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March 28, 2020

Do I need an MBA to move into consulting?

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Professionals embark on MBAs for several reasons, from expanding their network to gaining new life experiences. However, unlike other grad programmes, MBAs are often geared towards a specific, planned career transition . Taking an MBA is an investment; expected to yield a deferred payoff in terms of future career opportunities.

Management consulting is probably the single most targeted job for MBAs and there is a common assumption that an MBA will be a pre-requisite for many consulting roles. However, the truth is that an MBA is neither necessary nor sufficient to transition to consulting . There are some real advantages to having an MBA. However, we will see that these are typically overstated and need to be balanced against some very formidable costs.

If your sole reason for considering an MBA was to transition to consulting there are better, cheaper, faster and overall more efficient ways to make the same move without going to business school . This is true now more so than ever, as rapid changes ongoing on the consulting industry are making for increased demand for non-MBA professionals every year.

Here, we’ll drill down into the subject in some detail. We’ll start by quantifying the costs of an MBA and balancing these against the benefits. We’ll then look at how you can get into consulting without an MBA. Finally, we’ll discuss the single most effective means to transition to consulting as an experienced professional .

1. The costs of an MBA

The benefits of an MBA are harder to analyse, but the costs are clear and significant. At most top business schools, the combination of tuition fees and living costs over the duration of the course will run (conservatively) in excess of 200k.

This is already a lot, but is only the tip of the iceberg. We also need to consider the opportunity cost associated with an MBA. Most MBAs will mean putting a professional career on hold for two years. Dependent upon geography, this could easily be another 200k+ of lost salary for a candidate capable of getting into a top business school.

The real financial cost of an MBA, then, can come in closer to half a million – and this is before we even consider the impact on promotion etc of taking two years out of a career. This is clearly a huge cost and is not one to rush into where there are perfectly good alternatives to achieve the same goals for a lot less.

2. Benefits of an MBA

There are lots of reasons why individuals chose to embark on an MBA and plenty of them have little to do with career transitions. Business schools often pitch themselves as a great place to expand your network, gaining an international set of high-value contacts across a range of industries. Some might be interested at a more academic level and enjoy the exposure to new course material and the cognitive challenges of the assignments.

Of course, there is also a lot of fun to be had doing an MBA. Some simply relish a temporary return to student life, whilst others enjoy the variety of new life experiences, with a host of exciting events and vacations (Yachtweek, anyone?) to be had via the business school.

These are all valid reasons, though some are more difficult to get an objective handle on than others. Here, we will focus exclusively on the more quantifiable pros and cons, specifically as they relate to landing a consulting role.

Black skyscrapers viewed looking upwards from street level

2.1. What can an MBA do to get you into consulting?

As regards actually getting into consulting, an MBA can do three things for you:

  1. Signalling – Helping convince recruiters to pass your application further
  2. Networking and Drafting Documents – Drafting a decent resume and getting it in front of the right people
  3. Content – Teaching you the fundamental business ideas you need to get into consulting

Let’s take a look at each individually:

Signalling

This is the single most powerful direct benefit of an MBA for getting into consulting. Having an MBA on your resume, from a top business school (not a Tier II or lower), will be looked on favourably and make your application more likely to be advanced to interview .

That’s really it, though . Your investment of hundreds of thousands will give you not a guarantee, but a higher chance of getting past one stage in the recruiting pipeline. Depending on what the recruiter thinks of your business school, you might not even get that. As we explain more, we’ll leave you to judge whether this represents value.

Networking and Drafting Documents

So, an MBA’s direct benefit is to provide a useful entry on a consulting resume. However, time at business school can also indirectly help you make sure that that document as a whole is properly presented and that it gets in front of the right people. Let’s look at both:

Drafting your Resume

Your MBA class – at least if you are at a top business school – is likely to contain a number of former consultants (often with their firms sponsoring the degree). These individuals can often be persuaded to review classmates’ consulting applications. Of course, whether you can find anyone to do so, and how much effort they will then put in for free for someone they perhaps only vaguely know, is another matter. As we discuss below, there are better ways to get your documents edited.

Networking

Consultant classmates can also – via their contacts still in the industry – help get your application looked at more seriously and pushed through to interview. Moreover, consulting firms will have a heavy presence on top business school campuses , with plenty of networking events to meet consultants and seminar where they describe the industry.

