Consulting internship vs. full-time application at McKinsey, BCG, and Bain

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Last Updated on January 3, 2024

Should I first apply for an internship or directly go for a full-time offer? This is one of the most common questions we receive from our mentees.

The world of top-tier consulting, with its rigorous demands and prestigious reputation, offers a unique challenge for aspiring professionals. In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the nuances of choosing between an internship and a full-time role at top consulting firms like McKinsey, BCG, and Bain.

The information in this article is relevant for you if you are nearing the end of your studies (but have not graduated yet). Before that, your only entry point would be through an internship. After you have graduated, most firms only accept full-time applications. If you are already working for several years, you would also not be considered for an internship but a lateral or professional hire.

Discover the key differences, success rates, and strategies to maximize your chances of success in the competitive consulting landscape.

Understanding the Application Process: Internship vs. Full-Time

Meeting expectations

Both internship and full-time applications in consulting generally follow a similar trajectory, involving a multi-stage process that tests a candidate’s analytical and interpersonal skills. However, the benchmarks and evaluation criteria may vary slightly, with internships often providing a slightly more lenient yardstick, tailored to a candidate’s developmental stage and (lack of) professional experience.

In the case of internships, the focus tends to be more on potential and learning aptitude. Firms evaluate candidates based on their ability to grow, adapt, and contribute in a dynamic environment. Academic achievements, extracurricular involvement, and demonstrated interest in consulting play a significant role. The interview process, while rigorous, allows for a little more room to improve during the case interview, and the experiences you share during the fit interview can carry less impact.

For full-time roles, the expectations are understandably higher. This includes a deeper evaluation of problem-solving skills, leadership qualities, and professional achievements. The interview process is more intense, with a stronger emphasis on business judgment and impact as well as your ability to think critically and perform under pressure. Candidates might face more complex case interviews and a greater number of interviews focusing on their professional experiences and how they align with the firm’s needs and culture.

What you need to demonstrate in both recruiting funnels is your enthusiasm for the consulting field.

The stages of recruiting

Both paths typically start with a screening stage where resumes and cover letters are reviewed. Successful candidates are then invited to participate in online assessments. For internships, these might include personality tests or logical reasoning assessments, while full-time roles might require more comprehensive analytical tests.

Following the initial assessments, the interview stages begin. For internships, this might involve one or two rounds of interviews, often including a mix of personal experience interviews and case studies. For full-time roles, the process usually involves more rounds, sometimes up to three or four, including both case studies and deep dives into a candidate’s professional experiences and thought processes.

It’s important to note that while the bar may be set differently for internships versus full-time roles, the core qualities that consulting firms look for remain consistent. These include strong analytical skills, excellent communication abilities, a proactive mindset, and the capacity to work effectively in team settings.

Regardless of the application path, candidates need to demonstrate a clear understanding of the consulting industry and the specific firm they are applying to, showcasing how their unique skills and experiences make them a suitable fit for the role.

Data-Driven Insights: Statistics on Success Rates

For some candidates, an internship offers an opportunity to try out and see if they like the job, the type of work, their colleagues, and the company culture. On top of this opportunity, it is arguably easier to enter consulting through an internship as the offer rate hovers around 3-5%, whereas the full-time offer rate can sometimes dip below 1%.

And, it does not stop there…

Our own experience in McKinsey and with our clients indicates that the conversion rate from internships to full-time roles in consulting is impressively high. The return offer rate, which refers to interns being invited back for a full-time role is notably high in top firms, indicating their satisfaction with the performance of their interns and their willingness to invest in their professional growth.

A significant proportion of interns in top consulting firms receive full-time offers at the end of their internships. For instance, McKinsey & Company, Bain & Company, and Boston Consulting Group report conversion rates upward of 80%.

This is attributed to several factors. Firstly, internships allow firms to evaluate an individual’s performance and fit within the company culture over an extended period, which is not possible in the case of full-time recruitment processes. Secondly, interns who perform exceptionally well can demonstrate their capabilities in real-world scenarios, which is often more convincing than interviews and assessments alone.

