Last Updated on January 31, 2024
Congratulations on your significant achievement of making it past the screening and interview stages with the world’s top consulting firms. This is a testament to your hard work, skill, and determination. As you prepare to join firms like McKinsey & Company, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company, or any other consulting firm really, you’re stepping into a realm where your problem-solving abilities and strategic thinking will be put to the test. You’ve earned your place in an industry known for its rigorous standards and innovative approaches.
As you gear up for this new chapter, a practical question might arise: “What should I purchase before starting?” It’s one of the most pertinent questions that we receive from our succesful coachees once they have accepted one of their offers.
In this article, we delve into the essentials every aspiring management consultant needs before starting this exhilarating journey. We understand that stepping into the world of McKinsey, BCG, or Bain can be as daunting as it is exciting, and our aim is to ease this transition. From the must-have gadgets to the key professional attire, we’ve curated a list that’s geared to set your consulting career up for a solid start. After all, you want to be prepared and don’t want to start looking for the right items once you have already started as your work commitments and long working hours conflict with that.
Whether you’re looking for management consulting essentials, graduate consultant gear, or a comprehensive McKinsey/BCG/Bain starter kit, we’ve got you covered.
What You Won’t Need to Worry About: Provided Items
Before we discuss what you need to buy, let’s first briefly look at what is taken care of for you.
When you’re starting your journey with top consulting firms, there are several essential items and resources that you won’t need to personally invest in. These organizations understand the importance of equipping their consultants with the necessary technical tools and supplies for efficiency and security. This segment will clarify what’s typically provided by your firm, so you can focus your preparation on items that you’ll need to source yourself.
Technical Tools: Laptops and Privacy Screens
Your firm will provide you with a high-performance laptop equipped with essential software and security measures, including privacy screens. These laptops are selected to handle the demanding tasks and data analysis as well as the constant travel that consulting work entails. You will also receive all charging cables and secure USB drives in some firms.
Smartphones: Company-Issued iPhones
All top consulting firms issue company smartphones, mostly iPhones, to their consultants. These devices are integrated with the firm’s communication and security systems, ensuring that you can communicate and collaborate with your team seamlessly and securely. The phones usually come with very generous contracts; in some cases unlimited global data and voice.
Stationery Supplies: Pens and Paper
Forget about stocking up on stationery supplies like pens, notebooks, and paper. These are typically available in abundance in the office and even delivered to the client site on your behalf (e.g., through McKinsey’s teamroom-in-a-box concept). Consulting firms maintain a well-stocked supply of these everyday essentials, allowing you to access them as needed for your meetings, brainstorming sessions, and note-taking.
Understanding what your firm will provide helps you streamline your preparations for your consulting role. This knowledge not only saves you time and money but also ensures that you’re not duplicating items unnecessarily. Focus on personalizing and investing in the items that truly matter and let your firm take care of the rest.
The Essential Buying List Before Starting a Consulting Job
The right tools and accessories can make a significant difference in your daily work life, enhancing both efficiency and professionalism. Here, we’ve compiled a list of essential items every aspiring management consultant should have, complete with Amazon referral links* for your convenience.
*Please note that this article includes links to products on Amazon for which we may receive a commission, helping to support our content at no additional cost to you.
In the world of management consulting, first impressions are crucial. A well-tailored suit conveys professionalism and confidence, key attributes in this industry.
Invest in stylish, durable, high-quality clothes, including three key pieces, eight shirts, two pairs of dress shoes, a coat for each season, and a few accessories at a minimum. If you wish to showcase your fashion sense, indulge in a greater variety of items. While it is unnecessary to splurge on expensive designer brands, a well-fitted, durable suit will serve you well for an extended period. Opt for high-quality dress shoes with leather soles.
What constitutes appropriate business attire?
At their core, consulting firms are still relatively conservative organizations that often deal with traditionally-minded clients. For example, just 15 years ago, it was considered inappropriate for men to wear dark brown leather shoes; only black leather shoes were deemed suitable, as a partner once told me. Fortunately, times have changed, and formal rules and attitudes have become more relaxed. Nonetheless, you should still adhere to certain rules and conventions. When selecting your wardrobe, consider the image you want to project and how others should perceive you.
|– Suit (neutral, darker colors such as navy blue or dark gray; black is considered formal attire in some geographies)
|– Skirt or trouser suit (neutral, darker colors)
– Longer skirt or dress pants with blazer or jacket (same colors as above)
|– Shirt (white or light blue) with a classic tie and a simple knot complementing your outfit
– Buttons should match the color of the fabric
|– Blouse (white or light blue)
– Buttons should match the color of the fabric
|– Leather dress shoes (black or dark brown)
– Socks long enough never to reveal any bare skin
|– Flat or with a slight heel, closed toe (matching the colors of the outfit)
|– Leather belt matching the shoe color and material
|– Leather belt (if it fits the outfit)
– Jewelry is optional
Adhere to these five principles when selecting your attire:
- Embrace subtlety and sophistication: Leave your statement pieces at home, and steer clear of sporty vibes and overly festive items (e.g., pocket squares). Stick to classic, darker colors for suits and brighter whites or light blues for shirts and blouses. Avoid intricate patterns and choose a classic tie, along with a limited number of discreet accessories (e.g., cufflinks or jewelry). Keep your clothes, shoes especially, clean throughout the week.
- Ensure proper fit: While tailored pieces are not necessary, avoid clothing that is too large or too small for your frame.
- Prioritize comfort: You will be wearing your outfit from early morning until late at night daily. Opt for clothes that are not only visually appealing but also provide a comfortable fit.
- When in doubt, overdress: It is better to be slightly overdressed than underdressed. You can always get rid of the tie or the suit jacket.
