By Stephanie Horn (Managing Consultant) and Matt Strickler (Senior Advisor), Consulting Career Academy at The MBA Exchange
This fall, thousands of new MBA students will arrive on campus, excited to begin the next phase of their lives. Many individuals attend business school primarily to switch to a new career path. Furthermore, over 30% of incoming MBA students select management consulting as their desired industry.
Consulting is an exciting and rewarding field that introduces MBA grads to a variety of industries and teaches them how to solve a broad range of business problems. Being a management consultant can be a career unto itself or serve as a conduit to a senior management position in another industry.
Given the relatively small number of post-MBA positions at, and the high selectivity of, consulting firms, competition for these coveted jobs is fierce. In fact, most of those who want to enter consulting are turned away. According to a recent survey by RelishCareers, 65% of respondents who indicated “consulting” as their first career choice ultimately joined a different industry. Fortunately, if you’re an MBA student determined to enter management consulting, there are ways to improve your odds for success.
At the Consulting Career Academy, we have seen individuals from a wide range of pre-MBA industries and functions move into consulting. Having made this career transition ourselves, we’ve developed customized strategies and tactics to help others get hired. Here are some relevant lessons we’ve learned along the way:
- Build A Relevant Network
As a career-switcher targeting the consulting field, your first step is to build a robust professional network. Before business school, our roles were military officer (Matt) and manager for a non-profit organization (Stephanie). Since neither of us personally knew any consultants, we had to get up to speed quickly on the practice areas, culture and problem-solving approach of each major firm. To do so, we leveraged our MBA classmates as well as existing undergraduate and professional relationships. We also attended the consulting firms’ information sessions, campus visits and social events, and then contacted managers at their individual offices to find the best match for our skills and interests.
- Strengthen Your Resume
Student resumes are the only data that consulting firms consider when determining who to invite for an interview. In many cases, major accomplishments that earned high praise in your pre-MBA industry need to be recast to feature the skills consulting firms value most. For example, Stephanie was concerned that the small scale of her non-profit organization would limit her appeal to consulting firms. So she highlighted the fact that she had made senior-level management decisions and impacted an entire organization compared to the traditional roles of her counterparts at large, for-profit companies. By featuring her leadership and teambuilding skills, and quantifying the results of her projects, Stephanie’s resume now showcased strengths that resonated with consulting firms. Similarly, Matt realized that he had to delete his proudest accomplishment – Honor Graduate of Army Jump Master School – because it wasn’t relevant to consulting. So, he translated his military responsibilities and activities to make the achievements on his resume pertinent to management consulting.
for Interview Success
Finally, future consultants need to develop exceptional communication skills and strategies for “fit” interviews, case interviews, math tests, take-home cases, on-line cases, and other steps in the hiring process at consulting firms. Students must get up to speed on the evaluation process, and become comfortable in stressful settings. One of the keys to becoming competent and confident is getting insightful, actionable feedback from qualified sources so you can practice efficiently and perform like a star on interview day.
- Launch the Hiring Campaign Early
During the first few months on campus, MBA students face demanding classes and a long list of fun activities to help them get to know each other. Given the demands on their waking hours, it can be very tempting to postpone career planning. However, those who are most determined to join a management consulting seize the opportunity to get a head start. Crafting a solid plan, getting started early, and sustaining efforts to become competitive can make the difference between getting hired or getting ignored by consulting firms. Enlisting the services of experienced advisors from an organization such as the Consulting Career Academy at The MBA Exchange could help you gain the edge you need to win.