I want to apply to McKinsey, Bain, BCG, AT Kearney and Roland Berger. I guess you could say that I have been an outstanding student, with a good set of extra-curricular activities as well. On the other hand, I do not find that much good information on how to write a compelling management consulting resume. Could you explain me what an excellent management consulting resume should look like?
I personally spend a good amount of time optimizing my resume (and cover letter) back in the days when I applied for Bain & Company, McKinsey & Company, BCG, Roland Berger, AT Kearney and AD Little. I eventually got a first round case interview invitation at each firm (and got an offer at all but one).
By now, I have screened quite a good amount of resumes at Bain & Company, so I will share my ideas on how to write a compelling management consulting curriculum vitae. Needless to say that these ideas do not only apply for Bain, but also apply for McKinsey, BCG and the like. Furthermore, keep in mind that regardless of whether you are an undergraduate applying for a business analyst position, or an MBA applying for an associate position; in the end the below tips and tricks are largely true (thus regardless on which entry level you are applying to).
The most important thing you have to keep in mind when you make your management consulting resume is to always keep in mind what the consulting firm is looking for (and include this on your resume). In the end, each consulting firm is more or less looking for the same elements on your resume. When I receive a resume, the first thing I always do, is simply check whether all key elements are demonstrated (preferably backed with numbers).
The next question is then: “What are these ‘elements’ that management consulting firms are looking for?” In the following I will give you an overview of each of these elements, and afterwards discuss why each one is important to a management consulting firm, and how you can best demonstrate your strong capability for each aspect.
The leading management consulting firms are looking for five key elements in resumes:
Top employers and/or renowned universities
Excellent academic performance
Strong analytical skills
Evidence of leadership and strong social skills
1. Top employers or renowned universities
When you receive a resume that says Harvard, Princeton, INSEAD, Cambridge or the like; it will immediately stand out. In the end, a management consulting firm will be billing you out to its clients for several ten-thousands of dollars month, and for this reason the client will want to know about your background. If the firm then can say you have a BA from Yale and an MA from Harvard, ‘your’ price tag will of course be easier to justify. Furthermore, being able to say you studied at one of these top-universities, also shows that you have already passed a difficult selection process to get in the specific school, which of course already well demonstrates your competencies. Regardless of this, you do not need to have studied at an Ivy League university to get a job in management consulting. In case you come from one of the many good universities of your country, you will definitely also make a shot at MBB. It will however then be even more important to be really convincing, and to clearly show your determination to work in management consulting.
Next to renowned universities, the management consulting firm will also be looking for top employers on your CV. In case you are a young graduate, this will moreover be an internship at a top-employer, and in case you would be an experienced hire, they will definitely be looking for previous (preferably high-profile) work experiences at some of the world’s top employers. Examples of such top-employers would include Google, Microsoft, Apple, P&G, Exxon Mobil, Merrill Lynch, etc. Again, you do not necessarily need to have worked at one of these companies to land an interview at MBB, but it would definitely give you an advantage in getting that important first interview. For this reason, if you are thinking to work in management consulting, try to do at least one internship in a leading corporations, as it will be a great experience, but also look very good on your resume.
2. Excellent academic performance
It is great of course if you have studied at Harvard or Yale, but if you there where one of the weakest performing student of your year, then this has far less meaning. A management consulting firm will be looking for the strongest students of the year to focus their recruiting efforts on. In the end, recruiting does cost quite a lot of money, and the firm knows that they will have a better chance of finding good potential hires if they focus on students with an excellent academic track. The management consulting firm will definitely look at your result for each year, but the weight (of importance) is definitely higher for your last years at university. Keep in mind that even if you apply for MBB to get a position as an industry hire, your university results will matter. Clearly you should never lie about your marks, but in case you had one ‘bad’ year, you could hide your result by replacing it by an aggregate score for multiple years together (in case this would be better).
3. Strong analytical skills
As a consultant you will always need to very analytical (and structured) on the job. For this reason, a management consulting firm will be on the lookout for people that have demonstrated strong analytical skills, for instance through excellent grades for math/science courses, or even better through a high score for (one of the standardized) tests such as SAT, GRE or GMAT. These tests make it easy for the firm to compare your score with other applicants, and obviously they will be looking for those with scores that are well-above average (though there is no specific cut-off). For this reason, it is important to on your resume include these scores, and demonstrate your strong analytical skills.
4. Evidence of leadership and strong social skills
Graduating from a top university, or having had a top position at one of the world’s leading corporations, together with continuous strong performance and excellent analytical skills will make you an interesting candidate for a management consulting firm. However, you will also need to demonstrate strong social and leadership skills on your resume to make you an excellent candidate. In the end, a consultant needs to work often aside with the client to create results, and good social skill will be key here. Furthermore, you will need to demonstrate your leadership skills, as the firm also wants to know whether you can manage and steer a client team or (potentially at a later stage) your colleagues. For this reason, you should definitely include projects/events where you demonstrated strong leadership and social skills. This could be an (important) event that you have organized, a (small) business you had set up with your friends while you were a student, etc. Keep in mind that if you have a very technical background (example Math major at MIT), you should even more proof your social and leadership skills on your resume.
5. Extra-curricular activities
It is definitely possible that you already included some extra-curricular activities on your resume to demonstrate your social and/or leadership skills, as discussed above. Regardless of this, try to think (further) about the ten most important/impressive achievements/projects in your life (it can take a fair amount of time to make a good top ten), and think about which ones you would include on your resume. The rule on what to include is simple; if you feel it would be valuable to discuss during a case interview (or have your interviewer be aware of it) than you should include it; otherwise not. Examples could for instance be an award-winning paper you wrote, your selection for the (Under 21) Olympics ice skating team, a (prominent) summer course you participated in, etc. These do not really fall under the four categories above, but would nonetheless be good additions to your resume.
Other things to keep in mind when developing your resume:
1) Keep in mind that your resume should show excellent performance in each single year. You do not want the CV to be thinking that you had a weak performance during one or two particular years. Ensure each year looks impressive; if you had one weaker year at university, think about specific things you realized that year to compensate for the weaker marks.
2) Also keep in mind the formatting (or design) of your resume. It definitely does matter, and the reason for this is simple. To make a simple analogy; Imagine buying a beautiful diamond ring for your fiancé, and putting it in a carton box. This would kill the entire experience, and the reason is simply because the package does matter. In the end, the design of your resume does to extent say something about you. A management consulting firm is looking for a well-structured and ‘clean’ person. Therefore ensure your resume is well-formatted to demonstrate these values. It should be easy-to-read (or skim-through) and appealing to the eye. Keep in mind however that an enormous amount of different formats could definitely work. The most important thing however is that your major accomplishments are easy to read.
3) Lastly, definitely keep in mind to include your language proficiency. Where in the US it is often good enough to master English, it is always great to be able to show you also speak Spanish or even Chinese. In European countries it is generally required in management consulting to at least speak two languages (native language & English), and more languages are even more a bonus in Europe.