Why consulting? Real reasons vs. Interview answers

Consulting is intense. You will work long hours, travel a lot and be under stress. When they hire you, consulting firms want to make sure you have thought about what you are getting into. But we all know giving an authentic answer to why you want to be a consultant is not that straightforward. 

Because here is the thing – there are some reasons to go into consulting which you can’t really talk about with your interviewer. There are some reasons which are slightly too controversial or taboo to be openly discussed in a recruiting conversation.

So let’s list all the reasons you should go into consulting and make a clear distinction between the ones you can talk about with your interviewer (number 1 to 4 below), and the ones you should keep to yourself (number 5 to 8 below). This is an important part of your case interview preparation, so as you go through the list, think carefully about which reasons you will want to use during your interview.

Reason #1: You will work for senior execs and have a strong impact

As a consultant, you will work directly for CEOs and their executive teams very early in your career. This will enable you to start developing a lot of the soft skills you will need to become a senior executive later on (e.g. convincing people who don’t agree with you, managing difficult stakeholders, presenting to large audiences with little time to prepare, etc.).

This is really a special opportunity. Your peers working in the industry will not get this chance in the first few years of their career. They usually have to wait for multiple promotions to have exposure to their company’s CEO.

One of the perks of working with senior executives is that they focus on the toughest problems their company faces. This means the work you do as a consultant can have a lot of impact on a company. Here is what the CEO of Morningstar has to say about working with consultants. It’s not a 100% rosy picture, but it will give you a sense of what some executives are thinking:

 

“Impact” is a word you will hear the senior partners of McKinsey, BCG, Bain and others use very frequently. That’s the ultimate goal of every consultancy: having a positive impact on their clients, businesses and society at large.

If you know anyone in consulting, get them to tell you about some of the projects they worked on and the positive impact they had. If you find the project interesting you can then use it as a reason to discuss with your interviewer. 

You could tell your interviewer something like: “One of the reasons I want to be a consultant is that I heard you were doing very high impact projects directly for senior clients. For instance, my friend Maria who works at your company told me she worked directly with the exec team of a large Ecommerce company to help them design their market entry strategy for Latin America. This is the type of projects I’d be really interested in getting involved in”.

If you don’t know anyone in consulting, you can also find projects companies have done on their websites or their YouTube channels. Try to find a few you are genuinely interested in and mention them to your interviewer when he asks why you want to be a consultant. Here are three we thought were quite good. But we’d encourage you to have a look at the websites of the firms you are applying for and find your own:

Reason #2: You will learn a lot and progress quickly

You will learn a lot very quickly as a consultant - almost by necessity. You will change projects every ~3 months. And initially you will have to learn a new industry and a new topic from scratch. For instance, you could go from helping an airline grow revenues in your current project to helping a grocery chain cut its supply chain costs in your next project. Two very different industries and topics. 

The beginning of most projects will be very intense as you try to catch up with your client on the situation they are facing to be able to actually help them. The variety of projects and their intensity will feel uncomfortable. But it also means your rate of learning will be much higher than if you worked in the industry. It’s debatable, but some headhunters even say that one year in consulting is equivalent to two to three years in industry.

As a consultant, you will be given responsibilities much more quickly than your industry peers. If you have proven you are ready to manage a project in your last case, you will be given a manager role on your next case. In other jobs, you usually have to wait for a manager role to free up to be promoted. The speed at which you will progress in consulting is virtually only limited by your own abilities.

The feedback cycle is extremely quick too. You will get feedback on a regular basis during your projects and you will also get a full review at the end of each case outlining the next things you should be working on. Consulting firms have got some of the strongest career review processes in the world. Unfortunately, this system is broken at a lot companies outside of consulting.

Finally, consulting firms invest a LOT in training their staff. Some people say McKinsey and others are in the business of renting brains. You will be your firm’s main asset, the product they sell to clients. As a consequence, most firms will send you on training for 3 days or more every year, sometimes in exotic destinations such as Cancun or Barcelona.

When your interviewer asks you why you want to be a consultant you should not hesitate to cover this point if you are truly excited about learning quickly. You could say something like: “One of the reasons I want to be a consultant is that I’ll get exposure to a wide variety of industries and topics. This will give me a chance to learn much quicker than if I was working in a defined industry. And this is something I’m really excited about”.

On a side note, Bain has listed the destinations it sends its consultants to for training on their website. We are showing a few examples on the map below. It really illustrates how generous consulting firms are being their staff when it comes to training.

Bain training destinations

Reason #3: You will work and make friends with bright people

You will meet a lot of different people in consulting. Projects typically last 3 months and include ~5 consultants. In one year, you will have worked with ~20 different colleagues. In 5 years, with ~100. And that doesn’t include the client side and all the people you will meet in your local office. Meeting and working with so many bright people is an opportunity you will not get elsewhere.

In addition, projects will be high intensity. This means things will get stressful but it also means you will develop strong ties and grow close with your teammates. These same people will be more than happy making introductions and helping you with your career years down the line.

Try to meet consultants either at recruiting events or in your personal network. Ask them to tell you about their colleagues. They will probably tell you that they have made great friends while working at their firm. This can then be a great talking point for your interview.

You could say something like: “I’ve met with Maria from the Houston office and she seems to really enjoy working with her different teammates and even making really good friends with some of them. Working with bright and nice people is definitely something I’m excited about.”

