity of his answer. And he was able to craft this response before he even started recruiting!

P.S. Are you preparing for consulting interviews?

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