However, the same fundamental problems recur. Are your one or two ex-MBB classmates really going to help you that much? Are the consultants you meet at campus recruiting events really going to remember you out of the dozens of other consulting hopefuls trying to get their attention? Seminars are typically a waste of time, as the consultants giving them will simply deliver a standard presentation from the firm, sprinkled with some personal anecdotes.

Of course, there is some very real utility to MBA networking. That said, and as we will discuss shortly, networking is not a phenomenon exclusive to business schools and you can network just as effectively without attending one.

Content

An MBA should help you perform better in case interview by giving you a grounding in the basic business principles underlying case studies . This advantage is easy to overestimate, though. MBA courses are not aimed at case cracking. Some subset of the content will be useful (though will not be delivered with cases in mind), but the majority will be irrelevant to your transition to consulting .

Outside of the curriculum, your business school careers service or consulting club can help you with exposure to cases and with peer-to-peer practice. However, the majority will not do so via a curricular course (in fact, several business schools bring in MyConsultingCoach to handle consulting prep).

Peer-to-peer practice can be useful, but will only take you so far. Rather than second-guessing what an interviewer might think, you really need feedback from a real consultant to get up to standard . Former consultants amongst your classmates might help you practice cases. However, these individuals will be besieged by all the other MBA students after the same thing. Whatever time they might find for you is very unlikely to be a game changer in itself.

2.2 Does MBA help in interview?

Short answer, no.

Having an MBA on your resume will help you proceed to interview. However, once you have reached the first round of interviews, what was written on the resume that got you there becomes irrelevant . Consultants trust their direct experience of your abilities, as assessed in case interview, far beyond what they read in your application. Certainly, having an MBA will not even begin to make up for a sub-par showing at case interview.

It is true that, as noted above, the course content should help you with the basics of cases – but this is material that you can pick up in a few hours with a proper case course . Even if you have done an MBA, you are still going to need to devote a significant amount of your own time to learning how to tackle cases effectively if you are going to make the cut in a consulting interview.

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    <span style=3. Transitioning into consulting without an MBA

So, we have seen some of the advantages an MBA brings in trying to land a consulting job. However, we have also seen that these advantages are often not all they are cracked up to be. In general, there are plenty of ways to close the gap with, and indeed outperform, those coming from business school.

Let’s see how, as a professional without an MBA, you can maximise your changes of first getting invited to interview and then performing well enough to come away with a job offer. Of course, doing so will mean saving hundreds of thousands and two years of your life by sidestepping MBA.

3.1. Getting an Interview

There are a few things to consider in ensuring that you get invited to interview. We’ll consider each in turn.

Networking

School networking is overplayed, but it remains an advantage over those candidates attempting to enter consulting without an MBA. So, how can you even things up and develop your own set of consulting contacts? Here are some key tips:

1. Be prolific and persistent

There is only so much you can expect from any one contact. To get results, you want to cultivate as many useful contacts as possible. If you have close friends or relatives already in consulting, great – but even if you do, don’t stop there. Seek out introductions from friends and relatives and try to establish contacts by cold outreach on LinkedIn.

When you are searching for contacts, you should pursue every lead, but prioritise individuals who work in your target office or at least firm . If you are an experienced hire gunning to work in a specific practice at your target firm, find out who exactly works in and target them directly.

You should also consider what is going to motivate a busy consultant to speak to you at all . Bear in mind that you are asking to cut into their scarce free time without any direct benefit for themselves. If you are indeed an industry professional seeking to transition to consulting in the same sector, you are very likely the kind of individual a consultant would want to hear from whether you end up joining their firm or not. Otherwise, you will clearly be more likely to receive positive responses from those with whom you have something in common. Perhaps you went to the same university or the same secondary school, are members of the same organisation or are from the same hometown. These tribal loyalties will all make someone more likely to give you a chance and it is good to make these commonalities clear when approaching “cold” contacts.

With all your contacts, you need to be persistent. Your first message might get overlooked amidst a swamped inbox. After a while, politely try again and repeat until you get a definitive response.

2. Stepping things up a notch – calls and meetings

To establish genuine rapport with contacts, try to move from emails to a call or to meet in person if at all possible. A useful strategy when you suggest a meeting is to be very specific as to the arrangements. It is easier for your contact to simply agree to a pre-existing plan than to enter into a protracted negotiation as to where and when to meet.

3. Be ready for acceleration – resumes and informal interviews

Consultants don’t waste time. If you correspond and/or meet with a consultant and they think you might have what it takes to join their firm, expect to be asked for a resume. Don’t be caught out by this – you should have a consulting resume ready to go at the start of this whole process . Note that this is a consulting resume and not a rehash of one you had loitering in your Dropbox from your previous career. We return to how to optimise your consulting resume below.

