Advice > Consulting

How to get into consulting: 6 steps to land a job offer

By Max Serrano on September 27, 2019 How we wrote this article

There are a lot of good reasons to want a career in the consulting industry, including excellent pay, rapid professional growth, and connections with talented people. 

However, consulting also happens to be one of the most competitive careers in the world. For example, McKinsey (one of the Big 3 consulting firms) only accepts around 1% of the candidates who apply, which is a lower acceptance rate than Harvard's prestigious MBA programme.

The good news is, that with the right preparation, getting a consulting job is actually pretty straightforward. Below we've compiled the ultimate list of steps you need to follow to get there. Let's get started!

How to get into consulting:

  1. Adjust your resume and cover letter
  2. Get your foot in the door
  3. Ace the quantitative tests
  4. Stand-out in behavioural interviews
  5. Nail your case interviews
  6. Ask your interviewer good questions
  7. Bonus: top consulting firms
Click here for a resume review with an ex-MBB consultant

1. Adjust your resume and cover letter for consulting 

Consulting resumes and cover letters are a step above what you would need at a typical corporate firm. The leading consulting firms get hundreds of thousands of applications for a small number of positions and their recruiters will scan your documents only for a few seconds. 

As a result, to be successful you'll need to optimise your resume and cover letter for consulting positions. Below are several tips that we've found to be effective for the candidates who work with us, and from our own consulting applications. If you want a more comprehensive guide as well as templates you can reuse, check out our consulting resumes and consulting cover letters guides.

If you’re looking for expert feedback, get input from our team of ex-MBB recruiters, who will cover what achievements to focus on (or ignore), how to fine tune your bullet points, and more.

1.1 Consulting resume tips

Resume tip #1: Use 5 sections
Your consulting resume should have 5 sections: Personal Information, Education, Work Experience, Extra-Curricular Achievements, and Additional Skills. A common mistake is to ignore the Extra-Curricular section, which is a big opportunity to highlight unique experiences.

Resume tip #2: Dumb things down
Having reviewed nearly 100 consulting resumes, we've found that many candidates use jargon and company-specific terms. This is a BIG mistake for a consulting application. You need to summarise your accomplishments so that someone outside your company or field could easily understand it. 

Resume tip #3: Quantify everything
Consultants are obsessed with quantifying things. A big part of their job is to crunch numbers to back up ideas they present to clients. So, in your resume, you will need to demonstrate this skill by using numbers wherever possible. 

Resume tip #4: Be unique
It's very likely that the person who reads your resume will have read hundreds of others. As a result, it's critical to stand out from the crowd. For example, maybe you're a published sci-fi author. Most candidates aren't, so list those attention-grabbing experiences!

1.2 Consulting cover letter tips

Cover letter tip #1: Don't use a template letter
Avoid using "boilerplate" cover letters. It's totally fine to be inspired by example cover letters like the one we have here. However, you should take the time to write a genuine letter in your own voice. This will be more meaningful to recruiters than a generic letter.

Cover letter tip #2: Read, read, read
This might seem a little surprising, but it can be a huge advantage to read-up on your target firm's projects, reports, etc. For instance, if you want to work in finance, you can give yourself an edge by mentioning one of the firm's current finance projects in your cover letter.

Cover letter tip #3: One letter per firm
One question we often get is: "Should I write one letter per firm?" The answer is YES. But it's not as hard as it might sound. Every cover letter needs to answer three questions: Why you? Why consulting? And why this firm? The only paragraph you will need to change for each letter is  "Why this firm?"

Cover letter tip #4: Get feedback
This is actually a great step to take at any stage of your application, including your cover letter, resume, interview skills, etc. Getting input from former consultants (or peers) can help you see your work more objectively so you can improve. 

As a reminder, if you want further details on optimising your documents as well as templates you can reuse for your applications, check out our separate consulting cover letter and resume guides. Next, we'll turn our attention to landing an interview. 

2. Get your foot in the door 

There are three primary ways for you to get an interview at a consulting firm:

  • University recruiting
  • Networking
  • Online applications

These methods are listed roughly in order of difficulty. In other words, it's typically easier to get a consulting interview through university recruiting (at target schools) than it is to get an interview through networking. Further, networking is usually a more effective method for getting an interview compared with online resume drops.

2.1 University recruiting

All consulting firms have their favourite target schools, and if you attend one of them, then you have a significantly greater chance of getting invited to interview. 

So, let's start by taking a look at a few of the most popular target schools where MBB consulting firms are known to recruit. The undergraduate information below was informed by this article, and the MBA schools came from this article by Poets and Quants. The schools below are not ranked and are simply listed in alphabetical order.

