Tech & Work

Need a foot in the door with consulting firms? Learn how you can cross over the threshold

Trying to get an interview at a top IT consulting firm? Here are some pointers geared to help you get noticed by a potential employer.


Consulting firms, like other IT firms, have masses of energetic techies knocking on their doors. And to hiring managers, a lot of the candidates probably all look alike on paper. So how do you separate yourself from the crowd? The first step is to find an “in” with the people in charge, then create a killer resume that catches the attention of the hiring manager.

Do your research
When looking for a prime position with a top IT firm, investigate all avenues available to you. The first step is networking. Put your feelers out and talk with coworkers and friends in your field. “You should always be networking,” said Don Justice, practice leader of educational services in the Louisville, KY branch of Panurgy, an e-business, client/server development company. While attending events, trade shows, or classes, always think about how these people can help you. “Your peers can be a good source of information and might be willing to pass your name on,” said Justice.

When speaking with colleagues and friends, “find out what they like about their jobs,” said Shawn Cheatham, director of staffing in Tampa, FL for kforce.com, a Web-based, specialty-staffing firm.

It’s wise to see what your peers do, and where, before you travel down the same avenue. Is what they like about their jobs the company, the location, the work atmosphere, the pay, the skill sets utilized, or the opportunities for continued education and training? Remember, what may be important in a job for someone else may not be important to you, Cheatham explained. This can help you decide which organizations would be a good fit for you before you invest the time pursuing employment with them.

Beyond networking, the Internet is a great place to look for consulting positions. “I look at BrainBuzz.com, Monster.com, and dice.com from time to time” to see what types of jobs are available, Justice said. That information can arm you with the knowledge of particular companies, markets, and skill sets needed.

Staffing agencies are also a good bet, Cheatham said. Many reputable firms hire staffing agencies like Cheatham’s to do the searching for them. “Most firms do not have the time to weed through resumes. That’s our job. We screen the resumes and then identify the appropriate candidates for the job,” he added.

Creating your resume
Of course, you’ll want to prepare a highly professional resume and include the skills and experience that may be key for winning that first interview. Be sure to include all relevant past experiences. “When evaluating a resume, we look at what the person has done in the past two to five years. If that person is a contractor, we look at the last four to six assignments they’ve completed,” Cheatham said.

Contractor and consultant work, as a rule, is usually very time-consuming. Most jobs are completed in three-month increments, and six- and twelve-month projects are also common. So a project that falls under this timeframe can raise a red flag. “If we see a job that was performed in one week, that makes us a little suspicious,” Cheatham said. Therefore, it is best to explain why a particular job was so short.

A lot of consultants list a company that they’ve done multiple jobs for only once, to save space. This actually sells your experience short. “If you’ve done multiple jobs for one company, list all of them. This shows that they liked your work and wanted to use you for other jobs,” Cheatham suggested.

“What’s important is what you’ve done in the past,” added John Reinert, a contractor and IT support specialist for New Age Technologies.

Reinert landed his position with the Louisville, KY-based firm because of his diverse skill base and his past experience. “I have my MCSE, and I am Solaris and Novell certified,” he said. “Before getting my current position, I helped launch the start-up, ecampus. I was two months away from getting my MCSE, and I had recently finished setting up the entire WAN for the Commonwealth of Kentucky,” Reinert explained.

Keep in mind that a detailed account of all your projects could get lengthy. Most hiring managers like a resume to be two pages at the most. Reinert offers a solution to this. “I bring my resume, which is a basic summary of my past projects, and a portfolio of all the past work I have done, in detail. I also include a list of references,” he said.

It’s also wise to leave the date you graduated from college or the chronological list of your employment off your resume. “Do an experiential resume, and pull out your most significant accomplishments,” Justice advised.

A chronological resume can hurt both young and older, more experienced candidates, Justice explained. If the potential employers see that a candidate is young, they may assume there’s a lack of necessary experience or that the individual can be “low-balled” on a salary offer. At the same time, a hiring manager may look at the resume of a more experienced job-seeker with every job listed and think, “We can’t afford this person.”

The follow-up call
Employers receive an exorbitant amount of resumes, so be sure to make a follow-up call after your resume is delivered. “If you are at the bottom of the stack, and an employer takes the first couple of interviewees off the top, you’re out of luck,” Cheatham said. “Your call could get you pulled out from the bottom of the pile.”

Human resources could be the most infamous bottleneck when applying for a new position, but keep on them. Many times, HR does not have the background to screen for technology positions. This is why time is lost—when there’s a back and forth between the hiring manager and the HR department.
Do you have a story about how you got a top consulting firm to look your way? Post your comments below or e-mail us.

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