Consulting firms recruit Stanford seniors


While many students on campus sport T-shirts and flip-flops, a select group of seniors are donning suits and slacks as they stroll through White Plaza.

These students are participating in the intensive recruitment process for consulting companies. The companies, with specialties ranging from finances to biotechnology, are eagerly courting seniors who have begun exploring their postgraduate options.

Bain & Company, a top global management consulting firm that currently employs more than 150 Stanford alumni, is recruiting students for its associate consultant, or AC, position. Suzanne Tollerud ’07 M.A. ’08, now a senior associate consultant, says the role of an AC is to work with clients “in the process of solving complex business problems.”

Students attend a Parthenon informational session on Oct 4 in the Faculty Club Gold Lounge. CELESTE NOCHE/The Stanford Daily

“These interactions range from simple data requests to in-depth discussions with clients to brainstorm and debate ideas,” Tollerud wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “As insights and potential solutions begin to emerge, team members will often return to the employees they have worked with to share these ideas and iterate on strategy development.”

ACs at Bain and other consulting firms work on small teams, managing a caseload that changes daily. Sherry Ho ’11, an international relations major, spent the past summer as a Bain AC intern at the firm’s San Francisco office. She said she enjoyed being exposed to a variety of business sectors.

“One thing I really like is that no two days are the same,” said Ho, who will work for the firm full-time upon graduation. “It varies a lot, and Bain is a very dynamic place to work.”

The excitement of the consulting field also drew in Patrick MacKenzie ’11, a management science and engineering major who interned for Accenture this summer.

“It’s a fast-moving environment where you’re constantly switching from case to case,” MacKenzie said. “You’re learning about new industries and constantly being challenged.”

MacKenzie, who plans to attend business school eventually, said he views consulting as a learning experience rather than as a long-term career prospect. The first step in that experience, for most hopefuls, is the notoriously intense recruitment process. Many companies begin courting Stanford students before their senior year and continue with informational sessions and informal meet-and-greets in the early fall.

“It’s not uncommon for us to be in contact with a recruit for a year or more before we invite them to interview for a full-time position,” Tollerud said.

MacKenzie, who has attended several sessions, says that the number of students in attendance makes it difficult to gain face time with company representatives. He recently attended a McKinsey & Company session in a completely full Tresidder Oak Room.

“It was really hard to speak with McKinsey people because there were so many students wanting to meet them and network,” MacKenzie said. “There’s definitely pressure to stand out to someone at a company and have a good conversation so they remember you.”

Applicants submit a resume and transcript to the firms they are interested in, and most firms send out interview requests within a week of receiving applications. Bain’s interview process, like that of many other consulting companies, consists of two rounds of case interviews.

“Our case interviews are based on real business problems, very similar to the ones our clients hire us to help them solve,” Tollerud said. “The case interview process is the best way for us to access a candidate’s ability to be successful in the associate consultant role.”

Firms typically present offers to candidates within a week of interviews. According to a 2008 article in BusinessWeek, “Best Places to Launch a Career,” entry-level consultants at top firms can expect a starting salary of $55,000, plus signing bonuses.

Though consulting firms work with the Career Development Center (CDC) to plan on-campus recruiting events, CDC Director Lance Choy offers words of caution to students considering the field.

“For some students consulting is a great field,” Choy wrote in an e-mail to The Daily. “Unfortunately, I see far too many students who pursue consulting without exploring other options. For many students, they pursue consulting because of their friends. These students think that it must be a good field because so many others are pursuing this field.”

For students like Ho, however, consulting offers an opportunity to be an integral and valued member of a team. In few other professions, she points out, are recent college graduates given such a high level of responsibility right away.

“They [fellow consultants] don’t discredit you for your age,” Ho said. “If you’re on a four-person team, they expect you to work just as hard as everyone else. You have the chance to make an impact immediately, and that’s hard to come by.”

Contact Samantha McGirr at [email protected]

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