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How to move from ‘the Big 4’ or another tier-2 firm to McKinsey, BCG or Bain (MBB)

If you’re a consultant at the ‘Big-4’ or another ‘tier-2’ consulting firm, you may be planning to progress your career by applying to join one of the world’s top-3 management consulting firms: McKinsey, BCG or Bain (collectively known as MBB).

In this article, we look at MBB’s practice of hiring consultants from other firms through the experienced professional hiring channel. We also provide some guidance on how these candidates can stand out from the crowd and maximize their chances of success when they apply to a top-3 firm.

What are the ‘Big-4’ and ‘tier-2’ consulting firms?

‘The Big 4’ refers to four global professional services firms:

  • EY (Ernst & Young)
  • PwC
  • Deloitte
  • KPMG

‘Tier-2’ relates to a group of respected consulting firms considered to be the most credible and prestigious after McKinsey, BCG and Bain. In addition to the Big 4, this group includes:

  • Kearney
  • Oliver Wyman
  • Roland Berger
  • L.E.K
  • Accenture
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McKinsey, BCG and Bain are hiring an increasing number of consultants from tier-2 firms

The top-3 consulting firms have all grown a great deal in recent years; in fact, BCG and Bain have both tripled their revenue in the last decade.

With more hiring to do as a result of this growth – and only a limited number of candidates available through the traditional channels of undergraduate and MBA hiring – McKinsey, BCG and Bain have all been compelled to diversify their source of candidates and hire experienced professionals. These candidates typically have two to eight years of professional experience with other employers. Our research into the top routes into McKinsey, BCG and Bain shows that between 2020 and 2022, experienced professional hiring accounted for as much as 40% of total recruitment in some MBB offices.

Despite being historically resistant to the prospect, the top-3 consulting firms have come to place a growing emphasis on hiring from other consulting firms within the experienced professional hiring channel.

McKinsey, BCG and Bain once held reservations about the potential of these candidates to succeed within their ranks. However, today the firms recognise that consultants from other firms can bring a wealth of sought-after experience with them, and often have the ability to hit the ground running. In our research over 39% of the experienced professional hires at McKinsey, BCG and Bain had joined from another consulting firm. The majority of these candidates came from the strategy units of the Big 4: EY Parthenon, Monitor Deloitte, Strategy & at PWC, and KPMG’s Global Strategy Group (GSG).

It’s important to note that opportunities for candidates from other consulting firms are likely to fluctuate in line with the top-3 firms’ hiring needs. In the event of a recruitment downturn, McKinsey, BCG and Bain tend to focus on hiring from their more traditional channels.

How to stand out as a candidate from a tier-2 consulting firm

If you’re a consultant at the Big 4 or another tier-2 firm, you may well have experience that the top-3 firms will value, and the ability to get up and running as an MBB consultant relatively quickly. However, a successful application is by no means guaranteed.

Like any other candidate, you will need to demonstrate that you are among the best of the best in your profession. It could be argued that this is, in fact, most challenging for consultants from tier-2 firms who, by definition, do not currently work for one of the most selective employers in their industry.

You will also need to stand out from other candidates in the experienced hiring channel. These will include all sorts of professionals – from artists and athletes to doctors and military personnel – who are at the top of their field and are likely to have interesting and novel experiences to share with interviewers.

With these challenges in mind, here’s how you can stand out from the crowd and maximize your chance of success as a candidate from the Big 4 or another tier-2 consulting firm:

Provide evidence of top performance

McKinsey, BCG and Bain expect to see exceptional professional performance in the applications of all their experienced professional candidates. As a consultant from another firm, this could mean:

  • having faster progression than the norm in your firm
  • being a top-rated performer by your peers
  • working in a challenging practice area
  • making a significant impact on client projects

You should highlight these achievements as clearly as possible in your application to demonstrate to recruiters that you are a top performer, with a proven track record as a management consultant.

Show that you have worked at a strategic level

Because the Big 4 and other tier-2 firms have a strong focus on implementation and transformation projects, recruiters at McKinsey, BCG and Bain will be especially interested in the experience you have of working strategically on challenging and complex problems.

To this end, you should be crystal clear in your application about the practice area you belong to in your current firm. You should also provide examples of the work you have done that’s most similar to the strategic work of a consultant at McKinsey, BCG or Bain.

Highlight any specialist expertise you have

Because the top-3 consulting firms all have demand for expertise in specific areas of growth, such as AI, data science, digital and sustainability, you should also highlight any experience you have in these emerging disciplines.

If you have significant experience in one of these areas and you’re interested in focusing on it at McKinsey, BCG or Bain, you might want to consider applying through the firm’s expert career track, where demand is often particularly high.

Consider the Manager level when you apply

Some MBB offices tend to lack Manager-level consultants, who are skilled enough to lead client projects but are not yet eligible for promotion to Partner. If you have significant experience of running a project team, ‘Manager’ could be a good role to apply to on the consulting career path, as the firms who recruit for this role tend to struggle to find suitable candidates.

If you’re preparing to apply to McKinsey, BCG or Bain from the Big 4 or another tier-2 consulting firm, the templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course will help you get your application in great shape.

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