As career coaches we face some very fascinating challenges: to assist students in acquiring a realistic view of different business careers, to help them prepare for their career of choice, and ultimately to support their transition from “students” to “employees”. My experience in talent acquisition has helped me acquire general knowledge of recruiting practices and some in-depth knowledge of very specific industries, such as mental health, but by no means am I an expert on every job and every industry. Like the diligent student that I once was, I do my homework: I research jobs, industries, and relate my findings to our students who are eager to know how to put their Business degree to good use. Throughout this process I often discover many challenges that even our best scholars may face upon graduation: UCF is a great institution but this is not the glamorous world of Ivy League schools and recruiters from top firms won’t exactly throw themselves at you. UCF, like the majority of universities in this country, is a school for hustlers who must be willing to work really hard to get to the top. A wise man once told me that hard work, luck and intelligence won’t lead to success unless you have one important thing: focus. If you have the desire and motivation to get your foot in the door of a certain company or industry, I hope we can provide you with some food for though and steer you in the right direction.
Among the many career paths students like to discuss during our advising sessions, careers in consulting seem to be quite popular, particularly among my Finance and Economics students. I completely understand the fascination with this industry: consulting can be a very lucrative and exciting career that allows professionals to travel the world and work with Fortune 500 companies. I get it. However, my job at UCF sometimes requires me to help students dream big while keeping their feet on the ground, which often is no easy task. The key is to set your goals high while being practical: you will need to work extra hard and find ways to be noticed.
To better understand what top consulting firms look for, I went to the source and asked André Christensen, a friend of mine who has had a very successful career in senior management consulting. Currently Director of the Board at Opera Software and Senior Vice President of Business Operations and Strategy at Yahoo!, Christensen recently joined Yahoo! following 15 years with McKinsey & Company. In his experience as a Partner at McKinsey & Co, Christensen has headed recruiting in Scandinavia and hiring for McKinsey’s tech practice in Canada. I may be no expert, but he sure is.
The first important point Christensen made is that there are several types of consulting companies, so (step number 1) you need to do some research. According to Christensen, “they all approach things differently and according to their services and value proposition” (André Christensen, personal communication, June 9, 2014), so prior to figuring out how to get to your destination you may want to find out what your destination even is. There are management consulting firms such as McKinsey, Bain, and BCG that are “focused on management consulting for the senior executives of major international institutions – typically the 10-20 largest companies in a given market” (André Christensen, personal communication, June 9, 2014). Then, there are professional services firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and KPMG (note: in addition to consulting they provide audit and tax services, so if you are an accounting student that’s why they sound so familiar to you). Another category includes “boutique” consulting firms that are highly specialized and provide niche services such as HR or IT. You could also become an independent consultant, but that is something you would approach as an experienced professional (otherwise what would you be consulting on?), while consulting firms allow undergraduates and graduates to start their career path as associates and members of their research teams – BCG , for example, divides these professional roles in 4 main areas: “Knowledge Team, Data and Research Services, Advanced Analytics, and Practice Area Management/Operations” (The Boston Consulting Group, 2014).
There are things you can do while in school to help you stand out. Based on his experience, Christensen highlighted four areas where top firms would want to see exceptional potential:
- Thought leadership and problem solving capabilities (passion and ability to work on complex problems that are cross-functional in nature).
- Personal impact (ability to connect with and influence senior clients, empathy, ability to see things from the counterpart’s perspective).
- Leadership and Entrepreneurship. Track record of taking charge of own destiny and making things happen. Also track record or great potential to be a great leader that creates opportunities for people around her/him to grow professionally.
- Drive and aspiration. Sets the bar very high for her-/himself in terms of ambitions and what “good” looks like.
(André Christensen, personal communication, June 9, 2014)
So get to work. Take advantage of the countless opportunities a large university like UCF offers to you:
600+ students organizations, a Capstone Competition, a Failure Competition, the Joust (Business Plan) Competition; you could be leading projects from Knights Give Back and the Alternative Break Program, or do an international internships through the Office of Experiential Learning… the list is long.