4. Impromptu Cases

Meeting a consultant in real life, if they are taking the idea of hiring you seriously, they might decide to spring a brief case on you there and then, with no warning . Any successful prep for case interview needs to begin well in advance of anticipated interviews, but the possibility of such a surprise case right at the start is another good reason to start preparing early.

Open Macbook with coffee sitting on a desk


Drafting Impeccable Documents

More than 50% of candidates are cut at the application stage . To stand a chance of making it through, you must make sure your resume and cover letter are perfect. MBAs get some benefit of the doubt at this stage. You don’t have this advantage, so need to take your application even more seriously as a result.

We have extensive free guides (with free templates) to help you get together the first drafts of both your resume and cover letter . However, your first draft should only be the start.

As with any important document, you are going to want feedback from someone who knows what they are doing. MCC has you covered here with our resume and cover letter editing services . With these packages, experienced ex-MBB consultants go through your resume with a fine-tooth comb for multiple rounds of editing to ensure that you are sending the best possible version of your application.

3.2. Performing in Interview

Let’s say you have done everything above to the letter. You have followed our guides to draft a proper consulting resume and cover letter. You have then had those professionally reviewed to produce a flawless application. You pour effort into networking and manage to get your application taken forward to interview.

Now for the hard part. Regardless of what is on your resume, you now absolutely must ace your case interviews to have any chance at landing an offer. This means mastering case cracking. So, how to go about it?

The wrong way – frameworks

Here, most candidates turn to the same old resources that have been recycled for decades. These books and now websites trot out roughly the same set of generic “frameworks”. Candidates are supposed to force-fit whatever case they receive to one or more of these readymade, idealised schemes.

This is a tremendously unreliable way to approach your interviews, for reasons which can be summed up with a few succinct points:

  • The case you get in your interview will generally be based on a real case your interviewer has been working on recently.
  • Consultants are brought in to address problems specifically where standard solutions do not work.
  • Therefore , the case you receive in interview is unlikely to be able to be solved with standard frameworks.

Nonetheless, a whole industry has grown up selling these frameworks to be rote learned by hopeful applicants. Sometimes the marketing changes, but the same dysfunctional approach remains. Most candidates use these frameworks. Most candidates fail.

The correct way – learning to think like a consultant

At MCC, we dispense with these generic frameworks altogether. Instead, we teach you how approach cases like a real consultant. This means a return to fundamental business principles and reasoning techniques – building your consulting skillset from the ground up so that you are ready to tackle whatever problems are thrown at you on their own merits .

Interviewers are looking for precisely this – candidates who think and behave like consultants, whom the interviewer can imagine working alongside on their next project. They are certainly not looking for the fifth candidate that day to try to make the same framework fit to a case where it won’t work.

The key vehicle we use to teach our approach is our MCC Academy course . There, a structured series of high-quality video lessons run through everything you need to know. MCC Academy assumes no prior business knowledge, beginning from the foundations and working through all the principles and methods required to tackle cases like a professional. The idea is that you will not only be able to solve whichever cases you are given, but that the fundamental consulting skills we teach will still be useful on day one of the job itself .

Of course, actually acquiring new knowledge and skills will neither be quick nor easy. In contrast to all the marketing fluff you will see elsewhere, we are brutally honest. If you want to learn to solve cases like a real consultant – so that you can stand a chance in interview at a top firm – it is going to require you to stretch yourself mentally and to put in hard work .

Practice

Of course, just learning how to approach cases in principle is useless without practice. Peer-to-peer practice can be good to get started (and you can find case partners here). However, there is a limit to how useful feedback from another candidate will ever be. For a busy professional, it is certainly not a time efficient way to practice. The best way to practice is with a professional ex-consultant coach . Nobody else will spot your weaknesses more quickly, nor give better advice on how to address them.

Good quality professional coaching is very hard to find , with a lot of practitioners having very little real consulting experience. At MyConsultingCoach all our coaches have a minimum of two years employment at an MBB firm (many have more experience and many having conducted interviews for those firms). We have a page on the difference professional coaching can make here .


Businessman in blue suit with satchel viewed from behind looking into busy city

4. A specialised programme for time-poor professionals

Whether you have an MBA or not, making it through the consulting selection process to get a job offer is going to require a lot of time and energy. The irony for those without MBAs is that the successful professionals, who are best placed to get hired based on their industry experience, are also those with the least time available to prep .

