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How Business School Prepares You for a Successful Career in Consulting

Apr 4, 2023
Vanderbilt Business faculty, staff, and alumni share keys to consulting success

By Arial Starks

Consulting is one of the most diverse industries professionals of all working backgrounds can choose to enter. It is also becoming increasingly more popular, year after year. So, how does one achieve success in such a broad field? At Vanderbilt Business, students are provided with a challenging curriculum taught by world-class faculty, access to resources to aid them in their career journey, and a network of alumni with proven success in the industry to help guide them through the process. Continue reading to see how these 3 factors set students up for successful careers in consulting. 

Brian McCann

Consulting curriculum

While consulting is a diverse field covering interests from marketing to healthcare, Vanderbilt Business offers a relevant curriculum that can be tailored to any student’s specific career needs. Brian McCann, Vanderbilt David K. Wilson Professor of Management, says the core strategy class built into the curriculum provides students with transferable tools for their consulting toolkit.

“In most for-profit firms, consulting projects ultimately have the goal of trying to increase the business’ long-term value, and in order to do that they have to create some type of competitive advantage,” McCann said. “In this core class, we really try to set the tools and frameworks that will help students think systematically about sources of competitive advantage.” 

The concept of getting students to think logically and strategically about business problems and solutions is consistent throughout the Vanderbilt consulting curriculum. Alums like Kaitlyn Wilson (MBA’21), are still using the curriculum they learned at school in their consulting roles today. Wilson, now a consultant with Bain and Company in Atlanta, Georgia, says the educational backing she received from the MBA program was directly transferable to her current role. 

“The class Brian McCann teaches on the decision-making process has been really helpful to me in my day-to-day consulting role,” Wilson shared. “So much of what we’re doing is advising organizations on how to move forward. Thinking about how to structure a decision, while weighing those trade-offs and pros and cons is just a really valuable skill set to have.” 

Business school structure

Aside from the courses students are being taught, the overall structure of each program is designed to contribute to success in industries like consulting. McCann points to the Vanderbilt mod system, which allows students to get exposure to several different areas and requires them to think cross-functionally, just as they will have to in consulting. 

“If a business has some sort of problem, it’s rarely just a marketing issue or just an HR issue,” McCann explained. “The problem may be focused in a certain area, but it will likely have implications in several areas of the business. Our mod system supports students having more of that breadth of those different functional areas, which supports good consulting development.”

Campus involvement also serves as a contributor to many consulting students’ career success. Wilson served as president of the Owen Strategy and Consulting Club during her time at Vanderbilt Business. She says the role gave her invaluable leadership experience, especially with her club involvement taking place during the height of the pandemic. 

Kaitlyn Wilson (2nd from right) speaks at first Women in Consulting Panel

“You have to navigate a lot of ambiguity as a student leader,” Wilson shared. “No one is delegating tasks to you so you are ‘driving the ship’ in a sense to figure out your own strategy for navigating club leadership. So much of the working world is navigating ambiguity, and having the opportunity to lead a club at Owen provided me that first-hand, relevant experience.”

Wilson points to the many school-sponsored events that gave her a better sense of preparedness to enter the workforce. In January 2022, she was able to pay forward the resources she had access to as a student, to future consultants. She volunteered to speak to current consulting students about her time in the industry at Vanderbilt’s first Women in Consulting Panel

Consulting career support

Arguably, one of the most important resources students have in business school is a career support team. At Vanderbilt Business, the Career Management Center team begins supporting students the moment they are accepted into their respective program and continues until they walk across the stage at Commencement. The CMC team helps students prepare for the recruiting cycle through resume and cover letter review sessions.

“Networking is a huge part of consulting so cover letters are utilized,” said Courtney Fain, Associate Director, MBA Coaching and Advising. “Those networking conversations help students determine ‘why this firm.’ Not only are students finding out about the work at a firm during the recruiting cycle, but also the firm’s culture, and they want to display that knowledge through a cover letter.”

Courtney Fain

The CMC also assists students through the recruiting cycles until they land a job. Fain says a huge way she and the other career coaches support consulting students is through behavioral and casing interview prep.

“The behavioral interviews usually come through the CMC coaches via 1-on-1 sessions to help students prepare generally, and also in particular, for interviews they may have coming up in the future,” Fain shared.” The casing preparation is really in tandem with the Owen Strategy and Consulting Club (OSCC), of which I am the staff advisor.”

Aside from the technical preparation students receive from the CMC, they are also equipped with a network of Vanderbilt alumni who are excited and willing to offer their support.

“As a CMC representative, it is not only important for us to showcase our alumni and the work they are doing, but the lifestyle that they are developing. Students want to know what they are getting themselves into with the amount of travel they will be required to do or long hours they will be working. We want to help them prepare mentally, as well as connect them to alums who can give them a sense of what the industry looks like.”

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