Consulting resume: step-by-step guide 

Every year, ~200,000 candidates apply to McKinsey, but only ~2,000 of them end up getting an offer. That's a 1% success rate. Candidates usually don't know this, but the most competitive step in the recruiting process is the cover letter and resume screening. That's where more than 60% of candidates get eliminated.

So how do you do it? How do you craft a resume that gets you interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain? You probably already have a resume. But how do you make sure they work with consulting firms?

Because here is the thing. Consulting resumes are actually VERY different to CVs for other jobs. So, let's step through the consulting resume basics and writing tips you should be aware of. And let's also review a CV sample that landed interviews with McKinsey, BCG and Bain.

Part 1: What top consulting firms look for? 

The first step towards crafting a consulting resume that will get you multiple interviews is to understand what top consulting firms are actually looking for. 

There are two versions of the truth when it comes to this topic. The official version that's on every firm's website. And the unofficial one that they are less willing to talk about. We'll cover both here as well as how resume screening is done in practice.

What top firms look for in consulting resumes

1.1 The official version 

As we have already mentioned in our case interview guide, all top consulting firms broadly look for the same skills. This is particularly apparent when comparing McKinsey's and Bain's description of the skills they look for.

Top consulting firms tend to all be interested in candidates who exhibit the following four abilities:

  1. Problem solving. This means you need to have shown strong intellectual abilities to solve problems at University and during your work experiences.
  2. Personal impact. This means you've shown a dedication to achieving great things in most projects you undertook in the past. You've got a strong personal impact on most projects you are part of.
  3. Entrepreneurial drive. This means you should have a track record of launching new initiatives. You are not satisfied with doing things the traditional way and like innovating.
  4. Leadership abilities. This means you've shown you can lead groups of people in the past either in a professional context or at university.

The first objective of your resume should therefore be to highlight relevant parts of your experience that clearly demonstrate you possess these skills. Each bullet point in your resume should specifically target one of these skills. And overall, your bullet points should be balanced across these four categories.

For instance, let's assume that there are 20 bullet points in your resume. Broadly speaking, 5 of your bullet points should show that you are a strong problem solver. 5 should show that you deliver impact when you are part of teams. Another 5 should show that you are used to taking initiatives. And yet another 5 should show that you can lead teams.

Doing this will take a you a long way in crafting a successful application. Trust us, it works both for entry level and experienced hire resumes. But unfortuantely there are also untold truths about consulting CVs that you need to be aware of.

1.2 The unofficial version

Let's step step through the top 3 untold truths about consulting firms that you should keep in mind as you put your resume together.

Big brand names

First, your resume screener will be looking for big brand names when going through your CV. If you went to a target school (e.g. Harvard, Stanford, Oxford, Cambrige, etc.) that will definitely help.

If you did not attend a target school then your best chance of getting noticed is to have worked for companies that are big and well-known such as JP Morgan, Coca-cola, Exxon or Google to name just a few. 

You might be wondering why consulting firms value big brand universities and employers so much. To be frank, top consulting firms are snobs when it comes to academic and professional pedigree. This is obviously slightly unfair, but there are a couple of reasons things work that way.

First, it's easier to sell Junior consultants to clients if they have an impressive background. When a client asks "Who will be on the team?" Partners like to be able to answer "Linda just joined us with a bachelor from Oxford and an MBA from Harvard" or "Mike joins us from 3 years leading a team at Google." That makes it easier to justify the high salaries consulting staff get paid.

Second, consulting firms receive a LOT of applications every year. McKinsey for instance received about ~200,000 resumes in 2017. They can't interview everyone and need a pretty efficient way to get to a manageable number of candidates they can interview. Big brand names are a shortcut. They want to hire high-achievers and assume that if you went to a top school or worked for a top employer you are a high-achiever.

This can feel very frustrating and unfair if you don't have these brand names on your resume. In these situations, it does not mean you won't be able to make it into consulting. It just means that unfortunately it will likely be more work for you than for other people. You will have to network more, consider working / doing an internship at big brand names first and maybe apply to consulting firms multiple times. But you can still do it.

GPA / Grades cut-offs

One of the questions we often get about consulting resumes is: "I have a 3.X GPA from University Y. Will I make the cut-off?" To be clear, there's no official GPA cut-off in the US, or grades cut-off in other countries.

Your resume will usually be reviewed by a recent graduate from your University who works at the firm. They will score your resume on a number of dimensions one of which will be your grades. But your grades are only ONE of the factors that contribute to the final score your CV will get.

If your grades are on the lower end (GPA < 3.5 in the US, 2:1 or less in the UK), you will obviously get less points than if they were higher. As a consequence, you will need to compensate for this with very strong achievements in other areas of your resume. For instance, this could be an extra-curricular activity where you showed strong leadership and entrepreneurships skills. 

Languages

Finally, one important aspect of consulting resumes that's not very often discussed is languages. Speaking multiple languages fluently will be a big help to get you a consulting interview.