This can be incredibly frustrating. We understand all too well the difficulties of balancing interview preparation with working long hours . Often, half the candidates’ time is wasted simply trawling Google to find out what they should be doing and then trying to find resources.

At MCC, we set out to address this problem . The solution we have come up with is a comprehensive mentoring experience where an experienced MBB consultant personally oversees your whole prep from start to finish. Each programme is fully bespoke, integrating everything you need – from learning material to coaching sessions – within a personalised roadmap. The result is one seamless and relentlessly efficient experience, ultimately building towards your best possible interview performance.

Whilst each individual programme is unique, they are built around some combination of the following elements:

A Mentor

First, and most importantly, you will be assigned your Mentor. This is ahighly experienced consultant, who has spentmultiple years at an MBB firm and who will plan and oversee your whole prep. The programme will begin with a telephone meeting where your mentor assesses your starting knowledge and skills, so as to draw up a fully bespoke preparation roadmap based on your particular needs and timeframe . Your mentor will then remain in contact by phone and email throughout the programme , answering all your questions and with full access to all your performance data to track your progress at a micro-level.

Application Editing

Your mentor will personally review multiple iterations of your resume and cover letter to ensure that you are submitting the best possible version of your application, optimally leveraging your industry experience to help ensure that you are invited to interview.

All the learning resources you need for success

The plan drawn up by your mentor will be able to leverage the full gamut of MCC’s course material, so you have a clear route to getting up to standard in all your problem areas. As described above, the centrepiece of our learning resources is our Case Academy course . However, because as much as half your interview will be spent on fit questions, you will also have full access to our Fit Interview Course. Beyond this, we also include all of our various self-assessment tests and exercises and all of our consulting math material. If you are applying to McKinsey, you will also have access to all of our PST resources to help you with your Problem Solving Test.

Note that we don’t simply throw all this material at you – your mentor will plan which resources you use and when to make best use of the time you have available.

All the practice sessions you need

Quality practice is a crucial to eventual interview performance. As discussed, by far the most efficient and effective way to practice is with a real consultant. Thus, as part of your preparation roadmap, your mentor will strategically schedule practice sessions with the most able and experienced of our coaches – each having at least two years MBB experience and a minimum of 50 candidates coached. Sessions will last longer than the typical hour to allow for more fit questions and an in-depth, interactive feedback session . You can choose to broaden your experience by working with multiple different coaches over your sessions. This is particularly useful if applying to multiple different firms. We have coaches covering all time zones 24/7, so you can have sessions at any time of the day, night or weekend that fits around your own working schedule.

The result - Peace of mind and a formidable success rate

The result of all this is a true “peace of mind” package - where you take all the time and energy you would have put into searching for advice and worrying if you were doing the right thing, and apply it directly into a prep optimised to give you the highest possible chance of landing a job!

So far, the success rate of our mentoring programmes has been 86% . This is a dizzying increase versus the 3% success rate of the general applicant pool. Even with this level of success, we are now stepping up how we operate to push our success rate above 90%. This is all certainly well above the average success rate of MBAs applying to consulting .

Is this programme for you?

This is a premium programme designed to deliver premium results. However, this is not to say that it doesn’t represent excellent value. Our goal, simply put, is to increase your chances of landing a consulting role more than an MBA and in a much more efficient way : at a fraction of the cost and in a significantly shorter time frame, running concurrently with your existing employment, so you experience no loss in salary.

This programme cannot be for everyone. Whilst we handle as much as possible for you, we will still require candidates to work very hard – there is no way around that. The intensity of this programme will require high capacity individuals who are well accustomed to throwing themselves into new challenges and grinding through the toughest tasks.

As such, we have to be selective in who we can work with for this programme. For those we do select, the process will be gruelling, but the outcomes will be unparalleled. Make no mistake – we aim to see you as a management consultant in your target firm as soon as possible.

So how does it work in practice?

  1. Start by scheduling a call with us here. This call is absolutely complimentary and does not require any commitment from your side.
  2. Prior to the call, a member of staff will be in touch via email to request any further information which might be required.
  3. We then have the call. This allows you to better understand if the program is a good fit for you and to have your questions answered. At the same time, we can understand if you are a good fit for the programme and what shape a bespoke offering should take in your case.
  4. Following the call, will reach out to successful candidates with an offer, outlining their bespoke package.

To find out more about this programme and whether it might be for you, schedule a complimentary call today with one of our team members.

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