Consulting target schools (undergrad):

  • Boston College
  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Cambridge
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Duke University
  • Georgetown University
  • Harvard University
  • University of Michigan
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • Princeton University
  • Stanford University
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Yale University

Consulting target schools (MBA):

  • University of California, Berkeley
  • University of Chicago
  • Columbia Business School
  • Cornell University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Duke University
  • Emory University
  • Georgetown University
  • IESE Business School
  • London Business School
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
  • University of Michigan
  • New York University
  • Northwestern University
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Virginia
  • Yale University

Don't see your school here? There are other schools where consulting firms recruit. However, if you're targeting a job at one of the leading consulting firms, and you are not enrolled at a target school, then the path will probably be more difficult for you. But don't worry, in the next section, we'll cover some tips for networking your way into a consulting interview.

2.2 Networking

If you are not attending a consulting target school, or if you are applying as an experienced hire, then your best bet for landing an interview is through networking. This is mentioned in the consultant interviews which The Muse has put together on how to break into consulting.

If you want to be successful in networking with consultants, then we'd suggest following the steps below (which are abbreviated from our guide on the topic). 

2.2.1 Build a Networking Funnel

At the end of the day, networking is a sales process, and getting organised in advance will set you up for success. Begin by creating a spreadsheet of potential contacts. Start with consultants you know, and then add in family and friends who could introduce you to consultants. Your last priority should be cold-contacts (from LinkedIn or other platforms).

2.2.2 Feed the funnel: go to events

Once you have your spreadsheet set-up (i.e. your funnel), then you need to create as many new connections as possible to feed your funnel. You should specifically target events organised by consulting firms or those with consultants as speakers. 

2.2.3 Talk to partners

This is particularly important for experienced hires. If you are experienced in a specific industry and are looking to become a consultant, then you should directly reach out to partners who specialise in your field. For instance, if you are a manager at Ford, you should seek out consulting partners who work in the auto industry.

2.2.4 Send good emails and keep following up

Whether you are following up from an in-person conversation, or you are cold-contacting someone, it's important to send good emails and follow-ups. Aim to build rapport, and to make it easy for the person to say yes to you. It's also important for you to follow-up until you get a clear answer, many people will be open to a short phone call or coffee meet-up. 

2.2.5 Be ready for impromptu interviews

This is a critical step. You want to make sure that you are prepared for impromptu interviews as you begin to have conversations with your contacts. If you can, it's valuable to work through a few case interview examples in advance. This will help you to learn how consultants think, and in rare cases, you may even be asked a brainteaser or case question on the spot!

2.3 Online applications

The final approach for getting your foot in the door for a consulting position is to simply apply for a position through the firm's online portal. This is the approach that most candidates take because it's the easiest. 

However, you should view this as a back-up to the other approaches mentioned above, because it is the least effective method. Can you get a job offer by applying directly on a consultancy's website? Yes! But top consulting firms get so many applications, you'll have to really set yourself apart in your resume and cover letter to get noticed.

If you would like to submit an application to one of the Big 3 consulting firms, you can find direct links to their job boards below:

McKinsey Job Board

BCG Job Board

Bain Job Board

3. Ace the quantitative tests 

Once you have your foot in the door, several major consultancies will require you to take a quantitative test to evaluate your maths and problem solving skills. This is an important step, and it's a great opportunity to set yourself apart from other candidates because some firms use your score as a hiring factor (not just a pass/fail test). 

You can begin your preparation with free resources like the one below:

4. Stand-out in behavioural interviews 

Behavioural interviews are an important step in the recruitment process for all consulting companies. Behavioural interview questions can be either Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions or fit questions. Here are examples of each:

  • Fit questions: These are high-level questions such as “Why consulting?” or “Why firm X?”
  • Personal Experience Interview (PEI) questions: These are questions that start with “Tell me about a time when...”

All firms ask a mix of these two types of questions but some are more focused on one type than others. For instance, McKinsey almost exclusively asks personal experience interview questions. But Bain tends to put much more focus on fit questions such as “Why Bain?”.

So what specific questions do you need to prepare for? We have analysed hundreds of interview questions on for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain and have summarised our findings below. 

Please note that the percentages listed below are for total questions asked. For instance, out of 100 fit questions you can expect 26 to be “Why firm X?” questions. Also keep in mind, that the balance between fit questions and PEI questions varies from firm to firm.

5 most common consulting fit questions:

  1. Why firm X? (26%)
  2. Why consulting? (24%)
  3. Walk me through your resume (14%)
  4. Tell me something not on your resume (6%)
  5. Tell me about your greatest accomplishment (4%)
  6. Other (26%)

5 most common consulting PEI questions:

         Tell me about a time when...

