What Management Consultants Know That Most People Don’t

Because consultants, particularly at the top 3 strategy firms, don’t specialise in certain topics or industries until later in their careers many people might think they don’t know that much.

But because consultants are privy to top-level conversations in multiple industries, they do know a few things that most people wouldn’t.

Consultants have the brain tools to solve any problem

Consultants are obsessive about defining problems and breaking them apart. At the start of a project they’ll spend a lot of time figuring out what the problem really is and how it can be split up into its subcomponents.

If it’s profitability, you could look at revenues and costs; if it’s revenues, you could look at sales in Europe or the US; if it’s the US, you could look at product quantity or price; if it’s quantity, you could look at existing customers and new customers; and so on.

This immediately makes a problem much more tangible and therefore quicker to solve. As soon as you define a problem’s subcomponents, you can work out where the truth is most likely to lie and what you’ll need to know to figure it out.

Speak to a consultant who’s been around long enough and there’s even a fair chance they’ll think like structured flow charts, which can be a good thing when you’re trying to solve a problem in a short space of time.

As a result, being a consultant for even a short amount of time increases your resilience to the unknown because you feel more confident than most in approaching and solving problems outside your area of expertise.

Consultants story-ify data

Consultants know that data doesn’t mean anything until it tells a story, so they spend a lot of time making charts and often behind those charts lies hours of research and analysis.

That means they can’t waste their time making charts for the sake of it or throwing in data just because it’s vaguely interesting. They need to show how the data can lead to an insight that can change the way someone looks at things.

Consultants have an instinct for finding the story behind data. They know that the data isn’t just a bundle of numbers, but rather that it’s a representation of real life. And as with real life, sometimes the stories will be clear and straightforward and other times they’ll be complex and nuanced.

Consultants know feedback is important

Consultants are probably some of the most evaluated people in the world. They’ll have a formal evaluation every six months, be rated and scored on a set of metrics after every project, have weekly feedback sessions with their managers, and can be given on-the-fly corrections if they do something even moderately dumb.

This is unusual and unsettling at first. There aren’t many industries where you’ll sit down for thirty minutes or an hour every week or fortnight with a manager and talk through what you can do differently.

But it’s incredibly valuable. As with anything, if you want to get better you need to figure out what you’re doing well and what you’re doing less well, which is hard without straightforward feedback and coaching.

Outside of consulting, you often don’t know what you’re doing well and what you’re doing badly. And in reverse, there aren’t many industries where you can give feedback to your manager and see them do things differently as a result. It’s a powerful mechanism.

Consultants know the importance of team dynamics and how to optimise them

Teams change frequently at consulting firms. When every team gets together, they’ll typically go through a kick-off process more extensive and eccentric than you’ll see outside.

Among other things, you might talk about:

  • Working styles: whether you’re a morning or an evening person, prefer working from home or client site, etc.
  • Personality types: who’s more structured, detail-oriented, extraverted, etc.
  • Skills you’re working on and what that means in terms of structuring the project

Every week or so, there might be check-in meetings to see how the team’s doing, what concerns people have, and how you might work better together.

What you learn is that this stuff matters. Nailing the project has a lot to do with the team gelling and working well with one another.

Consultants spend hours optimizing this—they have to form a team with entirely new people every month or two and work well with them—so they pick up a lot of tricks to make teams work effectively.

Are you considering a move to consulting? The first step is putting together a great resume. Check out our resume courses here.

  • Get our free prep material

    Free case studies. Free interview videos. Free expert advice.

  • How to Ace McKinsey’s Digital Assessment

    Imagine that you are immersed in a natural environment populated by different kinds of plants and animals. You learn that some animals are quickly succumbing to an unknown illness. You have to stop this epidemic. This is McKinsey’s Digital Assessment: the ground-breaking video game that the firm has introduced to assess candidates’ cognitive abilities. To […]

  • An Example of a Great Consulting Interview

    A great consulting interview is one where candidates not only demonstrate that they have all of the skills needed to become a high performing consultant, but also it’s one that gets the interviewer excited about having the candidate on their team. In this article, we outline the three key aspects of the interview and what […]

  • How to Write a Resume to Land an Interview at the Top Consulting Firms

    In this article, we walk you through the three most important aspects to think about when preparing your resume for McKinsey, BCG, Bain or other top consulting firms. If you want to understand each of these points in more detail, including how to use networking to your advantage and what the application process really looks […]

  • How to Write a Cover Letter to Land an Interview at the Top Consulting Firms

    Are you mind-blanking in your cover letter? Are you wondering if it’s good enough? If so, you’re in the right place! Here we’re going to share the most important aspects of a cover letter for consulting roles at top firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain. Cover letters won’t land you an interview, but they […]

  • How to Join McKinsey, Bain or BCG as a Fresh Graduate

    The top strategy consulting firms solve their client’s most complex and challenging problems, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that McKinsey, BCG and Bain only employ tenured people who have been around the block, or to assume that they wouldn’t hire a fresh graduate right out of university. But you’d be wrong! The Top 3 […]

  • Everything You Need to Know About the Recruitment Process for McKinsey, Bain and BCG

    With a typical hire rate of less than 1%, interviews with top consulting firms such as McKinsey, BCG and Bain are some of the most challenging in the world. The selection process is divided into screening and interviews. 1. The application screening Screening is typically based on selecting CVs or resumes that show the most […]

  • What are the Best Parts About Being a Consultant at Bain, BCG or McKinsey

    If you’ve read our article on the Cons to a Life in Consulting, then you may also want to know about the Pros and highlights, too. The good news is that consulting at the Top 3 firms is full of unique benefits you rarely find in other industries. In this article, we cover the top […]

  • The Cons to a Life in Consulting

    While a consulting job at McKinsey, BCG and Bain has numerous benefits, there are of course a few downsides worth preparing for as you enter the world of a top consultancy. Creating a work-life balance can be challenging The client’s success is the top priority for consultancies. The team often does all they can to […]

  • Why Some Consultants Don't Make Partner

    Only a small percentage of consultants who join top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain make it to Partner. Based on best estimates, we suspect it’s less than 5% of consultants who make it. However, the majority of consultants aren’t interested in pursuing Partnership and only stay in consulting for 2-3 years to gain […]

  • What It's Like Being an Entry Level Consultant at Bain, BCG and McKinsey

    If you’re comparing consulting with other career options or if you just landed yourself an offer with McKinsey, BCG, Bain or another top firm and are now wondering what being an entry-level consultant is really like then you’re in the right place. In this article, we share what life is like for the newbies on […]