How to become a management consultant at McKinsey, BCG, Bain

Best Management Consulting BooksThe top strategy consulting firms in India, USA, UK and many other key markets across the world get tons of applications each year from folks (some with and others without an MBA) who want to become management consultants at like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Booz, AT Kearney and other elite management consulting firms.

Geronimo (name changed) worked with us during his MBA application days. We heard back from him a couple of years later and he shared the wonderful news that he had managed to break into the management consulting industry. He had offers from multiple well-respected consulting firms. In this post, he explains how you can manage the challenging but rewarding journey of becoming a management consultant.

Before leaving the site, don’t forget to get your copy of ‘Business Doctors: Management Consulting Gone Wild‘, a novel about management consultants trying to turnaround an underworld organization
 


How to become a management consultant at McKinsey, BCG, Bain

by Geronimo

I am Geronimo, a recent MBA grad from Carnegie Mellon – Tepper School of Business, one of the best bschools for consultant jobs. Before coming to Business school, I worked as a Software Engineer for 3 years at a product development firm. I did my internship at Amazon and will be joining one of the top management consulting firms (M/B/B – McKinsey, BCG, Bain) as a consultant for full-time.

When I was looking for business schools, my first focus was to get into one. I have to confess, although my goal was management consulting, I never did much research about it before I started my MBA. It took me a while to know all the nuances of consulting and it was painful when I didn’t make the cut for a consulting internship.

However, I loved the entire process; there was excitement, disappointment, learning, and joy. Some of us succeeded and others went someplace better.

During the process, I did 19 interviews with 6 of the top firms and ended up receiving two offers. Here I want to share the learning during that process. The first and foremost step in this process is to get an interview.
 

Part 1 – Getting a management consultant interview

This is one of the hardest or the easiest step depending on the school, past experience, networking abilities, and the knowledge of industry. One popular saying is – if you want to be a consultant then you have to show that you are already a consultant. The key is to highlight skills from your past experience which are relevant to consulting and selling your skills to those who will evaluate you.

The B-school’s ranking gives some credibility in this quest; nonetheless, one needs to put in their effort to be one amongst those who last till the end. MBA normally starts in August/September and the application deadlines are generally in December. There are numerous things to do to get an interview in that period and we can broadly classify them into four distinct parts: Research, Office Selection, Networking, and Application.
 

Research: How to find the right management consulting firms

You need to know about the different types of consulting firms out there to understand the playing field. I won’t go too much into details as these firms can be classified and bucketed in different ways.

Some of the big firms are McKinsey, BCG, Bain (MBB); Deloitt, PwC, E&Y, KPMG (Big 4 Audit); specialized firms such as A.T. Kearney, L.E.K, Oliver Wyman; and technology services firms such as Accenture, IBM, TCS, and CTS etc. This list in no means is exhaustive and there are plenty of small boutique firms apart from these big firms.

The first task is to research on the landscape, create a target list of firms, and find some connections in each of them. The connection can be your school, alumni, friends or friends of friends etc. Once you have a target list, focus on the companies where you could find a connection. This way your chances of being heard are higher. Before reaching out to anyone in the firm, you have to do extensive research on these companies. Remember and etch this in your mind, every interaction with the member of a firm is evaluative.

Research can be done through Wetfeet, Vault guides, forums, blogs, career counselors, alumni, current students, current employees etc.

You need to have clarity on the kind of work they do, category they fall in, recruitment process, alumni in different offices, specialists vs. generalists, staffing model etc. This post won’t be sufficient to explain everything over there, so please do your research and take this categorization with a grain of salt.

[Here’s more about the best management consulting firms and the best consulting firms in Technology, Finance, HR]
 

Office Selection: Targeting local vs international consulting offices

The next step is to choose the right office to apply. This choice is based on partners in the office, work they do, alumni from your school, competing schools, geography etc. Each firm has a particular recruitment process. For example, if you apply for McKinsey, BGG or Bain, you can apply to any office in the world, but the first interview, if you are shortlisted, will be at the office which your school is affiliated with.

The next round will be at the office of your choice. Hence, you need to network with people from not only in the office you are interested in, but also with the people in the home office so that your name is on the closed list for the interview. This process is different for different firms. The best bet is to target those offices where your alumni are. This way, it’s easier to network and prepare as alumni are generally willing to help one of their own.
 

