Become a Top Consultant: The Consulting Recruiting Process

Management Consulting, brimming with prestige, intellectual stimulation, and promising career opportunities, is one of the most sought-after sectors for ambitious professionals. A consulting career is not only rewarding but also enriching, as it allows individuals to work across multiple industries, tackle diverse business challenges, interact with top-level executives, and also get opportunities to develop themselves into better professionals.

Since the cohort of aspiring candidates is large and the final pool of consultants is relatively small by comparison, the consulting recruiting process can be a challenging and competitive journey. Besides being challenging, the process is also very mentally grueling. Including preparation, the process can be 3–6 months long for most candidates, sometimes even stretching up to 9 months. It can be very easy to feel lost and aimless at times, not knowing what to do next. Eventually, the consulting recruiting process is a rigorous and competitive journey designed to test your problem-solving abilities, communication skills, and cultural fit.

In this guide, we'll provide you with a roadmap to navigate each stage of the consulting recruiting process, helping you stand out from the competition and land your dream job. Note that the exact process will vary for each candidate depending on various factors. This article only portrays a typical consulting recruiting process. It is recommended that you discuss your specific situation with your coach before proceeding.

Consulting Recruiting Process

Deciding

This stage requires deep self-reflection to understand and affirm your decision to join a consulting firm. Balancing the merits, such as the potential for rapid career growth, exposure to a variety of industries, and the opportunity to solve complex business problems, against the challenges like long working hours, frequent travel, and high-pressure environments is essential. This introspection will not only help in preparing for behavioral interviews but also ensure that you are making a well-informed career decision.

Watch out for:

  • It is crucial not to rush this stage. Many people are enticed by the prestige of consulting and overlook the challenges that come with the job. Make sure you are making a well-informed decision based on a realistic understanding of the consulting lifestyle, including the long hours, high-pressure environment, and extensive travel.
  • Consulting can offer exciting opportunities for personal and professional growth, but it's important to ensure it aligns with your long-term career goals and personal commitments.

How to navigate:

  • This stage primarily involves introspection and research. Reach out to people who are already in the industry and learn from their experiences. This can include university alumni, colleagues or target schools, and even people you meet through networking events.
  • Additionally, self-reflection on your career goals, lifestyle preferences, and personal commitments is essential. Make sure to document your thoughts, so you can refer back to them during the recruitment process.

Identifying Target Firms

Today's consulting landscape is diverse and provides a multitude of options beyond the traditional MBB route. With firms specializing in sectors like technology, healthcare, and transportation or focusing on specific areas such as sustainability or human development, it's crucial to identify the right fit for your interests and career aspirations. Consider factors such as the firm's reputation, culture, specialization, office locations, and opportunities for growth.

Watch out for:

  • Be careful not to restrict your options only to the most famous MBB firms or those with perceived prestige. There are many consulting firms out there, each with its own unique strengths and culture. Smaller or niche firms could offer opportunities that better align with your interests and career goals.
  • Furthermore, do not rely solely on firms’ self-descriptions in their marketing materials. Try to gain a realistic understanding of each firm’s culture, work style, and values through networking and independent research.
  • Also, remember that consulting roles can vary significantly across different offices of the same firm. So, be mindful of the specific characteristics and opportunities of the particular offices you are interested in.

How to navigate:

  • Understanding the landscape of consulting firms requires diligent research. Leverage resources like firm websites, industry reports, social media, and consulting forums to gain a broad view of the industry. This will help you understand the key players, their specialties, and what they offer.
  • You may also benefit from speaking to current and former consultants who can provide firsthand insights about the firms you're interested in.

Networking

Networking is a strategic move during this stage. Building connections with current or former employees of your target firms can provide valuable insights into the firm's culture, recruitment process, and expectations. Networking events, information sessions, social platforms like LinkedIn, and alumni networks are useful resources.

Watch out for:

  • Networking is about building relationships, not just seeking referrals. Don't approach it as a transaction, but rather as a way to learn and connect. Keep in mind the principles of reciprocity and genuineness when networking. It's not only about what you can gain from the interaction, but also what you can give.
  • Respect the time and expertise of the person you're reaching out to and ensure to follow up with a “Thank You” note.

How to navigate:

  • Networking is best approached with a long-term perspective. Start by identifying individuals in your target firms and reaching out to them for informational interviews. These interactions provide you the opportunity to ask in-depth questions about their roles and experiences.
  • Be proactive and respectful in your communication, and remember to express gratitude for their time. Also, consider attending industry events, webinars, and career fairs.

