If you’re reading this – congratulations! You’ve taken the first step towards becoming a management consultant. This guide has been put together by MBB consultants from all different backgrounds to help you figure out your next steps.
Build up your consulting profile
When most people decide to go into consulting, they tend to rush straight into the case interview part of the process. However, in doing so, you neglect a huge part of the application process (and in our opinion, the defining part). You need to pass an initial screening before even getting the chance to sit a case interview. That screening is based on your motivation and experiences up to the point you put in your application.
Cvs are screened by consultants at the firms who score your CV on a number of categories. Carefully curating your experiences for your CV should help your screener score you highly and easily. So before you start thinking about the case interview, let’s spend some time evaluating your current position.
You may be an undergraduate at university or have worked for 2-3 years. Regardless, there are three main areas you can target for building your consulting profile; academics, work experience and extra-curricular activities. For experienced hires (or postgraduates), jump to this section for more information
For the Undergraduates
Let’s begin with your academic profile. You should aim to be on a 2:1 or more by the time you are sending out your application. This is sadly non-negotiable. Your academic achievement shows you are a high achiever and can cope with the intellectual demand of the job. Consulting firms need an efficient way of getting through the thousands of CV’s they receive which is why we highlight it as a non-negotiable. If you are not on track, you can easily make up for this in work experience or extracurricular activities/leadership roles. This will score you higher points in those categories and will bring your application back into consideration. Remember, your academics are only one element of your CV’s final scoring.
However, it isn’t all bad news because in consulting it doesn’t matter what you study. You may be studying anthropology, music or sport science, as long as you are on a 2:1, you are good to go. Here is a list of other achievements associated with academics that are helpful but not necessary:
- Being from a target school (such as Oxbridge, LSE, Imperial, UCL etc) is an advantage as it an easy way for firms to tick the academics and problem solving criteria BUT if you can demonstrate a strong academic profile elsewhere then you will definitely still be considered
- Awards and honours such as dean’s list – an honour given to those ranking in the top 10% of your year group
- Taking a year abroad, particularly for those in their early uni years as it shows you can excel academically in a different environment
- Published work in an academic journal
2. Work experience
Work experience is where you can begin to differentiate your profile because, let’s be honest, most people applying to MBB are on a 2:1- or even a 1st. Our suggestion is to get a flagship internship for a well known company. The industry does not matter as long as the company’s name holds weight. Some flagship internships include those at top banks, the big 4, oil & gas companies or engineering consultancies. These internships tend to be structured, competitive and simulate a real working environment. Screeners can trust that you weren’t just handing out coffees or filing paper.
[Side note, applying for internships can help you get your CV screened to see if your experiences are good enough for consulting.]
It was through an unsuccessful round of internship applications in second year that one of our MBB consultants knew they needed to build more experiences. Now, If you are from a non-target university, this is another easy way to catch your screener’s attention. It puts you back in the mix so be sure to invest your time in getting a good internship.
If you’ve secured an internship already, that’s great! Now, make the most of the opportunity. Help where you can, network with colleagues and learn valuable skills to prepare you for your consulting career. The work doesn’t just stop once you’ve got the internship. You need to help yourself write a good CV by quantifying the impact of your work during your internship. When writing your CV, you need to think about what you specifically did and how it contributed to the overall work flow of the team you were in. Be intentional!
You may be wondering, what if I have not been successful in getting an internship. This can happen, internships can be difficult to get so you don’t need to write yourself off just yet. We recommend you get creative and seek roles with a lot of responsibility which will let you have an impact. For example, Interning at a start-up or volunteering for a charity as your work is very likely to have an impact.
Consulting internships can help you break into the industry because you could be offered a full time role and the comfort of entering your final year with a consulting job. However, it is not the easiest route as consulting firms, (especially MBB in the UK) tend to have few internship offers available taking in below 10 candidates per year. In fact, some in the UK don’t even offer internships. In that case, apply for consultant specific insight programmes or spring weeks. E,g, bain true north scholarship, BCG insight programme, Discover Mckinsey. These are open to first and second year students so get to applying now!
3. Extra-curricular activities
Extra-curricular activities, or most importantly leadership roles, is what we would describe as the cherry on top. By leadership roles, we mean any role where you influence or give direction to other people to achieve a goal e.g treasurer or president of a society. These are the more obvious examples but if you are on any committee or need to influence anyone to make a decision then that is a leadership role.
Strong academics and an excellent work experience profile is just not enough to take you to the next round. This is where consulting differs from other industries. Taking up leadership roles alongside your studies allows you to pick up skills that are essential for the job. For example, a president of a large university society has to be confident speaking publicly, lead a committee and set the goals for the year. These are skills they get to build on throughout their presidency and can speak to during interviews.
So what’s our suggestion? Seek out leadership roles within medium to large societies at university (think roughly 50+ members) – quite simply try to get on their committee. Some great examples include cultural societies eg. African-caribbean society (ACS), sport societies e.g rugby or netball society and department committees eg. economics society. As always, you need to be able to define your impact which is why a leadership role is ideal. Here, you can clearly identify and express your roles and responsibilities in your CV.
