It’s tough to get into top-tier consulting
Recruiters, on average, spend 15 to 20 seconds to screen your resume. You are competing for their attention as they read 100s of resumes on any given day (depending on the office location of course). For the top firms such as McKinsey, BCG, and Bain 75% of applicants are already rejected at this stage.
Additionally, many consulting firms introduced computer-based pre-screenings of your application documents. If your resume or CV doesn’t hit certain keywords or contains specific content or phrases, you are automatically removed from the recruiting process.
Let’s look into the structure, the content, and the communication of your consulting resume to make sure you land the interviews with your desired firms.
What’s the purpose of your resume?
As a result of this streamlined process, the recruiter will have a fairly clear picture of your fit within a very short time span. In the competitive field of consulting, you want to deliver a perfect resume to maximize your chances to receive an interview invitation. With that in mind, having a perfect consulting resume, you should answer the following three questions with a ‘yes’.
- Does your resume allow the recruiter to get an accurate picture of you
in 20 seconds?
- Does your resume show you in the best possible light?
- Is your resume tailored to the consulting industry and the employer at hand?
We can help you with this!
We have created a guide including a consulting resume template on exactly these topics to make sure that your application hits all the important areas needed to move through the screening stage quickly. We discuss the research you would need to make, the content that you should present (including ready-to-use phrases and content needed to pass the pre-screening), formatting (including a consulting resume template), as well as common dos and don’ts. Read more about it here.
The structure of your consulting resume
Your resume or consulting CV should consist of four sections.
The contact information section is where you detail how potential employers can get in touch with you. Make sure all information is accurate and current.
The order of categories in your resume is set according to importance. Thus, for students, university education is their greatest selling point, whereas, for working professionals, the contact information would be followed by your work experience. In the education section, start with the highest degree you have earned and then go in reverse chronological order. Strong academic achievements are the foundation for your career in management consulting as they provide an indication of your determination, knowledge, competencies, and personal values.
The section about work experience is usually broken down by company or position. There are two guiding principles you should apply here: The rule of threes and the focus on impact. Depending on the country, this section is not meant to list every job every performed, but only those jobs which demonstrate qualities relevant to the internship or full-time position, for which you are applying. Apply the rule of threes: List three major work experiences, with three bullets for each one. For your primary job, you can have more than three bullets. The rationale behind this rule is to keep your information targeted, structured, and easy to find. Listing every detail signals that you are lost in addition to flooding the recruiter with unnecessary information.
Focus on impact: When describing your role, focus on your results, ideally quantifiable ones. Merely writing down the process of what you did is not exciting. As with any CEO document you will prepare as a consultant, tailor your message to the recipient. Consultants are by their very results-oriented. Demonstrate some of these attributes in your resume and state only the most important – the impact you had in previous roles. This demonstrates that you are able to get important work done, which benefits your employer. Show clarity, strong and action-oriented results, and achievements.
Extracurricular activities and skills
You may also want to include other optional details to provide a more accurate idea of your skills and achievements. Everything you list here should somehow link and be relevant for the management consulting job. This relevance can either be direct or indirect. A direct skill would be VBA programming in Excel: this can help automate some work of the team – a valuable contribution. An indirect skill or interest would be marathon running: it shows that you are dedicated, determined, and have the discipline to achieve difficult tasks. This trait will benefit you throughout your management consulting career and is one of the reasons why top-tier firms have many ex-professional athletes on board.
Depending on your experience, list awards, professional memberships, certifications, and leadership roles that you held. The goal is to showcase that you have something to present besides university and work. Consulting firms look for people with interesting backgrounds that excel in all areas of life.
The content of your consulting resume
The million-dollar question. How should your resume or CV for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain look like? What content should you include to be considered for the case interviews?
It’s not rocket science and you don’t necessarily need to have built wells in developing countries to be considered for a job. After all, it comes down to 4 key areas:
Education. You need to score in two areas to hit the requirements here. First, top-tier consulting firms generally only hire from the most prestigious universities in their geography. While in the US most candidates come from Ivey League, in the UK from Oxbridge and LSE, in countries like Germany the concept of target schools is not adhered to as strictly. Even in the latter case, you would need to come from a reputable university. Second, you need to be among the top students (top 5-10% depending on your subject and university) in your peer group. Firms like McKinsey know exactly how your grades relate to other students of your university and degree. Lastly, in some geographies, you need a master’s degree while in others a bachelor’s degree is fine. The trend is generally now to also allow applicants with bachelor’s degrees.
