How to create a winning CV
By far the most competitive part of the consulting recruitment process is the CV screening stage. Firms can be inundated with thousands of applications from university students, post grads and professionals from all over the country. Of those who apply (and this number may vary per firm), roughly 30% make it through the CV screen stage and a further 30% make it to the first round of interviews (based on other tests). That’s a cut of more than 90% of the applicants. Luckily for you, this is in your control. Plan your CV right and you can lift your chances of a first round interview.
Consulting CVs should have specific qualities and features that would differ for that of other industries. We will focus more on how to present your experiences in your CV, the “how”. However, we encourage you to begin with the content of your CV first, the “what”. In our “build your consulting profile” (LINK) article, we share some suggestions on how you can take advantage of your environment to build on your experiences. So, let’s begin.
What are MBB firms actually looking for?
In consulting, in particular, the consultants working at the firms are actually the people who will score your CVs. The Consultants assess your CV in 3 main areas: its content, communication and format/aesthetics. Consultants are busy and can get hundreds of CVs to review. So, you can imagine that they probably only spend a maximum of 3-5 minutes looking at a CV. Therefore, you want to make sure it is easy to read (the format), straight to the point and short (communication) and is really impressive (content). For each area, we will highlight the key criteria you should be aiming to hit when crafting your CV.
THE CONTENT OF YOUR CV
There are 4(ish) mental questions that those reviewing your CV will think about. Let’s dive into each one in more detail.
- Do you have the intellect to do the work?
As we mentioned before, the number of applications each firm receives means that they have to find the most efficient way to screen applicants. Consulting itself is an intellectually demanding job. Consultants need to deliver value for their client through sound analysis and structuring of the problem put before them. Therefore, you need to show robust intellectual capacity in your education or professional experience.
- Whether or not your experience shows that you are comfortable using numbers or analysing data
- For example, a candidate with a 2:1 or above from a target university, or an experienced hire from a big brand name, already proves this point
2. Will you get the job done?
There’s so much more to a consultant’s job than crunching numbers. They need to be able to take ownership of the work they have been assigned. This means leading any interaction with the client team on this part of the project, collaborating with the team to develop the solution to the problem and communicating findings back to the client (written and verbally) and key stakeholders.
Think about addressing these 5 categories:
- Leadership– Have you shown that you can lead a team, a group of people in either university or in a job, have you shown that you are committed to successfully seeing a team achieve its goal
- Personal Impact – Have you clearly outlined how your participation in the team created an impact, what did you specifically do and how did it lead to the team’s outcome
- Entrepreneurial Drive – Have you shown that you are proactive, that you take initiative to create value, or that you are not afraid to oppose the status-quo
- Teamwork – Have you shown that you can be an asset to a team, not just as a leader but a contributor
- Motivation – have you shown some level of commitment to consulting as a career you want to explore e.g internships, strategy experience, service improvement projects
3. Can I put them in front of a client?
Consultants are very client-facing – meaning they work closely with their clients (most even work from the client’s office for the duration of the case, especially pre-Covid). Client’s need to have confidence in the skills of the consultants so firms hiring are looking for people who can excel in this area. This is not saying you have to be the perfect communicator and have spent time mingling with CEOs or business leaders. Your CV just needs to be presentable (no grammatical errors) and show that you are comfortable with public speaking.
Think about these 2 categories:
- For written communication
- Have you checked for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes, have you proof-read multiple times
- Have you communicated the details of your experience clearly and to the point (no waffling)
- BONUS: Do you have any published papers, journals, academic writing
For oral communication
- Have you had any opportunities to present in front of senior personnel in your company, present at competitions e.g case competitions or debating professionally
- If your job or internship requires you to interact with clients, have you mentioned this in your CV
4. Will I enjoy working with them?
For the person reviewing your CV, you are potentially someone they could end up working with on a case. From their perspective, they are also trying to get to know some of your other interests outside of uni/work. However, note that this particular question is more important in the interview phase where you can showcase your personality better.
