Consulting: A Primer

Alina Yarova

Alina Yarova is a Senior Consultant at ECG Management Consultants. ECG has been a trusted adviser to health systems, hospitals, academic medical centers, and medical groups for over four decades. Alina is a 2011 graduate of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health with an MPH in Health Systems and Policy and a Certificate in Health Finance and Management. She earned her BA in Psychology from McGill University.

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Whether you are a graduate or an undergraduate student, you have probably caught wind of the exciting and lucrative world of consulting. It’s a world where you are immersed in challenging and dynamic work solving organizations’ real world problems, you are exposed to executive-level decision makers, and, on top of all that, you are generously compensated for your work.

The consulting path certainly offers the recent graduate an intense and comprehensive training opportunity that allows him or her to hone business, analytical and quantitative know-how as well as to polish networking and relationship-building skills. The result? Getting on the career fast-track, even if you ultimately choose to stay in the consulting industry only for a few years. (Consultants get exposed to diverse experiences sooner than people who take more vertical career paths, so that tends to make them attractive candidates for management positions earlier in their careers.) On the other hand, consulting is not for the faint of heart: you will be doing some of the most challenging work of your academic and professional careers, travel schedules can be hectic, and you will work long hours on many occasions. Most firms encourage maintaining a healthy work-life balance, but in your first years, balance will likely take a back seat to your professional development.

If the above sounds like a challenge you would be up for, you’re probably asking: how do I get one of these jobs? While the specifics vary considerably from firm to firm (e.g. by sector and company size), and the Carey Career Development Office can provide you with resources to prepare, here are the building blocks of a successful consulting candidate:

  • You have a basic business sense. While many firms hire non-MBA graduates and experienced hires across industries, you should know the principles of business operations and be able to read a financial statement.
  • You have strong analytical and quantitative skills. You can sit down with a large amount of data, work through it in Excel, and come out with a big picture analysis.
  • You are a team player. Most of the time, breakthrough moments in consulting do not occur in isolation but are developed and discussed in a group setting.
  • You can be trusted in front of a client. This means you can represent yourself and your firm well, are able to speak clearly and in an articulate fashion, and can convincingly convey your ideas.
  • You are not afraid of a challenge or of ambiguous circumstances. You’ve got that “tear right through it” attitude. It’s an attitude that says you will stick it out regardless of what hurdles you encounter.

If this sounds like you, start by doing two things: practice cases and case interviewing skills–and continue to do so over a course of weeks and months–and attend all your school’s consulting information sessions to network with firm representatives (while having someone submit your resume certainly won’t get you the job, it will generally get you into the interview loop). International students should be mindful that not all firms will sponsor foreign nationals and are encouraged to ask this question up front.

Finally, last but certainly not least: do your research to ensure you are choosing the right company for you, one whose culture and work environment will match your personal style and thus give you the best opportunity to thrive.

Good luck out there!

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