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How to Break Into Consulting

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Ever wondered how to get started working in PR, entertainment, finance, or another profession? Over the next two weeks, we’re putting together a guide to breaking into these cool fields and more, brought to you by those who know it best. Keep checking in for an inside look at how to launch your dream career!

Consulting is known for its long hours, tight deadlines, constantly changing projects, and lots of travel. But it’s also a great way to learn new skills and develop varied interests, or to have a job where no day is quite the same as the last.

Sound like something you’d love? We talked to three consultants in different fields to get their thoughts on how you can make it in the consulting world.


Break Into Consulting Sheila ShahSheila Shah, Senior Consultant

Company: Ernst & Young

Years of Professional Experience: 3.5

Brief Description of Job: I work with hospital and healthcare organizations across the nation, consulting them on operational efficiency issues. My firm offers a multitude of services ranging from cost reduction to supply chain to healthcare reform. 

Why did you choose this field?

My path to consulting was a little bit unexpected. Coming out of college, I was targeting Analyst roles within banks, but expanded my search to diversify my options. So, I applied to be a Financial Analyst at New York Presbyterian Hospital. The opportunity sounded interesting and the people I interviewed with were fantastic, so I ultimately decided to take a chance and accept the position.

The strategic and mission-driven work, as well as the dedicated and intelligent professionals I worked with, helped to develop my strong interest in healthcare. However, as I began to think about my future, I knew I needed more experience in the industry to determine whether I wanted to stay in it long-term.

And so as I researched opportunities, consulting seemed to me the most optimal and efficient way to expose myself to and learn about various areas within healthcare. Moreover, I realized that many of my mentors at the hospital were ex-consultants and, having always admired their analytical natures, I was eager to put myself in a situation that would develop my own.

What has been the most surprising thing about consulting work?

You may actually find yourself having to turn down work. Let me explain. In consulting, there is potentially no cap to the amount of initiatives you can get involved with. While you are typically assigned to one project at a time, there is always work going on internally at the firm to assist with. From developing new service offerings, to writing proposals for new work, to drafting thought leadership pieces, opportunities to learn and contribute are endless. This also means you have to be a master at managing your time and organizing your projects.

What is different about the hiring process in consulting than in other fields?

Consulting interviews are notorious for their, ahem, rigorous nature. Typically, they start off with a couple rounds of “personality” interviews to gauge the candidate’s fit within the firm’s culture. Questions such as “Why consulting?”, “Why this firm?”, and “What are three of your strengths and weaknesses?” are commonplace. And this is usually the easy part.

Then, some firms have a group interview. Usually, you are put on a team of 3-4 candidates and are given a sample problem to solve. You have to work together to present your solution to a panel of interviewers and are evaluated on your ability to work in teams and efficiently use your limited time to come to some sort of rational conclusion.

And finally, there is the legendary case interview. Case interviews typically start off with a question such as “estimate the number of light bulbs in the U.S.” or a problem to solve, like an issue a client is going through. It’s important to remember that the interviewers are not looking for one specific answer—they are just trying to understand how you think and if you can employ logic under pressure. This interview usually causes candidates the most anxiety, but you can definitely prepare yourself for it. Case in Point is a popular reference, and The Daily Muse has great articles on this topic as well.

What advice would you have for someone breaking into consulting?

Don’t be afraid to show a little bit of your personality in your interviews—people want to hire people they can see themselves working with on a daily basis. When you are on a project, you will find yourself spending 10-11 hours a day with your teams, which equals a lot of conversation time (and there’s only so long you can talk about work without going crazy). Don’t over think it, and be yourself.

Break Into Consulting Benjamin BourinatBenji Bourinat, Corporate Consultant

Company: Interpublic (IPG)

Years of Professional Experience: 4

Brief Description of Job: I define best practices and competitive advantages for companies. This includes organizational development, process management, internal auditing, information technology, reputation management, and international business development.

Why did you choose this field?

Consulting is as challenging as it is rewarding. The very nature of it nurtures your creative, tactical, and entrepreneurial thinking. It also provides great responsibilities and allows you to diversify your knowledge and industry experience. Plus, a consultant’s endeavors have direct and measurable impact on the organization or entity that he or she works for. It’s tangible—it’s real.

What is your background?

In parallel with my studies, I started out in public affairs for an intergovernmental organization, then in lobbying for a nuclear energy company. After moving to New York, I worked for a buzz marketing agency before joining a business research group. Today I’m a marketing consultant specialized in media monetization.

Oh, I also campaigned for a presidential candidate. And he won the election.

What has been the most surprising thing about consulting?

Consultants are like chameleons. Most employees are defined by their role or position, but consultants can create their own brand. From one project to another, we develop flexibility; we build analogies between issues we have previously addressed; we interpret our own expertise to innovate. Consulting isn’t only based on competencies, but also ideation.

What advice would you have for someone breaking into your field?

Consulting isn’t for everyone. It requires technical know-how and managerial awareness. You need to be fearless and quick-witted. Consultants have a strategic mindset, solid business acumen, and true passion for making a difference. A consultant is a problem-solver. You have to become this component that is missing, the remedy to the situation. You have to be a visionary.

What is different about the hiring process in consulting than in other fields?

Networking is key. Referrals are powerful. Meet people from different horizons to extend your connections. Leaders know what they need for their business, so if you can convince them of your authenticity, they’ll bring you in.

Break Into Consulting Daniel DykesDaniel Dykes, Consultant

Years of Professional Experience: 1 month

Brief Description of Job: Work with large organizations, both public and private, to implement cloud-based systems like Salesforce and Workday.

Why did you choose this field?

In undergrad I worked in sales, but wanted to go to law school after I graduated to become an attorney. After completing my due diligence my senior year, I realized that law (and law school, for that matter) just wasn’t for me. It took a while to find something else that interested me in the same way, but once I learned more about consulting in grad school, I knew it was exactly what I wanted to do.

There are elements of consulting that parallel law, and I think that’s why I am attracted to it. I like working on a case or project basis, being the objective set of eyes in resolving an issue, and getting broad exposure early in my career with the opportunity to develop a niche over time.

What was your first job in this field, and how did you land it?

I just started my first job in consulting and had some difficulty switching function and industry. With five years of sales experience, I kept getting pivoted from analyst positions to business development roles.

I finally found a company that felt like a fit and I jumped at it. After going through the hiring process, they kept delaying giving me an offer, and finally I had to move on. A couple months later, someone tweeted a blog post by my contact at the company that I really enjoyed, so I sent her a short email letting her know. While I didn’t write looking for anything, it ended up leading to a new round of interviews, and I landed the position.

What advice would you have for someone breaking into your field?

Know what you want and why. You’ll probably be asked and it better be a good answer. If you’re not asked, it’s because it’s already written on you—for better or worse.