Career, Guest Posts

The Ten Week Job Interview: Five Tips for Rocking Your Consulting Internship

By Susannah Fuller-
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Wondering how to stand out amongst others during your summer internship? Read these top five tips from Christy Gunville of Darden’s Career Development Center. 

Congratulations, you did it! You’ve worked hard to secure a great MBA internship opportunity that will give you the opportunity to try on management consulting for size. You’ve signed the offer letter, confirmed your start date, and are preparing for an exciting summer.

The firm is busy planning a fantastic summer experience for you. Impressions matter – and they want to put their best foot forward to showcase what makes them uniquely positioned as an outstanding place to launch your post-MBA career. The most successful interns also take time to develop and cultivate the professional brand they want to convey while working at the firm. Here’s how to make the most of ten short weeks and increase your odds of heading back to school with a full-time offer in hand.

  1. Get comfortable with company research: There is no better way to make a strong first impression than showing up to your project assignment on Day 1 knowing as much as you can about your client. Your team will provide you with background information related to the project, such as their current state assessment, client provided data or recent deliverables related to your work stream, but don’t just rely on that. Think about your corporate strategy class and the type of industry and company-specific baseline information that you should know (including Porter’s Five Forces, industry dynamics, your client’s position, investor relations calls, quarterly earnings reports and recent news headlines). Visit your school library to familiarize yourself with the sources for finding this information, such as business databases or research sites including Hoovers and Factiva. By the time you arrive at the client site, you’ll already have a solid macroscopic view of the corporate landscape and how your engagement fits into the client’s broader strategy.
  2. Adopt a service first mentality: Consulting is a service industry, so in every interaction pose the question “How can I help you?” either explicitly or implicitly through your level of engagement, active listening, focus on the other individual and willingness to help. This mentality goes for every team member or client that you are working with. Putting others’ needs first demonstrates that your primary focus is on giving energy, rather than taking it — an essential attribute for standing out as a top performer.
  3. Know the “table stakes” and execute well: Specific intern performance expectations may differ among firms, but there are many common traits that every consultancy values:
    • Triple check everything. When you go into a meeting, take organized notes paying particular attention to the next steps, decisions made and dependencies or constraints as they relate to your project. Triple check your work to prevent grammatical or calculation errors, certainly in client deliverables such as presentations or financial models, but also in every working document or email that you send. Consultants notice the details because their clients notice the details and work products are expected to be of the highest quality.
    • Data speaks louder than words. Your recommendations should always be backed by solid data and analysis, not based on assumptions, limited anecdotal evidence or preconceived notions that you may have about their situation. Your credibility as a consultant is built on thorough analysis and data-backed points of view.
    • Practice humility and ask for feedback regularly. Consulting is a team sport and there is no room for a big ego. Ask for feedback on a regular basis from your manager (and team members!), whether that’s after you’ve created an initial project plan, storyboard for a major deliverable, when you leave a team or client meeting in which you participated, or just at the end of the week while you are heading back to the airport. A desire for continuous feedback shows that you are coachable, self-aware and recognize that you have a lot to learn about being a consultant. Remember, whatever the feedback may be, don’t take anything personally but instead use this as an opportunity to learn, grow and demonstrate improvement.
  4. Focus on internal networking: Remember all those informational interviews from recruiting? Those same skills will be instrumental in achieving success at your internship. Undoubtedly, you learned about the firm during the recruiting season, but now it’s your chance to do a deep dive and really explore from the inside. Get to know how the firm is organized, its functional capabilities, industries served and new growth priorities, as well as the latest research, whitepapers or case studies developed in areas of interest to you. When you find something that piques your interest, ask your office or project leaders for guidance on how to learn more or get involved in some capacity. Even if you aren’t staffed on a project directly in one of these areas, you can still gain exposure and broaden your firm network in the process.
  5. Stand out with firm contributions: Outside of your client-billable hours, there are many other ways to get involved and support the firm, whether that means planning a team social outing, developing and delivering a training module for an in-demand skill, supporting a proposal effort with the partner on your project, or working on thought leadership. Whatever you decide to do, pick a couple of things that you are truly passionate about and execute well. It is better to be highly involved in one or two initiatives than to spread yourself too thin. Deeper involvement can translate to more meaningful impact.

If you find yourself in a tricky situation that you aren’t quite sure how to navigate, don’t forget that you can always reach back to your MBA career services team, your classmates, faculty or other mentors to ask for advice. It helps to have an external network that can assist you in navigating difficult conversations or situations you may not have experienced in a professional context.

An MBA internship is a rare opportunity to “try on” a career and a company, build a strong professional brand and gain significant experience prior to graduation. Make the most of the experience and have fun!

Christy Gunville is the senior director of consulting careers at the Darden School’s Career Development Center. She previously held consulting and talent development leadership positions at Deloitte and JRogers Consulting.