It’s also worth noting that these statistics vary slightly depending on the firm’s size and prestige. For example, boutique consulting firms may have slightly lower conversion rates.

However, candidates need to understand that while the statistics are favorable, securing a full-time offer post-internship is not guaranteed. Performance during the internship, the firm’s hiring needs, and market conditions all play a critical role in determining whether an intern receives a full-time offer.

Comparative Analysis: Internship vs. Full-Time Role

FeatureInternshipFull-Time Role
Application ProcessSlightly more lenient screening, focuses on potential and adaptabilityRigorous screening and interviews, with a stronger emphasis on proven skills and experience
OpportunitiesHands-on experience, networking, and learning opportunitiesImmediate full-time responsibilities, higher autonomy, and opportunities to lead parts of projects
Offer Rate in MBB3-5%1%
Conversion Rate to Full-Time OfferHigh around 80% based on performance during the internship
Duration and CommitmentTypically spans a few weeks up to 3 months, offering a glimpse into the consulting worldLong-term commitment with a clear career trajectory within the firm
Skill DevelopmentEmphasis on learning and development, with mentorship and training programsFocus on refining and applying skills in real-world scenarios, with continuous professional development
Work ScopeOften involves working on specific projects or tasks, with guidance from seniorsBroader scope of work, including more client interaction and end-to-end project management
Feedback and EvaluationRegular feedback sessions aimed at intern development, specific intern training programsComprehensive performance evaluations linked to career progression and promotions
Compensation and BenefitsUsually offers a pro-rated entry-level salary; limited benefitsCompetitive salary with comprehensive benefits, including bonuses and health insurance
Cultural IntegrationOpportunity to understand the company culture and network internallyImmediate immersion into the company culture with expectations to contribute to the firm’s values and goals
Flexibility and Work-Life BalanceDemands a high level of commitment, often requiring long hours and significant dedicationDemands a high level of commitment, often requiring long hours and significant dedication

This comparative analysis highlights the distinct differences between internship and full-time roles in consulting. Internships serve as an entry point, allowing individuals to learn and adapt to the consulting environment, while full-time roles demand immediate immersion and contribution to the firm’s objectives. Both paths, however, offer valuable experiences and opportunities, each catering to different stages of a professional’s career journey in consulting.

If you are aiming for a full-time offer conversion after an internship, the type of work and tasks you do and the effort you have to make are on par with a new hire full-time candidate. (for MBB).

Making the Right Choice

Whether you choose to start with an internship or aim directly for a full-time role, understanding the nuances of each path is crucial. Remember, your journey in consulting is unique, and each step, whether an internship or a direct entry, is a building block towards a successful career.

Consider your long-term career goals, personal strengths, and lifestyle preferences. If you thrive in dynamic, learning-focused environments and are early in your career, an internship can provide invaluable insight into the world of consulting. It’s an opportunity to build a network, understand the firm’s culture, and demonstrate your potential. If you don’t like it or don’t receive a full-time offer, you could just leverage your new experience for a different job. A top-tier consulting internship adds a lot of value to every resume!

On the other hand, if you have a clear career path in mind and feel ready to take on significant responsibilities, a full-time role might be more appropriate. It offers immediate immersion into the challenging yet rewarding realm of consulting, with opportunities to impact major projects from the get-go. The preparation and necessary investment of time and effort are very similar.

Ultimately, both internships and full-time roles in consulting are paths to a fulfilling career. Each offers unique experiences and opportunities for growth. The decision depends on where you currently stand in your professional journey and where you aspire to go.

How we can help you break into consulting

Interested in breaking into consulting? Reach out to us for tailored advice, resume optimization, and interview coaching. Let us help you unlock the doors to a thriving career in consulting. As former McKinsey consultants and interviewers, equipped with industry insights and experience, we have helped thousands of intern and full-time applicants to make their dream a reality. From refining your resume to acing the interview process, we’re here to support your aspirations.

Don’t hesitate to contact us for a personalized approach to launching or advancing your career in consulting. For more information, see how we can help by:

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