Your application consists of three documents: your resume, your cover letter, and your unofficial transcript.
These are your only representation when you’re submitting your applications, so you want them to represent you in the best light possible.
The first question to ask is: what is a consulting firm looking for when they review your resume? I won’t go into the specifics of writing a resume (use action verbs, use proper spacing, etc.) because you should already know how to do this! And if you don’t – please, please go and see your career services advisor or do some research online. I’ve worked with dozens of students to improve their CVs and there’s nothing worse than seeing someone who’s clearly very accomplished but has typos, bad grammar, or poor descriptions of the work they’ve done.
There are four key aspects to focus on – and for each I’ve listed an “Ideal,” “Average,” and “Less than ideal” candidate.
Demonstrated academic ability
The most immediate answer is academic ability, primarily in the form of a high GPA. You are generally expected to have a 3.5 or above. The happy zone is a 3.7 or higher, with bonus points if you’re over a 3.8 GPA.
If you’re in a difficult program, be sure to point out your percentile rank – if you are in the top 10 per cent or top 25 per cent of your class, then be sure to list that as it provides a reference point for the resume screener. A 3.5 in a tough program might be more impressive than a 3.8 in a less rigorous program.
Lastly, know this: if you do not list your GPA on your resume, a screener will likely assume that it is below a 3.3 (on a 4.0) scale, or otherwise in the bottom 50% of your class. To counter this, you can list your ‘Major GPA’ or even ‘GPA over last two years’ if those are substantially stronger than your cumulative GPA.
Ideal: Over a 3.75 (Top 5-10%)
Average: 3.5 (Top 25%)
Less than ideal: 3.3 or below (Bottom 50%)
Leadership roles and impact
Secondly, consulting firms are looking experience in leadership roles. An important part of being a successful consultant is the ability to lead and manage teams – this is something you will be doing at the client site, even as an entry-level consultant.
More importantly, impressive leadership roles demonstrate that you enjoy working in teams and taking on new challenges.
This experience is even more useful if you’ve maintained a strong GPA, as it shows your ability to effectively balance academic and extracurricular roles. Consultants especially like to see students who take initiative outside of their faculty or immediate surroundings – taking on a leadership role in an organization that is outside your comfort zone is highly respected.
You also need to demonstrate impact in everything that you’ve done – whether it’s extracurricular or work experience, you should make it clear that you made a tangible difference. Maybe you worked after-hours on a personal project to benefit your organization, or you researched and developed a plan to improve operations, or you set up a charity at your firm – these are all examples of impact.
One final point – this is why your CV should be results-oriented. While it’s important to describe the responsibilities that you had (to give the CV reader an idea of how important your job was), you must also discuss the results.
The general rule is that at least 50% of your description for each position should focus on results.
Ideal: President of a large organization on campus, founder of your own company (even if it failed), being an RA, captain of a sports team, etc. These tend to be positions with 10+ hours of work a week.
Average: President of a smaller organization, executive committee member of a large organization, organizer of a day-long event, etc. On average, these commitments demand several hours of work a week.
Less than ideal: Minimal leadership experience beyond being on the organizing committee of events or simply being a member of a group.
Relatively speaking, this is the easiest aspect of your CV to improve – anyone can take on a personal project at any time. All it requires is the determination to do it and the resolve to see it through.
The second part of this article will focus on communicating your work experience and well-rounded character.