So you’ve managed to get a summer internship in management consulting. Congratulations! Welcome to Bay Street (or the equivalent if outside of Toronto). But what’s next? As the start of your summer internship approaches, how should you prepare for it?
We’ve reached out to former interns at a variety of management consulting firms, such as the MBB firms (McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company) and the Big 4 (Deloitte, PwC, KPMG, Ernst & Young), for tips they would give students about to start their consulting internships in Toronto. These consultants have diverse experiences with regards to both industry (e.g., banking, energy, public sector) and capability (e.g., digital, people operations, economic development). Here is what they said.
1. Sharpen Your Excel Skills
As an intern, you won’t own and build complex Excel models yourself – that responsibility usually falls to more senior analysts and associates. But you’ll still do a fair bit of Excel work. Your responsibilities could include cleaning data (organizing and manipulating data for easier analysis), deriving basic insights from data analysis, and compiling data from multiple sources.
You want to be efficient when given Excel work. Quickly organizing and formatting data, and performing basis analysis without manual calculation, is key.
Meet Excel keyboard shortcuts. Initially, keyboard shortcuts may seem like a waste of time because, when learning to use them, it’s usually quicker to just default to your mouse. But keyboard shortcuts pay off. Once you’re familiar with them, you’ll become quicker and save time – an important accomplishment that will help you increase your volume of work.
Excel has an endless number of shortcuts. Here are some basic ones to get started:
- Ctrl + Shift + Arrow: Highlight all rows/columns in the direction of the arrow until there is a break
- Ctrl + D, Ctrl + R: Copy the formula of a cell downwards (Ctrl + D) or to its right (Ctrl + R)
- Alt + H + O + I: Resize the column to fit the full length of the cell(s)
- Ctrl + C: Copy cell(s)
- Ctrl + V: Paste from copied cell(s)
- Alt + H + V + S + T: Paste the format only from copied cells
- Alt + H + V + S + V: Paste the value only from copied cells
- Alt + H + V + S + F: Paste the formula only from copied cells
Microsoft has online tutorials to help you master shortcuts, as detailed in the article here.
You’ll want to learn basic formulas. Formulas help you crunch data efficiently and effectively. Some common formulas that you should familiarize yourself with include the following:
- Arithmetic formulas: AVERAGE, SUMIF, COUNTIF
- Scenario formulas: IF, IFERROR
- Matching formulas: VLOOKUP, INDEX/MATCH
There are various only resources to help you understand formulas.
A pivot table is a table that summarizes data contained in a more complex table. A pivot table might, for example, include sums, averages, or other statistics based on the complex table. Pivot tables help you slice, dice and filter data to answer your questions (or, as an intern, answer you manager’s questions).
It can be intimidating to create your first pivot table. But, with a bit of practice, you’ll realize that they aren’t so complicated after all. You’ll be among the most valuable interns if you can position yourself as the pivot table wizard.
2. Familiarize Yourself with PowerPoint
Management consultants use PowerPoint like a teacher uses a chalk board. As the consulting intern, you’ll be tasked with making PowerPoints for your team. Thankfully, no one expects you to be a graphic design genius – in fact, some consulting firms outsource graphic design to outside vendors. You do, however, need to be good at laying out slides in a way that makes complicated information easy to digest. Having a storyline that flows is also important.
Many interns who are tasked with creating slides don’t know where to start. It can be difficult to figure out what visuals to include, or how to organize data in a presentable way.
To create compelling presentations, familiarize yourself with your consulting firm’s PowerPoint slide decks. Oftentimes, firms will have a bank of old slide decks that you can refer to for guidance. You can also find PowerPoint slide deck examples by visiting different consulting firms’ LinkedIn profiles and finding recent projects they’ve posted. While these public slide decks are not entirely representative of the work product delivered to clients, they will give you an idea of how to construct a slide deck.
When reviewing slide decks, pay close attention to the types of graphs and charts that are used, as well as how data is organized. Importantly, think about how the author of that slide deck is telling a story across multiple slides.
3. Read the News
If you don’t already, start reading the news to stay up-to-date with current events. There are a few benefits to this. First, it will help you when you have conversations and small talk with your colleagues. Second, being knowledgeable about current events shows a level of curiosity and engagement that consulting firms want to see.
Reading the news also has substantive benefits for your job performance. For example, by reading the business news you can gain an understanding for how companies across multiple industries think and act. This will help keep you in tune with corporate strategy and general business trends. You’ll also be asked to do a lot of research that touches on topical events; if you already have a basic understanding of these events, your research will be more informed. You can also use your pre-existing knowledge to help form hypotheses before starting your research.
Popular news outlets for local, political and business news include the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Toronto Star, the Vancouver Sun and the Montreal Gazette. You can get good international business news in the Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Reuters, among others.
4. Form Your Own Opinion
This flows from the last tip on reading the news. Not only should you be aware of current events, but you should also have an opinion on those events. Knowing about an event is step one; step two for a consultant is to understand the implications of those facts.
Consider, for example, if you’re working on a market entry case and you are comparing Market A to Market B. Your research may look at market growth, consumer preference, political risks, and competition across both markets. Finding these facts is only the first part of your comparison. To bring this to the next level, you want to draw implications and give a recommendation. “Market A is better because of lower political risk and growing consumer demand”, or “Market B is risky because of its decreasing population and aversion to foreign corporations”. Being able to form these implications is what will make you a star intern.
As internship season starts, you should focus on gaining basic Excel and PowerPoint skills and devoting a few minutes each day to reading the news. This will help you work more efficiently when your internship starts. It will also help lay the groundwork for a successful career in consulting.
There is no doubt that your consulting internship will be challenging. But it will also be a great training ground where you can really ramp up your consulting skills. Chances are, you’ll come out of your internship shocked with how much you’ve grown (and how much you’ve improved your Excel and PowerPoint skills)!