Senior year in college. For many students, it’s a time of joy and a time of reflection. But for those intending to join the finance or consulting worlds, it is potentially a time of stress and turmoil. At the major universities, future workers flock towards their career counselors, dust off their resumes, and prepare for a a few months of recruiting drama and stress.
The general process for recruiting at these firms consists of four main phases:
Phase 1: Presentation
The beginning of the school year at major universities brings a multitude of interested employers to campuses teeming with legions of students hoping to grab gainful employment. At these events, major employers shell out a pretty penny to rent out campus auditoriums, hotel conference rooms, and space in local restaurants in the hopes that the spectacle will be dazzling enough that the really smart, hard-working soon-to-be-graduates will be interested in checking out the firm. Words like “exciting”, “room to grow”, “fun place to work”, and “great way to start a career” flow freely as company representatives shower students with confidence-boosting praise. In this day and age, the prospective employers will also attempt to portray themselves as youth-friendly, talking about how often their firms hold parties and “fun activities” and stressing their commitment to diversity (although ironically not necessarily represented by the people who lead those companies / who show up to recruiting events). At the same time, students, drawn by free food and the hope that they won’t be begging for employment next year, attend these sessions hoping to get their foot in the door with the right people and say the right thing at the right time.
It is my experience that with the exception of the really stellar firms and the really amazing individuals or the individuals who already had a “foot in the door”, it’s pretty rare that these events succeed for either party. Students almost never get a real leg up in the recruiting process, and the most any student can hope for is an assessment of whether or not a firm is the right fit for him/her. Firms which lack stellar names, alas, don’t attract the talent they are hoping for and may simply be wasting good shrimp cocktail. But, because every other firm does this, and because every other student is trying this, both students and firms find themselves forced into this sort of pageantry. Thankfully, these events have enough free food and enough interesting people that, provided you don’t get too stressed out, can be fun and interesting.
Phase 2: The Resume Drop
Following the presentations is, unfortunately, the horrible process of compressing your life into a single page. It leads to many tears as students realize that, had they partied a little less, studied a little bit more, or maybe taken that one extracurricular more seriously, that their paper representation of themselves would look more impressive. The resume crafting also leads to existential angst as countless students see the past couple years of their life condensed onto a single, flimsy sheet of paper and wonder — “was that it?”
Yes, really, that was it. And then, the hour of judgement is come… (PS: nobody really reads your cover letter — stop working on it and go do something that will actually be covered on the paper people actually read)
Phase 3: Who Got the Interview?
There are some people who have truly spectacular resumes. The kids that were made fun of in class for always answering questions in section, always going the extra mile in their extracurriculars — they’re the ones who’re laughing now.
The closest to describing what this phase is like is seeing who made the cut after sports tryouts.
Phase 4: Interviews
This is the meat of the recruiting process. At this point, the exact nature of the interview structure varies from industry-to-industry and from firm-to-firm. But typically there are two rounds of interviews. The first round typically occurs somewhere on campus or nearby (aka you haven’t proven yourself yet, so why should they fly you anywhere). For consultants, the interviews are 2/3 case interview, 1/3 fit interview. The former means that interviewers will give students a simplified business problem to solve whereby the student will have to demonstrate some semblance of fluency with numbers, some ability to cope with sudden changes in context or circumstance, and critical thinking ability. The latter is a basic assessment of the candidate’s leadership potential, fit with the firm culture and goals.
For those who did well enough to move past the first round, there are subsequent rounds of interviews which are usually held in nicer places and, oftentimes, in the very office that one is hoping to land a job in. It is more or less the same thing as the first round, except the questions are more challenging and the interviewers tend to be of higher tenure and level than those from the first round.
With these interviews, its helpful to remember that the goal is not to stump you, but to understand what it would be like to work with you. Practice talking about yourself / your resume in an articulate manner conveying both maturity and relatability and answering case questions without getting flustered will be far more valuable than cramming any specific knowledge.
If one survives the grueling experience of back-to-back interviews, and is, possibly good at it, then he or she is rewarded with the highest privilege of being a college student: servitude to a corporate entity in return for a paycheck and the ability to inflict this process on the next crop of recruits!