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Graduate roles

#1 Graduate roles
24/05/2010 14:24



I recently graduated, and then spent some months in retail and administration to get some real business experience. I recently resigned in pursuit of a career with fresh challenges, that would use my analytical skills and natural creativity. So I want to make a career in consulting. But this is proving to be painfully difficult. Could someone perhaps enlighten me on some top tips to be successful in the application process? I mean specifically, nuggets of gold that will make me shine above everyone else? Or maybe list the worst pitfalls to avoid? Please?

Thanks in advance for any help!


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#2 RE: Graduate roles
24/05/2010 17:30

The Don to Ella (#1)

Hi Ella,

Reading your post, and putting myself in the shoes of someone reading your CV while thinking of employing you, the first thing I thought was that you are being incredibly vague by saying that you are working in retail and administration to get 'real business experience' - basically, I think that you are lying to me. 'Some months' makes it sound as though you are a recent graduate. If so, then why not be honest? If you don’t rate this experience, then you can do it much more effectively than doing a bad job of making it sound a) like a choice and b) like it was good.

If I am wrong, and you did go into these roles to get ‘business experience’, then what was your plan? And why the change of heart now?

If you could give some more detail, it would help understand your motivation. Right now, my thought is that you couldn't get a job elsewhere so got sucked into minimum wage roles.

However, to try and answer your question (with the very limited info you have given), my view is that you need to position your retail and admin work as roles and experience that have relevance to the consultancy jobs you want to be doing. At present, it feels like your story is sloppy and vague - two things that instantly write off your chances. Also important as a graduate is your academic record – this can’t be dressed up. You should seriously consider whether you have the credentials to actually get into consulting.

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#3 RE: Graduate roles
24/05/2010 17:51

Mars A Day to Ella (#1)

Frankly I think your tendency towards 'natural creativity' is already established in your post.

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#4 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 13:24

Ella to The Don (#2)

Dear Don,

Thanks for your reply. I was hardly going to post my CV on here for obvious reasons, and it seems a little unfair to judge me based on my post, which is nowhere near what I would pitch to a prospective employer. However, as you requested more detail, allow me to elaborate and perhaps you can give me more specific advice.

I was actually looking for different ways of getting into consulting, a back door if you like, because I’m fed up of filling out long application forms. I wanted ideas on how to make myself stand out from the crowd, get noticed. That was all. My guess is that the readers of this forum are management consultants, so my real questions are “What is your ideal candidate and why? What experiences/ skills would give them a competitive edge above the normal candidate?”

In response to your comments:

“I thought…you are being incredibly vague by saying…you are working in retail and administration to get 'real business experience' - basically, I think that you are lying to me. If…you did go into these roles to get ‘business experience’, then what was your plan? why the change of heart now?”

Actually, I left university and wanted any old random job, part time, to fund my expenses while I hunted for a long term graduate role. You might judge it as “couldn't get a job elsewhere so got sucked into minimum wage roles”, but actually I was being proactive about my finances and my intention was that it would only be temporary until I found something better – is that such a bad thing? I hardly think I have to explain myself in my CV in this respect – space is premium, and on a CV it’s the skills you have and how you use your time that matters. At least in my opinion – please correct me if I’m wrong.

What then happened was I started working full time as a Customer Service Assistant in August (after spending a month in Africa). Full time was unintentional – pressure from home to earn my keep. When I saw that the company had an opening in the office, I applied. I had wanted office experience because that was something I had not yet had, and thought would help with my employability (time management, professionalism, working with senior managers, responsibility…). Another motivation was that some companies, Deloitte for example, stated office experience as a requirement for Analyst roles.

In November I started in the office. I enjoyed the job because I got to see the behind the scenes operation of a business – hence “real business experience”. But while there was a lot to learn, I felt like I was no longer being challenged, so I left in May. All the while I made a few applications to graduate roles, but I found it tough finding the time and energy alongside a full time job. Therefore another reason for leaving was to concentrate on the graduate job hunt.

Furthermore, I have a variety of other work/volunteering experience which I have used to evidence particular skills such as leadership, team work, communication, persuasion, empathy and innovation. And to also demonstrate evidence of achievement beyond that that was required of me.

“'Some months' makes it sound as though you are a recent graduate...Also important…is your academic record…You should seriously consider whether you have the credentials to actually get into consulting.”