Do try to make this work for you. Perhaps there isn’t a large society that you’re interested in, find a smaller society or create your own. Maybe there is a business idea you’ve dreamt about, start it. You might be thinking of a cause you’ve been meaning to fundraise for, do it. You are never just limited to university societies.
Here is a list of other types of extracurricular activities
- Public speaking and people facing opportunities (e.g. debating club/ volunteering/pro-bono work)
- Seek leadership roles in your consulting club and entering case competitions with consulting club team
Remember that interesting and impactful roles account for a lot. You don’t always need to focus on societies or ventures that directly link back to consulting. It’s the transferable skills that are important.
Networking is a great way to build connections with people who might help you later on in your career. At this point, networking is useful for you to gain a better insight into the job, to hear about the day to day work of a consultant and to get tips/advice for your application. You also get the opportunity to meet a consultant you can quote about in your cover letter or interviews. This will show your motivation to work at a particular firm.
So where can you meet people to network with? As an undergrad, you are in luck! MBB firms plan events at target universities and also at their offices for undergraduates interested in pursuing a career in consulting. You get to find out more about the industry, the firm and to network with consultants over some free food (Yum!). Start by joining your university’s consulting society to stay in the loop for when these events are happening. You can also go directly to the careers site of the firms to find out what they have planned throughout the year.
See ‘How to network and get a referral’ for more detailed information on how you can maximise your networking opportunities. However, remember that referrals won’t help with the application process unless you are a PHD or MBA student.
For the Experiences hires
There’s not much you can do about your academics after you’ve graduated but if you didn’t do as well as you hoped, don’t worry – you have a couple of options. It might just take you a little bit longer to get there.
First option can be to apply for a masters (that you’re interested in) at a competitive uni and work really hard to get minimum 2.1 (but ideally a first) and then reapply. Second, grind hard and focus a few years to build up an interesting and impactful CV. This can be through working for a well known company and reapplying as an experienced hire. Finally, you can focus on networking and forming a strong connection with a senior consultant – ideally at partner level – who can vouch for you and get you an interview (but you will have had to impress them somehow – so if not by academics and work experience, then by extra curricular activities)
2. Work experience
As experienced hires, the chances are that you already have the bulk of this bucket covered. Make sure to read our guide on “how to create a winning CV/Cover letter” to ensure you are stating your experience in the clearest way.
3. Extra-curricular activities
As experienced hires, differentiation is critical. There is a higher expectation of you given your professional exposure. However you probably don’t have as much time as a university student to spend on societies and extracurricular activities. Therefore, be intentional about what you do. Think maximum impact with less time commitment. Try to take on leadership roles at work where you can quantify your influence. This includes recruitment activities or lending your time to affiliate groups which work well around your work schedule. If this doesn’t fit your taste, you can think about starting a side hustle (if you’re interested) to demonstrate your entrepreneurial spirit which MBB firms look for in particular.
At this point, you probably understand the value of networking. In consulting, it can be very useful for many reasons. First, it can help you skip a few steps in the recruitment process if you get a referral. At Bain & BCG, a referral gets you to the first round interview if your online assessments just miss the mark. For Mckinsey, it gets you past the CV screen.
Second, networking shows your motivation to work at a particular firm by connecting with its people. This may become favourable if you choose to join the firm as you already have individuals invested in your success. See ‘How to network and get a referral’ for more detailed information on how you can maximise your networking opportunities.
May also want to include some sort of derivative of these:
“First, it’s easier to sell Junior consultants to clients if they have an impressive background. When a client asks “Who will be on the team?” Partners like to be able to answer “Linda just joined us with a bachelor from Oxford and an MBA from Harvard” or “Mike joins us from 3 years leading a team at Google.” That makes it easier to justify the high salaries consultants are paid.
Second, consulting firms receive a LOT of applications every year. McKinsey for instance received about ~200,000 resumes in 2017. They can’t interview everyone and need a pretty efficient way to get to a manageable number of candidates they can interview. Big brand names are a shortcut. They want to hire high-achievers and assume that if you went to a top school or worked for a top employer you are a high-achiever.
This can feel very frustrating and unfair if you don’t have these brand names on your resume. In these situations, it does not mean you won’t be able to make it into consulting. “
“One of the questions we often get about consulting resumes is: “I have a 3.X GPA from University Y. Will I make the cut-off?” To be clear, there’s no official GPA cut-off in the US, or grades cut-off in other countries.
Your resume will usually be reviewed by a recent graduate from your University who works at the firm. They will score your resume on a number of dimensions one of which will be your grades. But your grades are only ONE of the factors that contribute to the final score your CV will get.
If your grades are on the lower end (GPA < 3.5 in the US, 2:1 or less in the UK), you will obviously get less points than if they were higher. As a consequence, you will need to compensate for this with very strong achievements in other areas of your resume. For instance, this could be an extra-curricular activity where you showed strong leadership and entrepreneurships skills. “