Aspiring consultants turn to on-campus practice

By Mischa Fierer

Eckhart Consulting (E.C.), an independent student consulting club that works with U of C campus groups, accepted only eight percent of its applicants this year, a potential indication that students are increasingly jostling to land high-paid consulting jobs after graduation.

Founded in 2002, E.C. consists of 27 student members who work in teams for clients like Student Government to solve strategic problems that hinder organizational productivity. E.C. alumni have gone on to high-powered consulting gigs at companies like JPMorgan.

With students increasingly seeking the extra edge in applying for post-graduate jobs, the number of students applying to E.C. has tripled in three years. According to E.C. managing director and fourth-year Thong Kai Shang, this heightened competition is a change from the early days of the club, when the ragtag group of aspiring consultants trekked to Northwestern University for information sessions.

Annalee Letchinger (A.B. ’69), an adviser at Career Advising and Placement Services, traced the increased prominence of corporate recruiting on the U of C campus to a post-Vietnam de-emphasis of graduate school, which had been a popular option for many students attempting to avoid the draft. In the 1980s, big companies like IBM started hunting for talent on campuses. The current recruiting system, which has been a boon for many economics majors, was born soon afterward.

Consulting firms and banking companies have held campus events throughout fall quarter, and many fourth-years have already completed interviews and received offers for post-graduate careers. Some recruiters have even actively sought out non-economics majors who might otherwise consider graduate school, holding “consulting for social-science majors” events to target students from a wide range of academic fields.

The Eckhart consultants hope their experiences will help them take advantage of the opportunities that the intense recruiting cycle offers and provide a leg up on the competition it fosters.

Shang said the vital tricks and teamwork skills he has picked up at E.C. augment critical thinking skills that he learned in classes. He is now able to remember dozens of people’s names right after one round of introductions, for example.

Switching from his student hat to his consulting one, he has learned that it is often best to “ask simple and stupid questions.” These questions often make it easier for him to get a hold of clients’ problems, he said.

E.C. members interview client groups and make “decks”—consultant speak for PowerPoint presentations that present the group’s findings and proposals for clients’ consideration, Shang said.

Last Saturday, one of E.C.’s seven-member teams was busy helping a campus group that wanted to reach more students. Shang scrutinized a spreadsheet on his screen while another member took notes on a blackboard.

The team was worried that the client might not care enough to apply E.C.’s advice. Nonetheless, they agreed that it was their job to let the client decide whether or not to implement the suggestions.

Shang and E.C.’s other leaders, called “principals,” toss out wisdom gleaned from past projects to help the junior members focus their questions for clients.

Alumni advisors also help E.C. members hone their consulting skills.

“You can call me and pretend I’m a ,” said Jamie Stevens

(A.B. ’04), now a professional consultant.