Understand the consulting application process and its obstacles

Understand the consulting application process and its obstacles

You want to apply for your dream job in consulting? You pursue either an internship or a full-time position? You come straight from university or you want to switch professions? Congrats! You have chosen to work in a very demanding yet rewarding profession. I am sure that you have it in you to land an offer with the firm of your choice. However, in order to make the cut, there are several hurdles you need to jump over in the typical recruiting process employed by top tier strategy consulting firms.

Most commonly, you will find three to four obstacles you have to overcome, first the application and associated screening process, which often includes online math/problem-solving test or screening calls (employed mostly by smaller firms), and once passed this stage, you will encounter the first round and second round case interviews. If you manage to pass all rounds you will be extended an offer at the end of this tedious process.
Here is a rough breakdown of how many candidates are rejected within this process.

Breakdown of application rejections at each stage

Figure 1: Breakdown of rejections for each stage

For elite firms, this table represents a good estimate of the brutal decimation of candidates throughout the process. Generally, most people don’t even manage to get past the first hurdle, but the odds don’t get any better after that when we look at the table in relative terms.

While there might be some minor variations in the process depending on the size of the company, it is fairly standardized among management consulting firms. There are some elements that are employed only by a few firms, usually smaller in nature, such as a pre-screening via telephone or an online math test. Larger firms such as McKinsey & Company, BCG or Bain in some geographies offer both a one-hour coaching call and a one-hour online session to help with interview preparation. Some firms even consolidate the first and second round to one super-day of case interviews.

First round interviews are usually done by my more junior consultants to project manager level, having been with the firm between two and five years. Second round interviews are usually done by principals/ junior partners and partners, with the offer being extended by a senior partner, sometimes even the managing partner of a particular office. For smaller firms, depending on the availability, even first round interviews are sometimes held by very senior people.

Go check out how the office of the firm you are applying to is conducting the process and find out about peculiarities via their website, HR staff (which are always eager to help), current employees you can contact via Linkedin (remember to be polite and ask specific questions), as well as friends and colleagues who might have gone through the process already.

Having a clear map of the process ahead, let’s start turning the odds in your favor! Once you know you have your map you can start engaging with the industry and the firms of your choice. In this post, I detail on how to best make a due diligence on potential consulting firms and start networking with the right people.


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