  1. You lead a team through a tough situation (23%)
  2. You worked in a team and had to manage a conflict (22%)
  3. You had a disagreement with a colleague / boss (21%)
  4. You had to change someone's / a group's mind (17%)
  5. You overcame a really difficult challenge (11%)
  6. Other (7%)

It's a good idea to prepare thoughtful responses to each of these questions ahead of your interviews. This is a great way to prepare and can also be an opportunity to do some self-reflection on your career.

Next, we'll dive into case interviews, the signature recruitment tool of the consulting industry. 

5. Nail your case interviews 

Consulting firms are famous for using case interviews during their recruitment processes. Case interviews are much more difficult than the type of interviews you would encounter at a typical corporate firm.

The case you encounter will often be modeled after real business problems that your interviewers have encountered. They will expect you to analyse some aspects of the problems they faced and produce a recommendation. 

If you want to land a job offer, you'll need to prepare thoroughly for your case interviews and you should practice as much as possible. Here's a list of consulting interview questions you can use to practice with. And if you are currently preparing for case interviews, then you'll also find our free case interview ultimate guide helpful.

For now, here are a few key tips that will help you to crack your case interviews:

 Tip #1: Listen carefully and ask clarification questions

Your interviewer will provide some initial information at the beginning of your case interview. It's critical that you develop a clear understanding of the details and objectives of the case. Consultants regularly receive new challenges to address, and your interviewers will want to see how you approach the problem-solving process.

Tip #2: Don't reuse frameworks

A common mistake for consulting candidates is to memorise pre-existing frameworks, like Porter's 5 Forces, or the 4Ps framework. Your interviewers will notice this approach immediately, and it will reflect poorly on you. Instead, you should form a custom framework that addresses the business problem at hand. You can learn more about case interview frameworks in our detailed article here.

Tip #3: Brush up on your maths

At some point in your case interview, you will almost definitely have to solve quantitative maths problems. In our experience, successful candidates tend to begin their case interview preparation by refreshing on maths skills. A great way to do that is by studying our free case interview maths guide.

Tip #4: Give a clear recommendation

Fundamentally, people hire management and strategy consultants to get recommendations. If a client were to get an ambiguous analysis from a consulting firm at the end of a project, they would be disappointed (or worse). As a result, you'll need to show your interviewer that you are capable of taking the inputs of a case, and formulating them into a clear strategy. 

6. Ask good questions 

For consulting firms, it's common to leave a few minutes at the end of interviews for candidates to ask questions. As the candidate, you'll want to take advantage of this opportunity to further distinguish yourself from other applicants.

Here we'll provide 3 examples of great questions to ask at the end of your consulting interviews, but if you want more ideas you can find 5 more suggestions in this article

What are the common attributes of consultants who excel and advance quickly in your company?

This question has two big benefits. First, it shows your interviewer that you don't just want to get the job, you want to excel when you start at the firm! Second, you can gain valuable insights into the type of work you'd be doing after you join.

If I make it to the next round of interviews, is there anything you'd recommend I try to improve on before coming back?

You should only ask this question if you think your interview went well, because it can help you find blind-spots and improve your performance. This type of question can also show your interviewer that you can receive feedback well and are eager to learn. 

What are the biggest opportunities/challenges facing the company right now?

This question can give you an inside look into the internal narrative of the firm, and the particular office/practice you are applying to. This can help you speak more intelligently to future interviewers, and can also show that you have a broader interest in the company.

For our final topic, we'll highlight a list of the world's leading consulting firms to give you some insight into the key players in the industry.

7. Bonus: Top consulting firms 

There are a wide variety of consulting firms that serve clients with a wide range of services, from strategy to implementation and outsourcing. But here, we're going to focus only on the leading strategy consultancies. 

The top 3 strategy consulting firms are in a league of their own, and they are commonly referred to as MBB. The members of this elite group are as follows:

  • McKinsey 
  • BCG
  • Bain

In addition to being the leading strategy consulting firms, these 3 are also the most prestigious consulting firms in the world. The MBB are famous for their high-compensation and incredible exit opportunities. 

Beyond the MBB firms, there are several other reputable strategy consultancies. Below we've highlighted 6 additional firms that are notable. You may notice that a few of these firms are the strategy branches of Big 4 accounting firms

  • Accenture Strategy
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Strategy& (PWC)
  • AT Kearney
  • Roland Berger
  • Deloitte S&O + Monitor

This should give you an idea of the biggest players in the consulting industry. If you'd like to learn more about the firms above, you can read our article on the top consulting firms in the world. And you can learn more about how Big 4 firms compare to MBB firms in our MBB vs. Big 4 article.

We can help you get a job in consulting

How about it? Want to get a job in consulting? We can help you get there. We've helped over 30,000 candidates navigate the application and interview process for firms like McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Accenture, Deloitte, etc. 

Get started with a resume review from an ex-interviewer or recruiter at one of the top consulting firms.

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