What does it take to become a top consultant in tech?

To answer that question, we turned to the team at Ernst & Young, one of the top professional services and consulting firms in the world, and a Big Four accounting firm, whose consultants are often considered some of the best in the business. Their clients include the likes of Verizon, Coca Cola, and Lockheed Martin, and they frequently hire iSchool students right after graduation.

We sat down with Michelle Gaston ’13 G’18, an EY Financial Services Consultant and Dev Sundarasekhar G’10, a Robotics and Intelligent Automation Leader, to get their perspective on what makes someone a great fit for EY US — and what you can do to prepare yourself for a job in tech consulting.

Q: What are the most in-demand skill sets in your particular business? What kinds of skills are you actively looking for or do you need the most?

A: For leadership skills, we believe that social intuitiveness, an individual ability to take leadership and awareness of personal learning styles are critical for starting a career in consulting today.

Students who join Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) as interns or full-time hires are challenged on a daily basis in this career, often needing to learn new skills very quickly and interact with very senior clients on a regular basis.

If you are the kind of person who thrives on teamwork, finds it easy to present and take leadership in groups, and most importantly is able to be flexible and highly creative with challenges and tasks, consulting would be a great career for you.

Q: What problems and tasks do you want graduates to be able to tackle? Are there specific projects or areas of your business that if someone knew how to approach them skillfully would make them especially desirable?

A: First, graduates need to develop critical thinking skills. Being comfortable asking questions and approaching a challenge with different ideas are both key.

Second, you should be able to explain what you need in order to perform at your best. What’s your unique learning style? Is it best for you to talk things out, draw things out on a whiteboard, dig into reading material, or something else?

You’ll also need to capitalize on strong, genuine social skills. Some people are naturally good at building rapport with others, and this is, in our opinion, the most valuable skill you can have in any career (especially this one).

Usually, people know if they are good at this and comfortable with this. If you’re not confident in your ability, there’s a few things you can do.

Spend a month making small talk with everyone — and we mean everyone. You can also consider taking improv or Toastmasters classes. Finally, find a mentor and be a mentor. We believe that when you try to help guide others, it ends up being just as helpful for your own growth.

Thinking about a 1-year, 5-year, and 10-year plan can also help you succeed in this industry. It’s OK not to know where your life will go, but setting goals is a key aspect of success. In 10 years, what would make you feel proud of yourself?

[Editor’s note: Michelle Highly recommends the book Write It Down, Make It Happen by Henriette Anne Klauser, PhD]

At the end of the day, your well-being is the most important part of your success. Identify your needs, your wants, and what you need to do to get there. Find ways to build those routines into your daily life so that no matter how crazy life gets, you’ll always have those staple actions to keep you grounded.

Q: What kind of prior experience do you find the most valuable and necessary? When you look at a resume, what puts your mind at ease? What do you want to see to move candidates to the top of the “yes” pile?

A: We look for a handful of things on resumes.

Make sure that you are highlighting the value you provided in your experience, not just what you did, and give us metrics to show off your hard work. Tell me what you can do for my company in the future and show me what value you will bring to my team.

If you’re interested in consulting, you will never work individually. Think of consulting as a team sport, so highlight your leadership and teamwork experience on your resume.

Your resume should be visually appealing and very easy to read. Use bullet points and headers to separate different areas.

Ultimately, you want to tailor your resume to the company’s value. For example, at EY US, we engage in a lot of corporate philanthropy. If you’ve volunteered, helped others or your community, we like to hear about that! Adding this to your resume would spark some conversation during an interview.

Q: What skills, knowledge, or experience would make new employees successful from day one? What should people do, know, or have to hit the ground running and find success on the job?

A: A few skills are extremely helpful.

Learn the basics of Microsoft Excel and make sure you know how to do a VLOOKUP.

If you’re asked to work on something, be able to build a plan showing how you want to accomplish it and run it by your manager. This shows your ability to be proactive, and also gives you the opportunity to confirm that your approach is on track.

Work on looking for opportunities to build rapport with people — even a photo on a client’s desk of their family skiing. Remember, people love to talk about themselves and they love to talk about things they are passionate about. Sometimes simply asking a question and showing interest in another person will open the door to the start of a great connection.

Strategic thinking is also essential to the job. One of the main reasons companies hire consultants is because they lack the resources internally or don’t know what to do to fix them.

Are you able to start from scratch and think about a situation analytically? Brainstorm ideas and approaches? Be creative about solutions?

If so, you’ll do well in consulting on day one.

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

A: Be aware of what’s going on in the world. There are many news apps that help you skim current events, or subscriptions that will send you daily updates about industry or world events.

When I was a student, I had a social media account I used only to follow major tech companies and tech news. Before I walked into an interview, networking event, happy hour, etcetera, I would make sure to do some skimming of what was going on.

Just by reading short posts or headlines, you can become incredibly aware; it’s shocking how helpful that can be for making small talk.

The more you know about current events, the more you can relate them to your own conversations. It’s an easy thing to do that yields a lot of value and knowledge and also helps you stand out!

Does a job in tech sound interesting to you? Check out our Information Management & Technology major to see all the possibilities you’ll have as an iSchool student.