When it comes to hiring at top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain, the competition for roles is fierce and the firms are notoriously selective. McKinsey alone receives more than a million applications a year, with an acceptance rate of lower than 1%.
There is no way to guarantee landing a coveted offer from a top firm in the management consulting industry. However, to be in with a chance of getting a job at McKinsey, BCG or Bain you’ll need to include a few vital elements in your approach to the recruitment process.
To join a top consulting firm you need to:
- have great academics
- demonstrate that you have potential
- do your research
- prepare a standout application
- prepare thoroughly for your interviews
1. Have great academics
Whether you apply to a top consulting firm as a new graduate, an experienced professional or an advanced degree hire, you need to show evidence of strong academic performance, ideally at a ‘target’ university of your firm of choice.
In our analysis of the routes into McKinsey, BCG and Bain, we saw that in most locations the bulk of pre-experienced student hires tend to come from a small number of top-ranked universities, like Harvard in the US and the University of Cambridge in the UK. However, a small number of locations, including Germany, Middle East and the Southern US, are open to less selective universities.
Our analysis also showed that firms are open to applications from graduates of top MBA programs and experienced professionals with undergraduate degrees from a wider range of institutions.
Regardless of where you went to university, you will be expected to have achieved excellent grades. If you attended a top-ranked target university that sends a large contingent of students to McKinsey, BCG or Bain, then graduating in the top half of the class could be enough to demonstrate your suitability. If you attended a target university that only sends one to three students a year to these firms, then you’ll need to be in the top 5-10% of your class for your academics to be considered strong enough.
2. Demonstrate that you have high potential
Top consulting firms are only interested in hiring candidates who can demonstrate that they have the potential to perform the work of a consultant successfully.
If you’re applying as an experienced professional and you’ve progressed quickly in a selective role at a selective company – even if it’s in another industry – this will signal to recruiters that you could have the potential to succeed in consulting.
If you’re applying as a fresh graduate, you can illustrate your potential by highlighting your achievements in extra-curricular activities that demonstrate personal impact and leadership skills. Top firms love to hire people who have achieved something unusual, whether that’s competing in the Olympics, being the only person from a particular high school to attend university or starting a charity or business enterprise as a student.
When you write your resume, you should choose two or three of your most impressive achievements and summarize them in bullet points.
3. Do your research
When you’re applying to a top consulting firm, it’s important to do some research to ensure that you apply to the right firm and office, through the right channel.
Choosing the right firm and office
Take some time to research each firm and office online and understand their specialist industries. Some offices work with clients in finance and banking, for example, while others focus on other sectors like automotive, consumer goods or healthcare. Attending recruitment events and speaking to current and former consultants at the firm and office where you plan to apply can provide invaluable additional insight.
Our article on the top-10 management consulting firms provides some key facts and figures to help you get started with your research.
Applying through the right hiring channel
It’s also important to ensure that you apply to your firm of choice through the most appropriate of the four hiring channels:
- Pre-experience student hires (with a bachelor’s degree or a non-MBA master’s degree) are recruited out of university or shortly after. They typically have no more than two years of experience and are hired into entry-level roles (i.e. Business Analysts at McKinsey, Associates at BCG and Associate Consultants at Bain).
- MBA hires are graduates of a one or two-year MBA program. They typically have some work experience, gained before their MBAs, and are hired into post-MBA roles (i.e. Associates at McKinsey and Consultants at BCG and Bain).
- Experienced hires are from other employers and typically have two to eight years of experience. Those with less are hired into pre-MBA roles (i.e. Senior Business Analysts at McKinsey, 2nd year Associate Consultants at Bain and Senior Associates at BCG). Those with significant experience are hired into post-MBA roles (i.e. Associates at McKinsey or Consultants at BCG and Bain).
- Advanced degree hires are appointed during or soon (not more than two years) after their PhD or medical school programs. In the US, they’re typically hired into post-MBA roles, (i.e. Associates at McKinsey or Consultants at BCG and Bain). In some locations, they’re hired into senior pre-MBA roles (i.e. Junior Associates at McKinsey, 2nd year Associate Consultants at Bain and Senior Associates at BCG).
4. Prepare a standout application
Once you’ve done your research, it’s time to prepare your application. Given that 90% of candidates fail to make it through the application screening measures used by top consulting firms, it’s vital to invest time and effort in this vital stage of the process. You can find out more about what’s involved in our guide to writing effective resumes and cover letters. Meanwhile, the templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course will help you get your application into great shape.
Depending on the firm and office you apply to, and the hiring channel you belong to, applications will only be open at one or two specific points during the year. Before you submit your application, check online to make sure that you understand exactly when to do this. If you apply out of season you will receive a rejection regardless of the strength of your application.
5. Prepare thoroughly for your interviews
If you’re invited to interview with your firm and office of choice, it’s essential that you prepare thoroughly and begin in plenty of time. These interviews are no walk in the park and you’re unlikely to succeed without plenty of preparation, even if you have a consulting background.
Consulting interviews at top firms typically consist of a case interview and a fit interview. There are usually several rounds to progress through; initial interviews are conducted by consultants at the firm and final interviews are conducted by Partners.
Our guides on preparing for case interviews and preparing for fit interviews explain exactly what’s involved. When you’re ready to begin, you’ll find all the video lectures, sample interviews, case material and practice tools you’ll need to ace your consulting interviews in our Interview Prep Course.