With spring interviews now underway for summer consulting positions, a fair number of Yale students are pulling out their finest business attire in the hopes of landing one of the coveted spaces inside a respected consulting firm.

The motivations are varied: some seek the promise of a full-time job offer upon completion of a summer internship, while others desire to pad their resumes with the McKinsey or Bain name.

Some, like Teresa Overskei ’03, chose the summer consulting route in order to receive exposure to a new type of career. Overskei, a former director of business development at the Yale Daily News, spent last summer in southern California as an intern with Mercer Human Resource Consulting, where she said she was pleasantly underwhelmed by the 35-hour-per-week schedule.

“I hadn’t had any experience with it before, so I was just looking to get some to see if I enjoyed it,” she said.

For the consultants-in-training among the Yale student body, spending a summer at a high-powered consulting firm may seem like a way to set themselves apart from the rest of the pack when they begin interviewing for full-time jobs.

The internship game

When Noah Glass ’03, a political science major in Calhoun College, met with his faculty adviser during his junior year, he said he gained some wisdom that helped him decide whether consulting was right for him. He said his mentor, Charles Hill, advised him to identify his skill set and then try to sharpen those skills during his young adult life.

“For me, that skill set seemed to be business,” Glass said. “And the best way to refine and develop those skills was through a summer of management consulting.”

Last summer, Glass interned in Boston with the firm Braun Consulting, where he experienced the working world of the professional services industry. In learning about presentation writing, client interaction, and other aspects of the trade, Glass said he confirmed his desire to work in the industry. After graduation, Glass said he plans to work in nonprofit realm of consulting, focusing on international development.

“After such an exposure, I was prepared to make a better-educated decision about my fit within the consulting profession,” said Glass, who secured his internship through the Undergraduate Career Services InterviewTrak system. “And [I] decided that it was indeed something I would be interested in pursuing as a career.”

For students who are still unsure about whether they want to experience the corporate world, summer consulting internships offer a number of intangible and tangible benefits — including versatile skills and generous compensation. According to UCS internship statistics for 2002, the average weekly salary for consulting interns was $575, ranking only behind information technology and finance.

In addition, a student who has completed a consulting internship may receive extra attention from prospective consultant companies during the job hunt.

“It is looked on as favorable, ” said Dianna Mitchell, the recruitment coordinator for LexEcon, a small consulting company based in Cambridge, Mass. “Mainly because it allows an avenue to demonstrate their analytic ability through discussion in the interview process and also an interest in the work we do.”

UCS Director Philip Jones said the number of summer consulting internships has not fallen as dramatically as the number of full-time positions. He added that the number of students who intern in consulting firms and receive full-time offers is rising.

“It doesn’t mean that people who haven’t had internships can’t get the jobs, but it means that the people who have done the internships certainly have a significant advantage,” Jones said.

Christina Paquette, a spokeswoman at Bain and Company in New York City, said the company highly emphasizes recruitment, adding that full-time offers are made on occasion to Bain’s summer interns.

“At Bain, recruiting is the lifeblood of organization,” she said. “We constantly bring in the best and the brightest students.”

The tradeoff

While consulting internships can have their merits, they are not the only track to a high-paying job.

Sarah Citrin ’00 worked as a business analyst at McKinsey for two years after graduating from Yale but had not performed any summer internship with a consulting, financial, or corporate organization while an undergraduate.

“It isn’t necessary to do corporate internships during college — in particular, not necessary to do consulting internships,” said Citrin, who added that she encouraged Yalies to find summer jobs that interest them, even if they are unconventional. “It’s best to stay flexible in exploring your job options.”

In some respects, having a consulting internship may even make it harder for a candidate to receive a full-time consulting job, said Kristen Clemmer, recruitment coordinator for Katzenbach Partners, a New York-based consulting company that is a relative newcomer to the industry.

“If you walk in the door with consulting experience, we expect the knowledge to be that much deeper,” Clemmer said. “We tend to hire the less obvious people — and we’re fascinated by whatever people’s passions are — It isn’t always what you’ve done over the summer or what you’ve majored in in school.”

Clemmer said that having a consulting internship may enhance one’s chance of getting a first-time interview, but once a person gets in the door, “the resume ceases to be an important piece of information.” She added that the percentage of full-time applicants with consulting experience is low, partially because of the fact that few of these internships are readily available.

Crunch time

Given the uncertainty in the economy, some major consulting companies have been forced to scale back the number of jobs and decrease compensation for consultants. Recently, McKinsey let go of all of its second-year analysts. The consulting industry has ceased to grow over the last few years, Jones said.

“I think it’s been very flat,” he said. “Once the economy started to take a dip, the opportunities thinned out significantly so there aren’t as many companies employing as many people in the industry.”

Javier de Santos SOM ’03, who has worked for the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, also said the industry is “under examination” — many companies are questioning whether the money they spent on consulting was a worthwhile investment. While job opportunities still exist, the competition for limited spots has gotten increasingly intense.

“[There are] not many full-time offers this year,” de Santos said. “Although my guess is that they’ll take more summer interns compared to last year as a means to have potential full-time consultants in the pipeline if the economy recovers and business picks up.”

But at smaller consulting firms, the changes have been less severe. While LexEcon plans to reduce the number of intern positions from two to one this year, the number of full-time hires per year — four — has been relatively constant over the last three years, Mitchell said. The firm has typically hired at least one or two Yale seniors per year over the last five years.

Katzenbach Partners has bolstered its recruitment efforts in recent years. Clemmer said the company has not experienced any layoffs due to the recession and has doubled the number of its summer internships. She said the company hopes to take on three or four Yale seniors this year.

“We’ve had great success with Yale,” said Clemmer, who added that the company’s first intern was a Yalie.

While consulting still appeals to some undergraduates at Yale, the number of students who have reported doing a consulting internship has declined in recent years. According to UCS statistics, only 2 percent of Yale students reported doing a consulting internship over the summer of 2002, a noticeable drop from the 6 percent in 2001 and 8 percent in 2000.

“I think part of the Yale mythology that the students have is that there are enormous amount of students going into the field,” Jones said. “But that’s not true and it’s never been true.”