Profile Curation

Your CV and cover letter are crucial tools that convey your skills, achievements, and motivation to join the consulting world. Crafting a powerful CV, honing your elevator pitch, and tailoring a compelling cover letter template will set you on a firm footing for the application stage.

Watch out for:

  • Be mindful of the temptation to create a generic CV and cover letter. Each firm has its own unique culture, values, and requirements, so your documents should be tailored accordingly.
  • Ensure that your profile connects with the target profile in a credible and substantial way. Your efforts in carefully curating your profile will be evident in the quality of your CV and cover letter.

How to navigate:

  • Crafting a standout CV and cover letter is a process that can take several iterations. Start by listing all your relevant experiences, skills, and achievements.
  • Then, strategically tailor this information to the requirements of your target firms. It might be helpful to have someone in the industry or a coach review your documents.
  • Also, remember to keep refining your elevator pitch; it will come in handy not just during interviews, but also at networking events.

Fit Preparation

Fit or behavioral interviews evaluate whether your values, work style, and career aspirations align with the firm. It's essential to understand the values of your target firms and reflect on your experiences that demonstrate these values. Preparing for common behavioral questions will also help you articulate your experiences effectively. You can use PrepLounge to practice for your fit preparation with other case partners.

Watch out for:

  • Fit or behavioral interviews are not to be taken lightly. Over the years, they have become an increasingly important part of the consulting recruitment process. It's not just about having the right skills or experiences; firms want to see if your values align with theirs and if you'll fit into their culture.
  • Be prepared to showcase your soft skills, such as leadership, teamwork, and communication, in addition to your technical capabilities.

How to navigate:

  • Begin by identifying the values and culture of each target firm. This information is typically available on the company’s website or can be gleaned through networking. Once you know what they're looking for, reflect on your experiences, identify your strengths, and understand how these align with the firm's values.
  • Practice articulating your experiences in a compelling and concise manner. It's also beneficial to prepare answers to common behavioral questions, making sure each answer showcases different aspects of your profile.

Case Preparation

Given the pivotal role of case interviews in consulting recruitment, beginning your preparation early is advisable. Case interviews simulate real consulting scenarios and evaluate your problem-solving skills. Familiarizing yourself with different types of casesframeworks and practicing case interviews should be part of your preparation.

Watch out for:

  • While it's essential to be well-prepared for case interviews, be wary of over-preparation or developing a rigid thought process. Case interviews are designed to test your problem-solving skills in an unpredictable, real-world context. You should be flexible in your approach and avoid sticking to memorized frameworks.
  • Equally, avoid creating and adhering to bad habits that could impair your problem-solving skills.
  • Be open to feedback and willing to adjust your strategy as needed. Lastly, ensure you're not neglecting other aspects of your application in your quest to master the case interview.

How to navigate:

  • For case interview preparation, you should create a consistent and regular practice schedule. Utilize case prep books, online resources, and mock interview opportunities. Early on, focus on understanding different types of cases and the frameworks used to solve them.
  • As you progress, practice under realistic conditions, focusing on articulating your thought process clearly. Seek feedback from your practice partners and make the necessary adjustments. If possible, hiring a case interview coach or joining a case prep program can provide structured guidance and feedback.
  • Remember, case preparation is a marathon, not a sprint. Balance your preparation with rest to avoid burnout.

Application Stage (Up to 3 Months Prior to Interview)

The application stage varies depending on several factors, such as whether you are applying through a campus placement process, as an experienced hire, independently, or through a referral. Other factors include whether a recruiter scouted you, the office location you're applying to, the position for which you're applying, and whether there is an online application portal or you're applying via email. Typically, you will need your CV at a minimum. In some cases, a cover letter, a statement of purpose, and other documentation like university degrees or proof of qualifications might be required.

Watch out for:

