Job hunting tips

How hard is it to get into consulting and how can you beat the competition to a job?

21 Jun 2023, 15:38

If you want to get a graduate job as a consultant, you’ll know that the competition is fierce. But fear not –we have insights that will give you the edge.

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Consulting is one of the most competitive graduate professions to enter, but you should not let this put you off applying. A career as a management consultant has many benefits, including intellectual challenge, travel opportunities and good graduate-level salaries, and the only way that you can guarantee not to be offered a job is to not apply in the first place.

In this article, we first look at exactly how hard it is to get into consulting as a graduate in the UK. Next, we delve into the findings of the Cibyl Graduate Research UK 2022, the most comprehensive survey of students’ career thinking, to discover what other students interested in consulting careers are doing to boost their employability. You can then use this information to become a better candidate and beat the competition to a job offer.

How hard is it to get into consulting?

Consulting careers are hugely popular with graduates and the ratio of the number of applicants to vacancies or job offers is high. It has been widely reported that consulting giant McKinsey hires only 1% of the applicants for its roles and that each of the Big 4 professional services firms (Deloitte, EY, KPMG and PwC) receives tens of thousands of applications for 1,000+ vacancies.

The exact figures are rarely confirmed by consulting firms themselves, however, and so perhaps the most reliable source is the Institute of Student Employers, which typically represents the largest early careers recruiters. It reports that for the 2021–22 recruitment round, there were typically 85 applications for each vacancy at a finance and professional services firm (as consulting firms would be characterised). This is second only to the digital and IT employers, which recorded 90 applications per vacancy.

But it’s important not to let these statistics deter you from applying. Many applicants will fall at the first hurdle due to being insufficiently prepared: consulting recruiters have frequently told us over the years that many applications are not progressed because they do not show sufficient knowledge of the firm and reasons for joining or because the applicants haven’t had enough practice at the online tests. Knowing this, you can put the time in to ensure you have the best chance of success.

Discover how to get a graduate job in consulting, including typical recruitment processes .

How can I become the best candidate for a consulting job?

The Cibyl Graduate Research UK 2022 (produced by the same company that owns targetjobs) asked 65,432 students and graduates from 160 universities where they are with their career thinking and what actions they are taking to become the best possible candidates for jobs. This is what we discovered:

1. Aspiring consultants come from many degree backgrounds – but make the most of your analytical skills

The students interested in working for consulting employers come from a variety of degree disciplines, but the most frequently studied subjects have some element of numeracy or statistical analysis. Here are the most popular subjects studied by aspiring consultants:

1. Business and management (41%)
2. Computing (12%)
3. Social sciences (11%)
= 4. Mathematical sciences (5%)
=4. Engineering and technology (5%)
6. Psychology (3%).

Most consulting firms accept applications from students studying any degree subject. However, they will want to know that you are comfortable analysing quantitative and qualitative data. So, if you are studying an arts or humanities subject, emphasise your experience of analysing source material in your initial application and further develop your data analysis skills by, for example, taking an online module .

2. Tool up your skills set: aspiring consultants are likely to think they are good problem solvers but not very commercially aware

Throughout the recruitment process, consulting recruiters look for evidence that you have the skills they look for, which means that you will need to point to examples of when you demonstrated or developed those skills. The survey tells us that students wanting to work for consulting employers are confident that they have many of the skills that are most sought after by consulting firms :

  • 64% included problem solving as one of their top five skills
  • 54% ranked teamworking as one of their top five skills
  • 47% ranked attention to detail in their top five skills
  • 38% ranked organisation as one of their top five skills.

If other students are confident that they have these skills, it’s probable that they do have examples of when they previously demonstrated them – so, actively acquire your own evidence if you lack any. Read our deep dives into the skills graduate recruiters want for suggestions on how to develop them; as a starting point, consider getting actively involved in the running of a student society if you can. The survey indicates that 27% of final-year students interested in consulting employers have held a leadership position in a student society and it’s a good way to develop a host of skills.

In contrast to the confidence shown above, only 16% said commercial awareness was one of their top five skills and yet it is essential for a successful consulting career. Read our explanation of what commercial awareness is and how you can develop it to ensure you’re on the money for interviews.

3. Aspiring consultants are more likely to have an internship – seek out work experience

The survey found that 43% of students interested in consulting employers have undertaken an internship by the time of their final year, which is significantly higher than students interested in other sectors – the percentage among finalists across all the sectors covered in the survey is 34%.

Many consulting internships are open to penultimate-year students, but some are open to those going on to do a masters and some are open to students from all years. Internships are a great way to discover whether a career and employer are for you and to develop the skills that employers seek – but it is not the only form of valuable work experience available: 53% of finalists had undertaken a part-time job, 36% voluntary work, 14% a placement year and 12% an employer insight programme.

Discover when to apply for consulting internships and gain tips on how to be successful in your intern applications . If you are concerned that you won’t have secured a consulting internship by the time you graduate, check out our advice aimed at those who don’t have relevant consulting work experience .

4. Get on LinkedIn – aspiring consultants actively use the platform to network

A whopping 87% of students and graduates interested in consulting employers are using LinkedIn for careers purposes – more than for any other sector apart from accountancy. If you are not on LinkedIn, or not using it effectively, you could be missing out on networking opportunities, hearing about unadvertised vacancies and chances to develop your commercial awareness.

Check out our guide to creating the perfect LinkedIn profile to ensure you are presenting yourself in the best light and then go on to our guide to using LinkedIn effectively for tips on connecting with others and building relationships through the platform.

5. Aspiring consultants are using their careers services and meeting employers – don’t miss out

A significant minority of students interested in consulting employers have engaged with employers in the autumn term, finding out more about opportunities, gaining advice and beginning to forge those relationships that they can follow up on LinkedIn (see above). Here are the top five ways students have engaged with employers:

  • Through student societies (31%)
  • Through careers fairs (31%)
  • Through having them as guest lecturers (29%)
  • Through careers skills workshops (25%)
  • Through one-to-one careers advice meetings (24%).

Careers fairs, workshops and advice meetings are likely to be arranged by your careers service, so do check them out. In fact,75% of students interested in consulting employers have used their university careers service and so we’d urge you to do the same, whether to meet employers through the ways mentioned above, to have your CV reviewed or to attend mock interviews or to benefit from employability skills workshops. Many career services offer help to recent graduates as well as current students.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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