Recruiting Best Practices
The following questions & answers come from a virtual panel on Recruiting for Consulting at Notre Dame originally planned for Spring Consulting Week 2020.
Panelists: Sofia Balentine, Helen Hong, Khesa Borotho, Mary Grace Babbo
Name, major, year, what firm you’re going to
Helen: Helen Hong, Economics and Spanish, Class of 2020, McKinsey (Chicago)
Sofia: Sofia Balentine, Political Science with a minor in Business Economics, Class of 2020, Huron (Chicago)
Mary Grace: Mary Grace Babbo, Program of Liberal Studies, Music (Piano Performance), and Italian Studies, Class of 2020, McKinsey (Chicago)
Khesa: Khesa Borotho, Finance & Real Estate, Class of 2021, McKinsey (Atlanta)
How did you know consulting was the right fit? Can you talk about your experience discerning between consulting and other industries?
Prior to my summer with McKinsey, I had zero experience in the corporate sector. My previous internships were in the nonprofit, education, and government sectors. While the values in these organizations were in line with my own, I found the pace a little slow sometimes and I wanted a more challenging, quick-paced work environment. I also realized I enjoyed interacting with people and working in a team setting. With that in mind, I was looking for an opportunity that would allow me to 1) develop meaningful relationships and 2) perform challenging work, and I found consulting the ideal place to launch my career. My internship with McKinsey met all these development goals.
I was lucky enough to get an internship with a bulge bracket bank in NYC doing Equity Research in the Internet sector the summer after my junior year. I haven’t taken any business or finance courses at ND, but I was recommended the internship by a friend and was able to apply my experience in humanities research to land a position in equity research. While I really enjoyed my time there and the people I worked with, I was a little bored by the slow pace of the internship and the close focus on one area of finance. I realized that I wanted a career that allowed me to try out various industries instead of just being confined to one industry, and I wanted the opportunity to work in different geographic areas and engage with multiple different kinds of people and companies, from the standpoint of helping those companies and not just reporting on them. Since I am not sure yet what I want to do, consulting seemed like the perfect opportunity to try multiple different industries and engage in diverse projects before narrowing down what my next steps are. I also found the exit opportunities provided by consulting to be much more broad and appealing to me personally than those in sell-side finance. However, every person is different, and you should not be afraid to say yes to internships in different fields to find out what company culture and type of work is right for you.
Some consulting firms are very broad and others are more specific. Sofia, could you talk about why you chose to go into healthcare consulting? How do you know it was the right fit?
When I started to become interested in possibly going into consulting, I definitely considered going into both broad and specific areas within the industry. Ultimately I decided to focus on firms that were focused on more specific interest areas because I knew that in the future I would possibly want to pursue a career in these areas outside of consulting in them. I initially came into college pre-med and had a lot of clinical experience in high school, so I always had an interest in healthcare. When I started recruiting, I focused on both government and healthcare recruiting and went through interviews with both. Since I had equal interest in both areas, I ultimately chose Huron because I genuinely enjoy the company and everyone I met there. Something that I think is really important in recruiting is making sure that you also genuinely like the company along with the work that they are doing.
The misconception is that consulting is for business majors. Sofia, can you talk about why you chose consulting as a political science major? Mary Grace, same thing but as a PLS?
I definitely agree that there is a misconception that consulting is for business majors and sometimes it can feel a little daunting entering a field that you feel like is new to you or that you aren’t “prepared for.” The truth is that no matter what major you are in, you are learning and perfecting skills that are helpful and critical in consulting. For me as a Political Science major, I felt like I had strengths in taking a lot of information and breaking it down into a cohesive argument and summary since this is what I do in a lot of my political science classes. Since I was able to acknowledge this as a strength, then I could see that part of my weakness was some of the math and more of the “business lingo.” I then spent more time on these aspects and by the time that recruiting came up I felt pretty confident in my abilities across the board. When considering consulting I don’t think that it is necessarily important to see how it fits to your major, although that can also be a part of it, but rather to see how you fit with consulting itself. For me, I was really attracted to the fact that I was interacting with people and learning so many different skills in a fast paced environment.