Networking: Building contacts with other management consultants

Along with a good resume tailored for consulting, you need a pitch. You need to have a story which talks about why you are a good fit for consulting and why a particular company. Try to find those skills which are relevant for consulting and highlight those in your resume and pitch. You might wonder why you need to network.

Networking is what consultants do every other day either with the clients or with their colleagues. Networking is not about talking to a person for your benefit; but it’s about making a genuine connection with a person. More than half of your class will apply for consulting and trust me most of them will have a good resume as yours. However, these firms have limited spots for interviews and hence will create a smaller closed list from that pool. This is where networking helps.

Most of these firms have numerous events such as office hours, corporate presentations, and other formal events to network. This is where they want to know you and evaluate you to create that list. Office hours are generally personal events, hence you get some good face-time with the recruiter, but other events are generally open for all and hence it’s difficult to differentiate yourself.

Apart from these events, you have information calls with the people of the recruiting team. After office hours, this by far, is the most evaluative of the conversations. The goal here is to highlight your skills while getting to know more about the firm. This is also an opportunity for you to showcase your resume. These calls happen generally at the end of October/beginning of November. If you are late in reaching out, you might not get a response.

Imagine a consultant being bombarded with hundreds of mails from students. He or she will reply to first few, but later they all go on the back burner. At the end of these calls or other networking events, the person is trying to see how you can interact and whether you have what it takes to succeed in consulting.
 

Application: Do you come across as a management consultant?

The final step in this process is submitting an application. This happens in December and involves submitting a cover letter and resume, choosing offices, etc. If you think you are evaluated only on the merits of this application, unless you have an exceptional resume, you can kiss good bye to that interview.

It takes hard work and smart effort to get that spot. Although every year some people get by without doing anything, it’s for you to decide whether you want to take that chance. If you are really passionate about consulting, brace yourself for this challenge and trust me it’s awesome.

Hope this helps.

– Geronimo

Read these management consulting blogs:
Is consulting a good career choice for me?
Best Management Consulting Books
Management consulting interview questions
Best bschools for consultant jobs


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Sameer Kamat //
Sameer Kamat

Founder of MBA Crystal Ball. Author of Beyond The MBA Hype & Business Doctors. Here’s more about me. Connect with me on Google+ | Twitter | Facebook | Linkedin

24 Comments

  1. Ebrahim says:

    Hi Sameer,

    A quick question. As a current MBA applicant (for class of 2016), I am very much interested in consulting post MBA and naturally I am curious to know their requirements. So my question is-
    Do the top consulting firms and the others require a particular MINIMUM undergraduate GPA in order to apply for their summer internships as well as the regular full time recruitment?

    Because I DO have a low undergraduate GPA but also a very strong masters GPA in Engineering.

    I am asking because I’ve seen from careers websites of some of these companies(BCG, Bain) and just wondering if its the same for the others that wouldnt explicitly mentioned that on their website.

    I am particularly interested in Deloitte and McKinsey(partly because they have a strong presence in my country, Nigeria).

    Sorry for the very wordy question.

    Thanks alot and I hope to hear from you soon.

  2. Sameer Kamat says:

    Ebrahim,

    Let me see if MG can respond to this. He worked as a consultant with McKinsey and was also involved in recruitment activities.

  3. MG says:

    Ebrahim, most big firms do not have any minimum GPA. I know folks who’ve made it to the big names with the bare minimum passing points.

    That said, all consulting firms look at your education pedigree. They are looking for a clear spike; but the spike does not necessarily need to be in academics – though that tends to be the easiest one. That is why you have so many top rank guys/gals in these firms. The other areas to develop a spike in could be ECs or work-ex. Do bear in mind that if you are ‘weak’ in one of the 3 dimensions (that’s acads, work, ECs), you have to make up for that in another dimension. That means the spike has to be that much distinctive.

    Hope this clarifies your predicament.

    Cheers,

  4. itateme says:

    Hi Sameer,

    I am an undergrad currently deciding between positions at LEK and Deloitte S&O. If I eventually want to move to MBB (probably after getting an MBA), which firm do you think will set me up for better?

    Which firm do you think an MBB will look more favorably upon when reviewing my resume?