  • Details of the application process:
    The recruiter often provides specific guidance for the application that must be followed. For instance, once a candidate applying for an Engagement Manager role was confused when the application link from HR listed only Associate and Consultant as the roles. Upon checking with HR, the candidate was informed that choosing either option would not affect his application. Paying attention to such small details can help ensure a correct application. Following instructions regarding file format, size, naming conventions, etc. can also be crucial. Ignoring these can make you seem careless and may lead to application rejection.
  • Deadlines:
    Missing any application deadlines may result in an automatic rejection of your application from the application portal. It is a clear sign of carelessness and can be considered unprofessional.
  • Inconsistencies:
    Any inconsistencies or false information in your application can raise red flags for recruiters and could lead to rejection. Candidates often try to cover up gaps or misrepresent their roles or titles in the CV, but background checks can reveal the truth and lead to immediate rejection or even blacklisting.
  • Generic application:
    Submitting a generic CV or a one-size-fits-all statement of purpose can often lead to rejection at the screening stage. Tailoring your application to the specific firm and role shows dedication and enhances your chances of success. For instance, a candidate applying for a technology expert role had a strong tech background but failed to highlight this in the CV, thus decreasing his chances of successful screening. Their past professional experience and hobbies were all technology-oriented.
    However, their CV talked about all other details except technology. It had key clients, it had team leadership examples, and it even had some unique hobbies. But the candidate was not laying down the tech-focused aspects of all their work. Generic statements of purpose and generic CVs can show a lack of dedication towards the application.

How to navigate:

  • Clarify:
    Ensure you're clear on the application process and any associated details. As discussed above, things like file formats, file sizes, deadlines, and any other specific details in the application.
  • Ask for help:
    Reach out to people in your network who have been through the process before. They can provide valuable insights and might be able to review your application materials.
  • Do your homework:
    Understand the specific requirements and preferences of each firm you're applying to. Each firm, and even different offices within the same firm, can have different expectations. Each application should be tailored to the specific firm and role you're applying for. This means that you need to understand the firm's values, priorities, and culture and make sure that these are reflected in your application.
  • Tailor your application:
    Adapt your CV for each application. Highlight the skills and experiences that are most relevant to the specific role and firm. Similarly, a customized and personalized cover letter may sometimes seem optional, but it can be a powerful tool to make your application stand out.
  • Be proactive:
    Start your application process early. This will give you time to thoroughly prepare and review your application materials and to deal with any unexpected issues that might arise.
  • Proofread everything:
    Typos and grammatical errors can leave a bad impression. Be sure to proofread your application materials several times, and consider asking someone else to review them as well.
  • Follow up:
    If you haven't heard back after a reasonable amount of time, it's appropriate to follow up with the recruiter or hiring manager. This shows your continued interest in the role and can help keep your application on their radar. While many consulting companies make it a point to clearly communicate a screening acceptance or rejection – meaning that no-communication does not mean a rejection. Regardless, it is definitely worth following up.
  • Overall preparation:
    Ensure that you feel you are at least 80% prepared with your case interview and fit interview prep when you are applying. This will help you maintain the right momentum when reaching the interview stage. Conversely, it will also provide you with a reasonable buffer in case your interview dates get accelerated due to urgent hiring requirements.

Pre-Interview Stage (Up to 1 Month Prior to Interview)

After submitting your application, the firm may take anywhere from a day to several months to process it. The shortest screening period witnessed is less than a day, while the longest stretches to eight months. Most consulting firms will notify you if you do not pass the screening stage. However, if you haven't heard from the recruiters after a significant period, it is worth following up. Many candidates interpret radio silence as a sign of rejection, but in most cases, the application is still under review.

Upon successful application screening, this pre-interview stage largely consists of further screening tests, while you should be consistently practicing for the interview in the background. The screening tests have diversified over time to cater to the various evaluation needs of these firms and potentially accommodate any gamification, as these tests are generally unproctored. Consulting firms also differentiate their approach to maintain their distinct identities.

Commonly seen screening tests these days include

case interview tests
  • McKinsey Problem Solving Test (PST):
    These include numerical tests, verbal reasoning, logical reasoning, pattern recognition, comprehension, standard SOVA tests, and so on.
  • McKinsey Problem Solving Game:
    This is a new variety that has entered the market in recent years, with McKinsey’s Imbellus being the most common example.
  • BCG Case Bot/BCG Casey :
    Another recent variety, with BCG's Online Case being most prevalent.
  • Psychometrics:
    A classic test that dates back a long time but is declining in popularity.
  • … and many others.

Watch out for:

  • Surprise:
    Many candidates find these tests surprisingly challenging due to a lack of familiarity and practice. Candidates often concentrate so much on preparing for interviews that they overlook the importance of these screening tests. In some instances, candidates do not even research the basic parameters of the test and are caught off guard by time constraints, the difficulty level, or the contents of the test.
  • Deadlines:
    As with the application process, respecting deadlines is crucial to maintaining your candidacy in the recruiting process.
  • Importance: Some candidates consider these screening tests to be mere formalities and end up making mistakes due to lack of seriousness. Regardless of your application’s journey, it's essential to treat every test with respect and diligence.
  • Malpractice:
    Some candidates, knowing that these tests are unproctored, try to take shortcuts by keeping a calculator or an Excel sheet handy or using pre-set models. However, it's important to remember that such practices generally do not pay off. Most tests have been intelligently designed to be completed using just a pen and paper, provided you've practiced sufficiently. Honesty and integrity should be key values guiding your test-taking strategy.

