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  • Writer's pictureThe Cambridge Guild

Pierce McLoughlin - Roland Berger, Strategy Consulting

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

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Over summer (2020) I interned at the London branch of Roland Berger, a large strategy consulting firm based in Europe. The placement gives penultimate year students first-hand experience working on real consulting projects as they would when starting fulltime as incoming junior consultants. After training, interns are staffed onto one or more projects (depending on project length), joining a team of consultants in investigating and solving all manner of business questions for a wide range of clients.

What did a typical day look like?

After travelling to the office, I would first check in with my team on what we were working on for the day. With so many different elements to any one project, I’d rarely find myself working on the exact same tasks as the afternoon before! Following this, I’d get started on work; anything from market research and modelling, to liaising with the client, or building slides for a presentation. At lunch we would frequently have some kind of group socialising activity arranged by the company to get to know the rest of the office, or I’d chat with my mentor about their path through consulting. Following the lunch break, I would then have a one-on-one meeting with the senior consultant I was working under to get feedback on the work I’d done that morning and advice on how to tackle anything challenging in the pipeline for the rest of the day. Then I’d get back to work; maybe building questionnaires for interviewing industry experts later in the week, or even sitting in the interviews themselves. Once the workday finished, we’d either head out as a group from the office for an ice-breaking event, or head home for a well-deserved rest.

As cliché as it sounds, the only real constant is that there is no average day; the generalist model and emphasis on teamwork means that there are no set ‘roles’ for any consultant on any given project. From project to project one might find themselves on client-side full time, working embedded in a team abroad, or simply immersed in a sector they hadn’t had the chance to experience before. Even once I felt like I’d found my feet doing a particular kind of task, the sheer variety of sectors and companies that Roland Berger works with resulted in an endless source of novelty, so I never felt any sense of boredom during my time there.

How did you hear about this internship?

Having set my sights on strategy as opposed to operations consulting, Roland Berger stood out when searching online as one of the independent consultancies with a strategy focus. I then met some friendly representatives of the London branch at the university’s consulting careers fair, who encouraged me to apply.

Talk through the application process; was there anything unexpected?

After an initial CV and Cover Letter screening, I sat an in-person written analytical and numerical reasoning test. Following this were two rounds of interviews, each round consisting of two interviews each. The content of the interviews was primarily case studies and competency questions, as one would expect from consulting, but in the final round there were also some problem-solving elements thrown in beyond what you’d expect from by-the-book standard case studies. After the first interview round, I was assigned a ‘buddy’ who gave me feedback on my interviews, advice on case studies for the final round and answered any questions I had about the firm.

Compared to other firms I interviewed at which would frequently present me with an information ‘pack’ and an interviewer who would couldn’t engage with me on the case organically, I appreciated the fact that all the case interviews were given by people based on real cases they had worked on. The fact that I could dig into the problem with someone able to produce authentic answers to my deeper questions, made it feel less like an oral exam and more like I was working with the interviewer to untangle the business question; this made the interviews far less confrontational and more enjoyable.

How was your internship affected by the pandemic?

We operated on a blended working model, where those of us who were willing to come in could spend some of the internship working in the office, with the rest of the time spent working from home on devices provided by the company. The absence of typical in-person socialising with our colleagues was compensated for with a digital event every couple of days, from Q&A sessions with partners to scavenger hunt-style games with new joiners. We were otherwise working as normal, though the fact that most people were working from home really helped emphasise the international diversity and collaboration between offices; for example I had the chance to work with colleagues in France on my project.

Did you need any particular skills for the placement?

There’s a reason why strategy consultancies don’t discriminate by degree background, and that’s because there are no hard skills that a consultant needs to have, other than basic numeracy. On the soft skills side; problem solving ability, teamwork and effective communication are key, but there aren’t really any other fixed requirements. Within a team, the project manager will want a variety of hard and soft skillsets, as there is such a variety of tasks which need to be carried out to fully investigate and solve a given business question. As a result the key task you have to perform as an applicant is: evaluate which skills you excel in, demonstrate an awareness of what they are, and display them to your interviewer.

What did you learn from your internship?

In terms of soft skills, I’ve had the chance to practice and improve across the board; from my presentation skills to my ability to prioritise tasks when there is a tight deadline. In terms of hard skills, beyond Excel and PowerPoint I’ve learnt so much about how businesses work in the real world, especially in the industries my clients inhabited. Finally, and most importantly, I’ve had the chance to greatly deepen my understanding of how consulting works and what the job is like day-to-day.

What advice would you give to someone else looking to gain experience in this sector?

Entering the consulting sector is a competitive process so any experience is extremely beneficial in setting yourself apart from your peers. Before applying for your first internship or graduate scheme, online virtual internships are a great way to get a feel for what life is like on the job. Furthermore, many universities offer the chance to do pro bono consulting work organised through their connected business schools or consulting societies.

Once you’ve set your sights on an internship or graduate scheme, what sets consulting apart from other corporate sectors during the application process is the case study element. You can find resources to help navigate case studies online or in books, and practising with friends is extremely helpful. Don’t forget that competency questions are still important, so review your past experiences and draw up some examples which demonstrate both your soft and hard skillset.

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