If you’re considering applying to top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, then you’ve likely wondered if you’re the kind of person that would thrive in consulting.
Consulting is a highly sought after career choice and it involves one of the most difficult recruitment processes in the corporate world. It requires a certain type of person with specific personality traits not only to receive an offer, but also to succeed on the job.
A career in management consulting is likely to be a good fit for you if you’re driven, if you’re genuinely interested in business, and if you have a few specific raw skills (or are more than willing to develop them!).
Here are each of these traits in more detail.
- To succeed in consulting you must be highly ambitious and committed to excellence.
- You must enjoy analyzing and solving business problems as this is what most consulting work involves.
- Consultants work in teams which change per project, so you must enjoy working with different people.
- Consulting requires being comfortable with ambiguity, people-oriented, and organized.
- Finally, you must fit into at least one of four categories – pre-experience students, MBAs, experienced professionals or advanced degree candidates.
You must be highly driven
You know you’re driven if you’re the kind of person who sets big goals and pushes hard to achieve them. You’re likely used to overcoming big obstacles and finding new ways to reach your goals. You’re not the kind to give up easily.
It’s this level of tenacity, ambition, and commitment to excellence that the top firms not only actively recruit for, but also require on the job as a consultant. The work of a consultant is often challenging. You’ll end up working on some of the toughest business problems faced by senior executives. Clients of top consulting firms pay a large sum to have consultants working for them, so they are naturally expecting highly committed personalities.
If you’re the kind of person who’s naturally committed to their own self-improvement then you’ll do well in consulting since it requires a willingness to run up a steep and fast learning curve. Top firms also use an “up or out” policy which means you must demonstrate progression or risk being encouraged to leave.
On the flipside, if you’re at the stage of your life where you’d like to kick back, then the consulting environment is unlikely to be one where you’ll feel comfortable.
You must enjoy working on business problems
This may sound a little obvious given the type of work the top consulting firms do, but it is necessary that you’re interested in discussing, analysing, and solving business problems.
Top firms are hired by CEOs and other senior personnel to solve their most important challenges, such as increasing profits, entering a new market, or making investments.
These problems require a large amount of analysis, research and discussion to solve so it’s important that you care about the problem you’re solving to do well as a consultant. You’ll also get to work on lots of different business problems and you’ll usually find yourself tackling an entirely new client problem every 2-3 months.
If solving business-related problems isn’t exciting to you, then consulting might not be either. It can be a drag to work on something you don’t really care about!
You must like working with people
In addition to enjoying business-related topics, you also need to enjoy working with a plethora of different people. Consulting is a client-facing role so having good people skills and emotional intelligence is important.
Plus, since you tend to change team members and managers every 2-4 months consulting is a great place to be if you like meeting new people and learning to collaborate with multiple personalities.
On the other hand, if you prefer to work alone and would find client-facing roles exhausting then consulting is unlikely to be a good match for you.
You must have or develop some key skills
Some of the basic core capabilities you need to succeed as a consultant are analytical skills, a comfort with ambiguity, people skills, discipline, and organisation.
Being a consultant involves tackling an array of complex problems involving many stakeholders, which do not have a clear answer and require a large amount of effort and time to solve. You’ll have to draw on multiple skill sets to get the job done effectively.
Consulting firms will look for evidence of these skills during the recruitment process, but you must also be committed to improving these skills when on the job. McKinsey, BCG, and Bain all have very feedback-oriented cultures, meaning you’ll be constantly pushed to fill your skills gaps.
If you’re not naturally analytical and organised, then both demonstrating and developing these skills is going to be a challenge.
You must fit into one of four hiring pools for top management consulting firms
While you may possess most or all of the aforementioned qualities, you have to fit into at least one of four types of candidates that get hired into top consulting firms. They are pre-experience students, MBAs, experienced professionals, and advanced degree candidates.
Pre-experience students (bachelor’s degree or a non-MBA master’s degree) are hired out of school 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, usually at a European or US business school. They typically have work experience before their MBAs and are hired into post-MBA roles, i.e., Associates at McKinsey, or 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 at pre-MBA roles, i.e., Junior Associates 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 hired during or soon (not more than two years) after their Ph.D. or medical school programs. In France, they’re typically hired into senior pre-MBA roles, i.e., Junior Associates at McKinsey, 2nd year Associate Consultants at Bain, and Senior Associates at BCG.