What to Expect on Your Consulting Internship

What to Expect on Your Consulting Internship was originally published on Vault.

It’s that time of year: you’ve either landed a summer internship or are deep into the application process. And, if you’re anything like me, your thoughts are already starting to turn towards the day-to-day realities of what you’ll be doing for the summer—and maybe panicking a little about what to expect. How many hours will you be working? What’s the dress code like? Am I even cut out for this job? How will I possibly stand out enough to get a full-time offer?

The good news: most of the largest firms, especially in consulting, will have a pretty well-developed program that will answer a lot of your questions for you.

But to get a sense of what’s expected from the people you’ll actually be working for, check out the following points, all of which I gleaned from this post on advice for incoming interns from the full-time consultants who make the ever-excellent /r/consulting sub-Reddit one of the best places on the web for learning about everyday life in the industry. I thoroughly recommend reading the entire post, but have excerpted my favorite responses here:

Take care of the basics

“Always be well dressed, always be willing to engage conversations, go out of your way to help everyone you can on things, show interest, be engaged, make the absolute most out of it, and enjoy it. Fact is, you’ll probably get a full-time offer from the internship, and if you can go into full-time with a network of friends and powerful people at the firm, you’ll have a major leg-up on everyone else and can get started establishing yourself as a young, key contributor in your industry very early on which will put you on a quick path to promotion and autonomy.”

—  MacAndGzus

Dress the part

“On day 1, ask about what the dress code is for if you’re working out of the office. On day x, when you finally get called to a site, ask what the dress code is at the client. When in doubt, over-dress.”

— die_sleeping

Ask intelligent questions

“Never ask any questions you could have found the answer to by Googling. That said, DON’T be afraid to ask what you might consider ‘dumb’ or ‘basic’ questions (e.g., I’ve read the SOW but what are we really trying to here?). Context and understanding are everything.”

— MicksMaster

“You’re joining a field of professionals who wear long hours as a badge of honor. It is up to you to ask questions, complete some additional research in your spare time, and spend a little time to come up to speed. But as long as you are constantly learning, you’re in a good spot. We expect interns to take in a lot of information, and quickly put it to use.”


Network, network, network

“Network as often as possible, especially work on establishing relationships with the other interns, not just the leadership. The other interns will be the ones who you work with when you start full-time, establishing rooted connections with them will be huge to have a strong group going forward that can network together and work together on projects, proposal work, etc. Sounds corny and generic, but building a brand for yourself really is essential.”

—  MacAndGzus

Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback…or help

“One thing I’ve seen a lot with interns is that they’re scared to show their manager anything until it’s ‘done.’ Everything is iterative so don’t fall into this trap and end up with your manager asking you why they haven’t seen something from you. Understand why you’re doing something, what purpose it serves, what the important outcomes of the activity are and make sure you’re hitting those. To this point, don’t spend three days working on something that should take 3 hours. Demonstrating this big picture view and asking ‘why am I doing this?’ can really differentiate you.”


Watch your attitude

“Always bring positive energy with you. As an intern, they expect that you’re going to be impressed with everything that’s happening and that you’re going to feel fortunate. In my case, public sector was the absolute last industry I personally was interested in and I was working in a state that I did not want to be in, with a team that was filled with older folks (most were transplants from a recent acquisition to make it worse) who had no interest in doing anything but work. While most of my other intern friends were working on interesting projects for major corporations with money to blow and on younger teams doing constantly interesting things. So I was not pleased with my situation and my only criticism from my superiors was a negative energy for my first few weeks. I didn’t even realize that I was displaying it, but I got absolutely reamed out for it from my mentor. I changed my attitude and my perspective accordingly and things suddenly got a hell of a lot better for me and those around me. Even if you have to, fake it. Your positive energy will go a long way and you’ll feel much more satisfied with the work you’re doing.”

— MacAndGzus

Use your initiative

“Take the next step. I’ve asked you to talk to Bob about something. You find Bob is out on vacation. Don’t come back with ‘Bob is off.’ Come to me with ‘Bob is off, his backfill is Jane. I wasn’t sure if I should approach her because I don’t have a relationship.’ That one action shows you can get s*** done, can take the next step and are thinking through what you’re doing.”


“Make me forget that you’re an intern. Just be really polished, learn a lot and always be on point. I want to work with people that know that they can be client facing at any point so they’re always sharp on the job. But also balance that with being a real person, and not be so serious.”


And the most important lesson…

“Since nobody mentioned it so far: try to enjoy it!

Nothing beats an intern who does an increasingly better job and also seems to have fun…”

— SlideNinja

What do you think of these tips—and what would you add? Let us know in the comments, or find me on Twitter.


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By Phil Stott - Vault
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