Think about whether or not:
- You have some “out-of-the-box” experiences that you can share e.g international exposure, musical abilities, side hustles or volunteer work. These are the things that will differentiate you and can even be picked up as talking points for fit interviews
- You speak more than one language. This is useful because it means that you can represent your home office in other countries or with clients who have a different native language
In general, try to cover all of these points. If you have experiences that showcase the same skill, think about another example that can demonstrate another skill you have. Make sure you balance this out and try not to lean into one area more than another. For example, you might have 3 leadership examples that show how you can get the job done but none on your entrepreneurial drive or showing your interest outside of work or studying.
THE COMMUNICATION IN YOUR CV
Once you’ve locked in the content, you should spend some time on the communication of your CV. It needs to flow and read nicely. You can make it as easy as possible for your reviewer to put forward your CV by just following some of our top tips listed below.
- To help the consultant draw out the skills that your experiences reflect, it is essential that you start each bullet point with an action verb. This is best practice for consulting CVs as your assessor can quickly scan your CV for keywords they want to see, moving you forward through the CV screening process.
- Examples include “ Started a business… “ or “Presented to an audience of…”
- Get to the point with simple and concise sentences. For example, let’s say you wanted to express that you helped solve a problem within your company, you don’t need to give us the story of how you even got to identify the problem (i.e “joined at a time when the company was….), simply STATE what you solved and how (i.e “Solved the issue… by …).
- Your reviewer needs to understand what you are trying to explain in your CV. Particularly for PHD or non-business candidates, if you start to use the acronyms or language that only people in your field will know, the reviewer will struggle to get your point. Test by asking a family member to read your CV (preferably one who isn’t in your field) and seeing if they get the gist of what you are trying to say. Can they explain it back to you? If they are having to re-read sentences to make sense of what you have written, then you need to consider restructuring and simplifying your words.
- Focus on the impact you had and the result of your input. Consider the specific role you played in a team or project and how that led to a favourable outcome. Opt for examples that showcase a skill (leadership, communication etc) where your direct impact was clear. For example society committee roles (eg. treasurer, president) can be leveraged to show your impact than simply participating in a debate competition that didn’t have favourable results
- Probably the most consulting specific CV style is to quantify the points for more impact. Quantifying things adds credibility to the point you are making. Quantify as much as you can because it also draws the assessors attention to these areas and can be an advantage for your CV. However, don’t just make up numbers, think about how you can quantify your idea cleverly. For example, “resulted in a 200% increase in membership from the previous year…” instead of “resulted in membership growing in that year…”
- Keep your bullet points to 1-2 lines max and 1 bullet point per idea/per competency/per skill you are trying to show. If you are verging on a 3rd line, then there is room for refinement. This helps keep your CV to 1 page
THE AESTHETICS/FORMAT OF YOUR CV
Now for that perfect CV, you need to ensure it looks professional. For consulting, this means there should be no frills and no distractions on the page. Keep to the standard (and somewhat universally accepted) format. You can download our CV template here [INSERT LINK] or search online for consulting CV templates if starting from scratch. For those wanting to refine the appearance of their CV, we have listed some of our top tips for CV presentation below.
- Keep your CV to one page – especially if applying as an undergraduate. Our recommendation is that you have one page per 10 year experience with a maximum of 2 pages
- Use professional fonts, colours and layouts. Save yourself the hassle by just using standard fonts such as Arial, Times new romans or Calibri. Keep the body text size between 10-12 pt to maximise your space and just use black. You don’t get extra points for how creative your CV looks in consulting.
- Use templates to get the perfect formatting and adequate margins. Some people play around with the margins on their CV to create more room for their content. That’s fine as long as there is still some margin space left. To help, you can seek examples of friends you know have passed the CV stage to help guide you here
- Start with your most recent education or work experience and follow that order. See our recommended layout example here [INSERT hyperlink to visual] for how you can best arrange the sections in your CV
- Use underline and bold words sparingly. You can use bold words if there are key numbers or achievements you want to draw the reader’s attention to but not for whole sentences
In recent years, CVs are becoming more important than cover letters with some firms preferring CV only applications. Therefore, the most effort should be spent on crafting your CV – 70:30 in favour of your CV. Don’t overestimate the importance of a good CV. Start constructing it in good time, and show it to anyone you can to get feedback (at least 2 trusted people). This can range from a family member that works in any professional context to the consultant you have formed a good relationship with through networking. Be specific about what you want them to check for, is it just the communication, the content, the aesthetic or all. So if you can find a consultant to review and iterate your CV with, you are on the right track.