How to Get a Job in Management Consulting
5 min read

How to Get a Job in Management Consulting

Want to get a job as a management consultant? Discover the different pathways into the industry and get expert tips on how to land a job.
How to Get a Job in Management Consulting

We asked an experienced management consultant for a no-nonsense take on how to get a job in management consulting. This consultant has worked in consulting at two Big 4 firms over the course of a 20-year career, so they know what they’re talking about.

Read on to learn about the pathways into management consulting and get expert tips on how to increase your chances of breaking through and getting a role.

What are the pathways into management consulting?

People in the industry speak about two pathways:

  • Career consultant: This means that you joined a management consulting firm straight out of university or college as your first job. Likely in a graduate program. Some leaders in consulting have a demonstrated preference for this path and believe that professionals who grew up in the consulting system are better equipped to succeed.
  • Lateral hire: This means that you started your career outside consulting, and are making the switch into consulting. For example, you joined the graduate program at a corporate like Apple, General Motors or Unilever and are bringing the skill you learned there to consulting. Lateral hires are transitioning to become client facing, with some lateral hires becoming client facing for the first time.

Let me explain, consulting is a client facing business. It means you do strategy, finance, human resources, etc. consulting for corporate and government clients. You might do all the same things within a corporate, but because you are not client facing it’s not consulting. Being a lateral hire simply means bringing these skills and selling them to a number of different clients for a fee, rather than just working for one for a salary.

Those are the two pathways.

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What background, skills and experience do you need to get a job in management consulting?

There are always exceptions, but I’m not going to cover the edge cases. To get a job in management consulting, let’s start with the minimum requirements:

  • A college or university degree,
  • Ability to demonstrate stability and work ethic,
  • Present professionally so can be trusted with clients.

These are the basics, there are other ways (like starting in support functions and transitioning to client facing roles, or high school starter programs) but 99.9% of people enter consulting with the same background. To dive in further I’ll split this into career consultant and lateral hire:

Career consultant requirements

Because the entry point for a career consultant is normally a graduate program, the requirements are more straightforward:

  • The background required is one that will get you into the graduate interview process.
  • The experience you need are the internships, casual jobs and vacationer programs that help your CV stand out and will help you get into the graduate interview process.
  • The skills required are the ones that will get you through the selection process. This means you need to interview well - make sure you have done your research on the firm and have some good questions ready, practice your presentation skills and know how you will build rapport with the interviewer, and do all the pre-work required to pass the case interview. This means learning how case interviews work, and practicing.

The best way to approach (yes, game) this is to think backwards from what the firm you are applying to is looking for, and make sure you pass each of these selection criteria.

Lateral hire requirements

The short answer is: something they can sell.

The consulting firm you are applying to has to be confident that they can staff you on consulting projects that are in demand, the client will be happy with your expertise and work, and you can work with the team to deliver projects smoothly.

There are many different types of consulting, for example, strategy, operations, technology, finance, human resources, etc. If you have a specialist skill set in one of these areas then you are a candidate to be a lateral hire. It’s that simple.

The more in demand your skill set and field at the time you are looking to move, the better. This means you have the leverage and can potentially negotiate harder on your way in.

What is the hiring process for management consulting roles?

It depends on your level of experience and entry point, but generally speaking there hasn’t been much innovation in professional services recruiting. This means the hiring process for management consulting is the stock standard:

  • Job opening advertised
  • Collect and screen candidate applications
  • Initial screening interview with internal HR team
  • A series of interviews with members of the team you’re joining (I’ve heard of anywhere from 1 to 10 interviews taking place depending on the firm)
  • Case interview (for more junior hires)
  • Candidate selected
  • Offer

Consulting is a people business. By that I mean that revenue is almost perfectly correlated to the number of client-facing employees. So firms have large workforces, and because they have high employee turnover (25% per year is about the average), they do a lot of hiring. For this reason they keep the process simple and trust their peoples assessments. That means if you can build rapport with your interviewers and make a good impression, you’ll be in a good position and, importantly, not disqualify yourself out of the process.

Also, because of the point above, don’t be discouraged if the HR teams at consulting firms are not very responsive during your application process and to your emails, they are dealing with a lot of open roles and a large volume of hiring, and their teams experience a lot of turnover themselves. It’s not uncommon if you don’t hear back or get in depth feedback. Just to set expectations.

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What are the best tips and hacks to help land a management consulting role?

To stay with my theme, I’ll offer one for each path:

  • Career consultant: The best way to get a graduate role is to have it locked in before the selection process even starts. How? By getting a spot in and completing the summer vacationer program first. Impress here and they’ll make you an offer. You already have the job before you even leave college or university.
  • Lateral hire: Your general more senior to be a lateral hire. That means you have experience and professional relationships. Use these relationships and your network to find a role with people you already know, or have strong connections to. Coming in to work with people you already know will de-risk the transition to consulting (because they can provide air cover by buying you some breathing and learning space to get up to speed) and help set you up for success with advice on navigating the firm you’re joining.

I’ve sprinkled some more general tips throughout the interview. In short, the principle is to build rapport, be professional and demonstrate that you’re a safe pair of hands who can do the work with as little fuss and drama as possible.

What are the exit opportunities from management consulting?

The consulting skill set is really transferable. Here are some examples of career paths you might take off the back of some time in management consulting:

  • Move up in the firm (pursue promotions up to partner level)
  • Move to another firm in a better role
  • Become a freelance consultant
  • Start your own firm
  • Move to a corporate (McKinsey is the CEO factory)
  • Start or buy your own small business
  • Become an entrepreneur and start a startup
  • Enter an investment career (private equity, venture capital, etc.)

The consulting toolkit is valuable and highly valued by the market. I would even go as far as to say that management consulting is the single profession with the most viable exit options, so it’s a great place to spend some time.

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