Why Consulting? Honest Answers vs. Ones that Land You the Job
If you’re reading this article, you’ve probably heard that landing a job in management consulting is a “process” that requires a lot of research, networking, and interview prep.
Before you invest months or years of your life preparing to interview for a consulting job, it’s important to ask yourself “Why Consulting?” to ensure you’re making a good career decision.
And when you get those coveted coffee chats or interviews, consultants are going to ask you “Why Consulting?” You must be prepared with answers that will demonstrate why you will be an asset to their firm.
But, your personal reasons for choosing consulting are probably not the same as the answers you should share in a consulting interview.
In this article we’ll tell you both why you should consider a career in consulting AND how to answer the question “Why Consulting?” when you’re networking or interviewing for jobs as a management consultant. We’ll discuss:
Let’s get started!
There are a host of great reasons to get into management consulting. You may find some of these resonate with you more than others.
Personally, I can share that I got my MBA so that I could have job security for life. I knew that with an MBA I should always be able to find substantial work and live well. Even if I didn’t have a rockstar career, I would have stability.
I chose to be a consultant for similar reasons. I knew that a few years with a good firm would open up a lot of opportunities for me.
I’ve continued working as a management consultant because I really enjoy problem-solving in unexplored territories and working with clients. But I didn’t really know if I would enjoy the job when I was interviewing.
Here are some of the most common reasons for “Why Consulting?”
Many people choose a career in consulting because they are not sure about what they want to do.
This is a great reason to be a consultant. You can learn and explore a lot while getting paid.
If you don’t know exactly what you want to do, you can talk about the skills you’re interested in learning while you’re a consultant.
Remember, while exploring is a great reason to become a consultant, this is not a great interview answer to “Why consulting?” More on the best interview answers later.
Consulting is not for the faint of heart. If the problems were easy, companies wouldn’t need a team of highly-paid experts to come in and help them solve them.
You absolutely must love to solve difficult problems if you want to be a consultant.
The key is to identify how to break the large problem into smaller problems. Then you solve those small problems and piece the whole thing back together.
If you get excited about exposure to senior leadership, consulting might be a great fit.
As a consultant, you will interact with executives in formal and informal meetings.
When you start off as a consultant, it’s all about your current project and becoming a subject matter expert. As you mature, you will want to expand your focus to include building long-term relationships.
If you continue consulting over the long-term, you’re going to invest a lot of time building relationships with senior executives, understanding their short and long-term goals, and helping executives bring their vision to life.
Starting salaries for new consultants are some of the highest salaries outside of investment banking and private equity. Learn more about what to expect in our article on Management Consulting Salaries.
Additionally, if you travel a lot for client work, your meals during the week, transport, and accommodation will be paid for.
Having a top consulting firm on your resume opens a lot of doors and means you’ll have higher earning potential than most for the rest of your career.
Most consulting projects range from 4 weeks to 9 months. If you’re a consultant for 2 years, that could mean 8 clients, industries, types of business problems (growth, cost, etc.)
That’s a lot of exposure to the challenges businesses face. You will most likely refer back to various projects for the rest of your career.
The sweet spot is a nice 3-month project. You’ll get time to learn a subject or industry on a deeper level, and you’ll get to build relationships with your team and the client.
In the business community, most people know the top consulting firms and have a lot of respect for people who have done management consulting there.
People understand that those jobs are hard to get and even harder to keep. Anyone who has worked there has likely been exposed to a lot of interesting problems and worked their tail off.
As a freelance strategy consultant, I certainly leverage my background to open doors. The first line of my bio always includes the phrase ‘former McKinsey consultant.’
My consulting background also helps me feel confident in my negotiating position. I know there is a minimum bar for the cost of my time, and I don’t ever need to go below that threshold unless I have a good reason to, like helping out a friend or learning something new.
All that said, my Dad still pronounces and spells McKinsey as “McKenzie”. Don’t ever change, Pops!
This can be a pro and a con. It’s great to spend time on site with clients. You get to understand your client’s environment, and they start to view you as part of the team.
But travel is pretty exhausting, and you won’t have much free time to explore the city you’re in.
One of the best ten months of my life was when I had secured my consulting offer after my internship. I had the whole second year at Kellogg and the summer to do whatever I wanted.
