Consulting Firms Need More Experienced Hires. Should You Apply?

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By Davis Nguyen

To get a job at a top management consulting firm like Bain, BCG, or McKinsey, you used to need an MBA from a prestigious university, or at least an Ivy League undergraduate degree. More and more, however, consulting firms are looking for deep functional or industry expertise and to find that, they’re hiring people with several years of work experience.

What’s driving this change? Client demand. 

Traditionally, the management consulting industry looked for strong generalist problem-solving skills and insight into fixing business challenges. Consultants were expected to learn a new industry on every client project. But for some business issues, generalist problem-solving skills aren’t enough. You need to have gotten your hands dirty solving similar problems before you can tackle the work efficiently. 

Because of this, consulting firms now look for people with backgrounds in technology, engineering, operations, implementation, marketing, and other areas.

Are You Ready to Make the Career Switch to Consulting?

Many perks come with working for a top consulting firm. It’s great for your resume. Plenty of former consultants have gone on to C-suite careers (such as Sundar Pichai, Google and Alphabet Chief Executive Officer and former McKinsey consultant, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer and another former McKinsey consultant, or Susan Wojcicki, YouTube CEO and former Bain consultant).

In addition, the pay is good and the work is exciting. Top consulting firms are hired to work on  high-visibility projects, ones that really move the needle on a corporation’s profitability or future direction. The type of projects consultants are hired to help with include:

  • New product launches
  • Revenue improvement
  • Pricing
  • Mergers and acquisitions
  • Corporate restructuring
  • Cost reduction

If this type of work sounds appealing, management consulting could be a good career option for you.

What Type of Skills Are Consulting Firms Looking For?

As in the past, consulting firms are looking for strong problem solvers. It’s not enough to know your industry or functional area of expertise. You also need to be able to use your technology expertise to solve problems in other industries or your packaged goods expertise to solve different types of business problems.

To assess problem-solving skills, consulting firms use the case study interview in their recruiting process. In a case study interview, the interviewer provides a high-level description of a “client” and describes a problem that client is trying to solve. 

Example: The number two carbonated beverage bottler in North America wants to launch a product in the sports drink market. How would you recommend they do this? 

To solve the case, the interviewee must break the problem down, outlining the things they’d look at and leading the interviewer through their thinking step-by-step. For our carbonated beverages client, they might look at:

  • The size of the sports drink market in North America
  • Profit margins in the soft drink market
  • The up-front investment that would be required to enter the market
  • The client’s capabilities and how well they match those needed to compete in sports drinks
  • Competitors in the sports drink market

The interviewee can ask his or her interviewer for information that would help him to analyze the problem and then sum up their analysis in a recommendation for the client. For a detailed example of a case interview, see our Ultimate Guide to Case Interview Prep

In addition to strong problem-solving skills, management consulting firms look for leadership experience, teamwork skills, and a bent for overcoming obstacles and getting things done. Interviewers will ask for examples of when candidates demonstrated these skills in the past.

Is Management Consulting for You?

Management consulting is not all about good pay and high-profile projects. It’s also a lot of work. Consultants can log 60-100-hour work weeks. 

It’s important to enjoy travel since much of a consultant’s work takes place at the client site, though this varies from firm to firm. And a “high tolerance for ambiguity” is required because it’s impossible to see what direction a client project will go in until you’ve dug into the facts.

If you like sticking with an established routine, consulting is probably not the career for you since the work changes with each new client project.

But if solving tough business problems as a member of a smart and hard-working team sounds good to you, a career in consulting could be a great fit. Management consulting could provide the resume boost and skills to take your career to the next level. 

With top consulting firms hiring more experienced professionals than ever, now is the time to consider this career move.

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