My academic record is very strong actually, no dressing up required. I always check the entry requirements, and for 90% of the companies I have come across I am fine. But for the sake of clarity, here’s what the British educational system rates me as:

- BSc (Hons) Natural Sciences (2:1), Durham University 2009.

- 5 A levels graded AABBB

- 10 GCSEs graded A*/A

My course was based in Geology, Geography and Biology. The majority of data analysis assignments were graded 1st class, and involved data handling and modelling, using ArcGIS/ Past/ Matlab/ SPSS software, together with evaluation using subject principles. Other assignments also included group presentations. I cite these in particular on my CV as these competencies (analysis, presentation and IT skills) are core to consulting roles.

So, I hope I no longer come across as vague and not focussed/ not really sure that consulting is for me but hey let’s try it anyway. Because actually I can’t tell you how much I want this, how much I want to be given a chance. I’ve been trying, and not been successful, so I’m looking for other ways. So far my way has been to close my skills gap with jobs and weekend courses. I don’t think it vague and sloppy. Do you still?

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#5 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 13:56

R2D2 to Ella (#4)

Dear Ella,

There's a couple of things that may help you here. Not to be vague but ask yourself something: why on earth would a consultancy and therefore a client pay good money to have you at there site?

Not to pour cold water on your aspirations but a few months working in an office is hardly a credible start. I'm sure you are very talented and certainly enthusiastic but so is every other candidate and from what I have seen recently most have a good deal more experience than you are portraying here. A high percentage have similar qualifications but have managed to take on work which has taught them some useful skill such as project mgmt. They tend to stand out.

To be honest I can only think of a couple of options for you:

1) Go back to industry for a year or so and get some useful experience with a good company (maybe try for a junior internal consultancy role) and then have another try next year

2) There are no back doors!! Unless you know someone who is prepared to sponsor you and take a chance on your performance you will always be part of the application process.

Its tough to get into consultancy right now and I don't see an easy route for you from what I've read. Sorry but them's the breaks

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#6 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 14:08

Anon to R2D2 (#5)

Ella - at such an early stage in your career you cannot close the skills gaps with non-related jobs and courses.

The graduate market is pretty tough at the moment and is likely to get even tougher in the UK with the proposed cuts in government spending.

I echo R2D2's comments and would stress that you need to get some industry experience by sticking with a job until you get the offer that you want.

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#7 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 14:52

taxrebate to Anon (#6)

Ella - who have you applied to and what route have you been taking ? did you go on the grad milkround when still at uni and get rejected, or have you been applying to grad schemes since? and what feedback if any have you been gettng? some of these comments are unduly harsh - your academics seem fine so we need to see the rest of the picture t help. not every grad I 've seen who made it into a full-service consultancy was an all round superstar, it's a volume business...

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#8 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 15:38

The Don to taxrebate (#7)

So, I called it right - the real reason you were working in retail wasn't to get 'real business experience'. Now that we know more, let’s take a look.

You have strong academics - well done. So do 99% of other applicants. I went to Durham also. Played 1st XI university sport, was involved in the club committee, and worked full time each holiday. But did my CV stand out particularly when I was starting out? Nope.

I did the applications, played the game at recruitment days, bit my tongue when I got asked ridiculous questions by bad internal recruiters, and got a job. A fair few years later and I have built up a good enough cache with clients and other consultants that I have worked with to know of some back doors for myself or anybody else with suitable experience. Perhaps in a few years time you will be one of those. Right now, you're not. Sorry to be so direct.

In the meantime, the other posters are correct – the best thing for your CV would be real work experience. If you can’t get into consultancy, try getting into industry. I know people who spent a couple of years in industry grad schemes (often very underrated) and then moved to consulting as consultants – they missed out the (frankly rubbish) analyst stage due to their real business experience.

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#9 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 15:54

Mars A Day to Ella (#1)

Long story short Ella is that your post says it all: you wanted advice based on a short cut, and want a job through a short cut. If you want to get ahead put the efffort in.

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#10 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 16:40

Mr Cool to Ella (#4)


Keep your chin up. Hardly a week goes by without me thanking my lucky stars that I am not a recent graduate. Even at the best of times the whole recruitment process has a lottery element to it, and in today’s market it must be soul destroying.

There are no short cuts, but as for advice I can only offer the following.

1) Down play the value of the experience you gained in the jobs you took to pay your way. Play up the fact that your pride and work ethic pushed you into something that you knew was short term but that you preferred to sponging. Candidates that try to draw experience from a temp or part-time job when they are interviewing mainly come across as naïve – it can sound like someone trying to get on an Everest expedition by saying they once went hill-walking. Better to stress the work ethic aspect of the decision.

