Consulting Internship

Consulting Internships: How to Get One & What to Expect

Consulting Internship
Liz Kenny
Liz Kenny

ex-McKinsey Employee

If you’re thinking about a career in consulting, one of the best ways to evaluate your options is to do a consulting internship.

Here are some of the biggest benefits of management consulting internships: 

  • Most summer interns are offered full-time employment when they graduate,
  • Interns typically receive extensive professional training including the full consultant training for PowerPoint and Excel that will take your skills to the next level, and
  • Being a summer intern gives you a chance to figure out if consulting is the right career for you, and if a firm is the best fit. 

It may seem daunting to get a consulting summer internship, but MCO is here to help!

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What a consulting internship looks like,
  • What type of responsibilities interns handle,
  • What consulting firms look for in summer interns,
  • How to apply for management consulting internships, 
  • How to succeed at your internship once you land it, and
  • Resources to help you land a consulting internship.

Let’s get started!

What a Management Consulting Internship Looks Like

For the lucky candidates who earn consulting internships, the firm wants to give you a true taste of consulting life. You will: 

  • Join a real team working on a project for a client,
  • Work on a small part of a larger project,
  • Own the end-to-end recommendation for that small piece of the project,
  • Work directly with a project manager,
  • Interact with partners and clients, and
  • Have visible impact on client deliverables!

I’ve worked with some companies who invent light, ‘nice to have’ projects for summer interns. That’s not the case in consulting internships! 

As a summer intern, you will really join a team and be expected to contribute. 

You’ll have a lot of support. Every consultant knows what it’s like to be working on your first project.

What It’s Like on a Real Client Team

During management consulting internships, you’ll typically get a week of training on problem-solving, Excel, and PowerPoint tools. Then you will be staffed on a client project! You’ll be paired with either a manager who has some extra time, or a senior associate, who can show you the ropes. 

Take advantage of this! Ask questions and build a strong relationship with your manager.

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My Experience As a McKinsey Summer Intern

During my McKinsey internship, I was paired with an awesome JEM (Junior Engagement Manager). 

He was a Senior Associate, preparing for the transition to Engagement Manager, so he was developing his consulting management skills. He had a larger workstream and identified a piece of that for me to work on. 

While we literally worked side-by-side in a conference room, he was great about scoping out work with me, giving me advice on how to tackle it, and letting me go work independently on various tasks.  

He would then review my work with me, and we would syndicate it with other members of the team.

What the Heck Is Syndication? 

‘Syndication’ is an important part of consulting work. It means: 

  • Sharing your work with team members, partners, and clients, 
  • Getting their feedback and buy-in on your recommendations, and
  • Incorporating feedback into your recommendations.

Sometimes feedback will send you in an entirely new direction. Your team members or clients may have an additional perspective you hadn’t considered based on their experience, additional data, or simply a better understanding of the company culture and history.

That’s OK! The reason we share our work with other team members is to build toward the best answer for our clients. It’s part of the process, so embrace it. 

As part of consulting internships, it’s important to get comfortable with the syndication process and incorporating other people’s ideas into your own. You are not expected to know everything, and in fact, it will come across poorly if you act like you do.

The Role of the Consulting Intern

So, what do you do during management consulting internships? Let’s talk about a day in the life of a summer intern. 

Start With a Work plan

consulting internships examples of people brainstorming ideas

First things first: you must lay out your work plan and get alignment on what you’ll be doing. Your work plan will include:

  • The problem to be solved,
  • Key analysis to be completed,
  • Data to be collected,
  • Clients to interview and syndicate with.

You’ll share your work plan with your manager and with the partner on the project. 

During my consulting internship, I worked on my work plan for most of the first week! It felt frustrating that I couldn’t actually dig into an analysis right away. 

Consulting Internship - sample workplan

One day, I even joked to my manager that whenever we’re done reviewing my work plan, I’d like to get to work!

It may feel repetitive to spend so much time outlining what you’ll be doing, but this is a really good way to understand how consulting projects work. It’s also important for making sure you’re focused on the right things and can work efficiently.

How Interns Fit into the Overall Project

Typically, a team of consultants works together to solve a big problem for their client. And it’s important that everyone is rowing in the same direction. 

If a piece of the puzzle doesn’t fit with the overall project, it could be a big problem for the partners and for your client. That’s why it’s important to consistently update members of your team about what you’re working on, and incorporate their feedback into your approach. 

If you don’t spend time aligning priorities and getting feedback, consultants can go down the wrong path and waste time. As they say, time is money. A consultant’s time is a lot of money! 

Your analysis might not make it into the key recommendations for a client deck, but it will certainly inform the team’s recommendations. 

So as part of your consulting internships, get used to aligning, syndicating, getting feedback, and iterating on the answer. 