Apply for internships directly with a leading consulting firm. Bain & Company has an Associate Consultant Internship (ACI) program (while there are no offices in Orlando this may be a great opportunity for someone willing to spend the summer in another city such as Atlanta). While full-time entry level positions may be a mirage, internships may be easier to obtain if you go about it the right way.
Get buy-in and advice from professors with real world experience. There are several professors from the College of Business who have held important positions in the “real world” and probably had an opportunity to hire and work alongside consultants throughout their careers (for example, Dr. Paul Gregg, Finance Department Chair, is a former Vice President and CFO of Consolidated Natural Gas). Professors may have been consultants themselves! They can share some words of wisdom and maybe even point you to the right people.
Connect with alumni in the industry. Based on a quick LinkedIn search, there are currently 2 UCF alumni working at Bain, 9 at McKinsey, and 1 at BCG – and these are the major senior management consulting firms that only recruit at top universities.
Start local (and don’t just focus on the most well-known senior management consulting firms): Booz Allen Hamilton, Grant Thornton, and PwC are top firms and have offices in Orlando! According to LinkedIn, there are 37 UCF alumni currently employed at Booz Allen Hamilton, 68 at Grant Thornton, and 97 at PwC (although they may not all be working on the management consulting side). Connect and ask for mentorship.
A consulting career may not be waiting for you the day you graduate from UCF but that doesn’t mean it is not something you can aspire to. Build your credibility, prove you have an entrepreneurial mindset, show a track record in your field, then try to transition to a consulting firm. To increase your chances of getting hired, get experience and further your education at a top Business School.
Be humble, start from the bottom, and find ways to get your foot in the door. You should be willing to work for free for your dream company, so even starting from an administrative role such as an EA is a step in the right direction. Apply to jobs even if you feel overqualified.
Learn how to market yourself. Doing everything you are supposed to in order to stand out won’t be enough get noticed. You will need the ability to “highlight your own potential/track record across these areas” and tell your story, relating you past experiences and accomplishments to the consulting industry (André Christensen, personal communication, June 9, 2014).
Last but not least, be likeable. Professionals like André Christensen are successful also due to their friendly personality and professional manners. No matter what your Alma Mater is, what company you work for, how many figures your salary has, nobody wants to listen to a “pretentious know-it-all” (especially executives of Fortune 500 companies). To become a consultant you need to become that “pretentious know-it-all” in terms of education, experience, and skillset, while remaining approachable. Recruiters from top firms can sense arrogance, and so your “humble UCF upbringing” may set you apart in a good way J You will need help from many people to get to the top, so always remember to say thank you and don’t forget where you came from (read between the lines: when you become a Partner at BSG remember the Career Coach who wrote this very long article for you).
There is no perfect recipe, you need learn your strengths and find as many opportunities to prove yourself and excel. Also remember that a career in consulting is not for everyone. It is a very selective industry that looks for top talent, and, like many other high paying jobs, it is not all glamour. It requires flexibility, adaptability, working long hours, the right combination of confidence and modesty, and the ability to deal with a very wide range of personalities. Do your research, understand the industry and the career path, find ways to stand out, develop the right skillset and set your goals high. There are plenty of UCF alumni who took destiny in their own hands and successfully worked their way to the top. A not-Ivy-League undergraduate education did not stop Angel Ruiz from becoming the President and CEO of Ericsson, or Toby Crabel from making millions of dollars as a self-made commodities trader. So the short answer is yes, you can work at a senior management consulting firm but it won’t be an easy journey: roll up your sleeves and get to work.
Where to start:
Vault Consulting 50 – Top 50 Management and Strategy Consulting Firms
Consulting Firms in Florida
Bain & Company’s Associate Consultant Internship (ACI) program information:
The Boston Consulting Group – career path:
McKinsey & Company’s Resume Tips:
The Boston Consulting Group (2014). Knowledge & Practice Careers. Retrieved from http://www.bcg.com/careers/more_BCG_careers/knowledge_practice_careers.aspx
By Laura Genocchio-McDonough
Career Coach – Economics and Finance