Organizations of all kinds – for-profit, non-profit, and government agencies – do not always have the expertise, time, or resources to address some of the challenges they face. When this occurs, some will hire a consulting firm to help them solve a problem or facilitate an organizational change.
The more commonly known “general strategy” firms cover a broad portfolio of industries across sectors. There are also firms that specialize in specific industries such as healthcare, government, and financial services, while others specialize in functional areas that span industries, such as human resources, technology, and communications. Rather than hire an outside firm, some organizations have internal consultants, also referred to as business or corporate strategy departments, to address and resolve similar business and operational issues from within the organization.
Most consulting firms/departments tackle projects in teams, and entry-level consultants might be responsible for a variety of tasks including analyzing data, researching issues, writing reports, and delivering presentations. The pace can be intense, significant travel may be required, and clients can be demanding with high expectations. Typically, you will be paid well, inspired by intellectually challenging work, and learn how to partner with your team members effectively.
Landing a consulting internship or job is intense. Harvard is one of only a few schools where consulting firms actively recruit. At many firms, entry-level opportunities are filled through the OCS Recruiting Program. However, there are also firms that do not travel to campus, and you will need to develop a professional network that will help you get your foot in the door.
In general, consulting firms hire more full-time employees than they do summer interns. In fact, some smaller firms do not hire summer interns at all. One reason for this is that it can be more difficult to find meaningful projects for untrained interns for the short span of summer. The OCS Recruiting Program for consulting internships is similar to the process for full-time. The same considerations should be taken when preparing for the summer consulting interview. OCS organizes opportunities to meet people in the industry each fall through employer networking and information sessions, career fairs like the Consulting Networking Night and the Business & Technology Fair, and other employer-led educational programs. See the OCS Recruiting Program page for more details.
Although consulting firms will interview a large number of underclassmen, they will extend relatively few summer internship offers. Do not get discouraged if you are not successful in the summer internship hiring process. Summer intern recruiting is an important process that helps you develop connections and become more of a known entity with firms. Consulting companies return to campus and make the majority of their offers through the full-time Campus Interview Program process in the fall. Staying connected with the people you have met demonstrates your interest and commitment to the field and can help your candidacy if you apply for a full-time opportunity. If you do get an offer for the summer, the main goal of the summer internship should be to see if consulting is a good fit for you, and to parlay it into a full-time offer.
In general, consulting firms look for smart people with a strong academic record and history of achievement. Concentration or area of study is usually less important because firms want to build teams of individuals with diverse perspectives and schools of thought. However, quantitative skills are valued, and firms will even look at SAT/ACT or GRE/GMAT scores for evidence of quantitative aptitude. Furthermore, demonstrated ability to work in a team is extremely important, since that is how consulting firms organize their work. That is partly why consulting firms use the case interview method – to evaluate your ability to solve a problem aloud and to structure and articulate your thought process to a teammate or client. Finally, it is important to remember that consulting is a client-facing industry. It is important to use face-to-face opportunities to demonstrate “soft skills,” like communication skills, poise under pressure, and confidence.
The fall OCS Recruiting Program, which includes most of the major (and several boutique) consulting firms, begins the first day of classes and continues until late October. If you are interested in full-time consulting opportunities, it is important to prepare early.
Over the summer:
- Research the consulting industry and specific organizations using Vault, Google, and other resources.
- Connect with recent alumni to find out more about the many areas of consulting and the hiring process. Develop a professional network that will give you an edge in the recruiting process.
- Stay on top of current issues in the news related to business and the industry in general. Knowing what is going on in finance and politics (both domestic and international) is a key part of consulting.
- Prepare for the case interview with OCS resources and by practicing with friends as well as individuals who have been successful going through the case interview process such as alumni. The case interview is a conversation, and therefore cannot be practiced by yourself.
- Visit the OCS Recruiting Program section of the OCS website for more information on the campus interview process, Crimson Careers, and important dates and deadlines.
Large U.S. strategy and management consulting firms have offices worldwide and source applicants for all possible locations. For many offices, you can apply through the OCS Recruiting Program. Connect with the recruiting contact (listed in Crimson Careers) to inquire about general locations. Some overseas offices may also come separately to Harvard or the Boston/Cambridge area to promote their specific opportunities and target students who have the relevant language skills. For example, McKinsey Germany will sometimes host events in Harvard Square, conducting them exclusively in German. Check the employers on campus calendar and employer websites for more information. Also check Crimson Careers and Interstride for opportunities with international offices in mid-size and boutique firms as well as in non-U.S. firms.
Graduate and Professional Programs
Graduate school is not required to work in consulting or strategy. However, hiring organizations may look for more experienced candidates from a wide range of fields and disciplines, including business, law, medicine, and Ph.D. programs for higher level positions within their organization. In particular, many consulting firms hire out of M.B.A. programs, as well as other advanced degrees.