2) I know it gets in the way of interviewing, but I would have advised not giving up the job. Now interviewers will silently question if you could not hack it. The only answer will be to get a stellar reference from your ex-employer, so that you can back up the story that you gave up the job to better attend interviews. If possible take up another short term job – it supports your claim to have a strong work ethic.

3) Keep applying – sad to say it is a numbers game at the moment. However try not to spend all your time on it. Dedicate a set time every day and do a set amount and no more. Enjoy the rest of your time as best you can without a bunch of cash to spend. Otherwise the danger is that your desperation and frustration (which comes over in your post) will start to come over in your applications and your interviews.

4) Be targeted but flexible. Interviewers can smell lack of commitment, so you do need a theme to your applications. That said, if you want to be a consultant, you should also be considering all the industries where internal consultancy is common – that includes retail bank change management departments, civil service project management positions, etc.

5) Be open-minded about a short term option becoming a long term one. I left university hell bent on a career in advertising, but first went on a foreign internship position with a financial service firm. It was boring and mindless, but a year in I had a chance encounter which provided me with a chance to transfer to a subsidiary and to manage my own range of products. I went from underachiever (cos I was bored) to star and from there to a career in consultancy.

Good luck, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying, keep trying….you get the picture.

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#11 RE: Graduate roles
25/05/2010 23:06

Former Grad to Mr Cool (#10)


First steps - clear up some of the misleading statements of prior posters:

- Don't get discouraged by the "nay" sayers. They're probably all bitter/bored/misunderstanding.

- Very tough economy - good consultancies realise this. So retail/admin no bad thing. I recently joined a top tier strat house, got laid off, got taken back.

- Your academics are great

- Touched by your drive - keep it up

- If you want a consultancy role go for it and work for it. I know a few top strategy houses are hiring - whatever the guys above say, I don't see why not you IF you play the recruitment game well.


- Check through friends/acquaintences if they can put you in touch with someone in consulting. - Be very wary of generic career info - consulting applications and tricky and focus of recruiters often different to other industries

- CV/Cover Letter sort is a massive hurdle. You need to know what they are looking for. These are often marked rapidly to secret sets of criteria.

- If you get an interview with a case study, do as many mock interviews with consultants/former consultants as possible. This massively helped me over.

- Extracurricular leadership is key - ignore at your peril.

- Do not overplay work experience. Analyst roles look more for extracurriculars/academics/flair. The fact you work is a positive thing and you should mention it, but overplaying it reduces the impact of extracurriculars/academics/flair which the recruitment process at entry level values more in most firms.

- Be structured in everything (cover letter; interview questions)

I could go on and on. There are a few good resources (e.g. Vault Guides). But really, do try and reach out to someone in the type of firms you are trying to get into. That is the single most valuable piece of advice - that helped me land consulting jobs!

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#12 RE: Graduate roles
28/05/2010 10:47

limit to Ella (#1)

As a grad myself I really understand what it is like to be in your situation!!! This year I applied for 30 jobs and received 1 offer (and I have perhaps even stronger academic credentials than you) so really agree with the guys above that it is a numbers game, keep motivated and keep applying (but as said above make sure you research and tailor every application).

Why don't you think about exactly what you want to do in terms of consulting (is there an industry or function that particularly interests you?) and consider doing an internship in this area whilst you search. Bear in mind the search may be a year long as the major milkround takes place around xmas. I always focused around doing what I loved to the highest standard, instead of ticking boxes... Opportunities have come out of the most unusual places.

Look on the websites of firms you are interested in applying to - what are the core competencies they require? You will see a distinct pattern emerging. Do you have these skills? More importantly - can you demonstrate them though your work/academics/extra curriculars? What did you achieve in your workplace... I have done some pretty menial jobs but always gone the extra mile to improve things whilst I was there. You CAN use these jobs to demonstrate skills but you need to be specific not just "I decided to go work in tescos because i was motivated to pay off my student debt whilst looking for a real job" but "during my time at A Company I noticed that customers seemed unhappy with X, so I decided to research the problem, and through Y method discovered I was correct, I think pitched my solution to management who ran with it and now our sales have increased by Z%" or whatever. You need to have concrete examples of exactly what you did. If you did really DO anything then don't use it.

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