Becoming a management consultant requires drive, intelligence, and flexibility. As a reward, the career provides opportunities, experience, and top-notch training. To help you land a management consulting job, we’ve asked our experts “how do you become a management consultant?”
Management Consulting is highly competitive. Whether it’s for one of the pure strategy firms (McKinsey, Bain, BCG), a Big 4 (Deloitte, KPMG, PWC, E&Y) or a boutique firm, it’s a tough interview process and demanding career path. However, the opportunities are almost unparalleled. At an early point in your career you get exposure to C-Level executives (that means the bosses), are asked to do extremely challenging analysis, and learn about multiple industries through rotational training programs. All of this opportunity means getting in is a challenge. Here, we give our top 5 tips to become a management consultant:
1. Do a Business, Science, or Engineering degree.
Supply and demand play a strong part in the management consulting recruiting process. There are a lot of people who want a job (demand) and the number of firms offering positions is limited (supply). The outcome is that management consulting firms are able to be highly selective in their choice of applicant, and the first filter that many apply is degree program and school. It is a bit of a blunt instrument in terms of rating criteria, but it helps the different firms wade through the packets of resumes they receive.
To become a management consultant, an important first step is to pick a degree that will get noticed and translates easily into the skills these firms need. Accounting, obviously, is a great choice, as it gives you a broad understanding of how businesses work and you can likely be deployed almost immediately on finance-related projects. However, you can also consider a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, or Mathematics) degree too. These degrees, especially paired with accounting or business degrees, are the bread and butter of management consulting intakes. (Disclaimer: For sure, plenty of great management consultants came to the career via art history, French, or other degrees. However, these folks are the exception, not the rule.)
Do we need to say grades are important? Well, they are. If you want to become a management consultant, the most difficult hurdle will just be getting to the interview process. As much as we know that grades may not truly reflect your unique ability and skillset, recruiters don’t always have time to learn that much about you. Grades are important. There, we said it.
2. Be more than just smart. Be adaptable.
Smart people are great. Smart people do really good research and write smart things for other smart people to read in peer-reviewed journals. However, to become a management consultant, that’s not really enough.
To be successful in consulting, you need to be both smart and flexible. It’s as much about being able to move topic-to-topic as it about being able to show composure under pressure. The job of consulting involves frequent surprises and unexpected challenges. It’s important that you show adaptability as well as brute intellectual horsepower.
We recommend two things to help you here:
- When you don’t know, say you don’t know: So often, applicants for consulting jobs trip themselves up by trying to answer it all. The same phenomenon trips up new consultants in front of clients. Here’s the deal: if you don’t know, say you don’t know. You can be smart at the same time as not knowing about a topic, and you’ll do better in the long run by not trying to fake it.
- Slow down to speed up: Lots of information comes at you really fast in both your first year of consulting and even just in the interview process. Worst of all, are case interviews, where you are flooded with data. To become a management consultant, you need to slow down in order to speed up. Rather than jumping into an interview question (or project!), remember to pause and plan first before executing.
To become a management consultant, you’ll be in competitive application process with smart people just like you. There are lots of ways to stand out and get noticed, but don’t discount good old fashioned networking. How this happens will be different for everyone. It could making a point to meet with an alumnus of your school, reaching out through a family friend, or just being on-point during a cocktail reception. Whatever you choose, remember to keep your interaction style genuine and interested. People doing the hiring for any management consulting firm go to a lot of networking functions and meet a lot of people. Your goal should be to impress, but not badger or annoy.
3. Crack the Case.
So you made the first cut with a great resume and you’ve networked your way to an interview. Great job. Now comes the area that most management consultants fear – the case interview. There are so many great guides out there to nailing the case interview, from college consulting club guides to Crack the Case. We don’t want to repeat their advice, but we do want to stress one thing, and that’s to remember that you’re not a machine. People interviewing you are not looking for a perfect answer to a case (although that’s obviously great). They are looking for someone who can be flexible under fire, who can show composure, and who can gather and use feedback in real time. Be yourself, relax, and just go slowly.
4. Don’t Discount the Airport Test.
Our final piece of advice is news to many applicants. That is, when you’re applying to become a management consultant, you aren’t just being evaluated for your smarts. The person on the other side of the table is also thinking about your interpersonal skills. Are you easy going, friendly, and (most importantly) could the other person spend hours with you in the airport after a flight delay? It’s a real world scenario that happens all the time in management consulting.
To prepare for the airport test, we do not recommend you learn a set of stand-up jokes to wow your interviewer. Instead, we recommend you practice in a simulated environment as much as you practice cracking the case. Whether your faux interviewer is a professor, friend, or parent, take these scenarios seriously to put yourself under some pressure. Sit on opposite sides of the table. Wear a suit. Try walking into the room while the other person is already seated. Anything that can give you a better feel for the day will help you relax when the time comes.