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

    We’ve helped thousands of experienced professionals receive coveted job offers from McKinsey, BCG and Bain. If you’re an experienced professional and you’re considering making a move to consulting, this article will explain how you can make the leap.

    Key takeaways:

    • Experienced professionals are in high demand by top consulting firms, especially in Europe, where these candidates are hired in higher numbers than MBA graduates.
    • Experienced professionals need to choose whether to join top consulting firms as generalist consultants or specialist consultants on an expert track.
    • Experienced professionals can apply to top consulting firms all year round.
    • The level at which experienced professionals enter top consulting firms depends on the extent of their work experience.
    • Experienced professionals need to demonstrate strong professional performance, along with a solid educational background and/or other distinctive achievements in their resume, to make it past top consulting firms’ initial screening stages.
    • To be successful, experienced professionals need to invest in thorough preparation for the case and fit interviews at top consulting firms while holding down full-time jobs.

    Top firms hire experienced professionals

    Working in top-tier consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain isn’t only for fresh undergraduates or post-MBA students. If you’re an experienced professional with between two and 10 years of experience in industry, consulting firms value this experience.

    Demand from top-tier consulting firms for experienced professionals is significant and growing. The table below shows the share of client-facing experienced professionals who were hired by McKinsey, BCG and Bain (collectively known as ‘MBB’) between Q1 2022 and Q2 2022 as a proportion of all the firms’ hires.

    The data shows that there is a clear demand for experienced professionals at MBB firms, sometimes extending to 40% or more of their hiring. In Europe, experienced professionals are more sought after by top consulting firms than MBA graduates.

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

    A move into consulting from almost any industry can have a positive impact on your long-term career. However, being an experienced professional doesn’t make the process any less competitive. Here are the areas to focus on when applying to a top consulting firm.

    Choosing between the generalist and expert tracks

    Increasingly, top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain hire specialist consultants who have experience in a specific industry or function. While these consultants serve the same clients as generalists, there are important differences between generalist and expert roles at top management consulting firms.

    There’s an especially healthy demand for experienced professionals from practice areas that involve technical expertise – such as digital, data science and operations – and those where firms are introducing new capabilities, such as blockchain, fintech, climate and sustainability. If you have a background and expertise in these high-demand areas, your application will be of particular interest to top consulting firms.

    Applying through the right recruitment channel at the right level

    It’s important to note that there is a specific recruitment ‘channel’ for candidates with two to 10 years of experience who are not currently studying.

    To apply to top firms as an experienced professional, you can submit a resume directly to each firm on its website. Alternatively, you can connect with specialist headhunters who know the hiring processes of top consulting firms very well. As a result, they might be able to help you apply to the right role, get your application seen and navigate the whole process.

    Recruitment for experienced professionals typically happens throughout the year (i.e. a ‘rolling recruitment’) but this varies wildly between firms and offices, so we recommend you check for local application dates.

    In the experienced professional channel, there are different entry points for joining a top consulting firm. Usually, if you have between two and five years of work experience following your undergraduate studies, you will enter at the second level of the firm’s hierarchy. If you have more than five years of work experience following your undergraduate studies, you are likely to be considered at the post-MBA entry level, which is the level just before Manager.

    Without previous experience in management consulting, it’s extremely rare that candidates are considered at the Manager level on the generalist track. However, this happens routinely on the expert track.

    Looking to secure interviews at top firms?
    CaseCoach’s Free Resume Course includes all the insider tips, templates, and examples to put together a successful application.

    Preparing a standout application

    McKinsey, BCG and Bain hire fewer than 1% of the candidates who apply to join, and the bar for inviting someone to interview is extremely high. It’s therefore vital to show evidence of strong professional performance and top academic achievements when you apply to join a top consulting firm as an experienced professional.

    Demonstrating strong professional performance

    You can show strong professional performance most clearly in your resume by highlighting impressive aspects of your professional journey. These might include:

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

    If, in addition to your strong professional performance, you have achieved something impressive outside of your working life, you should include this in your resume too.

    Demonstrating top academic achievements

    In experienced professional applications, a candidate’s professional experience is weighted more heavily than their academic history. However, it remains important to demonstrate top academic achievements when applying to top consulting firms as an experienced professional.

    In pre-experienced hiring, top consulting firms in a given location typically hire pre-experience students who attended a small set of target universities that are typically the most selective in that location. However, this is not the case when it comes to experienced professional hiring. Top consulting firms routinely consider and hire experienced professional candidates who have studied at less selective universities, or who have a foreign degree, as long as they have a standout professional background.

    Nevertheless, if you studied a challenging subject at a target university and received a top mark, this will strongly support your application as an experienced professional. You can check if your university is a ‘target’ by reviewing each top consulting firm’s website. If your university is listed and the firm attends the campus to host recruiting events, it’s a target university.

    If you’re an experienced professional preparing to apply to a top consulting firm, take a look at our free guide to writing effective consulting resumes and cover letters.

    Preparing for interviews

    Interviews at McKinsey, BCG and Bain are among the most competitive in the world. The interview process is the same for experienced professionals as it is for the firms’ other recruitment channels. There are two components: the case interview and the fit interview.

    The case interview is a condensed simulation of a real client case, where your skills as a potential consultant are tested in real time. The case interview is meant to be challenging. Although raw skill and aptitude are important, nobody is born knowing how to crack a consulting case interview and you must put the time and work into developing the skills you will need to demonstrate. Learn more in our detailed guide to preparing for case interviews.

    The fit interview bears more similarity to a traditional job interview. However, like the case interview, it also requires significant preparation because of the specific nature of the questions and the characteristics they’re designed to test. Learn more in our detailed guide to preparing for fit interviews.

    Both the case interview and the fit interview require a significant amount of preparation and practice. We recommend allowing at least six weeks of focused preparation time before a first round of interviews at a top consulting firm.

    The interview process is arguably more difficult for experienced professionals than it is for other applicants. This is largely because candidates have to juggle their preparation with the demands of a full-time job. And unlike the MBA candidates they are sometimes competing against, experienced professional candidates don’t have access to on-campus resources. 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.

    What’s next if you’d like to join a top consulting firm as an experienced professional

    Looking to join a top consulting firm like McKinsey, BCG or Bain as an experienced professional? CaseCoach has resources to guide you all the way from the resume crafting stage to your final interviews.

    Our Free Resume Course provides resume and cover letter templates and specialized advice for experienced professionals.

    The Interview Prep Course contains all the material you need to ace your case and fit interview, including video lectures, sample interviews, case material and practice tools.

    CaseCoach’s team of coaches includes former consultants and interviewers with McKinsey, BCG and Bain. They are available to deliver case and fit interview coaching and mock interviews in a realistic setting to put your preparation to the test, providing personal feedback and practical advice to help you ace your interviews.

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