My friends at Kellogg who were sponsored by their consulting firms had two years to explore any subject they were interested in without the stress of client deliverables or recruiting! And they also earned a Master’s degree.
When I was at Kellogg, I think about a third of my classmates got jobs in management consulting. A few hundred of your classmates can’t be wrong… right?
Be sure to do your homework about what it’s like to be a consultant, and how that fits with your long-term goals.
If you’re at a school with a formal recruiting program, you’ll have plenty of opportunities to go to events, meet with consultants, and talk to classmates who have done internships or have worked for firms in the past.
If you’re an experienced hire or at a school that doesn’t have a lot of consulting recruiting, check out our article about how to network your way into management consulting.
Now that we’ve covered the most common personal reasons for “Why Consulting?”, let’s look at how to prepare to network with consultants and for consulting interviews.
At some point when you’re pursuing a job in management consulting, you’re going to be asked “Why consulting?”
This is not a softball question. Repeat: this is not a softball question.
It’s essential to have a great response and communicate your response clearly.
You may think “Obviously I want to be in consulting, I’m here at 8 AM and wearing a suit, aren’t I?”
The truth is that a lot of people want the job you’re interviewing for, so your response to “Why consulting?” has to stand out from the crowd.
Consultants will ask you “Why Consulting?” to get a sense of:
Now that you understand why consultants will ask you “Why do you want to be a consultant?”, let’s talk about how to craft your response.
When you interview for consulting, every answer you give should be personal and reflect who you are.
We’ll give you some tips on how to generate answers to “Why Consulting?”, but you should craft responses and workshop them with your friends and peers to ensure they are authentic to you.
Let’s review some questions that will help you prepare your answers for “Why consulting?”
Consider the unique opportunities that a career in consulting could provide you when compared with other jobs you are considering.
One of the key benefits of a career in consulting is that right out of undergrad, you can have the chance to work on high-priority projects. For entry-level positions, it’s incredibly rare for you to be able to work on big projects that could change the course of a Fortune 500’s fate, or even a country’s national policy!
Most entry-level jobs, even for college grads, place new team members at the bottom of the hierarchy.
At a large company, you will surely have social opportunities to meet with executives, but it would probably be years before you get meaningful professional exposure to executives.
Consulting can also open a lot of doors. If you build relationships with the right folks at your firm or at your clients, they will be part of your network for the rest of your career. When you work for one company, your network tends to be more limited unless you work in sales or business development.
If you want a job in consulting, you need to demonstrate how excited you are about consulting.
But it’s not meaningful to just blurt out “I’d be so excited to work for your firm!” or “All I want is to be a consultant with your firm.”
There’s an expression in storytelling – show, don’t tell. You need to find ways to convey “I’m definitely the most enthusiastic person you’ll see today” through your responses and the examples you share.
In order to give a good answer about what excites you about consulting, you’re going to have to do research and really understand the job.
When I interview with clients now, I talk about how much I love to bring data together in new ways to help executives make better decisions. I also talk about how much I enjoy working with systems of people, transforming how they work, and making them more successful and impactful.
Think about the functions of a new consultant – problem-solving, quantitative analysis, brainstorming as part of a high-powered team, creating PowerPoint presentations that will align the client on a path forward, etc.
What are the things you’re most excited to do? What are some examples in your career or education where you demonstrated that passion?
It took me a long time to realize that I am a math nerd. I’ve done a lot of quantitative work over the years, and I thought I got stuck with the math and data because most people don’t dig into quantitative challenges the way I do.
But then I remembered that when I was in fifth grade, I made my Mom take me to the teachers’ supply store and buy me an EXTRA CREDIT MATH WORKBOOK.
I guess I told my teacher I wanted to do more problems, and she recommended a math workbook to do in my spare time.
Yes, I’m a nerd. A real nerd, not a comic book nerd.
Find your version of this story. How do you geek out over some aspect of consulting?
Then use our A STAR(E) framework to turn your story into an answer that will resonate with your interviewer.
It’s important to take time to think about how consulting aligns with your personal and professional value system.
For example, McKinsey’s approach was to make our key client the ‘star’ of the project. We were serving their vision. We weren’t there to be the consultant know-it-alls. (Of course, this varied a bit by personalities).
I really appreciated this value and I continue to view my work that way. I think about how my key clients will succeed, and that’s more important than my own personal success on any given topic.