I agree with Sofia, especially her points about taking your academic strengths and making them broadly applicable for any business setting. I actually found during the recruiting process for both my finance internship and my job with McKinsey that my unique background as a PLS, Music, and Italian major, as well as my previous experiences that were a little outside of the box, like a copyediting internship I did in Rome, the orchestra tour I participated in, and my experience doing humanities research in Europe set me apart in a beneficial way. From my classwork and extracurriculars, I developed skills like analytical thinking, writing, articulate communication, problem solving, and creativity that are very valuable for jobs in business and are sought after. The truth is that these companies will be able to teach you all of the hard skills you need to know on the job: as long as you have the important soft skills that I mentioned above, they will see potential in you and be willing to invest the time to teach you everything else you need to know. Like Sofia, I found the analytical, quick brainstorming, and creative parts of the case interview to be more intuitive because of my class work and personal strengths; I had to put in extra time to improve my math skills, but these eventually came as well.
What resources and/or strategies did you use to get your job? Career fair? Outside networking?
I did a career trek into Chicago that looked at different consulting firms at the end of sophomore year that was super helpful. Huron was actually one of the firms that we visited so I felt like that helped me in talking points and networking when it came to recruiting in the fall. It also gave me a better understanding of different firms and allowed me to start comparing how different firms worked.
I attended consulting events both sponsored by Notre Dame and by consulting companies -- like panels, mixers, and breakfasts -- from my sophomore year to learn more about consulting itself, and what the job was like. In my junior and senior years, I kept my options open and attended events by specific companies I was interested in, as well as attending Consulting Connect’s consulting-only career fair in the fall of my junior and senior years, the Connective (this was really helpful). Subscribe to the Consulting Connect newsletter! Other than that, I worked on one SIBC project and led another my sophomore and junior years, which as an Arts and Letters student gave me helpful business experience and also provided an opportunity to network and work with ND alumni at different consulting companies, as well as learn more about those companies and their cultures.
Company events were my go-to during recruiting. I was always on the lookout on Handshake for any events that companies held. I attended everything from talks and case workshops to coffee chats and breakfasts. I even signed up for a webinar. I found that these company-specific events were helpful because I got a deeper understanding of individual companies that would be the case at a career fair. Recruiters also notice when you attend a lot of their events; it is an indication that you are interested.
Please talk about the process of getting an interview: resume, leadership and experiences, networking.
For me, the process of landing an interview was a full circle. It started with networking; I interacted with consultants and recruiters to learn more about the industry. Then I worked on my resume and learnt how to tell my story, then I did more networking to get my foot in the door. Leadership activities were ultimately the thread that tied it all together because they were pivotal to how I sold myself to employers.
What is a case interview, how do you prepare, and what should students be doing now?
A case interview is essentially a microcosm of what you actually do on the job as a consultant, solving an open-ended business problem with questions that involve structured thinking, brainstorming, creativity, and math. Consulting Connect provides a lot of helpful resources, in particular the case interview drive full of practice cases - ND Case Repository. What helped me the most to prepare was doing practice case interviews with friends and members of the firm I was interviewing for, carefully studying the structure of each company’s particular form of case interview (they tend to differ from firm to firm), and focusing in on the aspects of the case I found most difficult, like math. Before I ever did a single practice case interview, I found it helpful to read up on the method and structure of case interviews. I actually never did a case interview before I started prepping for my interviews at the beginning of senior year, and I was able to improve enough at the process in 3 weeks to land a job. However, I’d recommend starting earlier than that if you can to alleviate stress. Also, there’s no “right” way to do a case interview: adding personal touches like your communication style and bringing in your experience can be really beneficial. Also, remember that you will not be dinged immediately for making a mistake: companies prefer to hire someone who is coachable and easy to work with than someone who is perfect on the first try and can’t take direction. I made lots of mistakes and still got hired!
What were some of the most challenging aspects of the recruiting process and how did you overcome them?