Indeed, most consulting firms operate a global staffing model. If you are based in the London office but speak French and Spanish, that means your firm will be able to send you on projects in the UK, France, Spain, but also North and South America and many countries in Africa. Your value to the firm will therefore be much higher than if you only spoke English.

Part 2: Top 10 consulting resume tips 

Now that you know what consulting firms look for, let's turn our attention to how you should package that information in your resume. We've reviewed hundreds of CVs over the past few years and have summarised the top 10 things we have learned below.

Top 10 tips for the perfect consulting resume

Tip #1: Keep it to one page

We know this is challenging. But that's one of the unwritten rules of consulting resumes. You should keep it to one page. Condensing your entire lifetime's achievements in ~500 words is difficult. The key is to select the right achievements and to describe them in a way that makes it clear you would make a great consultant. It takes time and a few iterations to get it right, so start earlier rather than later.

Tip #2: Use a standard format and standard font

Using a special format with a slightly funky font is tempting. You might think it could help you stand out. But it's not. You won't get extra points for it. At best, your CV screener will think: "Ok, I've never seen this format, but why not?" At worst, they will think: "Who is this person? They don't get it!" The CONTENT of your resume should stand out NOT its FORMAT.

Tip #3:  Use 5 sections

 All consulting resume should have 5 sections: Personal information, Education, Work experience, Extra-curricular achievements and Additional skills. One of the most common mistakes we see in CVs is to not have an "Extra-curricular achievements" section. This is a BIG mistake as this is a section you can use to show case some of the skills that consulting firms look for such as leadership and entrepreneurship.

Tip #4: Dumb things down

This is particularly important if you have written a PhD. or Master thesis. Your resume screener won't be familiar with your field. And they won't take the time to Google anything they don't understand. It is YOUR responsibility to dumb things down sufficiently for them to be understandable.

A good test for this is to ask a friend or sibling to highlight anything that they don't EASILY understand in your resume. If they're having to scratch their head to make sense of a sentence, it is TOO complicated. Simplifying things is hard work, so you should start this process early.

Tip #5: Show your soft skills

As mentioned in the first section of this guide, McKinsey, Bain and other firms are looking for skills which are very specific to consulting. A lot of those skills are actually SOFT skills such as leadership, personal impact, entrepreneurial drive, etc. If you have a standard resume that you use for other jobs you will most likely have to adapt it to showcase the specific soft skills consulting firms look for. If you don't do this you run the risk of your CV being overlooked as it's not tailored enough to consulting.

Tip #6: Use action verbs

Your resume screener won't READ your resume. They will SCAN it. You literally have 10 seconds to make a good first impression. And the right way to do this is to use keywords that resume screeners are either consciously or sub-consciously looking for. A great place to start with is action verbs. ALL your sentences should start with an action verb that highlights one of the soft skills the firms are looking for.

For instance, you should have bullet points on leadership which start with: "Lead a team of 10 people..." And bullet points on problem solving which start with: "Solved one of the toughest engineering problems..." These action verbs are extremely important because they are at the beginning of sentences. If you use the right ones you resume screener will immediately think: "Ok, this person has the right skills. Let me look at their CV in more detail."

Tip #7: 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. If your idea is not backed up by numbers it's just a point of view. If it is backed up by numbers it becomes an argument and has more gravitas. You should use this to your advantage in your resume and quantify your achievements as much as possible.

For instance, if you were awarded a scholarship to study abroad you should write something like: "Awarded Entente Cordiale Scholarship to study in the UK (2 scholarships for 1,000+ applicants)" This will make you stand out much more than if you had just written: "Awarded a competitive scholarship to study in the UK."

Tip #8: Be unique

Your resume screener will literally have looked at hundreds of CVs before they look at yours. The reality is a lot of these resumes are quite similar. So, if there's something a little bit unique that you have done, you should not hesitate to say so. For instance, you might have worked for 6 months in a surf shop in Australia, or you might have done a 6-month unpaid internship for charity. Everything that differentiates you in a positive way should be clearly mentioned on your resume.

Tip #9: Ask for feedback

Once you have put together a first version of your resume you need to ask for feedback to improve it. If you know any consultants or former consultants you should not hesitate to reach out to them to get their thoughts. But failing that, asking for feedback from peers is also helpful. They'll be able to cast a fresh eye on your resume and flag typos, inconsistencies or sentences that they find difficult to understand. 

Tip #10: Proofread - Multiple times! 

This is the last step of crafting your CV. And it is crucial. One of the tangible deliverables of consulting projects is Power Point decks and Word documents written during the project. These documents are proof-read multiple times before being handed over to clients and so should your resume. In particular, make sure to triple check your contact details.

Part 3: McKinsey resume sample 

Now that you know about the 10 most important tips to craft the perfect consulting resume let's use them to build a McKinsey resume sample you can reuse for your own application. Every consulting CV should be split out in 5 sections:

  1. Personal information
  2. Education
  3. Work experience
  4. Extra-curricular achievements
  5. Additional skills

Let's step through each section one by one and highlight the important elements you need to replicate in your own resume.

