Last week a friend forwarded me this interesting question:
Why do certain industries (e.g. consulting, investment banking) recruit much more heavily at high-prestige universities (e.g. Harvard, MIT, Oxford) compared to other industries (e.g. mining, agriculture, manufacturing)?
There are a few reasons for this. Based on my work in the consulting industry, I’d highlight the biggest one is that a high-prestige university is a relatively good proxy for the skills they are looking for:
- Personality: Prestige universities typically have very competitive admissions processes, and their students tend to be high achievers who are more likely to have "sitzfleisch". Management consultants notoriously work more hours than the average professional from other industries.
- Valuable relationships and social connections: Recruiters from the consulting space often associate these universities with high-quality networks of alumni and contacts. If you're in this group, many of your peers will likely take over senior, leadership positions in large organizations (which makes them a valuable connection when you solve difficult problems and help companies make a change).
Of course, specific knowledge matters. But most of our learning as consultants, as you know, tends to happen on the job. I haven’t seen any evidence of students from high-prestige universities having "better consulting skills" than the average.
So what recruitment professionals in large firms do here is simply using a heuristic. Being a high achiever and socially well-connected are disproportionally important in consulting. The prestige of one's university is a proxy that is more likely to filter these people - it's not perfect, but it works.
But why am I writing about this, if most of you reading this are not in the university anymore and already run their own consulting practices?
You might not need a new job, but you need clients. And they, just like the recruiters in a professional firm, will use proxies and heuristics to assess if you are the right person to advise them. It's up to you to stack the deck in your favor.
Here are a few questions to help you do this:
- What are the traits and skills my clients are looking for?
- What are the proxies they use to evaluate those traits and skills?
- Finally, how can you successfully demonstrate you have them (not just assert)?