The actual work you do may vary, but most managers like to make sure their summer interns do a bit of quantitative and analytical work and some conceptual work. 

Demonstrating Key Consulting Skills During Your Consulting Internship

Most consulting internships require that you ‘check the box’ on both quantitative and conceptual work in order to get a full-time offer at a consulting firm. 

During my McKinsey internship, I was mostly assigned quantitative work, which involved organizing data in spreadsheets and sharing the results of analysis in a few PowerPoint pages. I had two main analytical assignments: 

  • Determining the market value of assets for a travel business in a way the company had not valued them before,
  • Determining the market valuing of a loyalty program under multiple scenarios based on low, medium, and high travel forecasts. 

Consultants often look for hidden value-creation opportunities. For example, if a hotel were planning to sell some assets, they’d typically consider selling any hotel brands that didn’t fit with their brand.

But what if instead of selling off a hotel brand like Westin, the client considered selling all of the restaurant facilities inside its hotels? Westin would no longer run the restaurants, instead, a chain like Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse would. 

I know I’d be excited if there were a Ruth’s Chris in every Westin across the country.

Demonstrating Key Consulting Skills: Quantitative Analysis

For the quantitative side of this project, I analyzed the market value of all the Westin’s restaurants to see what it would be worth if they put it up for sale. The analysis included: 

  • Gathering all the revenue and expense data and forecasts from the restaurants into one spreadsheet or data set,
  • Determining any adjustments made to expected revenue or expenses due to the sale. For example: 
    • Marketing savings the new owner would experience because they have a ‘built-in’ customer base. 
    • The value of any transferred assets such as kitchen equipment or dining room furniture and fixtures.
  • Performing a discounted cash flow analysis, 
  • Sample the full menu at Ruth’s Chris to make sure it’s a good fit with the Westin brand.

That last task is sort of a joke, but if you do join a consulting firm there will be a lot of steakhouses in your future! Hopefully, you’ll get some nice dinners during your consulting internships!

Demonstrating Key Consulting Skills: Qualitative Analysis

In addition to the analysis above, consultants would put together some conceptual pages about the benefits or drawbacks of selling the restaurant facilities from the points of view of the hotel (your client), any restaurant chains that might be the restaurants, and for hotel customers.

Conceptual pages are visual frameworks that are used to organize and communicate recommendations based on qualitative information rather than quantitative information. They include organized lists of pros vs. cons, matrices, rating systems, Harvey Balls, etc. 

consulting internships - presenting qualitative analysis

You might also spend time valuing an asset that your client is unlikely to sell, such as a loyalty program.

If a credit card company wanted to buy the loyalty program and all those relationships with hotel customers, they’d have to pay for all the nights that are already due to customers and for future nights customers are expected to earn. 

This analysis was much more straightforward and included: 

  • Gathering data on customer dollars spent at hotels, 
  • Converting those dollars into customers’ loyalty points, 
  • Translating customer loyalty points into the nights they have earned using an average rate per night across all hotel brands, 
  • Summing those nights into a value for the loyalty business,
  • Making forecasts for the future value of customer nights, and 
  • Performing a discounted cash flow analysis.  

When it came down to it, selling either of the assets I valued (restaurants or the loyalty business) would have generated a lot of value for our client. But in our conceptual pages, we recognized that the restaurant and loyalty businesses were too entwined with the hotel operations to sell. 

How Closing Doors Can Add Value to a Project

At first, it felt like I’d wasted my time doing this analysis. I didn’t! The value of selling these alternative assets was helpful in terms of evaluating our client’s other growth opportunities.

Our broader team evaluated several other growth paths for our client: acquisitions, new business development, etc. All of those opportunities were compared with the value creation opportunities of selling off the loyalty program or the restaurants. 

All the other options had to beat the value creation that was possible from selling the alternative assets. Having those valuations as a comparison pushed our team and our clients to pursue more growth than if we hadn’t valued and considered those options.

As your management consulting internships come to an end, you will hopefully see how your piece of the puzzle fits into the bigger picture!

Consulting Internships Are Designed to Help You Be Successful

During your summer consulting internship, you’ll work hard and deliver something really valuable to your client by the end of the summer. But you are not on your own! There is a whole team supporting you.

After my McKinsey internship, I compared notes with classmates and you can expect a similar experience if you have a BCG internship or a Bain internship.

What Consulting Firms Look for in Summer Interns

Summer interns at consulting firms are viewed as high-potential consultants. They’re typically the candidates that firms are excited to bring back as full-time employees.