- Prepare for the unexpected: It pays to pack spare clothes, including a spare tie (even if not required for your current project), as you never know what might happen during a given week. There might be an unexpected meeting with senior management or a change of location that requires more formal attire. For instance, you might get called to pitch a proposal to a new client in a different location.
If you are uncertain about the dress code for a given project, consult your team before starting. The dress code is often specified in your project welcome email and may be tailored to suit the client’s environment.
A Reliable Set of Suitcases
Prioritize quality over quantity. In my first year, I went through three inexpensive suitcases that could not withstand weekly travel and flights. Eventually, I invested in a high-quality product, which does not necessarily mean super expensive either.
Acquire a carry-on for weekly engagements and a larger check-in suitcase for longer trips.
Laptop Bag or Briefcase
A durable and stylish laptop bag or briefcase is a great investment. While all consulting firms provide their consultants with laptop bags, these are often quite utilitarian and bulky. As a result, most consultants prefer to invest in their own bags that align more closely with their personal style and professional image.
When selecting a laptop bag or briefcase, look for one that balances spaciousness and functionality. It should be large enough to comfortably hold your laptop, documents, and other work essentials, yet sleek and lightweight enough for easy carrying since you will be on the move all the time.
This balance ensures that you have everything you need at your fingertips while maintaining a polished and professional look.
- Premium option: Tumi work briefcase
- Value-for-money option: Samsonite laptop briefcase
- Value-for-money option: Crossbody handbag
A portable charger is a lifesaver for consultants who are constantly on the move. Choose one with high capacity and fast charging capabilities.
Whether you’re traveling or working in a noisy environment, noise-cancelling headphones can help you maintain focus. They are also great for virtual meetings and flights. After one week on the job, almost every consultant I know opts for noise-cancelling headphones as they are a true game changer for productivity and communication.
- Premium option: Apple Airpods Pro 2nd Gen
- Premium option: Bose Quietcomfort Ultra
- Value-for-money option: Anker Liberty
An e-reader is perfect for reading e-books during your commute or travel.
Management consultants travel extensively. Consider essential items you would also pack for a vacation. Contemplate items like a sleep mask, earplugs (for noisy flights and hotel rooms), a small umbrella, a comfortable travel pillow, and a quality travel adapter.
- Sleeping mask
- Travel umbrella
- Travel pillow
- Travel adapter for power outlets
- Travel steamer to keep your clothes wrinkle-free
- Packing cubes to organize your suitcase
Cosmetics and Hygiene Products
Purchase travel-sized versions of your everyday products (e.g., toothpaste, deodorant) and store them in a transparent zippered bag to expedite airport security and minimize luggage weight. Alternatively, keep a standard-sized set of products in your hotel or team room for the project’s duration. Find an approach that suits your needs, and do not forget any regular prescription medication or typical travel items such as painkillers.
- Toiletry bag to organize your products
Bring athletic clothing, as opportunities to exercise (e.g., running or visiting your hotel’s gym) will arise throughout most weeks.
Professional and Personal Development Books to Help You with the Start
For new hire consultants stepping into the fast-paced world of firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain, reading the right books can be incredibly beneficial.
First, I would like to talk about Consulting Career Secrets, which I have published in 2024. It is an indispensable guide for anyone embarking on a career in high-stakes firms like McKinsey, BCG, or Bain. This book is a treasure trove of insights and strategies for navigating the demanding world of management consulting. It covers everything from industry overviews, negotiating job offers, and excelling from day one, to mastering data analysis and storytelling, thriving in the first critical six months, and planning a successful exit strategy. This comprehensive guide is not limited to just MBB firms but extends to tier-2, Big 4, boutique, and in-house consulting, offering a roadmap for long-term success and fulfillment in the consulting industry.
Other books that can help you in this regard are:
- The McKinsey Way by Ethan Rasiel provides an inside look at the strategies and working style of one of the world’s most respected consulting firms. This is a great read, even if you join any other firm.
- The McKinsey Mind by Ethan Rasiel and Paul Friga offers aspiring consultants an inside look into the problem-solving techniques and strategic thinking employed by one of the world’s leading consulting firms, making it a valuable resource for understanding industry best practices.
- The Trusted Advisor by David H. Maister is a must-read, as it delves into building and maintaining client relationships, a cornerstone of successful consulting.
- The Pyramid Principle by Barbara Minto is an essential read for aspiring consultants, offering a powerful framework for structuring communication for maximum impact.
- The Meditations by Marcus Aurelius provides aspiring consultants with timeless wisdom on resilience and leadership, invaluable for navigating the high-pressure environment and sometimes difficult stakeholder relationship of consulting.
In each of these categories, we’ve carefully selected products that balance quality, functionality, and style. These essentials will not only prepare you for the challenges ahead but also help you make a lasting impression in the world of management consulting.
Invest in Quality and Practicality
As you begin your journey in management consulting, it’s important to recognize the practicality and usefulness of having the right tools and items with you. These aren’t just accessories; they’re practical aids that can help you navigate the challenges of this field more smoothly. Management consulting is a demanding profession, offering ample opportunities for learning and growth, but it also comes with its own set of challenges.
Ensuring you have the necessary items can prevent inconveniences and setbacks. For instance, having spare clothes ready can be a lifesaver, a durable suitcase is essential for those long trips, and noise-cancelling headphones can be a boon on overnight flights, helping you maintain your sleep schedule and stay refreshed.
Embrace this journey with an open mind and a readiness to learn. With the right mindset and preparation, including the appropriate tools and equipment, you’re setting yourself up for a smoother path ahead. Here’s to a rewarding experience in management consulting, where your efforts and preparedness can truly make a difference. Welcome to your new adventure!