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What is Consulting?

Consulting is the practice of providing expertise to organizations to help them maximize their profitability or effectiveness. Consultants are master problem-solvers. Often hired by companies who need their expertise, outside perspective, or additional staffing assistance, consultants analyze existing organizational structures and propose recommendations.

Some management consulting firms specialize in general business strategy, while others are known as technology, marketing, finance, operations or human resources specialists.

Types of Consulting

The four most popular consulting specialties are management/strategy, financial, information technology, and human resources/staffing. Large one-stop shops offer advisory services in these and other specialties. Boutique firms specialize in a single area. Consulting specializations:

  • Management / Strategy
  • Financial
  • Informational Technology
  • Human Resources / Staffing
  • Healthcare
  • Political
  • Marketing

Skills for Consulting

Many candidates obtain an MBA to become a consultant, especially at top-tier firms such as McKinsey, Bain, and The Boston Consulting Group. However, undergraduate-level internships and full-time opportunities are available at many firms, including the "Big 4" firms: Deloitte, Ernst & Young (EY), KPMG, and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).

Important skills to secure a consulting position include:

  • Problem-solving, analytical, and reasoning
  • Ability to organize and present information
  • Clear and persuasive communication
  • Self-confidence and professionalism
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Ability to work under pressure
  • Understanding of basic business principles

Case Style Interviewing

Similar to other industries, part of the interview process will include fit and behavioral questions that assess overall fit with the organization and "soft skills" such as how the candidate deals with conflict and handles adversity.

What makes consulting unique from other industries is its use of the case interview to assess the candidate's ability to think critically, communicate clearly, and demonstrate strong quantitative skills (usually a significant amount of mental math) under pressure. Very few individuals are naturally good at it, so a substantial amount of preparation is required.

Types of Case Questions

Business case (most common)

A scenario to gauge logical application of business knowledge (e.g., profitability optimization, market entry, M&A).

"The company would like to know if integrating a new software infrastructure will be profitable."

Market Sizing

Questions that require logical deduction and general statistical information to estimate some number or size.

"How many diapers are purchased in the U.S. annually?"


Puzzles or logic questions to gauge creativity, quantitative, and problem-solving skills.

"What is the ratio of the weight of an elephant to the weight of an ant?"


Case Interview Approach

Vault recommends a 5-step approach to tackle a case:

1. Pinpoint the Issue

2. Break It Down

3. Pick an Approach

4. Analyze the data

5. Make a recommendation

Listen, ask clarifying questions, and summarize the problem to ensure understanding.

Take notes, pause to think, and explain logical thought process aloud.

Pick a framework to structure the problem and identify key issues to explore.

Think creatively and talk through your hypotheses. Make quick and accurate calculations.

Summarize key findings and stand by your conclusion.

Case Interview Preparation

To master case interviewing, you must conduct practice cases. The general consensus from experts in case interviewing is that a minimum of 30 practice cases are required to develop proficiency. Practicing a case correctly does not mean just reading through the case; it consists of working through it with a partner who will challenge you and provide meaningful feedback.

You should also spend time practicing problem identification (structure) and sharpening your math skills, including familiarizing yourself with basic population statistics.

Case preparation is quite grueling and can take 60-100 hours. Luckily, there are an abundance of free resources. In addition to reviewing the online tools listed below, meet with a Career Advisor to learn of additional interview guides and case books our office can provide.

Online Resources

Sample Cases