Consulting Lingo – Words and Phrases That You Should Know

Has it happened to you in the past that you didn't understand words and certain phrases in one of your interviews? In his article, our expert Robert lists a number of the most important and most frequently used phrases in the consulting industry, so that you will not have problems understanding them in your next interview and will be able to handle them confidently. You will certainly recognize some of the terms.

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List of Insider Words and Phrases

Certainly, it’s up to discussion whether or not using “consulting lingo” is meaningful, but that’s for another day. For the moment, let’s simply look at which specific terms consultants are using, at least internally within the firm when talking to colleagues.

The main point, for now, is to ensure that you understand your interviewer correctly if he uses any of those terms. Simply speaking, having a clear understanding of those terms will position you more like a fellow consultant in your interviewer’s mind, as opposed to a candidate who didn’t do his homework and needs to ask simple questions to clarify ‘obvious’ consulting terminology.

Even in case, you won’t need it during your interviews specifically – it’s still worthwhile of accommodating yourself with this terminology, as you will certainly need it in your future consultant role!

 

10,000 feet view, bird’s eye view, high-level view High level, abstract view on a subject (whereas the number can be replaced by any big number)
80/20 rule Generalized approximated rule that e.g. 80% of results come from 20% of time invested, or 80% of sales from 20% of customers, etc.
Accounting noise Accounting rules which have a negative impact on the business operations
Action item To-do which needs to be done
Action plan Plan typically with action item, due date and assigned responsibility to make something happen
Action title Slide headline which actively summarizes the key message of the slide; all action titles combined together represent the storyline of your presentation
Actionable Typically in conjunction with client recommendations, so that the client can implement those recommendations realistically (and not only theoretically, due to a lack of resources, know-how, etc.)
Added value The value created by a project, person etc., usually in the context of client perception
Answer-first principle To state an answer first, before having done the work to analyze the details, thus often representing a hypothesis
AOB, any other business Used mostly for meeting agenda for a generic bucket to discuss any other issues at hand (in practice, very often the really important, delicate issues are discussed in this section which nobody dared to give explicitly on the official meeting agenda)
Ballpark number Rough estimated value of a number’s magnitude
Bandwidth, capacity, full plate Capacity to do additional work, mostly used as “having no bandwidth” or a “full plate” to indicate that you can’t put anything more on your to-do list
Big 3, MBB McKinsey, BCG, Bain as the leading 3 consulting firms
Big 4 Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers as the leading 4 audit firms
Billable, chargeable Doing paid client work
Blanks Missing elements, often in the context with delegating some work to lower-level resources to complete the blanks
Boiling the ocean Too large scope with too much analysis to be done, often stemming from a lack of focus and clarity
Bottom-up Start with the most detailed level of granularity and aggregating information upwards (as opposed to top-down)
Buckets Categories in which certain items (like ideas, points for analysis) are structured
Buttoned-up Representing a high quality, accurate, bullet-proof piece of work which can be defended even under closest investigation
Buy-in Getting commitment or support from a stakeholder, like the client or other project team members
Charge code Specific code used to register your working hours or expenses in internal systems
Circle back Follow-up or review progress from an earlier point in time
C-level, C-suite High-level executive level, like CEO, CFO, COO etc.
Close the loop Finish your work or think something through completely so that nothing is overlooked or unfinished and that it can’t backfire
Critical path Most important steps in a project which directly influence the overall duration or quality
Deck Powerpoint presentation
Deep dive, drill-down Detailed, in-depth analysis of a certain aspect
Deliverable Result which needs to be created at the end, e.g. a Powerpoint presentation, Excel model
Double twenty-four Consecutive working time of 2x24 hours
Educated guess, guesstimate Estimate based on experience and domain expertise
Elevator test, elevator pitch Situation in which you need to give a top-down summary to a senior client or firm member within the duration of riding an elevator together
EOD End-of-day, typically used to specify a deadline like the result must be finished by the “end-of-day”, although end-of-day in consulting means practically before start of working day next morning
Engagement Consulting project
Fact pack Stack of information to collect most important information about a subject
Facetime Physical or virtual time spent with your colleagues and mostly superiors to indicate productivity and commitment, although often unnecessarily instead of enjoying your spare time
Granularity Level of detail of an analysis
Greenfield, whitefield Completely new approach or opportunity
Headcount Number of employees, typically on the basis of full-time equivalents
