The question of how to join an MBB consultancy as an experienced professional from another industry is one that we are asked time and time again. Now, there are a lot of variables in play - which industry you are coming from and which particular role in which specific office you are moving to - which can make for unique experiences. However, I believe that my own experience as a professional hire going into BCG is fairly representative of what you can expect.
Many individuals hoping to make such a move initially become interested after working alongside consultants who have been engaged by their original firm. This was true for me as well. At my previous company, I got the opportunity to work alongside BCG for almost six months. When I became interested in the move, then, it was one of the consultants I had worked with who recommended me for interview. Interestingly, despite my having a very strong resume, my contacts in the other two MBBs were not able to get me interviews in their respective firms.
In my experience, it would be very rare to get an interview as an experienced hire without at least having the right connections. Ideally, though, you should also have had the opportunity to work alongside consultants from the firm that you wish to move to.
Beyond this, somewhat unsurprisingly, your chances of getting an interview will be a lot better if you have a background in strategy consulting. A post-graduate degree - preferably an MBA, though consulting firms also value PhDs - will also make you more attractive. Having prior experience in the “Big 4” firms (i.e. Ernst & Young, Deloitte & Touche, Arthur Andersen, and KPMG) would also give you an advantage over other experienced candidates.
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Whilst experienced hires will often encounter significant differences in the selection process as compared to those coming straight from university, other portions of selection are very much maintained - and for good reason.
In terms of differences, an experienced hire will most likely be evaluated for a specialist or expert role and hence the initial screening criteria will be decidedly more stringent and tightly defined. At the interview proper, though, candidates are all treated and judged precisely the same, regardless of their level of experience.
This policy makes sense for consultancies. Their interview process, across both case and fit components, assesses exactly the crucial skillset which consultants at any level will need to excel (we discuss the consulting skillset in more specific detail in our resume guide). Firms will always trust their direct measurement of your abilities and character via interviews and tests over and above anything that is written on your resume. As a general rule, consulting recruiters will never take the simple fact you have held a role to guarantee that you have the skills associated with that position. Simply put, they realise that it is possible to have a job without actually being good it.
With that said, some of the MBB firms may let experienced hires skip the practical or analytical tests and directly get through the case interviews. We discuss these exemptions in more detail in our specific articles on the McKinsey PST, Bain Online Test and BCG Potential Test.
Whilst one would hope that a candidate entering from a successful career in another demanding profession would be capable of passing what are basically reasoning tests, it can still be a relief not to have to sit them, as they do need proper preparation and are not something anyone should expect to pass first time. The McKinsey PST (or Problem Solving Test), for instance, is only applied to those applicants strong enough to survive severe cuts at the resume stage and still only has a ~33% pass rate.
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Roles for Experienced Hires
Some expectation management is in order. It is important to note that, although MBB firms do consider the amount of experience you had on your previous job, if you are lucky enough to be hired, you can generally expect that your role lower in the hierarchy than your previous work. If you want to make the transition to MBB, with all the advantages that entails, you will have to check your ego and accept that it might mean starting a few rungs down a new ladder. A lot of experienced hires I know have had leadership or other senior roles in their previous jobs, but were hired for Associate or Principal roles in MBB firms after successful interviews. That said, they all accepted those positions, as they realised that the move to consulting was definitely worth it!
Points for Action
If you have substantial work experience in management consulting or a related industry but did not graduate from a top business school, your chances of making the transition to be hired at an MBB will be slim. However, a slim chance is still not zero, and there are multiple factors within your control which will allow you to significantly increase your prospects for successfully making the switch.
Cultivating the right connections for a recommendation is crucial, but having previous experience working alongside the relevant firm's consultants and principals should give you a much better chance of actually being invited for interview.
Of course, some of us will be luckier than others in terms of access to contacts and some will consequently have to work harder than others (though nobody will have it easy!). Especially for those coming in without strong recommendations, optimising your initial resume and cover letter and ideally having these reviewed by a consultant from the relevant firm (we can help here) will be essential.
Now, once you have made it to interview, the significance of networks, recommendations and previous jobs all largely falls away. The decision as to whether or not to hire you will be overwhelmingly based on your in-person interview performance. Don't get complacent, though, as the standard consulting interview is both a great deal more challenging and a qualitatively very different beast to anything you are likely to have been exposed to in your previous career.
In particular, to land any consulting job, you are going to have to put in an outstanding performance in case interview. If you are not familiar with case interviews, you can start with your introductory article here.
You won't simply be able to walk in off the street and crack cases - certainly not within the severe time constraints of interview. Far from it - you are going to need to master both specific key techniques and a solid foundation of background knowledge. What is more, the internet is awash with unscrupulous sites selling outdated framework-based approaches to case cracking, which simply do not work.
Don't panic though, MyConsultingCoach has you covered for everything you need! Let us explain...
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Our case interview method
Our MCC Academy case interview course was developed with a single goal in mind – to help candidates succeed by teaching them to think, act and communicate like a world-class strategy consultant. After completing our course, you’ll be equipped not only to ace the interview process, but also to hit the ground running on day one of the job.
The idea of getting hired by acquiring the fundamental skills associated with the job might seem obvious. However, our approach is actually in stark contrast to the old-fashioned case interview systems you have probably have run into already.
These other methods simply have you memorise perhaps a dozen “standard” frameworks. This shortlist of generic recipes is supposed to allow you to answer any case question the interviewer comes up with. This is in spite of the fact that that cases will be based on real engagements, where major firms were forced to call in consultants as they couldn’t solve the problem in-house… In short, frameworks are unlikely to give you correct answers.
Our unique Problem Driven Approach allows you to tackle each case on its own merits, developing a bespoke solution to capture all of the problem’s unique complexities – just like a real consultant! We equip you with everything you need to know, starting from the ground up. Specifically, we can support you in:
- Understanding business fundamentals: Get your mini-MBA with our Marketing, Strategy and Economics, Accounting & Finance modules
- Learning how to crack cases: Identify the problem, build a bespoke problem driven structure, lead the analysis and how to provide recommendations.
- Accelerating your approach with our building blocks: Master profitability analysis, competitive dynamics, pricing discussions, among others to let you deal with recurring themes in cases without restricting you to simplistic frameworks.
Our coaching sessions
Coaching from a real MBB consultant can help even the best candidates pinpoint their weak points and turn them into strengths. As well as helping you master case studies, a coach will give you a new self-awareness of your profile and how best to position yourself for an MBB offer. Just as importantly, they will give you the confidence to know for sure you can succeed against such a formidable challenge!
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However, since not all of us would get the same opportunity, you should invest in an excellent resume building and some insider tips to get you on an MMB frim interview. Some candidates on the other hand are fortunate enough to get an an interview in an MBB firm, but preparation is still required and coaching is highly recommended just to get through the case interviews and test.