How to Get Into Consulting as an Experienced Hire

Are you wondering how you can enter the consulting industry as an experienced hire and whether it is even worth applying for you because you only read everywhere that fresh undergraduates or post-MBA students enter consulting? First of all: Yes, it is worth it! And the top consulting firms are even actively looking for you. What makes you so special as an experienced hire for the companies? Your professional experience and expertise in your field! In this article Lucie, consulting expert on PrepLounge and experienced hire herself, gives you a detailed overview of what experienced hires are, why they are interesting for the top firms like McKinsey, Bain, or BCG, and how you can apply to the firms as an experienced hire. At the end of the article, you will also find some interesting pros and cons of working in the consulting industry that you should not miss out on.

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Strategic consultancies serve all types of industries, solving their varied and complex topics. Historically, only the most brilliant young and promising grads from the top prestigious universities were hired to start as an Associate and climb the ladder up. The recruiting focus has been changing in the last 10-15 years though. Today MBB looks beyond the "traditional" profile. 

Why is it so? Today’s firm problems are complex and even more interconnected than before and most consultancies have been expanding their capabilities beyond the legacy strategic topic, such as Sales and Marketing or Digital transformation where in addition to the fancy slides, MBB also implements solutions where deep functional & industry experience is an absolute must, such as build new demand forecast with improved accuracy of 45%. 

When browsing the different consulting web, most firms are open and actively recruit experienced hires. BCG looks for “demonstrated success, depth of knowledge, practical experience, and an ambition to do more.” McKinsey: “We look for creative thinkers and problem-solvers from many fields and professions, such as technology, finance, government, engineering, law, the military, and medicine.”, similarly to Bain “We actively recruit talented experienced professionals from a wide array of industries and backgrounds, including finance, law, consulting, teaching, military, healthcare, government, and many others. There’s no one profile or experience set that makes a good Bain consultant.” MBB values uniqueness and diversity that make a significant difference to the projects. Experienced hires come from backgrounds as diverse as the clients’ that consulting firms serve. 

None of the consultancies really specify the years of expertise to qualify as an experienced hire, but from my experience, 5 years would be an absolute minimum, but most of the experienced hires would bring 7+ years.

Successful experienced hire candidates must prove and demonstrate – in addition to outstanding industry or functional expertise – the ability to make an impact, entrepreneurial drive, problem-solving skills, and inclusive leadership.

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Exceptional professionals with outstanding achievements and ambition to grow in performance-driven culture are the perfect match for consulting. People are attracted by the constant challenge, and ability to grow and learn. I have listed some of the most common stories of successful experienced professionals joining consulting. Do you recognize some of the following examples?

  • Getting bored quickly, with a need for a constant challenge, but a regular company can’t cope with it…you may be seen as someone unstable
  • Despite that you like your job, you are unable to stick in a single company for more than a few months or no longer than 2 years
  • You tried various jobs, but you still haven’t found what you like
  • Any company couldn’t offer you the amount of challenge, learning, innovation, feedback, and/or opportunity to grow as you would like
  • You are seeking to make a greater impact and/or contribution

Compared to campus recruits, experienced hires go through a much more irregular process, and timelines and it may take fairly long (until 6 months). The lengthy time can be as many stakeholders are involved, and agendas are packed. Consulting process is significantly more complex, throughout, and I dare to say sophisticated than recruiting of many firms in the industry – where proving your business acumen is hardly done beyond checking your achievements in the CV and checking a few referrals. In consulting, a successful candidate must demonstrate and excel across various criteria not only on paper (CV and cover letter) but also during the interviews, MBB tests your ability in life: business, math, and fit the company culture. You can’t fail any of them, all are obligatory.

What steps do you have to take to get in:

  1. CV and cover letter screening by recruiting team, eventually by someone from the competence center you would qualify: this is because some of the experienced hire CV’s come through a referral
  2. The first round of interviews with 1 interview, where you may or not get a business case from your expertise
  3. The second round of interviews with approx. 3 additional interviews: each with a different person and very unlikely the business cases will come from your expertise, your ability to structure a problem and cope with ambiguity – same as a generalist profile – is tested.  

You will be interviewed beyond HR by 4 different people and all of them must agree you are the right candidate; you proved the long list of requirements through personal interviews and business cases. The process is extensive and only a low % of candidates receive the offer.  

As an experienced hire, it is much more crucial to apply to the right role than a generalist. Unfortunately, the MBB hiring team is unlikely will recommend you for another role that can suit you better.