Hard stop Definite ending time of a meeting
Hit the ground running To add value to the project quickly
Keep it on the radar Follow-up with this issue, it might be critical now or later
KPI, key performance indicator Important metric to track business or progress
Leverage To make good use of a resource, e.g. let’s leverage our senior partner’s expertise on this subject
Low-hanging fruits Valuable results with significant impact, which can be reached without major efforts
MECE Mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive – most often used in conjunction with structuring an issue so that the single buckets don’t overlap each other, but altogether fully describe the issue
Mission-critical Extremely important resources or topics for achieving the goal
Number crunching Analysing vast amounts of data, usually in Excel
On-the-beach Time off projects, usually between the end of one project and the start of next project the consultant is “on the beach”, although not literally
Onboard To bring somebody on board of a project by giving them a good overview of what has already happened and about current status
Optics How something will be perceived by somebody else, typically the client
Out-of-the-box Creative thinking, not limited to the current situation or a narrow framing
Out-of-thin-air Argumentation which cannot be easily defended, lacking supporting arguments
Ping Get in contact, often via direct messaging
Pipeline Upcoming projects or clients for a project
Play back Restate the information given in your own words to ensure your understanding
Progress review Regular meetings to review the progress towards a goal
Provide color Asking for a rework to make it less boring
Push-back Resistance, typically from clients
Right-size Used as a more acceptable phrase instead of downsizing
Run the numbers Create an Excel model to play through different scenarios, in practice regularly used to adjust your assumptions in such a way that they justify a predefined outcome
Sanity-check Checking plausibility of a result
Same page Being on the same page translates into having the same understanding
Scope Extent of client deliverables to be covered in a project
Straw man Typically a storyline developed for your Powerpoint presentation on a high level, without having yet done thorough analysis to defend it
Takeaway While it will often be the type of lunch in your frantic schedule, more often it refers to the key message you want to deliver in a meeting or on a slide
Top-down Opposite of bottom-up, starting with the high-level view and breaking it down into details
Touch base To get in contact with somebody e.g. to check or review progress
Utilization rate Ratio of billable hours vs. total hours
Where the rubber meets the road Moment of truth after implementing major changes, often in conjunction with the ‘real’ operations of the firm
WoMBaT, waste of money, brains and time Waste of resources, typically used to indicate that this idea doesn’t sound good
Workstream Sub-element of a project
10,000 feet view, bird’s eye view, high-level view High level, abstract view on a subject (whereas the number can be replaced by any big number)
80/20 rule Generalized approximated rule that e.g. 80% of results come from 20% of time invested, or 80% of sales from 20% of customers, etc.
Accounting noise Accounting rules which have a negative impact on the business operations
Action item To-do which needs to be done
Action plan Plan typically with action item, due date and assigned responsibility to make something happen
Action title Slide headline which actively summarizes the key message of the slide; all action titles combined together represent the storyline of your presentation
Actionable Typically in conjunction with client recommendations, so that the client can implement those recommendations realistically (and not only theoretically, due to a lack of resources, know-how, etc.)
Added value The value created by a project, person etc., usually in the context of client perception
Answer-first principle To state an answer first, before having done the work to analyze the details, thus often representing a hypothesis
AOB, any other business Used mostly for meeting agenda for a generic bucket to discuss any other issues at hand (in practice, very often the really important, delicate issues are discussed in this section which nobody dared to give explicitly on the official meeting agenda)
Ballpark number Rough estimated value of a number’s magnitude
Bandwidth, capacity, full plate Capacity to do additional work, mostly used as “having no bandwidth” or a “full plate” to indicate that you can’t put anything more on your to-do list
Big 3, MBB McKinsey, BCG, Bain as the leading 3 consulting firms
Big 4 Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG, PricewaterhouseCoopers as the leading 4 audit firms
Billable, chargeable Doing paid client work
Blanks Missing elements, often in the context with delegating some work to lower-level resources to complete the blanks
Boiling the ocean Too large scope with too much analysis to be done, often stemming from a lack of focus and clarity
Bottom-up Start with the most detailed level of granularity and aggregating information upwards (as opposed to top-down)
Buckets Categories in which certain items (like ideas, points for analysis) are structured
Buttoned-up Representing a high quality, accurate, bullet-proof piece of work which can be defended even under closest investigation
Buy-in Getting commitment or support from a stakeholder, like the client or other project team members