  5. MG says:

    Itateme,

    L.E.K. has very quickly come to have a decent name in the industry. That said, Deloitte S&O might just have some edge. Moving to MBB from either will be tough as they rarely hire undergrad laterals.

    Post MBA too, the chances will also depend on your educational pedigree, the quality of your assignments at LEK/Deloitte and sundry other factors.

    So in summary, it wont make a world of difference either ways from MBB perspective. So take your pick basis if there are other parameters too

    Cheers,

  6. SRI says:

    HI SAMEER

    i am a post-graduate in aerospace firm with 2 years of experience in aerospace technical field and currently looking forward for an MBA degree for a career change. i have read ur beyond MBA hype and made up my mind to search for alternatives than getting in to MBA right away due to lack of Bussines background,experience to join best B schools in US,and wanted to know more of this field before getting in to a B-school by investing huge amount of money.Some consuting firms like Mckinesy offer bussiness analyst positions without MBA .I would like to know about similar firms like mckinsey for experienced non-MBA’s. i would like to have your sugession wether this approch is ok or its better to get in to a b school right away.

    India

  7. Sunny says:

    Hi Sameer ,

    I worked as a credit analyst made a career change and now working for a Small Management consulting firm which provide management consulting services for small and mid-sized businesses.I wanted to know what is the scope of career growth if I start my Management consulting career from a small firm whether I will be offered a management consultant role in Big consulting firm if I apply to them in future .Because right now I’m completely involved in end to end project of client .Since there are many field in Consulting and since I have got a break in Management Consulting role I want that my Career progression shall be in the management consulting role and I also have another question I have also worked on SAS since excel is primarily used I wanted to know is there any advantage for SAS in this sector .Whether any Consulting company use SAS tool in India .What are the tools taht are in demand in consulting field

  8. @shish says:

    Hi,

    Have over 6 years of experience Consulting in Transfer Pricing with a Big4, having worked in diverse industries, and (worked on and led) diverse projects (compliance, structuring, general business advisory, litigation etc.) and now keen on a switch to management consulting (MBB).

    Would it be easy/difficult to get through to them, and make this switch from a relatively niche role.
    Are the MBB typically open to such candidates.

    Thanks in advance.

  9. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Sri: You could try the Big-4 audit firms like PwC, KPMG, E&Y, Deloitte who also have consulting practices.
    And why haven’t you posted a review of MBA Hype yet, buddy?

    @Sunny: Knowing any additional tool that can help you do your basic job better is always good. However, unlike Excel (and Microsoft Office in general) that is more universal, I don’t think any top consulting firm insists on SAS expertise.

    @shish: M/B/B would like to see a top MBA.

  10. sandeep says:

    Dear Sameer and MG,

    Thanks for the wonderful write up. It clears out many of the issues that were running in mind.
    Basically I’m a practicing Doctor (in Singapore) with more than 8 years of clinical experience. I’m also pursuing my part time MBA in Singapore and will be finishing end of this year.
    I want to know what are the prospects of a doctor like me with a MBA, getting into one of the big consulting firms.
    I love my career but I’m looking at other opportunities, where I can improve healthcare at a macro level. That was the reason I thought of getting an MBA and go into health care management.
    Please let me, how I can better my chances of getting into MBB (preferably M)
    Thanks
    Sandeep

  11. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Sandeep: The big hurdle would be the ‘part-time’ tag. The top consulting firms recruit from the best full-time MBA programs. And with so much competition, it may be tough for you to target the same jobs/companies.

  12. Daryll Don Buo says:

    Dear Sameer and MG,

    I’m currently in the field of corporate taxation, a specialized field of accounting. I worked before in the Tax practice of EY for 2 years and have been a Corporate Tax Officer of 3 different companies/industries. Now, I’ve been working in 4 companies including EY in just a short period of time (4 years to be exact). By October of this year, I’ll be working again with EY as a Tax Consultant but this time in a different country. However, my dream is to become a management consultant and this dream will be fulfilled hopefully at McKinsey. I was not able to apply back then because I’m 100% sure that I wouldn’t be able to make it because my school was not a top-tier university in our country. After 4 years of working, here I am now, contemplating again in realizing my dream job. I read a lot of articles about admission to McKinsey/Bain/BCG and one of the requirements though it’s not guaranteed is to get an MBA from an ivy league school. Thus, one of my plans is to get an Harvard MBA maybe after 2 or 3 years of work with EY.

