Insider Tips for Landing Consulting Internships

Insider Tips for Landing Consulting Internships was originally published on Forage.

If your career goal is to enter the consulting industry, you know that consulting internships are the best way to build relevant skills and learn more about the field. But given how competitive it is to land a consulting internship, what can you do to improve your odds?

Plenty — if you start early, work hard, and understand what it takes to land one of these coveted consulting internships. 

How to Apply to Consulting Internships

The first step in landing consulting internships is networking early and often. But it’s critical to remember what networking is and is not.

“Networking on its own isn’t going to get you an interview,” says Alastair McKee, strategy and operations principal at Google, Forage program development partner, and former consultant at Bain. Instead, “networking early helps you prepare so you understand the role, understand what hiring managers are looking for, and so you know what to include on your resume.”

Use the time wisely, and remember that networking with 20 people from a firm you want to work with won’t improve your odds of landing an internship any more than networking with two or three people. It’s a far better use of your time to have in-depth conversations with fewer people than surface-level conversations with many. “I would talk to some people, and I could very quickly sense they were going through the motions. They’re asking the questions just to check off meeting with me instead of really wanting to learn about consulting,” says McKee.

BCG logo on building

Introduction to Strategy Consulting

Discover what it’s like to work in strategy consulting in this free course from BCG. Learn how to think like a consultant and help your client solve their problem.

Join Today

Avg. Time:
1-2 hours

Skills you’ll build:
Critical thinking, creativity, brainstorming

Join Today

While you should have a list of questions you’re deeply interested in asking and learning about, McKee could tell when someone wanted a connection for the sake of connecting over learning more about the industry based on their questions. 

For example, a question about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it’s impacting the consulting industry may land with a thud. “It’s like, OK, you’ve clearly spent two minutes on Google,” and now you’re asking something that popped up at the top of the results, says McKee. This question makes it seem like you’re trying to demonstrate how smart you are versus how much you want to learn about the consulting industry. He elaborates:

“A lot of times, the person you’re talking with isn’t going to know the answer because the case they’re working on hasn’t got anything to do with [AI]. The more interesting questions are the ones you can tell someone really wants to know the answer. For example, ‘I don’t want to make it sound like I’m interested in having an easy life, but how does a consulting career work with having a family?’ That’s someone who really wants to learn versus someone who wants to show they know all about AI. I loved it when people came in with their eyes open and really wanted to use [networking] to understand whether consulting was something they really wanted to do.”

One other crucial point to keep in mind is that the people you’re networking with don’t necessarily have the power to help you get a consulting internship.

Networking poorly could get you excluded from the hiring process, too.

“If someone was rude or really bad or showed up late, we can tell recruiters not to schedule an interview with this person,” says McKee.

Oliver Wyman climate change

Financial Services: Climate Change

Try your hand at climate change consulting in this free course from Oliver Wyman. Create a plan for your client to achieve their net-zero goals.

Join Now

Avg. Time:
4-5 hours

Skills you’ll build:
Research, critical thinking, data analysis, communication

Join Now

When to Apply for Consulting Internships

Though “early and often” applies to networking, the same isn’t exactly true when it comes to applying for consulting internships. The application window at most large firms opens and closes during a specific time, and they don’t accept applications outside of it. However, that application window is often earlier than you think!

As an example, you may need to apply in spring 2023 to land a summer 2024 consulting internship! Keep an eye on firms’ LinkedIn, social media, and career pages to keep track of when those application windows are so you’re ready to go when they are.

>>MORE: Ultimate Guide to Internship Application Deadlines and Open Dates 

Smaller or boutique consulting firms may have very different application windows or even accept them on a rolling basis.

Where to Apply for Consulting Internships

Many large consulting firms have offices across the country and around the world. When you apply for an internship at one of these firms, you’ll probably rank your location choice. You may select New York, Denver, and London in that order. Once you’ve made your selections, the other locations won’t look at your application, and you’ll only get an offer from one. But if the first office passes on your application, the second one can make an offer.


Management Consulting

Try your hand at management consulting in this free course from PwC US. Create a business summary, an interview guide, and more.

Enroll Now

Avg. Time:
4-5 hours

Skills you’ll build:
Data collection, PowerPoint, basic modeling, analysis

Enroll Now

Some locations, say, New York, are more popular and receive more consulting internship applications than less popular locations, say Denver. So, you may think applying to Denver over New York will improve your odds of landing a consulting internship.

While it’s true that the larger or more popular locations receive more applications, it’s also likely they have more open positions. At the same time, less popular locations get fewer applications but also have fewer open positions. What does that mean for your consulting internship application? McKee explains:

“New York might get 100 applications, and they might have five open slots. In Denver, they might get 20 applicants for only one open slot. So you might think New York is more competitive because 100 people applied compared to only 20 for Denver, but the percentage is still the same. It’s still 5% at both offices. The biggest offices are going to be the most popular, but it’s not going to necessarily be easy to get into Colorado and hard to get into New York because of the number of total open slots in each location.”

