We asked a business management consultant to give us tips on how to impress HR—and how to avoid horrible mistakes when hunting for a job.
To ensure honesty, we’ve granted anonymity to this informant, who has spent several years at a major international consulting company and has helped guide hiring decisions for consultants (usually recent MBA graduates) and for associates and analysts (usually recent bachelor’s degree graduates). Here are his/her thoughts, as told to Aaron Weber.
The Most Important Business Tools
You’re used to Word because you’ve written papers in college. Good. Now that you’re in the business world, you need to be better at Excel and PowerPoint.
Take a class or do some tutorials, teach yourself, whatever. You’re going to need complex tables and convincing, tasteful presentations.
Recovering From Interview Mistakes
When we’re hiring someone, we use a sample project to test their skills in problem solving, critical thinking, and quantitative analysis (e.g. do the math, show your work). Weakness in any of these areas will get you dinged, but you don’t have to be perfect.
The questions are hard, and we expect at least a couple of errors.
The worst thing to do is freeze up or get stuck. Errors happen in interviews and in real life—a good recovery leads to a successful conclusion.
No Job Is a Bad Job
In some respects, I wish I’d known what it was that I actually wanted to do 10 years later, as my career has taken a somewhat circuitous route. But the truth is there’s really no bad decision as far as what job to take when entering the workforce (or even when changing jobs, as in my own case now).
When I’m going through job interviews now, I tell the story of how one experience led to the next as though I had this great long-term plan. But the fact is we construct the narratives of our lives after the fact—and any job we take will open new opportunities. It may close some doors, but not nearly as many as you might think—and not nearly as many as it will open.
In any job, it’s important to learn as much as one can. If your interests change or you start to explore other opportunities, make those linkages in your mind that let you answer the “have you done X?” question with a solid story: “No I haven’t done X, but I have done Y (sales, project management, managed a team) and it helped me developed great Z (people, quantitative, time management skills).”
If You Have to Ask About Money, You Haven’t Done Your Homework
All of the major consulting firms benchmark their starting salaries for each class to each other, so candidates coming in the door from college or MBA programs typically don’t really have any negotiating leverage.
Of course, once you have more experience, your salary increases based on your performance and whether other companies are trying to lure you away.
Have a question for a hiring manager that you want an honest answer to? Leave it in the comments.