    First, let me apologize for the lengthy introductions. Now, may I would just like to ask a few questions or raise some concerns:

    a. In case I’ll make it through HBS, what are my chances of getting a consulting job at McKinsey given that I might be considered as a job hopper?

    b. Do they reject right away my application because of the above reason?

    I hope you can help me on this. I’ve been worrying this every now and then. Thank you so much.

    Regards,

    Daryll

  13. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Daryll: A bschool like HBS has a great reputation in the consulting industry. But it gets a lot of consultants coming from firms like McKinsey. And most of them will go back to join the same firm. That makes it more competitive for career switchers like you.

  14. Ashik M says:

    Hey Sammer, I’m currently looking forward to work in a management consultancy company. I’m currently working with visual graphics, which is a subsidiary company of McKinsey. I’m a business presentation specialist and I create presentations for Consultants based on their requests. Will this job profile count as my experience if I want to work in McKinsey as an business associate?

  15. Moyo says:

    Hello Sam, am presently a graduate of Economics of Two years, with Work experience in telecoms and banking but am really interested in Management consulting with McKinsey in Nigeria, and I would like to know what the recruitment process is like and what I should work towards in selling myself as fit for the job.

    Thank you

  16. Sameer Kamat says:

    @Ashik: It’s very rare for folks to move from mid-office / back-office roles (from say, McKC) to front-office consulting. Here’s someone who got into McKinsey without an MBA.

    @Moyo: I’m not familiar with the specifics of recruitment in Nigeria, but for a global company like McKinsey, you can expect pretty much the same rigour that consultants in other countries go through – multiple levels of interview consisting of case-studies & estimation problems + behavioral questions.

  17. Moe says:

    Hi Sameer
    Im currently an undergrad student in mechanical engineering, my GPA is an average one, yet I have about 4 technical internships on my resume next to several cabinet positions for different societies and clubs in my university ( one of them is a consulting club), what do you think of my chances of getting into an entry level position and what can I do to compensate for my average GPA
    thank you

  18. apeksha says:

    Hi sameer!

    I am from Mumbai currently doing my masters in economics.Its a credit system based course with semester pattern also includes mathematical subjects.

    During my undergrad (as I graduated from one of the best colleges in India for arts )companies like Bain, McKinsey, deloitt hired students from my college having degree in Economics

    I am keenly interested in working for consultancy firms how can I get through?My current college does not provide good placement.

  19. Roopa says:

    Hi,
    I am CA Final student. I always wanted to get into consulting firms or get into strategic planning for companies or business development etc… However, I m more inclined towards tax and dont like audit. Which one should I work in audit or tax ?

  20. AK says:

    Hi Sameer,can a management accountant or an actuary get a job in MBB as a management consultant? If your answer is no then what is the reason?Even becoming a management accountant or an Actuary is as tough as graduating from IITs or IIMs.

  21. liju says:

    Hi Sameer,

    Let me thank you for this initiative of yours to douse apprehension in people. I am a Post Graduate in Business Administration with specialization in Marketing. I now have with me 5 and half years sales experience in Print Media. I am interested to join in consulting firms, like to know your suggestion about this.

  22. Atharva Joshi says:

    Hi ! As a CA CS how do you rate my chances to get into Consulting ?

  23. Suresh says:

    Really very informative post!
    Thanks Sameer for sharing this, would help a lot of us in our respective journeys.
    As cliched as it may sound, I am very interested in MBB post my MBA, but I have a location constraint of India, Singapore and other Asian countries. But I have a very hard time choosing the right B-Schools for me, can you share your thoughts on best Schools in Asia/Singapore for getting into MBB?

    Quick Background: Engineer from BITS Pilani(2013 passout), Currently Senior Strategy Analyst at Goldman Sachs (total work ex by the time I join MBA would be 4 years). GMAT:710 (retaking in next 15 days, targeting 750). Current target schools: ISB, NUS, NTU, HEC Paris(MSc Fin) in the same preference order.

    Thank you!

  24. Carlos says:

    After having experience in Big4 in IT, being a senior consultant, and doing an MBA Which job position could apply for in MBB?

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