Have you known any consultants personally or professionally? If so, think about how they may have impacted your professional life or your work.
It’s O.K. if you do not have any direct connections to consultants.
Think about people in business you admire. Are there any books by famous leaders you’ve read? Chances are at least a few of them have a background in consulting.
Review their stories or watch their Ted Talks to see if anything resonates with you. Keep track of whether they mentioned how their time in consulting impacted their career.
It’s important to think about communication for how you might discuss people you admire in an interview.
You don’t want to say “I want to be the next Sheryl Sandberg.” That might work with some people or some firms, but it will turn most people off.
You could say something like “I admire people like Sheryl Sandberg,” and list a few other former consultants. Choose someone whose perspectives you connect with and talk about how you admire their accomplishments and the impact they’ve had.
Be sure to link your story back to the recognition that the people you admire were able to make incredible impact in part because of the skills and network they obtained as a consultant.
Look for examples of major transformations they oversaw for large companies. Consultants do a lot of transformation work – crafting a vision, communicating that vision, working out all the details of how things will work in the future, and then implementing the new vision. Those are all core consulting competencies.
Now that we’ve covered some questions to help you prepare your interview responses, let’s cover our top tips to answer the question “Why Consulting?”
Like I said earlier, getting a job in consulting is a lot of work. You’ll be surprised how much work it can be to nail this answer.
Here are our top tips to craft your answer when someone asks you, “Why do you want to be a consultant?”
All the questions you’ll answer in consulting interviews are a test of your communication skills.
When someone asks “Why consulting?”, make sure you’ve organized your answer. This is a ‘big” question that has a lot of meat in it. If you can break the answer down into a structure and piece it back together in a compelling thesis, you’ll prove to your interviewer that you can communicate like a consultant.
At a minimum, you can indicate you’ve got 3 great reasons (3 is the magic number in consulting), and then walk through each of those reasons.
If you want to be polished, craft a response that incorporates 3 reasons into a very brief ‘story.’ The story can either be a story about yourself or a story about someone you admire.
If you’re sharing a story about yourself, you can begin with something like, “When I’ve reflected on the most significant experiences of my career (or education) so far, I think about X, Y, and Z. I see consulting as the best opportunity for me to continue to develop P, D, Q.”
If you’re sharing a story about someone you admire, you can begin by saying “I admire so-and-so because of A, B, and C. When I read more about their career, I learned that they credit certain skills to their time in consulting, etc.”
Your interviewer will spend about 8 hours meeting with candidates in a single day. If they’re a senior partner at the firm, they’ve interviewed hundreds of candidates over the years.
They’ve heard it all and can easily sniff out a generic answer. You need to find a way to authentically communicate “Why consulting?” is a great career for you.
Go back to thinking about what excites you about the work. Is it problem-solving, communicating, teamwork?
What examples from your past life reflect how enthused you are about that aspect of the work.
Just like interviewers can sniff out generic answers, they can also tell if you’re sharing canned answers that are not specific to their firm.
For example, McKinsey has a global staffing model and prides itself on having consultants spend 4 days a week on client site so they deeply understand the client organization. (See our “Why McKinsey?” article for more on their staffing model.)
So for McKinsey, you could say that you’re excited about the McKinsey travel model because more time at clients’ offices leads to better client outcomes.
Bain, on the other hand, has a local staffing model. (See our “Why Bain?” article for more on their staffing model.)
So for Bain, you could say that you’re excited about the travel model because you are excited to be part of the community of the local office, to share best practices, and build relationships.
Prior to your interviews, make sure you’ve spoken with several consultants about what they like and don’t like about their jobs.
When you’re having a discussion about “Why consulting?”, be prepared to also discuss how you might handle the challenges of the job as well. You can also get more insight into what consulting is like in our article “What Is Consulting?”
You don’t want your interviewer to judge your interest level in consulting off of this one question.
Be sure to be enthusiastic throughout your interview and show your passion as you’re solving the case, or explaining how your experiences have prepared you for consulting.
Once you give your answer about “Why Consulting?”, you could turn the tables on your interviewer and ask them “Why Consulting?”
In this article, we’ve covered:
If this article has only made you more excited about a career in consulting, you should check out other articles on Case Interview Prep.
Still have questions?
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