At StrategyCase.com former consultants from top level firms advise prospective applicants on how to make successful applications in this competitive sector. Here Florian offers his insight on what you could do during your time at university to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Getting into top-tier management consulting firms is quite a process. You should know early that you want to enter the industry of the McKinsey’s, BCG’s, and Bain’s of this world.
Firstly, you need to understand the application process. A staggering 75-85% already fail at the resume and cover letter screening. At the second stage of the recruitment process, you will go through specific assessments (e.g. McKinsey Digital Assessment, BCG Online Case) and then on to the case interviews. In the end, 1 out of 100 applicants lands an offer with the top firms. So, how can you make sure during your degree that, a) you will pass the screening stage at the top strategy firms with ease and b) you possess the necessary skills for the case interviews?
Here is what you need to do during your studies to pass the screening stage
Broadly speaking, there are 4 key areas that consulting firms screen for in graduate hires. These ‘hard’ metrics are used as a proxy for the skill set that is desired for the daily work in consulting.
- Professional experience
- International exposure
- Extra-curricular activities
Let us dive into it a bit more, education…
You need to score high in two areas to hit the requirements here. First, top-tier consulting firms generally only hire from the few most prestigious universities in their geography. For instance, in the US most candidates come from Ivy League schools. In some countries such as Germany the concept of target schools is not adhered to as strictly. However, you would still need to graduate from a reputable university. Second, you need to be among the top students (top 5-20% depending on your degree and university) in your peer group. Firms like McKinsey know exactly how your grades relate to other students of your university and course. Finally, in some locations you need a master’s degree while in others a bachelor’s degree is fine. There is a trend now to also allow exceptional applicants with ‘just’ bachelor’s degrees.
Work experience (gained either through internships or full-time employment if perhaps applying as an experienced hire) is very important and counts highly towards your ‘pass grade’ in the application process. There is variation across locations depending on the internship culture of a country, if it is not common for example to do internships during your studies, then McKinsey et al would likely not ask for it. Ideally, if applying with internship experience it is comprised of industry companies as well as lower-tier consulting firms. Ask the recruiters openly on firm-sponsored events or via email about the additional experience your CV would need to be considered as a potential candidate.
Depending on the office or geography you apply to, the relevance of this dimension varies. In many offices, candidates are nowadays expected to have done either an internship abroad or an exchange semester at a reputable university. For details, discuss with the local recruiters or the office you want to apply to make sure you can plan ahead and get that international experience if required.
What differentiates you? Highlight that you have something to offer besides good grades and prestigious internship experience. Anything that demonstrates your passion, motivation and ideally, conveys some of the traits that consulting firms screen for – this could be leadership for example as the captain of a sports team.
All these experiences and achievements should demonstrate that you have what it takes to be successful in the consulting world. In general, you should have something to show in each of these areas and excel in some to be considered for a job at the top firms. The better you are or the higher your spike in one dimension, the more leeway you have in others.
Once you pass the screening stage, you need to demonstrate specific skills in the assessments and case interviews. Start early during your studies to develop them!