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How to join a top management consulting firm as an experienced hire

Joining a top-tier consulting firm such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain isn’t only for fresh undergraduates or post-MBA students. Find out how candidates with two to eight years of professional experience can make the move into consulting through the firms’ ‘experienced professional’ hiring channel.

Experienced professional hiring: a large and growing recruitment channel

The practice of hiring individuals who are qualified by experience rather than academic pedigree began in Europe – where there are fewer MBA programs – as a means of diversifying the candidate pool. In recent years, firms have also sought to hire consultants with a diverse range of expertise in order to solve problems for clients in contemporary disciplines such as digital, AI, climate change and sustainability. As a result, MBB offices the world over now hire experienced professionals.

The table below shows the share of experienced professionals who were hired during the period covered by our research into the top routes into McKinsey, BCG and Bain, as a proportion of all the firms’ hires in each location.

Chart showing experienced hire share of total hiring by McKinsey, BCG and Bain's offices around the world

The data shows that during this period – Q1 of 2022 to Q2 of 2022 – there was a clear demand for experienced professionals at MBB offices around the world, sometimes extending to 40% or more of their hiring.

However, the volume of hiring within this channel depends on whether firms need more candidates than the traditional sources of graduate hiring and MBA hiring can supply. Hiring volumes in the experienced professional channel can therefore vary a great deal year on year.

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Consulting provides opportunities for professional candidates with deep expertise

Experienced professionals can join top consulting firms through either a generalist track or an expert track. The generalist track provides consultants with exposure to client projects in a diverse range of sectors, functions and locations. The expert track, on the other hand, allows consultants with technical expertise to focus on a specialist area, such as digital, marketing, technology, data science or operations.

While specialist consultants serve the same clients as generalists, and are subject to similar performance expectations, there are some key differences between the two. For those on the expert track, more emphasis is placed on their knowledge and expertise, and progression to Partner level is less common. You can learn more in our article on the differences between generalist and expert roles in top management consulting firms.

Which professions do experienced hires at McKinsey, BCG and Bain come from?

Regardless of the hiring channel, McKinsey, BCG and Bain consistently look for the very best candidates.

For experienced professional hiring, the firms are open to applications from candidates from all sorts of professions – from artists and athletes to doctors and military personnel – who are at the top of their field and can demonstrate their potential as a management consultant. However, candidates with a commercial background are likely to have the most transferable skills. Therefore a high number of candidates who successfully make the move into consulting come from commercial professions such as investment banking and marketing management.

Other candidates who have strong commercial expertise are those who join from other top consulting firms, like Oliver Wyman and Kearney, and the strategy arms of ‘the Big 4’. In addition to having the commercial skillset that top firms require, these candidates are able to hit the ground running when they join, which makes them a great option when the firms have an immediate client demand to satisfy.

How to change careers and get into consulting as an experienced hire

A move into management consulting is likely to be beneficial to any professional’s long-term career. There are several reasons why so many people want to work in consulting and why competition to join McKinsey, BCG and Bain is particularly fierce. If you’re seeking to change careers and join a top consulting firm as a professional experienced hire, here are some important principles to bear in mind as you prepare your application.

Demonstrate strong professional performance

It should come as no surprise to learn that top consulting firms are seeking experienced hires who can demonstrate exceptional professional performance in their application. You should illustrate this clearly in your resume by highlighting the most impressive aspects of your professional journey. These might include:

  • working for a selective employer
  • being a top-rated performer
  • working in a challenging business area
  • making a significant impact in your role (e.g. improving a process, launching a new product saving costs, leading a project)

If you’ve accomplished something impressive outside of your working life, this is also likely to be of interest to consulting firms, so be sure to include the details in your resume along with your professional achievements.

Demonstrate top academic achievements

In experienced professional hiring at McKinsey, BCG and Bain, a candidate’s experience is weighted more heavily than their academic history. Firms are therefore open to applicants from a broader range of undergraduate universities than they are in graduate and MBA hiring. In our analysis of the type of candidates who make it to McKinsey, BCG and Bain in the US, professional experienced hires held undergraduate degrees from a total of 248 universities. By contrast, the pre-experienced student (i.e. graduate) hires in the US came from a total of 180 universities.

However, it remains important to demonstrate top academic achievements when applying to a top consulting firm as an experienced professional. If you studied a challenging subject at a nationally top-ranked university and received a high mark, this will strongly support your application.

Apply at the right level for your experience

Experienced professional hiring at top consulting firms typically happens throughout the year (this is known as ‘rolling recruitment’). However, the details vary between firms and offices, so you should check online for local application dates.

All the firms have a dedicated hiring channel for experienced professionals, with specific hiring ‘tracks’ for generalist and expert roles. When you’re ready to apply, it’s vital that you apply to to the right hiring track, through the right hiring channel, and that you submit your application at the appropriate entry point in the firm’s structure:

  • Candidates with two to five years of work experience following their undergraduate studies are likely to be considered at the second level of a firm’s hierarchy (i.e. Junior Associate at McKinsey, Senior Associate at BCG and Experienced Associate Consultant at Bain).
  • Candidates with more than five years of work experience following their undergraduate studies are likely to be considered at the post-MBA entry level i.e. (Associate at McKinsey and Consultant at BCG and Bain).
  • Candidates are only likely to be considered at the Manager level if they apply on the expert track. It’s extremely rare for candidates on the generalist track to be considered at this level.

Preparing for interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain as an experienced professional hire

The consulting interview process for experienced professional hires is the same as it is for other candidates. There are two components: the case interview and the fit interview. You can learn more about how to prepare in our detailed guides on preparing for case interviews and preparing for fit interviews.

The interview process at top consulting firms is arguably more difficult for experienced professionals than it is for other applicants. This is because candidates have to juggle their preparation with the demands of a full-time job, with no access to on-campus resources or support. We’ve provided some advice on how to handle these challenges in our article on preparing for consulting interviews while working a full-time job.

If you’re an experienced professional and a career change sounds like it might be right for you, you can learn more in our complete guide to the management consulting industry. And if you’re preparing to apply to a top consulting firm, the resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice in our Free Resume Course will help you get your application in great shape.

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