Consulting-Internships---what-firms-look-for-in-interns

Here are some of the best ways to impress your team during your consulting summer internship:

  • Be a good problem-solver. Demonstrate you are comfortable talking through a problem on your feet with your manager and partners,
  • Take ownership of your work. Summer consulting interns are not baby-sat. Your managers will rely on you to know your work plan better than anyone else, 
  • Communicate clearly and simply. Start with a reminder of the problem you’re trying to solve, and sequentially go deeper into your insights and analysis. Many new consultants dive right into their process or a detailed aspect of analysis,
  • Be results-oriented. Lead with the answer, even if it’s a half-answer,
  • Demonstrate analytical skills. You need to show some mastery of analysis during your internship. It’s OK if you need help, a lot of people do when they are learning a new kind of analysis. If you struggle with analytics, be prepared to stay up late a few nights to get it right, 
  • Triple-check your work. Ask your manager for advice on how to make sure your analysis is airtight,
  • Own any mistakes right away. Everyone makes mistakes. It’s really about how you handle them and what you do to prevent future mistakes,
  • Get along well with a variety of team members, and
  • Earn confidence from your team so they feel comfortable allowing you to share your analysis with the client.

What You’ll Get Out of a Consulting Internship

It’s also important to know what you should get out of a summer consulting internship! You’ll want to know if you like the work and get along with a variety of people at the firm. 

If you do go back full-time, you will be spending a lot of time with people at this firm and working on client’s problems. 

I was lucky that I got to work in my preferred industry (travel), and on a revenue growth project. If you don’t love the industry or type of work you’re doing during your internship, politely ask your manager if they can connect you to consultants who are doing the type of work you’re interested in so you can gain exposure in those areas as well.

How to Apply to Consulting Internships

So you want a McKinsey internship? Or a Bain internship? Or how about a BCG internship? You will have to get your act together early in the year – usually during the summer before you want to apply! 

Summer internship recruiting is a huge process for most consulting firms, so they like to start early in the year! Make sure to research various firm deadlines during the summer, so you can go into the fall with clear timelines for applications and interviews. 

Most schools with on-campus recruiting will have a detailed timeline for on-campus recruiting for consulting internships with campus events, application deadlines, and interview schedules. 

If the firm you want to apply to does not have on-campus recruiting, you will have to go to their website and find their intern recruiting schedule. If you don’t see one online, it’s OK to reach out to a recruiter. Let them know you’re really excited to apply for a summer internship and ask for all the key dates and deadlines. 

A good place to start your research is with our List of Consulting Internships. This provides a comprehensive list of consulting internships which are open right now. If you don’t see a firm you’re interested in listed here, they may have filled their positions. Check back to see when they open up again.

At MCO, we offer a lot of free resources to help you out with the perfect consulting resume and consulting cover letter. We also have tons of free resources to help you prepare for case interviews and behavioral interviews.

5 Tips on How to Succeed Once You Land the Consulting Internship

the work environment during Consulting internships

Tip 1: Be a good problem-solver.

Even if you’re struggling with a concept, demonstrate a willingness to do what it takes to figure it out.

Tip 2: Focus on clear communication.

In consulting, you will have a TON of information to absorb. It’s easy to get into the details and assume everyone knows what you’re talking about. When communicating, step back and start from the beginning and walk clearly through a problem. (For tips on how to do this, see our article on Issue Trees.)

Tip 3: Triple-check your work.

Ask everyone on your team for their advice on how to sanity-check your analysis. There are so many useful, simple ways you can check for mistakes. Trust me, it will save you so many headaches if you learn good tools to check your analysis before you present it.

Tip 4: Meet as many folks as you can and make a good impression on them.

You want to find great people to work with and for them to be excited to bring you onto their teams when you come back next year.

Tip 5: Make sure you learn enough about the firm to know if it’s a good fit for you.

Figure out what types of work you’re interested in, and invest time in finding people you’d like to work with. You’re going to spend a lot of time with these people, so make sure you enjoy their company and that you see some good role models!

Resources to Help You Prepare for Consulting Internship Interviews

The interview process is very similar to full-time interviews with both case and fit interviews. As I mentioned above, the firms are looking for their future rock stars. So in order to get a summer consulting internship, you need to stand out from the crowd! 

We are here to help you prep for case interviews and behavioral interviews

Several firms also post information about their summer consulting internships, Bain, BCG, and McKinsey

In this article, we’ve covered:

  • What a consulting internship is like,
  • The kinds of tasks interns perform,
  • How to stand out as a summer intern,
  • Key things to know about the application process for consulting internships, 
  • 5 tips on how to ace your summer consulting internship, and
  • Resources to help you get a summer consulting internship.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about the consulting internships, leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s recruiters will answer them.

Other people prepping for summer consulting internships found the following pages helpful:

Help with Your Consulting Application

Thanks for turning to My Consulting Offer for advice on applying for consulting internships. My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with to get a job in management consulting. We want you to be successful in your consulting interviews too. For example, here is how Carolyn was able to get her offer from McKinsey.

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