How to Break Into Consulting

Updated: Oct 17, 2019

Do you want to join the elite of global graduates and become a Consultant at MBB firms (McKinsey, BCG, Bain) like I did? Then read on…

Top 5 tips to maximize your chances of landing a Consulting job:

#1 Attend A Target-University

Typically top consulting firms, especially McKinsey, BCG and Bain, target mainly graduates from prestigious universities (so-called target schools):

  • In the US; e.g., Harvard, Princeton Yale, Stanford, etc

  • In the UK: Oxbridge and the LSE

  • Rest of continental Europe: HEC, Essec, Bocconi, Esade, Indead, etc

Do not worry if you are currently at a non-target university for undergrad. All opportunities are still available to you if you just want it enough. If this is you then your focus should be to get accepted into a leading university/ business school for your master’s degree. How do you do that? Grades, extracurriculars and internships still play a major role.

I you’re late to the party and haven’t pursued your undergrad and graduate degree at a non-target then your best shot might be to target jobs in the Consulting divisions of the Big4 (Deloitte, EY, KMPG, PWC) or other smaller, more specialized players and later move to MBB firms, for instance after pursuing an MBA.

#2 Make Grades A Priority

Whether you want to get accepted in an elite graduate university or even if you already are at a great university, your number 1 goal should be to get as many “As” possible.

Getting into Princeton, Cambridge, LSE and the likes will “put you on the map”. Do not underestimate the effect signalling can have in the overall recruiting process. At the MBB (i.e. McKinsey, BCG and Bain) you will rarely find anyone without a degree from an elite university.

That means that most top consulting firms focus their recruiting efforts on those institutions, attending career fairs, conducting case competitions and more, which are easy and informal ways to first get in touch.

Breaking into MBB right out of elite undergrad institution:

As a rough indication, if you want to break into McKinsey, BCG and Bain, you’ll likely only be considered if you are among the top 10-15% of your class – achieving this at an elite university means there’s no way around hard work.

#3 Gather Impressive Work/ Internship Experience

Having meaningful work experience is extremely important part of the equation for breaking into leading consulting firm.

When thinking about internships/ work-experience, focus on:

  • Corporates with recognizable brand names (e.g., investment banks, large industrial companies, fast moving consumer companies (e.g. P&G, L’Oreal, etc), Big 4 or smaller specialized consultancies

  • Entrepreneurship: Consultancies have started to increasingly hire ex-entrepreneurs. Several of my colleagues started companies and even lived the digital nomad lifestyle, traveling around the world while running an online business and only later moved into Consulting. So if you want to start a company but thought about Consulting as an alternative career path, chances are that your experience will actually help you to stand apart

When choosing the role seek the following:

  • Roles that allow you to showcase that you are a “self-starter”, i.e. where you have room to have at least some impact (it doesn’t matter how small, you only have to communicate it in the right way)

  • Roles that allow you to quantify your contributions. An example message that you would want to convey could be: “I determined the perfect hedging strategy for a USD 500mn foreign currency exposure and executed the trade.” This shows that you took on significant responsibility for managing an important risk for the company

  • Work your way up (especially relevant for students at non-targets): start in a not that prestigious role at a leading firm and leverage your experience and your contacts at the firm to secure a more prestigious follow-up internship

#4 Don’t Underestimate The Importance of Your Resume

Don’t underestimate the importance of a great resume. This is the first document recruiters will most likely look at. Screwing up here may already mean that your journey is over before it has even started.

For details on how to draft the perfect Consulting Resume Get Your Free Blueprint here.

#5 Craft Your Consulting Story

These are three major clusters of questions that you need to be able to answer when walking into an interview:

1. Why do you want to do Consulting and what caused you to initially get interested in Consulting?

2. How long have you been interested and how has your interest grown over time?

3. Do you have the required skills, e.g. quantitative-, communication skills, working under pressure that are required and how will you leverage those at the firm?

Below are two examples how you got interested in consulting and how your interest grew:

Example #1: At the consulting club at your university you worked with a local car dealership and managed to increase their sales by 15% over a 6-months period by designing and executing a Facebook marketing campaign with a budget of US$20,000. Also, you managed to increase the gross margin per car by 2% because the campaign focused on a new Jeep SUV model that was more profitable. This made you realize that you are passionate about Consulting because you enjoyed working closely with clients, identifying business performance levers and having a tangible impact.

Example #2: You did an internship at a consumer goods company in the financial strategy department and worked on an internal growth strategy project with the support of 4-person consulting team from GCB. The study was a success as your team identified 3 key levers including M&A in adjacent areas that will allow the consumer goods firm to accelerate their revenue growth rate to around 10% p.a. over the next 5 years. You really enjoyed the fast pace, the impact oriented working style and you were impressed by the consultant’s ability to generate unique insights. This experience further convinced you to move into strategy consulting.

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