Getting work as a consulting intern: the basics
Three quarters of management consulting employers advertising on targetjobs.co.uk offer work experience, so why not take the opportunity to get ahead of the competition? Candidates with real business experience are highly sought after and, as in other sectors, a successful internship could set you up for a graduate position. Structured ten-week summer internships offered to penultimate-year students are most common, although some firms offer year-round opportunities.
Applying for internships
Consulting is competitive and the application and interview processes for internships can be just as rigorous as those for graduate-level positions. Application deadlines for summer internships usually fall at the end of January although some are as early as November. It’s important to spend time working on your application forms: recruiters are looking for interns who are commercially astute, enthusiastic and who have a genuine interest in learning about the profession so be sure to provide evidence of this. Demonstrate a keen interest in consulting by keeping up to date with any sector news. Be prepared for the application process to involve several stages including assessment centres, case studies and interviews.
You’ll start with an induction period that will get you up to speed on your role and brief you on your assigned project. Some firms will give you training on using Excel and PowerPoint, as well as on how to give presentations or run client meetings. Your team will have scheduled you real work for the duration of your placement. The type of tasks you’ll be given will vary depending on the project but you could be involved with collecting and collating date analysis; assisting with interviews; completing desk research; attending client meetings; preparing presentations; and working on a self-contained element of a wider project. As a full member of the team you’ll have plenty of opportunities to observe and learn, as well as to contribute to the work. Make sure to ask for feedback from your colleagues so that you know what you’re doing well and where you might need to improve. Being proactive and asking questions, as well as approaching every task with interest and enthusiasm, will impress recruiters and demonstrate that you are genuinely interested in the work.
Placements are usually offered to penultimate-year students and provide the unique opportunity to impress recruiters a year ahead of the normal recruitment cycle. The best internships act as an extended interview process, giving you the chance to demonstrate your abilities and talents fully across a range of scenarios. It’s also an opportunity for you and an employer to evaluate each other and determine whether you’re a good ‘fit’. The experience could also improve your academic performance. Industrial placements allow you to put your theory and knowledge into practice but it also means that when back in the lecture theatre you’ll be able to apply the realities of ‘real’ work scenarios to the theories.
Alternative industry experience
Not all consulting employers have the capabilities or resources to run internship programmes. For those smaller firms who don’t offer structured work placements it’s still worth sending off a speculative CV enquiring about work experience or work shadowing opportunities. All industry experience is good experience: not only will it enhance your CV but experience of different-sized firms and working environments will help you make an informed decision about which type of employer suits you best. By the end of your placement you’ll know whether a firm – and the profession – is the right choice for you. So whether you’ve already decided that consulting is for you or you just want to dip your toe in the consulting pond, an internship is the perfect starting point.
Getting the most out of the experience
- Be responsible. Make sure you arrive on time and prioritise work over social activities.
- Demonstrate your initiative. If you have some free time ask for something to do or enquire about something you’d like to have further information on. When given a task clarify what you need to do and then use all available resources to get the job done.
- Network. Internships are a fantastic opportunity to gain exposure to a wide variety of people at all levels of an organisation so be sure to chat with everyone and find out what work they’re involved with.
- Observe. It’s important to feel happy working for an organisation so use your time there to get a feel for what colleagues are like to work with, what the general atmosphere of the office is like, and try to gauge what responsibilities you would be given if you were a permanent employee.