Consultant (post mba role) vs. associate (pre mba role)

New answer on Jan 07, 2021
5 Answers
Anonymous A asked on Jan 01, 2021

I joined a consulting firm as a consultant (post MBA level), one rank higher than associate (pre MBA level). This staffing structure is the same as investment banking, where MBA graduates are hired at a higher ranking. I would really appreciate your advice on a few questions:

(1) How to demonstrate an MBA graduate's value, compared to the pre-MBA associates? Although I have a few years of work experience and have gained my MBA degree, the associates have a couple years' of experience at the firm, meaning that they are technically stronger than me. How could I differentiate myself to justify my "higher ranking"?

(2) How to lead suboordinate who has more consulting experience and technical skills than you?

(3) I have heard that "soft skills become much more important than technical skills when your rank gets higher, and the focus becomes building relationships with clients and managing people". Although I am strong at soft skills, as a consultant I feel that hard skill is more important, as soft skill is not that easy to demonstrate clearly and the value add is not obvious. My boss gives me great exposures (taking me out to meet potential clients for example), but at the same time I am spending more time to do pitch decks and ad hoc research, while junior people are focusing on projects, crunching the numbers, and building strong technical skill. I feel a bit lost as I find it hard to proove my value (my soft skill advantage), and I am spending relatively lower time on the techinical side.

Thank you for your advice!


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Content Creator
updated an answer on Jan 02, 2021
MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep

Hi there,

Great question.

In essence, remember that they excel at the firm-specific stuff. As in, they will know how to do powerpoint, excel, operate with the daily cadences/company-speak more easily.

However, you will have life experience, judgement/decision-making, and client management skills.

You are both valuable and need each other! Importantly, be ok with them being better than you at certain things. Leverage what they're good at, learn from them, AND teach them what you're good at.

1) Leverage the skills you do have...i.e. judgement, insights, client management, etc. etc. You are generally more mature....leverage this

2) As mentioned above, be comfortable with what they're good at. Take their guidance/advice and learn from them. Be secure (not insecure) about what you need to improve on

3) Exactly. This is how it "should" be. Don't fight this. This is your job. You are supposed to be strong in the soft skills/intangibles...


Now, here are some general tips for consulting

Read the 25 tips in my consulting handbook here:

What to expect in the first 90 days (and how to thrive) -

What to prepare/learn beforehand -

How to improve your ability to remember details -

How to be confident -

Notetaking effectively -

Finally, Think about consulting like casing:

Think about your job as you do a case (hey, they weren't created for nothing)

1) Understand the context/prompt (what role are you in, what company, who's watching, etc.)

2) Understand the objective (what, specifically, is expected from you...both day to day, and in your overall career progression)

3) Quickly process information, and focus on what's important - Take a lot of information and the unknown, find the most logical path, and focus on that.

4) Be comfortable with the unknown, and learn to brainstorm - think/speak like an expert without being one

In summary, there will always be a flood of information, expectations, competition etc. and not enough time. Find out which ones matter when. (i.e. be visibile and focus efforts on the things that people care about)


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Anonymous A on Jan 02, 2021

Thanks a lot, Ian! This really helped me a lot!

Content Creator
replied on Jan 02, 2021
Accenture, Deloitte | Precision Case Prep | Experienced Interviewer & Career Coach | 15 years professional experience

Hey there,

1. Show value via business & industry insights, maturity & communication skills. Keep in touch with your MBA network and draw upon for coaching, insights etc- this personally helped me a lot during my early consulting days. Also remember MBA is a great qualification which will open doors for you, but rest is in your hands i.e you have to prove your worth every new place you go

2. Empower them to be successful & assure them that you got their back. Guide them as you are more experienced so can spot opportunities they cant. You must expect the same from your manager/boss

3. Both are important! With time and and as you become senior you will be expected to build specialism and skills in a function or industry. This is the T model - know a little bit about everything (top of the T) but a lot about something (stick of the T). You cant ignore the technical side. No one expects you to be a an expert Python coder but you must understand how Python is used and what kind of skills Python coder bring in- this is an example

All the best!

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Content Creator
replied on Jan 02, 2021
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


This is really common, so for sure there are other people in your shoes feeling the same. Thanks for sharing.

My toughts:

  1. There is not a recipe for this, try to do your best every day
  2. Try to put into value the skills and experience that you do have, in contrast
  3. I agree that soft skills grow in importance, but get your point. It´s a balance, and you need to cultuvate both until you feel you are raising the bar

Hope it helps!



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Content Creator
replied on Jan 05, 2021
Ex-Mckinsey|Certified Career Coach |Placed 500+ candidates at MBB & other consultancies

Hello there!

  1. Justifying your higher ranking would take some time, so do your utmost and perform well, that's the main thing. I'm sure you do have many skills, just try to implement them when doing the job.
  2. It's ok that there's something that they are better at, as a leader you need to admit that something can be also learned from subordinates.
  3. They both are important and there's no need to underestimate hard skills, as sometimes it's a mix of them. Try to stay patient and you'll have a chance to demonstrate how strong at soft skills you are.

Hope it helps and good luck!

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Anonymous replied on Jan 07, 2021


There is no point in trying to prove your value is higher than the Associates. I think you should just focus on doing the job well and ALWAYS open to learn from everyone including the juniors. Nothing worse for an Associate (without MBA) than an MBA without consulting background that think they know everything :)

Your soft skills will be useful at the right time, don't worry about it.


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MBB | 100% personal interview success rate (8/8) and 95% candidate success rate | Personalized interview prep
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