The 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.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.