Professional experience. Good work experience counts, either through internships or full-time positions (when applying as an experienced hire). Here, we see some variation across geographies depending on the internship culture of a country. If it is not common to do internships during your studies, then McKinsey et al. would likely not ask for it. However, in many European countries, you are expected to have concluded internships with at least 2-3 reputable companies in areas that need similar skills to management consulting before moving into consulting. Ask your recruiter openly. They are usually very upfront about what additional content your resume would need to be considered as a prospect or interview candidate.
International exposure. Depending on the office or geography you apply to, this is more or less relevant. However, in many geographies, it is nowadays expected to have done either an internship abroad or an exchange semester at a reputable university. For details, discuss with the local recruiters or the office you want to apply to in order to make sure you can plan ahead.
Extracurricular activities. Don’t be a boring person. Highlight that you have something to show for besides good grades and prestigious internship experiences. Anything goes that demonstrates your passion and motivation, and ideally, conveys some of the traits that consulting firms screen for (e.g., leadership as the captain of some sports team – the classic).
You need to be strong in at least 3 of these areas to be considered for a job at the top firms. The better you are or the higher your spike in one, the more leeway you have in others. For instance, if you are an ex-Olympian, other areas won’t count as much anymore…You get the idea.
The design of your consulting resume
Consulting recruiters certainly have expectations about how a resume should look. For instance, your name typically appears at the top of the resume and is usually the largest item. In addition, headers usually categorize the various sections of the text. Also, readers expect the information in your resume to be accurate and correct. Finally, your resume should be free of grammatical and spelling errors. Know that it should be easy to read quickly and contain all necessary and pertinent information. The persuasive quality of your resume depends on its usability.
Make it visually appealing
Keep your resume structured in the way outlined above.
With this standard way of organizing, the recruiter will find what she needs in a split second. Depending on the state of your career, you might exchange professional experience and education. As a rule of thumb, after more than 2-3 years of full-time employment, you would rank professional experience first.
Some firms have a preferred way of structuring the resume on their website. Make sure to look it up on their website.
Stick to one page
your resume should be a maximum of one-page max (if you are in the US) and two pages if you are from any other geography. It is surprising how much useless information people put on their pages, not adding any value to the application. Take a tough look at your content and make it a priority to put only the most relevant information on the page. Be concise and focused. Extended resumes over two pages make you look unstructured and will likely lead to a turndown during the screening stage.
Caveat: Be careful with the conversion from Word to PDF files as this sometimes can mess up your formatting. Always double check!
Create a hierarchy of information
The recruiter wants to get an accurate picture of you within 20 seconds. In order to help her achieve this, create a clear hierarchy of information through the use of
- Short phrases that contain the right keywords and accurately describe your achievements
- Bold, italicized, and underlined text that directs attention to the key messages
How we can help you
If you want professional help to tailor your application and pass the screening stage, check out our cover letter and resume services. As former McKinsey consultants, we have screened 100s of resumes and cover letters and know exactly what you need to include to move to the interviews.
We offer dedicated guides with templates on the perfect consulting resume and cover letter as well as resume and cover letter editing services for McKinsey, BCG, or Bain (obviously also applicable to all the other firms such as Oliver Wyman, Booz Allen Hamilton, strategy&, AT Kearney, Roland Berger, Deloitte, EY, KPMG, PWC, Accenture, L.E.K., etc.).
We discuss every aspect of the perfect consulting resume and cover letter in much more detail, including ready-to-use samples and templates to both give you the stories, phrases, and keywords needed to get to the interview as well as shorten your application preparation time significantly.
Florian spent 5 years with McKinsey as a senior consultant. He is an experienced consulting interviewer and problem-solving coach, having interviewed 100s of candidates in real and mock interviews. He started StrategyCase.com with the goal to make McKinsey more accessible for top-talent, using tailored and up-to-date know-how about its recruiting.