With recruiting season kicking into full speed in campuses across the United States, I felt it might be helpful for consultant-hopefuls if I share some tips I picked up, divided into the four phases I enumerated last time.
Phase 1: Presentation
- Go to the presentations – practically, there is not much you can do to improve your odds of getting a job offer by going to a presentation, but there is a good chance that you’ll learn something about the company which will help when you are trying to pick where you actually want to work once you’ve received your offers.
- Ask questions – The more you know about a company, the better position you’ll be in to talk in an interview about why you want to work for that company — even if it’s mostly bullshit….
Phase 2: Resume Drop
- List academic awards – If anyone’s ever told you that “GPA doesn’t matter”, guess what, they lied. The truth of the matter is, most firms get thousands of applications, and they don’t have a good way to distinguish between applicants. Therefore, one of the first filters they apply on the resumes is a GPA screen — it’s the only way they can guess at who worked in college (and thus might actually show up to the job) and who’s “smarter than average”. Of course, if you’re working on your resume, it’s probably too late to up your GPA, but listing academic awards can quickly boost one’s “apparent smart-ness” and may win you just enough distinction to be taken seriously.
- Use action words – Look at your resume. If every bullet point does not begin with a verb explaining something that you did, then either delete or fix it. If the action word is something like “assisted” or “helped” or “attended meetings”, then replace it. When a resume reviewer reads that, one of the first thoughts that come to mind will probably be “so instead of actually doing something, you sat on your hands and watched/attended a meeting?” Yes, it is a hasty generalization to make, but tough luck, you’re dealing with people who can only make hasty generalizations about you, so make them good generalizations. Make sure all your points are full of action words. Real action words.
- Give specific numbers – Nobody really believes the numbers that they see on resumes. But, their emotional impact and the boost in one’s credibility are real. Do I really think you managed that $10,000 budget all by yourself? No. But do I think its impressive that you were involved in the budget effort of a group that had $10,000? Probably. Using a number tells the world, “hey, the job I did, even if it was just deliver coffee, was important — and I’m so confident in myself that I’m willing to tell you all about it.”
- Don’t make dumb mistakes / omissions – Many resumes from otherwise great applicants are rejected for very basic reasons. Grammatical mistakes. Spelling mistakes. Not following the instructions. Seriously, if the instructions say, “tell us your GPA and your mother’s maiden name.” They both better be there. Failure to do so says that you’re sloppy, can’t follow directions, and will probably be just as sloppy and incapable of doing what’s needed in a job setting. Make sure that you read, and re-read your resume. Then make sure that your friends read it. That your career counselor reads it. And then read it some more. Incidentally, make sure you do the same thing for your cover letter. Its incredibly rare for a cover letter to have real positive weight, but dumb mistakes — like using a competitor’s name or making clear grammatical or spelling errors — do have real negative weight in the process.
- Use the largest font and the largest margins you can. LaTeX embodies good text output. And it uses huge margins and large font. While this isn’t always possible in a resume which you have to cram your life story onto one piece of paper, it should be noted that even the most rational of human beings is positively swayed by clean, clear layout. So, use big font and big margins.
Phase 3: Who Got the Interview?
- Relax. There’s not much you can do after you submit the resume, so there’s no point stressing about it. There’s no point getting angry at people who got interviews that you didn’t. And there’s no point in doing anything but relaxing. A few months later, you won’t even remember the names of the firms that rejected you.
- Practice. If you’re doing a consulting interview, go buy Marc Cosentino’s Case in Point which was written by a Harvard career counselor and is essentially the bible for consulting interviews. It gives a quick-and-easy overview of the consulting interview setup and has many practice cases you can do with friends. Regardless of what job you’re applying for, however, practice. Practice delivering answers to standard questions that you should NOT trip up on (e.g. “why do you want to join this firm?”, “what’s your greatest strength?”, “why consulting?”, etc.). Practice doing quick mental and pen-and-paper math that almost every firm will throw at you in a college-level job interview. Practice doing case interviews. Practice — it will make you less nervous during the real thing, and it will make you better.
Phase 4: Interview
- Be polite. Unless you’re Albert Einstein brilliant, you won’t be able to get away with being rude. And, let’s face it, quick 30 minute interview rounds rarely give you enough of a chance to be brilliant. So, while showing basic courtesies won’t get you the job, failure to do so will almost certainly disqualify you because everyone else is on their best behavior. So, no offensive jokes, and make sure you thank your interviewers verbally and by email after the interview.
- Slow down. As a debater in high school, I found that speaking really quickly and still being clear and intelligent were not mutually exclusive. Most people don’t feel the same way. If anything, most people find the speakers who are able to speak deliberately (although not painfully slowly) sound more confident and intelligent. So, take a deep breath and speak slowly — you’re probably nervous enough that it’ll speed up to just the right pace.
- Get sleep. It’s commonsense, but most college students don’t. So it’s worth mentioning here. It’s hard to seem intelligent when you’re sleepy — instead, you may seem bored, lazy, unsure of yourself, or just plain sloppy.
- Hand gestures. When in doubt, leave your hands on the table. If you’re the type of person who can’t control what your hands are doing when you’re nervous, keeping your hands on the table will prevent wild gesticulations. If you can, then ignore this advice.
- Write stuff down. Two reasons for this. The first is that nobody wants to speak to a dis-interested audience. Writing stuff down while the interviewer talks is a good way to show that you are interested (even if you’re not). The second is that it makes sure you are paying close enough attention to be able to answer the questions being posed to you.
- Treat the interview like its an episode of Who Wants to be a Millionaire. Say out loud what you’re thinking. Even if its trivial — it helps creates a personal connection between you and the interviewer, and it lets the interviewer know where you’re going so that they can either (a) be impressed by your clear thought process or (b) direct you towards the right answer (which is what they’re all trying to do).
- Let the interviewer help you. Real business problems are difficult. That’s why consultants get paid reasonably well. The interviewer knows that he/she will have to guide you to the right answer because any problem can be tackled from many different vantage points. A candidate who refuses to listen to the interviewer’s hints is not only hurting him/herself, but is also demonstrating a lack of understanding of nuance.