There is one thing a potential candidate for a consulting firm should assure themselves of: top consulting firms painstakingly look for specific mindsets in potential hires rather than specific backgrounds. It is much more valuable for a firm to educate a mindset than a set of skills.
Recruiters are most concerned with the potential of an applicant to become a good consultant. A background in consulting or business comes secondary to a capacity to learn and one's general skill set. Consulting firms know well that a gap in a candidate's knowledge can be remedied by training and guidance, and also that training is wasted on a candidate who does not have the skills necessary to perform as a consultant in the first place. It is important to realize these skills are entirely possible to develop in other disciplines. For example, engineers quite often have exceptional analytical and problem solving skills, giving them an advantage in consulting.
In short, one shouldn't worry over lacking a background in business for a consulting interview. With that in mind, it is beneficial to remember a few things: Anyone seeking to do well in an interview with any of the Big 4 consulting firms will need solid preparation, and each and every candidate should organize a plan of preparation to account for blind spots and patchy skill-sets. Although the preparatory emphasis changes depending on which background a candidate is coming from, the general steps for success are similar for everybody. The following outline is a successful broad plan for a person going into consulting without previous experience in business.
1. Learning the Theory
For those without a background in business, begin with a couple of general textbooks on the fundamentals of finance and management theory. A basic understanding of the rudiments of business theory is necessary to enhance performance during the case interviews; even experienced businessmen would benefit from refreshing themselves in these two subjects. Once the basics are established, the next step is to review the comprehensive A-Z List of Case Interview Articles on My Consulting Coach.
As many candidates come to find out, memorizing Cosentino's Case in Point, the Ivy System, or any similar framework-based system is a waste of time. While these blueprints contend to make a case easily solvable, their formulaic approach condenses and squeezes a problem into a prepared framework and consequently fails to perform. These systems are never used by working consultants for this reason, as the idealized frameworks relate poorly to the complexities of the real world cases. Experienced interviewers know that most applicants rely on these systems, and therefore tend to give cases based on their own most recent projects that do not abide by the structure of the standard framework.
2. Solo Practice
A skill neglected by many prospective consultants is the ability to do mental math. An aspiring consultant should be constantly refining their mental mathematics in their free time, or when studying alone. A strong ability to perform mental mathematics quickly is essential for case interviews. Without a firm grasp on mental math, the case interview will likely go south. My Consulting Coach provides various articles as a guide for preparation.
After sharpening those mental-math skills, a candidate should start working through the cases in My Consulting Coach's case bank. Start with simpler cases to build confidence, working through the solutions without worrying about the time. As performance increases, move to more difficult cases and start tracking the time, slowly improving the quickness with which they are solved.
3. Practice with Case Partners
Practicing cases is an important focus for those coming from a non-business background. As such, finding a good case partner is perhaps the most important aspect of preparation. Some online services offer help, but suffer from poor design, and are invariably expensive.
My Consulting Coach provides an intuitive, user-friendly and - most importantly - free meeting board for uses to contact fellow consulting applicants from across the world to practice case studies with. The board lists candidates with their background and case experience, and has simple tools for direct invitations and scheduling opening meetings. My Consulting Coach equips candidates with over 30 interactive cases to work through with partners, all free of charge.
4. Expert Help
This optional final stage to general preparation is the most effective way to prepare for a consulting interview. Nobody can identify, deconstruct, and resolve your mistakes and weaknesses like a consultant for a top firm. This optional stage is all the more useful to those without a background in business as they have much more to learn during their preparation. While not free, this is a highly recommended stage of preparation. One should observe the advances in pay over a few years from a top firm as opposed to a second tier firm when when considering whether or not to employ expert help. With the potential for thousands of dollars increase in pay, this is perhaps one of the smartest investments to make for a future career in consulting.
My Consulting Coach offers a premium service to match an applicant with a coach. Each coach has years of experience working at top firms, with a background in a variety of top-level cases.
During preparation, many candidates dedicate their focus solely to case interviews and forget to give attention to the fit interview. Unfortunately for them, recruiters weigh these two components equally during the selection process, and an astonishing performance in one will not make up for a poor performance in the other. The bottom line, and one to remember for any company, is that consulting firms will not employ somebody who they doubt will be a good fit to the company, no matter the amount of cases they can solve.
The fit interview/component of the case interview for those coming from an uncommon route into consulting is especially tricky. A candidate must compel their interviewer with an explanation of why consulting is the proper move for them at this point in their career, and how their previous experiences have equipped them with the relevant skills for consulting, and while business schools offer some mildly helpful resources, there is almost no material covering the specific demands of the fit interview in circulation. Aware of this problem, My Consulting Coach strove to develop and offer the first course of its kind to prepare for this critical aspect of the selection process. The following video further explains this innovative course:
Follow these steps to improve performance and, as always, good luck!