How to navigate:

  • Prepare thoroughly:
    The best way to tackle challenges at this stage is through diligent preparation. Learn about the different tests, ask the recruiter for clarifications when in doubt, and explore preparatory materials available on platforms like PrepLounge and elsewhere on the internet. Include time for test practice in your study plan.
  • Don't underestimate:
    Treat the tests with due seriousness. Consider them to be critical steppingstones in your job application journey. Avoiding complacency at this stage can save you from regret later if you face rejection due to poor test performance.
  • Integrity and honesty:
    Uphold your integrity and honesty while taking the tests. Not only is it an ethical obligation, but it also reinforces self-confidence and reinforces a positive self-image.
  • Consistent practice:
    Remember, practice is the key to success. Consistent practice familiarizes you with the test's structure, time constraints, and helps improve speed and accuracy.
  • Ask for help:
    Seek guidance from peers, coaches, mentors, or people who've already been through the process. Their insights and tips could prove invaluable. They might also be able to help you simulate test conditions and provide constructive feedback.

Interview (T Minus Zero)

Upon surpassing the screening tests, you approach the pivotal moment: the interviews. Customarily, consulting firms orchestrate a series of 4 interviews scattered across two distinct rounds. This particular setup ensures that you complete all the interviews within a specific round before the firm determines your progression to the subsequent round or the conclusion of your journey. The standard duration of an interview is typically around 45 minutes, but some firms may extend this to an hour and a half. However, variations do exist:

  • Some firms may conduct 5–6 interviews.
  • A select few firms may organize standalone HR interviews, although this is not common.
  • Some firms might limit their interviews to 2 or 3. For instance, BCG has recently transitioned to conducting only one interview for the first round for many candidates.
  • There are instances where a firm may offer a second chance at the final interview if they are undecided about a candidate.
  • Certain firms may forego conducting any interviews with a Partner, while others may exclusively arrange Partner interviews.

Regardless of these variations, the fundamental essence of the interviews remains consistent: assessing your aptitude, knowledge, and cultural fit for the firm. Note that consecutive interviews and interview rounds can happen over the span of 1–2 days or even be spread out as far as a month. It really depends on the availability of the interviewer.

Watch out for:

  • Dress code:
    Often, candidates underestimate the importance of the dress code, which can lead to a poor first impression. Familiarize yourself with the company's dress code for interviews and adhere to it. When in doubt, err on the side of being more formal. A professional appearance is a non-verbal communication of your seriousness and respect for the company.
  • Time management:
    Punctuality is key; arriving late can reflect poorly on your organizational skills and respect for the interviewer's time. Also, be mindful of the duration of your responses. Overrunning your allotted time might indicate a lack of preparation or an inability to express ideas concisely.
  • Overconfidence or nervousness:
    Striking the right emotional balance is critical. Exuding confidence is positive, but overconfidence can be off-putting, suggesting arrogance. Conversely, excessive nervousness can impair your communication and problem-solving abilities.
  • Unexpected occurrences:
    Interviews can sometimes take unexpected turns with challenging questions or unforeseen scenarios. These are meant to test your ability to think on your feet and remain composed under pressure. Be prepared to handle such surprises without letting them throw you off your game.
  • Speech etiquette:
    Pay attention to your communication patterns. Hasty speech, filler words, or long periods of silence can hinder the flow of conversation. Practice clear, concise speech, and remember that well-placed pauses can demonstrate thoughtful reflection.
  • Technical glitches:
    In the era of virtual interviews, ensure that you have a stable internet connection, a quiet environment, and that your system is functioning correctly before the interview commences.