Charge code Specific code used to register your working hours or expenses in internal systems
Circle back Follow-up or review progress from an earlier point in time
C-level, C-suite High-level executive level, like CEO, CFO, COO etc.
Close the loop Finish your work or think something through completely so that nothing is overlooked or unfinished and that it can’t backfire
Critical path Most important steps in a project which directly influence the overall duration or quality
Deck Powerpoint presentation
Deep dive, drill-down Detailed, in-depth analysis of a certain aspect
Deliverable Result which needs to be created at the end, e.g. a Powerpoint presentation, Excel model
Double twenty-four Consecutive working time of 2x24 hours
Educated guess, guesstimate Estimate based on experience and domain expertise
Elevator test, elevator pitch Situation in which you need to give a top-down summary to a senior client or firm member within the duration of riding an elevator together
EOD End-of-day, typically used to specify a deadline like the result must be finished by the “end-of-day”, although end-of-day in consulting means practically before start of working day next morning
Engagement Consulting project
Fact pack Stack of information to collect most important information about a subject
Facetime Physical or virtual time spent with your colleagues and mostly superiors to indicate productivity and commitment, although often unnecessarily instead of enjoying your spare time
Granularity Level of detail of an analysis
Greenfield, whitefield Completely new approach or opportunity
Headcount Number of employees, typically on the basis of full-time equivalents
Hard stop Definite ending time of a meeting
Hit the ground running To add value to the project quickly
Keep it on the radar Follow-up with this issue, it might be critical now or later
KPI, key performance indicator Important metric to track business or progress
Leverage To make good use of a resource, e.g. let’s leverage our senior partner’s expertise on this subject
Low-hanging fruits Valuable results with significant impact, which can be reached without major efforts
MECE Mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive – most often used in conjunction with structuring an issue so that the single buckets don’t overlap each other, but altogether fully describe the issue
Mission-critical Extremely important resources or topics for achieving the goal
Number crunching Analysing vast amounts of data, usually in Excel
On-the-beach Time off projects, usually between the end of one project and the start of next project the consultant is “on the beach”, although not literally
Onboard To bring somebody on board of a project by giving them a good overview of what has already happened and about current status
Optics How something will be perceived by somebody else, typically the client
Out-of-the-box Creative thinking, not limited to the current situation or a narrow framing
Out-of-thin-air Argumentation which cannot be easily defended, lacking supporting arguments
Ping Get in contact, often via direct messaging
Pipeline Upcoming projects or clients for a project
Play back Restate the information given in your own words to ensure your understanding
Progress review Regular meetings to review the progress towards a goal
Provide color Asking for a rework to make it less boring
Push-back Resistance, typically from clients
Right-size Used as a more acceptable phrase instead of downsizing
Run the numbers Create an Excel model to play through different scenarios, in practice regularly used to adjust your assumptions in such a way that they justify a predefined outcome
Sanity-check Checking plausibility of a result
Same page Being on the same page translates into having the same understanding
Scope Extent of client deliverables to be covered in a project
Straw man Typically a storyline developed for your Powerpoint presentation on a high level, without having yet done thorough analysis to defend it
Takeaway While it will often be the type of lunch in your frantic schedule, more often it refers to the key message you want to deliver in a meeting or on a slide
Top-down Opposite of bottom-up, starting with the high-level view and breaking it down into details
Touch base To get in contact with somebody e.g. to check or review progress
Utilization rate Ratio of billable hours vs. total hours
Where the rubber meets the road Moment of truth after implementing major changes, often in conjunction with the ‘real’ operations of the firm
WoMBaT, waste of money, brains and time Waste of resources, typically used to indicate that this idea doesn’t sound good
Workstream Sub-element of a project

2. About the Author

Robert

McKinsey offers w/o final round interviews - 100% risk-free - 10+ years MBB coaching experience - Multiple book author

  • Professional Experience: Solutions Factory Consulting GmbH, Consulting Case Interviews, Mayr-Melnhof Group, McKinsey & Company
  • Languages: English, German
  • Location: Austria (UTC +2)

With his many years of experience at MBB, Robert is the perfect coach for precisely these job interviews. As a multiple book author, he imparts the right knowledge and helped many candidates to succeed in consulting interviews and secures MBB and Tier-2 job offers. The feedback of candidates ensures satisfaction. On PrepLounge he has a consistent 5.0-star ranking and attained certified awards over several years. Thousand of upvotes guarantee in-depth knowledge.

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