Advice > Consulting

Why consulting? 7 GREAT interview answers (+ 4 bad)

By Max Serrano on March 30, 2023 How we wrote this article
why consulting interview question

"Why consulting?" is one of the first questions you'll be asked in your consulting interview, and it's also important to include in a consulting cover letter. The good news is that it's pretty easy to give a strong, unique answer, and we're going to show you exactly how to do that.

Below we'll cover all the best reasons for becoming a consultant and give you examples of how you can work these into your answer. Plus we'll help you structure your answer, show you an example, and tell you what NOT to say (even if it's true!).

Here's the breakdown:

1. 7 great reasons to become a consultant
2. How to answer the "Why consulting?" interview question
3. "Why consulting?" sample answer
4. What NOT to say
5. How to prepare for a consulting interview

Let's get into it.

Click here to practise 1-on-1 with MBB ex-interviewers

1. 7 great reasons to become a consultant

Below you'll find seven very strong reasons for becoming a management consultant. You can pick and choose from these when you're constructing an answer to the "Why consulting?" interview question.

(Note: if you're still at application stage, you'll need to make sure your resume is top notch if you want to get an interview. Check out our consulting resume article or get 1-to-1 expert feedback on your resume).

#1: You will work with senior execs

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 friends who aren't consultants 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, let alone the CEOs and senior executives at other companies.

#2: You will be able to have a big impact

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.

“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 (in theory) 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 can also find projects and case studies on company websites or their YouTube channels. Try to find a few you are genuinely interested in and mention them to your interviewer when they ask you why you want to be a consultant. Here are some that we liked. But we’d encourage you to have a look at the websites of the firms you are applying for and find your own.

Example: “I want to be involved in big projects that have a very high impact. For instance, I read how at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, McKinsey worked with Vyaire, a manufacturer of medical ventilators, to help them boost their production levels to unprecedented levels. I'd love to be involved in a project with such high urgency and real impact."

#3: 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.

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.

Example: “One of the reasons I want to be a consultant is that I want to be tested and challenged. I know that McKinsey invests a lot of resources in training its employees and strong feedback processes, and I'd love to benefit from that, but in addition, I want to be thrown out of my comfort zone and face new problems every week. I also am keen to progress quickly and take on more responsibilities the more I learn, and I know that in consulting there are plenty of opportunities for progression as long as your performance merits it."

#4: You thrive as a generalist

As a consultant, you'll work across a wide variety of industries and problems. 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.

One of the most successful business books of the last few years (it was on the McKinsey and Financial Times shortlist 2019) is a book called "Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World". It talks about why people who can work across a wide range of problems are better equipped to succeed in the modern world. If you've read this book or another business book that might be relevant, it could be interesting to refer to in your answer.

Example: “One of the reasons I want to be a consultant is that I’ll get exposure to a wide variety of industries and problems. I recently read the book "Why generalists triumph in a specialized world" and it really resonated with me. I much prefer learning laterally across multiple different areas instead of learning more vertically and specializing in just one."

#5: 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.

It doesn't matter that the interviewer may not know the person you mention. The important thing is to show that you've made the effort to do your research and do some networking - both key skills for a consultant.

Example: “I’ve met with Maria from the Houston office and she seems to really enjoy working with her different teammates and has been blown away by how bright they all are. I want to work amongst bright people, many of whom will be much smarter than me, so that I can learn from them, be inspired by them and develop a strong professional network."

#6: You'll learn many of the tools to start your own business

Many management consultants go on to start their own business after a few years at a firm. If starting your own business is something that interests you in the future, experience as a consultant is one of the best training programmes you could imagine. You'll develop experiences and skills that are applicable across almost any industry, from persuading key stakeholders to creating powerful spreadsheets.

If you want to start your own business, don't be shy of mentioning this in your interview. It shows ambition, and an entrepreneurial spirit which firms like McKinsey love. Just be sure to stress that you're thinking long-term and not in the immediate future, otherwise the interviewer might worry that you're not planning to stick around!

Example: "Since I was a kid I've always enjoyed working on entrepreneurial side projects and before I'm 40 I'd like to have started my own business. One of the things that appeals about consulting is the chance to confront so many different types of business problems and learn how to create solutions that are applicable across many different contexts. That's an invaluable skillset to leverage when I do eventually start my own thing."

If this reason is relevant to you, you should check out this video in which a start up founder talks about how his time at Bain taught him crucial skills.

#7: You will travel to multiple places

Large consultancies sell work to companies and governments all around the world. McKinsey has 130+ offices in 60+ countries. BCG has 100+ 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.

Example: “An ex-colleague of mine who is at Deloitte told me how she had the opportunity to work for the Ministry of Transport in Kenya for 3 months and help with a huge restructuring program. Having the opportunity to work abroad in a very different environment to what I’m used to is something that really excites me.