Consultancies really pride themselves in hiring bright and interesting people. Look at this video from McKinsey as an example. It is a bit cliché but the fact they took the time to put this together really shows how important this is to them: 

Reason #4: You will travel to multiple places

Large consultancies sell work to companies and governments all around the world. McKinsey has 120+ offices in 60+ countries. BCG has 90+ offices in 50+ countries. And the list goes on. International expansion has been one of the major growth drivers for consulting firms over the past couple of decades.

But matching the number of consultants in an office with the quantity of work the partners in that same office will sell can be tricky. Sometimes a partner will sell a very large project while the rest of the office is already really busy. That’s when your opportunity to travel as a consultant comes up.

Some people love it, others hate it. But working in different countries can be a great opportunity. You will get to experience different cultures and ways of working which will be tough at first but will really help you grow.

If you are genuinely excited about this then you shouldn’t hesitate to mention it to your interviewer and say something like: “My friend Maria told me how she had the opportunity to work for the Ministry of Education in Kenya for 3 months and help with restructuring it. Having the opportunity to work abroad in a very different environment to what I’m used to is something I’m really excited about.”

Reason #5: You will earn a lot of money (don’t discuss with interviewer)

Right let’s now move on to reasons to move into consulting that you should not necessarily discuss with your interviewer. That does not mean they aren’t good reasons to go into consulting. It just means it’s safer to keep these reasons to yourself in an interview context.

It’s no secret that consulting is a rather lucrative field. As an entry level consultant out of University you could make up to $80k with a ~$20k bonus. If you have an MBA these figures could grow to $150k with a ~$40k bonus. This is much more than most jobs in industry. And this difference grows as you start adding pensions and other benefits.

We have analysed Glassdoor.com data and computed averages for some of the largest players. If you want to read our analysis in full go here.

McKinsey, BCG, Bain and tier 2 firms salaries by consulting levels

Of course, other employers such as investment banks and hedge funds pay more than consulting firms. But this is a lot of money nonetheless in the grand scheme of things.

It’s perfectly ok for money to be one of the reasons to want to become a consultant. Everyone has got individual circumstances: you might need to pay back your student loans; you might want to buy a car or a house, etc. But generally speaking you should stay away from this topic in your interviews. There are more interesting aspects of your personal experiences and of consulting you can discuss with your interviewers. 

Reason #6: It’s a safe bet if you are not sure what to do after university (don’t discuss with interviewer)

An additional reason you might want to go into consulting is that it’s a safe bet. A lot of people don’t really know what they want to do after University or their MBA. Consulting is a safe way to figure out what career is right for you by trying out different industries, roles and locations.

This is a safe option because being a consultant is generally perceived positively by employers and head hunters. You will be able to try out different things while leaving most doors open for the next steps in your career.

After two or three years in consulting, you might find an industry or even a client you have really enjoyed working with and decide to join them. Or you might decide that you actually enjoy the job and want to do it a few more years before moving on. But the important thing is that you will have options.

This is a reality your interviewer will be aware of. McKinsey hires ~2,000 consultants every year largely to replace people who are leaving the company. Leaving consulting is something you will often discuss openly with your teammates once you are a consultant. But  we recommend that you keep that to yourself during your interview process.

Reason #7: Your firm could sponsor your MBA (don’t discuss with interviewer)

It is a well-known fact that consultancies recruit a lot of MBA graduates. But it is less known that they actually also send a lot of their consultants to do MBAs. In fact, ~15% of incoming MBA students at Harvard Business School (HBS) are consultants. And ~23% of students work at consulting firms after graduating from HBS.

Most consulting firms such as Bain or BCG have some sort of MBA sponsorship programme. The details of the programme vary by firm but the principles of the agreement are usually the same. The firm will pay for your tuition fees in exchange for which you agree to work for an extra two or three years for them after graduating. If you decide not to return to consulting then you will need to reimburse the tuition fees to your employer.

If you have just graduated from University and know you want to do an MBA after getting two or three years of work experience then that’s a great opportunity. Once again, this can be one of the reasons you are thinking about going into consulting. But we recommend that you focus on discussing aspects which are more closely related to the actual job you will be doing with your interviewer.

Reason #8: You will have great exit opportunities (don’t discuss with interviewer)

Finally after two to three years in consulting, you will have fantastic exit opportunities. In many cases, you will not even have to look for a job, head hunters will reach out to you directly on LinkedIn multiple times per month to point you at interesting opportunities.

Some consultants really go on to do great things. Taking a look at this list of notable McKinsey alumni on Quora will give you a flavour for what you can aspire to after a career in consulting. Some people go on to lead companies such as Google, others become US governors or found non-profits such as Teach First.

Of course not every consultant goes on to do truly amazing things. But having worked at a consulting firm will give you access to a strong alumni network that’s there to help you throughout your career and ready to make introductions. This can be another great reason to start preparing for consulting interviews.

Conclusion

There are many great reasons to go into consulting. We encourage you to really take the time to think about this and find three or four genuine reasons you are interested in this field. An ideal time to do this is when you are preparing for fit / personal experience interview questions.

Once you have done this, step back from your list and select the two or three which are most appropriate to discuss with your interviewer. And keep the others to yourself! Doing this exercise in advance will really contribute to getting you an offer in consulting.

What are your reasons?

How are you planning to answer this question in your interview? Post a comment or ask a question below and we will let you know what we think!

Additional resources 

Candidates from the best universities around the world use our Case Interview Coaching ServiceMcKinsey Case Interview Training ProgrammeMcKinsey PST Training Programme and BCG Potential Test Training Programme. Some races are worth the extra effort - let's get started!

The IGotAnOffer team

Photo: Bambi Corro / Unsplash

Related Posts