For me, some of the most challenging aspects were getting overwhelmed by the whole process. Especially for internships, there aren’t a ton of spots for consulting as compared to full time. When the recruiting process was happening, sometimes it felt easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of people that seemed to be recruiting and that was all that people were talking about. I found it important to try to not get caught up in everything as much as possible and to know that even if you don’t get something junior year, to not give up because a lot more opportunities open up senior year.
Since I didn’t accept my offer from my finance internship, like Sofia I felt overwhelmed with the intense pace of recruiting starting from the beginning of senior year. There can definitely, and understandably, be a competitive and cutthroat atmosphere around recruiting. What I found helpful was to view my fellow students not as competitors, but as friends and helpful resources: some of the most useful case practice I did was with my friends who were also recruiting for consulting in the fall of senior year, oftentimes at same companies as me. I had to remind myself that despite my non-traditional background, I deserved to be taken seriously by these companies, and that interviews were as much a time for me to see if the company was right for me as they are a time for the company to see if I was right for them.
Learning how to do case interviews was the most challenging aspect of the process for me. There was just so much to learn about casing in a very limited timeframe. When I started, I was also unaware of the many resources that Consulting Connect has to assist students, so I did all the research from scratch. One thing that really helped me throughout the process was casing a friend; I had a case buddy who also wanted a consulting internship and we met every week to case each other. Having a friend to lean on in the process is very essential.
Could you discuss various opportunities with diversity recruiting?
Consulting companies are increasingly prioritizing the recruitment of diversity talent. Each company has its own diversity program, but many of the top companies have sophomore and freshman internship programs that are designed specifically for diversity students (Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, and/or part of Indigenous groups in North America). These programs range from a week-long immersion to a ten-week internship. If you are a diversity student, visit each company’s website and talk to recruiters to learn about what’s on offer. Beyond recruiting, companies also have internal programs that support women, people of color, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. Overall, the consulting industry is very welcoming for all diversity candidates.
How much hiring do firms do from internships? If you don’t get an internship going into senior year with a firm of your choice, is it harder to get a full time position?
I found that firms definitely do less recruiting for internships. This does not mean that you should be discouraged and not try to get an internship because they can be very rewarding. However, it is important to know that most firms hire many more people for full time. For example, Huron took two Notre Dame people for the internship but then hired over fifteen for full time.
What should these students be focusing on during the school year and summer to best position themselves for consulting recruiting?
My tip is around crafting your story. Whatever you’re doing, be sure you engage in reflection on a regular basis! In the recruiting/interview process, I found myself having to reflect frequently on the things that I did in the past and what I learned from them. There really isn’t an equation for success here-I personally don’t believe there are certain experiences that recruiters are looking for. Rather, I think they just want to know that you are constantly pushing yourself to grow and learn new things.
I agree with Helen! Having stories was a critical part of the recruiting process and also being able to use those stories in a flexible way. You don’t want to sound like a robot when you go into an interview and just spit out the same stories word for word. Many times interviewers will pose questions in different ways so it is important to know your stories and the lessons behind them so that you can mold them to different questions. With that being said, it is also very important to also focus on the math and case part of the recruiting process. I’ve been told that in general Notre Dame students are really good at the behavioral portion of the interviews, but can struggle on the case so that is definitely a place to stand out if you perfect your skills there!
Any final pieces of advice you would give to students discerning this career path or looking for opportunities?
It is important to make sure to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way even if you did not expect or intend for it to come. I never imagined that I would be in the place that I am in today but I am so happy that it worked out that way!
Don’t be afraid to say yes to opportunities, and follow your passions. If you are genuinely passionate about what you study, your extracurricular activities, and your hobbies, this will shine through in an interview and make you seem very appealing to companies. Never doubt yourself based on your background: the more diverse and interesting, the better! And finally, not landing your “dream” internship or job is not the end of the world -- in fact, you might find that where you end up was actually where you were meant to be all along, and is a better fit for you than the other position would’ve been.
For discernment purposes, I encourage you to have as many candid conversations as possible with peers, professors, career mentors and industry professionals. Reflect as much as you can about yourself and learn as much as possible about the industry. This will allow you to decide whether consulting is a good fit for you.