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Five Tips to Break Into Management Consulting

Advice for getting into the competitive industry of consulting, curated by a former consultant at Bain & Co. and application coach.

By Sam Andersen

August 19, 2022

Hi, I’m Sam A., a Leland coach and expert in the consulting application process. I led a school recruiting team for multiple cycles during my time at Bain & Co. and participated in dozens of interviews across multiple schools. Below are my top tips for students interested in management consulting. Though they may feel a bit broad, I’ve seen the students who apply them in unique and personalized ways see great success.

Introduction

Interesting work, top-tier colleagues, exposure to some of the world’s biggest companies and best executives, high compensation, endless credit card rewards, and frequent traveler points; the list of reasons why management consulting appeals to high-performing students is long. But even with the massive growth of the industry, consulting jobs are elusive for many due to the intense competition. Students wanting to secure these six-figure salaries right out of undergrad (and much more out of MBA) would be wise to begin preparing months before the actual applications are due.

Top Five Tips

1. Networking Really Matters

There are more qualified applicants for consulting jobs than there are spots available. In order to get your name on the “must interview” list, you need to have the right champions advocating for you within the firms. Who those champions are will depend on several factors. If you attend a “core” school, they will likely be alumni who are now working for the firm. They may also be those who attend the school’s career fairs, info sessions, and coffee chats on-campus.

Get to know these people, as well as others that you connect with through LinkedIn, and invest in the two or three relationships that really seem to “click.” In this scenario, quality is better than quantity. You need someone who knows you, likes you, and trusts that you will perform well if provided the opportunity to interview.

2. Build an Interesting Resume

Top-notch GPAs and test scores (yup, they’re going to look at your ACT/SAT or GMAT/GRE) are table stakes, but beyond academics, there is a lot you can do to build an impressive resume. Experience is acquired over time, and starting early can make all of the difference. While name-brand internships are certainly helpful, the best internships are ones that will allow you to have an impact, take leadership roles, and demonstrate your ability to learn and grow. When you’re asked about these roles in networking and interview settings, your eyes should light up because you know it’s a conversation where you can genuinely shine.

But, it’s not just about the internships. Build a diverse set of experiences that showcase a well-rounded personality and a variety of interests. Include a line or two about hobbies, unique skills, or passion projects. Give potential interviewers any material you can to find a way to relate to you and strike up a conversation.

3. Nail the Case Interview (Multiple Times)

Countless articles and guides have been published to help you prepare for the case portion of consulting interviews. These are important and you should spend time reviewing them. However, beyond hypothesis trees and quant sections, interviewers really want to see that you have problem-solving skills. When given a case, first identify the one or two core questions and always showcase your ability to prioritize different inputs. Isolate the ones that are “needle-moving” and draw information from the industries that you are the most familiar with.

Use your network to practice, first in low-stakes environments (like with fellow students) then elevating as you improve your case skills (like with current/former interns, and eventually members of the firm’s recruiting team). While most of these practice cases will not be formally recorded, they are a chance for you to showcase your capabilities, build credibility, and leave an impactful first impression.

When the official interview finally comes, enjoy the experience! The best part of the actual job is “cracking the case,” and that is what case interviews are supposed to simulate. Approach the questions with sincere curiosity and realistic assumptions. You’ll probably have to do three to five cases before an eventual job offer is extended, and you should plan to nail every one of them.

4. Know Why You Want It

“So, why do you want to work for Bain and Company?” Substitute McKinsey, BCG, or another firm, and you have one of the most common questions asked in networking calls and actual interviews. Many students will give all types of generic responses; don’t do this. Winning answers demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, you know the differences between the firms, have thought through the benefits of each culture and experience, and have isolated a few critical items. It might be specific expertise (e.g., Bain’s Private Equity specialty, or McKinsey’s work in the public sector), a cultural touchpoint, or a mentor that has really helped you along. Giving crisp and personal reasons why that specific firm appeals to you increases the confidence that you will be a good fit.

5. Showcase Your Personality

Consulting is a team sport and the best answers are developed together as a group. Having a personality that is both interesting and easy to work with is critical. Ultimately, the hiring committees are picking the associates and consultants with whom they will spend thousands of hours over the next few years. They’re going to pick people they like.

The personality test begins from the first call with a recruiter. A light sense of humor, common interests, dependability, and confidence will all go a long way toward impressing the recruiter and eventually securing an offer. I’ve seen many students stiffen up as soon as they walked into the interview room. Those who were able to maintain their smile, ease, and confidence nearly always did better than the former. In one interview, the candidate had excellent academics, a golden resume, and great case skills but was turned down. The partner’s feedback was, “He didn’t smile once and seemed like he was pretty miserable.” You can have the best qualifications in the world, but if you seem difficult to work with, you will be hard-pressed to secure an offer.

Conclusion

While timing and luck are great tailwinds, there is a lot you can do to increase your chances of landing a job at a top-tier consulting firm. Ask your Leland coach to give you frank feedback on resumes, case interviews, and more. The way that you network, invest in relationships, research the firms, and show off your personality will all play an important role in getting your dream consulting job. Here are some Leland resources to get you started:

A Day in the Life of a Management Consultant

An Expert’s Guide to Resumes: 5 Tips to Make You Stand Out

Best 30 Free Resources to Get Into Management Consulting

If you’d rather work one-on-one with a coach for personalized feedback and guidance, see my profile here. I’ve spent hundreds of hours helping students prepare for, and navigate, the consulting interview process for all three major firms. I know how it works, and am passionate about helping students reach their dreams. I’d love to work with you!

Final Note

Leland provides you with the content, community, and coaching that you need to get into your dream consulting role and accomplish other ambitious goals. Sign up today to gain access to additional free resources, community events, small group classes, world-class coaching, and more.