There are various options for experienced hires to go:

  1. Generalist role: fairly straightforward, recruiting is usually open the whole year round. This fits experienced professionals with diverse experiences, but not highly profiled with specific expertise. You can apply to join at the lowest level as an Associate up to a Partner role, depending on your experience level.
  2. Expert track or Business Functional Teams: depending on your expertise, you will join a specific practice to leverage your knowledge. In this case, the recruiting depends on the need of each practice and there may be not always opening. For those highly specialized candidates, networking, referrals or at least reaching directly to the recruiting team to consult your options is critical for success. You must ensure, the CV land at the right desk. 
  3. Consulting firms also offer specialized roles (knowledge team, Gamma, etc.), that may not be fully client-based, but does support projects
  4. You can also aim for a business support role, which is however different than consulting

Why does consulting drive the attention of so many talents? What do they seek?

  • You won’t get bored… you will work every few weeks/months on a new project with a new team for a new client solving new challenges….but you still work for the same company allowing a sense of stability
  • You will be given amazing training and upskilling opportunities with a clear training path. In addition, at your disposal, you will have tons of online training, material, podcasts, etc. available on-demand, far beyond your area of work or expertise. It is up to you how much advantage you want to take of it
  • Consultancies offer a clear and fair career path with the opportunity to grow at a significantly faster pace than in many industry companies (2-4 years jump to the next level)
  • Fair performance-driven evaluation, including downward and upward evaluation
  • Transparent and open corporate environment: the company, at least BCG that I can speak for, is very open about its policy, movements and new strategies, rewards… so far the only company where I felt important things are NOT just for a few above, but we all are the company and we all have always right to contribute and know
  • Inclusions and diversity are no empty words, but values we all live every day with many real examples… ability to be yourself, truly honest and authentic 
  • All MBBs do have a specific program focusing on global best-in-class career development, mentorship, and networking programs to help women excel – personally and professionally. Meetings, conferences, and forums connect you to a rich network of other successful women.
  • Steep learning curve and amazing learning you will take out with you
  • Deal with C-level 
  • Communication skills (ability to synthesize, prioritize, adapt to different target groups, etc.)
  • Super problem-solving (no problem will seem unsolvable to you)
  • Business development
  • Effective teamwork (ability to work with different nationalities, different backgrounds, expertise, etc.)
  • Understand and ability to meet the standards 
  • Exit opportunities not only by gaining experience, having MBB at your CV, gaining network but MBB also have their placement service… yes no kidding, MBB, if you decide to leave, can actually find you a very good job
  • You will gain a very powerful network within your firm, clients, alumni, etc. 
  • Beyond payment, consulting firms offer different types of flex time (ability to reduce capacity: I work only 4 days!) and the ability to take more time off
  • Once you leave you will become an alumnus with many available benefits (job and business opportunities, events, networking, etc.) and a feeling of belonging 
  • Famous work-life balance is a real challenge, BUT
    • as an experienced hire, billability targets are approximately 30% lower than a generalist, it is time when it is expected you deliver and create content, do business development, and represent the company in different events, in those, not billable times, you have a comfortable life (like an industry job)
    • If you are not 100% on a project, you still have little power over your schedule (given many stakeholders involved in the project with an extremely packed agenda, short timelines, and a lot of rework needed), your working hours then are more bearable
  • Little unfair expectation: you must bring superior expertise plus all the skills that a generalist role has
  • You are not always given the opportunity to lead the project because:
    • Experts’ value is more on the content/expertise rather than project management or
    • If coming from a non-consulting background and jumped directly into the leadership role, your consulting skills will likely never be at the same level as a generalist (who in 90% of the time started as an Associate)
  • BUT you are evaluated equally as a generalist, meaning you should lead projects but in practice, you may not do (instead of dedicating time leading a project you rather support 2 with content)
  • Depending on your previous experience, pay may not be better than an industry job

Each of us is different and different things make us happy at different points of time. The decision to join or not the consulting firm is hence very individual, and I wouldn’t dare to give any recommendation. I can share only my personal point of view – as an experienced hire with 10+ years of industry experience prior to joining MBB – I value many benefits and learning and despite that, I may not work at MBB for the next 30 years I have before I retire, there are many pros acknowledging I did a great move: I love to work with exceptional people, I love to solve different and complex challenges, I love the ability to contribute to projects that make a significant impact, I love all the opportunities I am given beyond traditional project work and I love that I can be myself.

9. About the Author


10+ Years of Recruiting | Top BCG Trainer | BCG Project Leader | Experienced Hire

  • Professional Experience: BCG, Movenpick Hotels and Resorts, Casa de Campo, Marina Bay Sands (Las Vegas Sands), Melia Hotels International
  • Languages: Czech, English, Spanish
  • Location: Italy

Lucie, rewarded as the top BCG trainer and professional coach (besides leading projects), helps newly onboarded BCGers to acquire all skills needed to succeed in their new journey. With 10+ years of recruiting experience, she will help you to transform your thinking into a way that the top firm consultants do.

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