How to navigate:

  • Pre-interview rituals:
    Establish a calming routine to start your day. Engage in some form of physical activity, enjoy a healthy breakfast, and allow plenty of time to get dressed and set up your interview space. Such rituals can set a positive tone, helping you feel prepared and confident.
  • Relaxation techniques:
    Incorporate techniques like deep-breathing exercises or mindfulness meditation to manage nerves. Even just a few minutes of calming music or a brief relaxation activity can help center your thoughts and emotions.
  • Setup check:
    Particularly for virtual interviews, run a technical check well before the interview to ensure everything is functioning correctly.
  • Punctuality:
    Aim to be ready at least 15 minutes prior to the interview. This shows respect for the interviewer's time and allows you to make last-minute adjustments and gather your thoughts.
  • Mental preparation:
    Dedicate time to mental and emotional preparation. Reflect on your skills, strengths, and reasons why you're a suitable fit for the role. Visualize successful interview scenarios to build self-assurance. It's essential to enter the interview with a clear and positive mindset.
  • After-interview care:
    Refrain from immediate self-evaluation post-interview. Allow yourself some time to relax and recover from the intensity of the situation. Over-analysis or over-criticism can lead to unnecessary stress and self-doubt. Remember, each interview is a learning experience, whether it results in a job offer or not.

Post-Interview Stage (Few Days to Few Weeks)

Following the interview process, consulting firms embark on the critical decision-making phase. This phase typically involves a dialogue among your interviewers and other decision-makers within the firm. Generally, this process spans a few days to a couple of weeks. This duration can feel like an eternity, and it is crucial during this period to maintain a balanced mindset and not succumb to anxiety or speculation.

Here are the key points to consider during this stage:

  • Awaiting decision:
    During this period, maintaining mental balance is critical. Try not to let your mind drift into constant overthinking about the outcome. It's a period of waiting, which can lead to uncertainty and anxiety. Instead, channel your energy into other constructive activities or hobbies. This can keep your mind focused and prevent unnecessary stress. Remember, no good will come out of mere speculation.
  • Follow-up correspondence:
    While it's important not to overwhelm the firm with incessant messages, a professionally crafted follow-up email or message (depending on the dominant mode of communication in earlier stages) can be sent if the decision-making process surpasses a reasonable timeline. However, be sure to maintain patience and avoid jumping to negative conclusions in the event of delayed responses. Many candidates assume that radio-silence means rejections. However, most consulting firms will clearly inform you even about rejections.
  • Feedback request:
    If your application does not culminate in an offer, it can be worthwhile to politely request feedback from your interviews. This feedback, if provided, can serve as a valuable guide to areas that need improvement for future opportunities. Remember, not every firm provides feedback, so respect their policies and be understanding of their decisions.
  • Handling rejection:
    Rejection is an integral part of the job search process. While it is completely natural to feel disheartened after one or two rejections, it's vital to maintain your composure even in the face of a series of rejections. Use each rejection as a learning opportunity, evaluate your performance objectively, absorb the feedback received, and refine your approach for future interviews.
  • Comparing job offers:
    If you are fortunate enough to receive multiple offers from different firms, you're faced with the task of evaluation. Rather than focusing solely on the individual components like role, location, and salary consider the holistic experience each firm offers. This includes aspects such as cultural fit, the learning opportunities, the potential for growth, and alignment with your long-term career goals.
  • Negotiation:
    In most top-tier consulting firms, salaries are generally fixed. However, some room for negotiation might exist with smaller firms. Elements that could potentially be negotiated include the signing bonus, relocation assistance, or even the tenure in your joining position. Always communicate your concerns clearly and professionally during these negotiations, maintaining respect and consideration throughout the process.

Regardless of the outcome, it's essential to remember that the interview process is more than just a pathway to a job offer. It serves as a learning opportunity about the industry, the specific firm, and also about your capabilities. Moreover, it's a valuable platform to network with professionals in the consulting field. Reflect on your overall experience and consider the learnings you've gathered along the journey.

Don't forget that the consulting recruiting process is a long and challenging journey. It tests not just your abilities, but also your perseverance and determination. However, with thorough preparation, strategic navigation, and unwavering commitment, you can stand out in this competitive process and land your dream job in consulting. Always remember that every stage, whether it results in success or not, is an opportunity to learn and grow.

Good luck on your journey!

About the Author

Agrim

BCG Dubai Project Leader | I will transform your thinking about Consulting Interviews

  • Professional Experience: BCG, Opera Solutions
  • Languages: English,
  • Location: United Arab Emirates

Agrim is an interview coach, former BCG Project Leader, and Solutions Analyst at Opera Solutions. He is a Specialist in PEI / Fit / Unorthodox Cases / CV / Market Sizing. Agrim helped a lot of candidates to land offers from McKinsey, BCG, and Bain. He is an expert in the Middle East (Saudi Arabia / Dubai / Qatar / Abu Dhabi / Oman / Kuwait). As a consultant, Agrim worked as a Project Leader at BCG for four years. Before that, he was a Solutions Analyst for Opera Solutions for two years. 

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