2. How to answer the "Why Consulting?" interview question

Now you know seven great reasons to become a consultant. But when it comes to your interview, you'll need to do a lot better than simply repeating one of the reasons listed above.

In fact, you should choose two or three reasons, and make them unique to you. Add details that are personal to you as well as adding specific references to things you've researched.

Crucially, you should make sure making sure your answer is structured and well laid out. This is as important as the reasons you choose. To easily structure your answer, you can follow our simple "List, explain, conclude" framework:

Step 1. List your reasons.

Start off by saying "There are three reasons I want to get into consulting. One, because X. Two, because Y. And my third reason is Z." It's good to number the reasons when you give them because it makes your answer sound even more structured.

Step 2. Explain your reasons.

Now go back to your first reason and give some more detail. Then likewise for the second and (if you have three) the third. You'll want to be very concise: Step 2 should take you no longer than two minutes.

When your preparing for your interview you'll want to write and re-write your explanations until they are compelling and concise. Since you're pretty much guaranteed to be asked this question, it's worth learning your answer off by heart so that you know exactly what you're going to say.

Step 3. Conclude

When you've finished explaining your final reason, conclude your answer with a prepared closing line that brings your answer to a close. It could be something like: "So those are my three main motivations for wanting to be a consultant. Do they make sense to you?" This is just a way to finish your answer confidently and clearly rather than trailing off.

Now you've learned the ingredients of a great answer to "Why consulting?", let's take a look at how it might look on paper.

3. Sample answer: "Why do you want to be a consultant?"

Example answer from a McKinsey candidate:

There are plenty of reasons why I want to become a management consultant, but here are my three main ones. Firstly, I'm really excited by the idea of working on large, high impact projects. Secondly, one day I'd like to start my own business and working as a consultant will provide me with the skillset to do that. And thirdly, the consultants I've met have tended to be extremely bright, interesting people and the kind of person I'd like to work with. Let me expand on those three reasons for you.

Firstly, impact: I recently read about how McKinsey helped a medical equipment manufacturer boost its production of ventilators during the start of COVID from 6 a day to 600. I'd love to work on these sort of projects that have a real tangible impact. And I also want to be able to have an impact myself. My understanding is that even as an entry level consultant, you immediately get your hands dirty, presenting to clients, finding solutions, etcetera - meanwhile in other industries you may have to wait years to have that kind of involvement. So that really attracts me.

Secondly, I've always played around with small business side projects (some more successful than others!) and one of my life ambitions is to one day start my own company. As a consultant I'd be exposed to a huge variety of industries which would enable me develop a really strong business skillset. You could say it's the ultimate ten-year training programme for running a business!

And finally, I want to surround myself with people who are bright and driven. I've been to a few consulting networking events and I had some really fascinating conversations with the consultants I met there talking about the projects they were working on. I feel like there's no better way to learn and grow than be surrounded by smart people.

So, yes, those are my three main reasons for wanting to be a consultant."

4. What NOT to say

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.

#1: You will earn a great salary

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 salary averages for some of the largest players. 

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

Of course, other employers such as investment banks and hedge funds pay even more than consulting firms. But nevertheless, the figures listed above are far above most industries.

It’s perfectly normal 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. 

#2: It’s a safe bet if you are not sure what to do after university

An additional reason you might want to go into consulting is that it’s a safe bet.You might not really know what they want to do after university or an 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 headhunters. 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 isn't a good reason to discuss with your interviewer. Consulting firms want to hire candidates who have thought deeply about their career and have decided they really want to be a consultant. They don't want to hire candidates who are just trying to keep their options open or don't really know what they want to do yet.

#3: Your firm could sponsor your MBA

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 ~25% of students work at consulting firms after graduating from HBS.

Most major consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG, Bain, etc. 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 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.

#4: You will have great exit opportunities

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, headhunters 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 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.

5. How to prepare for consulting interviews

As with case interviews, the key to acing these types of consulting interview questions is preparing properly.

5.1 Prepare by yourself

We recommend reading our McKinsey PEI guide, which is relevant not just to McKinsey candidate but to every consulting candidate who wants to know how to prepare for behavioral, motivational and resume questions.

As well as "Why do you want to work in consulting?", you'll probably asked why you want to work for that particular company. You'll want to fully prepare your answer to that one too, so check out one of the guides below:

Our bespoke guides for each top firm are also a great way to get started on your case interview prep:

5.2 Practise with ex-interviewers

Using our guides and other online materials to prepare by yourself is the best way to get started, but it won't prepare you for realistic interview conditions. You'll come to a point where you need some feedback to help you improve your interview performance. Try and find someone who can do a mock interview with you, like a friend or family member.

To really up your game, we’d also recommend that you practise 1-1 with ex-interviewers from top consulting firms. This is the best way to replicate the conditions of a real consulting interview, and to get feedback from someone who understands the process extremely well. Meet our MBB ex-interviewers who’d love to work with you.

 

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