But before we dive in, please note the following points about the template:

  • This is an anonymised resume from a candidate who got interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain. You can trust this template works.
  • A lot of people use this template. Get inspiration from it, but every sentence in your resume should be written from scratch.
  • This resume might look impressive. It's one of the best ones we have seen. Even if you have not achieved as much as this person, you can still get an interview.

McKinsey resume sample structure

3.1 Personal information 

McKinsey resume sample - Personal information section

In this section you should include all the basic personal details the consulting firm you are applying for is requesting. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you put this section together:

  • Use bigger font for your name than for the rest of the section to make it stand out
  • Don't insert your headshot, date of birth or gender unless specifically requested by the firm
  • Use a neutral / professional email address. Keep your hilarious email address for friends and family!
  • Double check all your details including address and phone number before sending your resume
3.2 Education

McKinsey resume sample - Education section

This section should summarise the different degrees you graduated with. It should NOT include your High School experience. If you have recently graduated and only have internship experiences, this section should follow the Personal Information section. But if you have already had a first job for 1+ years, you could consider swapping this section with the Work experience section. Here are a few tips on how to write this section:

  • If you have multiple degrees (e.g.: a BA and an MBA), you should write a subsection like the one above for each degree, starting with your highest level of education first (e.g.: your MBA).
  • For each degree, include the name of the degree, university and dates in the headline. You should also describe relevant course content briefly (no more than one line).
  • List your grades (e.g.: GPA) as well as results to other standardised tests you have taken (e.g.: SAT, GMAT, etc.)
  • Detail all the awards and scholarships you have received in the past, and most importantly how competitive they were (e.g.: 2 awards for 1,000 students).
  • If you have written a thesis / dissertation, you should also summarise the topic in a way that's VERY easy to understand.
3.3 Work experience

McKinsey resume sample - Work experience

The work experience section should include the previous work positions you have held as well as your main achievements in these roles. Here are some more important points to help you put this section together:

  • Include the name of the position you held and the employer as well as the location and dates in the headline. The first line of the section should then describe your employer / department in one sentence. Notice that this mirrors the structure used for the Education section.
  • Start each of your bullet points with an ACTION VERB that matches one of the four skills consulting firms look for (Leadership, Entrepreneurial drive, Personal impact, Problem solving). "Lead", "Analysed" or "Presented" are good examples of such verbs.
  • Balance the skills you demonstrate as much as possible. For instance, notice how some of the bullet points above are about leadership while others are about problem solving.
  • Focus on the RESULTS of what you did and QUANTIFY them as much as possible to highlight the tangible contributions you have made. This is not the time to be shy about your accomplishments!
3.4 Extra-curricular achievements

McKinsey resume sample - Extra-curricular achievements section

One of the most common mistakes we come across in resumes we receive from candidates is the absence of an extra-curricular achievements section. This section is particularly important if you have limited work experience as it's a great way to show leadership, entrepreneurial drive and personal impact. It's also a great way to compensate for average university grades or a non-target school. 

The way you write about your Extra-curricular experiences should follow the same format and tips as for the Work experience section. Here are different types of activities you could write about (not exhaustive):

  • University clubs: if you have held a position in a University club (e.g. Consulting club, Finance club, Theatre club, etc.) you should definitely mention it. The "higher" the position the better as it could highlight your ability to lead and manage others.
  • Sports team: if you were part of a University sports team you should definitely highlight that along with the achievements of the team. This will highlight your ability to work with others.
  • Side businesses: if you have set up a side business with friends at University you should mention it along with the number of customers / revenue you have managed to achieve. This will show your ability to take initiatives.
  • Writing / arts: if you enjoy writing or any other art form and have published your work or have some kind of followership you should also not hesitate to mention it. This will help showcase your creativity.
3.5 Additional skills and interests

McKinsey resume sample - Additional skills section

Finally, you should focus the last section of your resume on additional skills you master. Our recommendation here is to keep things simple and to list the foreign languages and programming languages you master. For each language you should specify your level of proficiency.

Additional services

The guide above as we as our consulting cover letter guide should go a long way in helping you crafting documents that will get you interviews. But if after using this guide you feel you need additional help, we have also put together a Resume writing service for you.

By signing up to this service, you will be matched with a former Resume screener from McKinsey, BCG or Bain. They will assess the existing version of your resume and work with you to improve it and make sure you get interviews with top consulting firms.

So far, everyone who has used the service got invited to interviews. We know this because we give 50% of their money back to people who don't. Check it out, you'll be in good hands!

Consulting resume review services

Document with comments

Any questions about consulting resumes?

If you have any questions about consulting resumes, do not hesitate to ask them below and we will be more than happy to answer them. All questions are good questions, so go ahead!

The IGotAnOffer team