Ah, interviewing—the great black box. Throw in the application steps that precede it, and the whole process can quickly become a morass that is often confusing, sometimes overwhelming, and rarely clear. Fortunately for me, and you too if you happen to be reading this, the CRA application process was none of the above. This clarity was one of the things that made CRA standout from the crowd, and in repayment of my good fortune, I will try to pass on that clarity to future applicants with a little light on the whole thing.
For starters, I applied off-cycle from a school that CRA doesn’t visit for on-campus recruiting, Vanderbilt University. For anyone thinking of applying in similar circumstances, don’t write off your chances—off-cycle, non-target hiring does happen, and, depending on the practice, sometimes quite frequently. If this sounds like you, then I would encourage you to invest a little legwork in networking to get your foot in the door. It will be rewarded. Economic consulting is a specialized field and without the constant spam emails asking for interview favors like there can be in other fields, so reach out to alumni or contacts off the firm website for a conversation. It has a much better chance of being well received. I reached out to an alumni who attended Vanderbilt for his PhD, the next day he forwarded my resume to a practice who was looking for additional hires, a week later they set up a day of remote interviews, and that afternoon I received my offer.
That speed and decisiveness struck me as unusual at first, but looking back now after being at the company for a year, it instead seems indicative of the firm’s process. From start to finish, every person I spoke with was honest and straightforward about the qualities and qualifications they were looking for in an analyst. There were no ‘gotcha’ questions—that’s not the culture of CRA, and it’s not necessary to get a good handle on what a candidate knows and doesn’t know. Many, if not all, of the people you will speak with hold advanced degrees in fields like economics or statistics, so they can tell if you know which way is up.
On a different note, if you are applying through more formal channels, then the main question you are asking yourself is, “how do I stand out?” That question is another way of saying, “what is CRA looking for, and how do I convey those attributes to them?”, a rephrasing that takes us closer to an answer. There is certainly a raft of qualities great candidates bring to any job interview, such as work ethic and communication, but there are a couple key ones that are more unique to CRA and economic consulting. One is attention to detail, in every sense of the phrase. If you are working on a high-profile litigation case, then on the opposing side there is another team with another analyst whose job it is to go through your work and find mistakes. Even just one mistake in the wrong place can sink a case. Demonstrated attention to detail is key to getting hired. Another important trait to emphasize is intellectual curiosity. Many senior staff have PhDs and look for the same scholarly drive that fired that commitment in their potential new co-workers. Because of this, a common theme among first-year analyst resumes is some sort of undergraduate research experience. If you have this, accentuate it. Come prepared to talk about it, a lot. Demonstrate that you understand what you did, why you did it, and the takeaways you gained. If you don’t have research experience, find another line on your resume to highlight that can signal some of the same attributes.
Interview season can certainly be less than stellar—but it also offers a great chance to explore different opportunities and get a glimpse of what the next few years of your life will be like. Enjoy it, happy hunting, and hopefully I will see some of you in the office.
“Try & Hire” internship experience at CRA Zurich amid the COVID-19 pandemic
José Bila is an associate in the Life Sciences Practice based in Zurich. He joined CRA in June 2020 as part of the Swiss “Try & Hire” program, where...