And, as McKee points out, most big firms have locations all over, so you’ll have the opportunity to collaborate with people in other offices. Getting a consulting internship at a smaller office usually means, “Where you spend your weekends may not be as exciting.”

One other thing to keep in mind as you’re selecting your location is salary. Not every firm offers a cost-of-living differential, so you may make the same in New York as in Denver, which means your purchasing power may go farther in one location over the other.

>>MORE: Want to know how far your paycheck will go? Figure it out with our take-home pay calculator.

What to Put on Your Consulting Internship Resume

As you’re writing your resume, you may think you need to include all kinds of consulting-centric skills, like Excel and PowerPoint. Or, barring that, you should include a ton of transferable skills to demonstrate you’ve got a wide range of abilities that are perfect in any kind of job.

However, McKee says, “The most important thing is to show that you’re able to learn and that whatever you’ve done, you’ve been really good at it.”


Career Catalyst Program: Advisory

Take your consulting skills to the next level in this free course from KPMG. You’ll analyze data, summarize your findings, brainstorm solutions, and more.

Enroll Now

Avg. Time:
4-5 hours

Skills you’ll build:
Creative thinking, data literacy, Excel, research, presentation

Enroll Now

Most firms don’t care if you’re an expert in Excel or PowerPoint. These companies know everything there is to know about these programs, and they’re happy to teach it to you. What they need from interns (and employees) is proof that they’re continually growing, developing, and learning, are team players, and can be leaders.

Why would these soft skills be more important than a hard skill like Excel? 

Consulting is a unique industry in that you’re assigned a new project and have to be up to speed on it rather quickly. What’s more, you must be 1000% confident in what you’ve learned and the solutions you provide.

“You’re working in industries you’ve never worked in, and you’ll have to learn about something you didn’t know about five minutes ago and you’re going to be talking with some very senior, powerful executives two days from now,” explains McKee. “You have to learn enough that you have a grip on certain things very quickly before you’re put in front of very senior people who have much more experience than you.”

Knowing Excel is great, but won’t help you in this kind of situation. But the ability to master new concepts quickly will!

>>MORE: What Is Lifelong Learning? (And How to Do it Yourself) 

What About GPA?

Many consulting internships have a minimum GPA requirement, and if your GPA falls below it, it’s highly unlikely you’ll land a consulting internship at a top-tier consulting firm. Between a small recruiting team and the sheer volume of applications these firms receive, companies need an easy, objective way to filter applications, and GPA fits the bill.

But you do stand a chance of landing a consulting internship at other firms. “Smaller firms can look at people on their merits and a little bit more holistically,” says McKee.

What if I’m Not at a Target School?

Some schools are “target schools,” meaning people from those schools are more likely to land a consulting internship. Just like the minimum GPA, attending a specific school becomes an easy way to filter applications.

But if you’re not at a target school and want a consulting internship at one of the top-tier firms, McKee says it’s possible to land one if you lean into networking and showing excellence in every way possible. He also suggests trying to network with people who have the power to recommend someone from a non-target school for a consulting internship.

working at Accenture

Future Innovator in Training

See what it’s like to work in strategy consulting in this free course from Accenture North America. You’ll help improve a user journey and learn how to prioritize your project.

Enroll Now

Avg. Time:
3-4 hours

Skills you’ll build:
Data analysis, client communication, attention to detail, planning

Enroll Now

What Activities to Include

McKee says that there isn’t a perfect extracurricular activity to include on your resume. You gain something from each activity, and all of your experiences contribute to your growth and development. What consulting firms look for in activities is your commitment and certain soft skills.

The activity is less important than showing a commitment to it. Having a leadership role is great since you can demonstrate skills like dedication, commitment, leadership, and being part of a team. But it’s OK if you haven’t held a leadership position. Being involved in any activity shows the ability to work as part of a team.”

Forage Find

You may not have a strong or active social media presence and that’s OK. But the one site you should be on is LinkedIn.

You Can Land a Consulting Internship

Even if you don’t hit every box on this list or you don’t check any of them, you can still land a consulting internship. “If you want something really bad, be super-persistent and dedicated,” advises McKee. “I was super diligent in preparing because I knew what I wanted to get out of consulting. I got in because of my work ethic and diligence.”

One other way to demonstrate your work ethic and diligence is by completing a free Forage consulting virtual job simulation. You’ll build the skills you’ll need in a consulting internship (including Excel and PowerPoint), see what it’s like to work in different kinds of consulting (management, strategy), and unlock an exclusive resume snippet and interview talking point you can customize for your needs.

Sign up Today!

Image credit: Canva

The post Insider Tips for Landing Consulting Internships appeared first on Forage.