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How hard is it to excel in top consulting firms?

Bain BCG MBB McKinsey performance work
New answer on May 10, 2020
9 Answers
4.5 k Views
Anonymous A asked on May 08, 2020

The title says it all - how difficult is working at MBB? You can hear different opinions on this - some people say that it is incredibly tough, while others claim that a lot of tasks are not very demanding. On the other hand, it seems like you need to be extremely intelligent and be super proficient in quantitative analysis to exceed there. All of this sounds quite intimidating. So I wonder what is true - is a high level of "inborn" intelligence required, or is it more about hard work and staying career-focused?

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Anonymous replied on May 08, 2020

You will get many opinion on this - Let me tell you my views: I was labeled as an underperformer in my first year of consulting, and after 5 years, I was receiving top performance reviews and these were the attributes that i worked on that made the difference.

  • To excel in consulting, you need to be reliable. An unreliable genius is useless when there are tight deadlines and clear tasks. Reliability means multiple things: 1) you can meet the deadline (or workplan) set with your project manager 2) you can quickly backup the data you are using on your slides/excel - you research work should always be organized and ready to be pulled out if anyone asks about it 3) you listen to the feedback you receive and you implement it! never get the same feedback twice from the same person!
  • To excel in consulting, you need to be humble. You will be receiving feedback every day, almost every 2 hours sometimes. You need to learn to take it in and always remembers that as a consulant you are always learning how to improve. Never think you are too smart for a task. Every task can be done in smart/genius way if you apply yourself (even ordering food - i had an intern who created a vba code to automate food ordering for the team instead of looking at this task as a waste of time)
  • To excel in consulting, you need to always be curious. Knowledge is built though small additions. Every day, read 2-3 Economist articles. Every weekend learn new excel shortcuts. Every couple of days read about the industries you like, become the expert you would like to be. Every week reach 50 pages from your favorite book.

Consulting is not rocket science - No one is born seeing life in MECE frameworks - your seniors (and the industry) will teach you, you just need to listen and apply.

I hope this helps.

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Anonymous replied on May 10, 2020


All the previous comments cover the key success factors. I would just underline the importance of emotional intelligence, soft skills and your power of will.



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replied on May 08, 2020
McKinsey Senior EM & BCG Consultant | Interviewer at McK & BCG for 7 years | Coached 350+ candidates secure MBB offers

Hi Anonymous,

your certainly need to meet a certain threshold regarding cognitive smartness ("IQ"). However, you do not need to be Albert Einstein for sure! If you meet that required IQ floor level, it is much more important that you

  • are able to navigate social/political client settings,
  • build trust quickly,
  • have the work ethic to put in the hours, which can be brutal at times.

This is why you need a well-rounded profile as a consultant - if it was only about cognitive smartness, the firms could just abolish iterviews and offer huge salary packages to the best graduates from the most difficult study programmes at universities around the globe.

Cheers, Sidi

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Anonymous replied on May 09, 2020

Hi, generally if you can pass the case interview you will be able to do the job. However, it is a tough competition inside to stay on top. I want to response to this questions from the soft side as I think the technical requirement is pretty obvious:

  1. Stay humble - you don't know everything, so always ready to seek help when appropriate and open to collaborate with others in the firm
  2. Adjust the mindset - consulting is hardwork so your expectation of work life balance should not be how much hour you work but how to manage your social life together with your worklife
  3. Consulting is relationship business - care for your client, they genuinely need your help otherwise they will not pay 500bucks an hour for your service. Always strive to find the right answer for your client not only how to complete your module / slides
  4. Discipline - Your case interview simulate how you need to think about your work, logical, structured, hypothesis driven, well planned (even better if you can also apply this in every aspect of your life hahaha...)
  5. Life if more difficult at the top so every promotion is a new challenge that you need to embrace it happlily

Again this is from my experience of working in different firms with so many different colleagues. I saw people with amazing profile and credentials got councel out due to a combination of the above reason

Hope this helps :)

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Content Creator
replied on May 08, 2020
McKinsey | NASA | top 10 FT MBA professor for consulting interviews | 6+ years of coaching

Hi, do not worry now about excel skills. Nobody request yu a proficiency in it before joining consulting and everything is learnable in the first weeks of the project. "This is not rocket science" is one of the most common proverbs in consulting and sincerely it is rare to use tools more complex than pivot tables, vlookup and - at most - a macro.


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replied on May 08, 2020
McKinsey / Accenture Alum / Got all BIG3 offers / Harvard Business School


The most important thing you need to understand is that consulting is a client business and client is always first. Here is my subjective view of what's needed to succeed on different levels of hierarchy. Pls take into account that it's the ideal state and getting these skills is a journey.

Analyst / associate level

  • Having a good DGL / career counselor, etc. (Each company has different names). This is a person who guides your development in the company, collects the feedbacks on you, and presents your case to a promotion committee. Make sure to have a person who is organized enough to collect the feedbacks in time, who is a nice person in general and who has enough authority in the company (i.e. Senior partner - the more power he has - the better)
  • Choosing the project you work on smartly (i.e. collect the feedbacks on each and everyone prior to accepting the project)
  • Perfect technical skills (Excel, PPT, Problem Solving)
  • Good feedbacks on you from the client. Thus try to make friends with your clients (Both senior and non-senior role. Even a bad feedback from a blue collar can ruin your career)
  • Ability to manage your own standalone workstream with minimum supervision. TOP performers bring the end products that impress others
  • Being proactive - helping the team with daily routine, scheduling, etc. Participating in the office initiatives
  • Establishing relationships with your managers and partners. Ideally, you should have multiple senior partners to be excited about you and to support you)
  • Being lucky!

Manager level

A lot of the above, plus:

  • Having your client happy - this is the most important! If the client is happy - everything else will work
  • Managing multiple partners who have different opinions. Since partners have a busy schedule it becomes very tricky to synchronize them and to align the viewpoints
  • Good feedbacks from your team - having a happy team is important. Unfortunately, sometimes it's a trade-off between having your client and partner happy
  • Telling about your success on projects to others - I'm personally not a fan of this kind of selling, but I know many people who made a career using this skill

Principal level

A lot from the above, plus:

  • Having multiple clients happy
  • Having a long list of partners supporting you (More than 10)
  • Contributions to the development of the company (Knowledge, office ops, etc)
  • Selling the projects. If you manage to sell to existing clients or even bring the new clients - you are the champion.

Partner level

A lot of the above, plus:

  • Sales, sales, sales
  • Luck


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Content Creator
replied on May 10, 2020
McKinsey | Awarded professor at Master in Management @ IE | MBA at MIT |+180 students coached | Integrated FIT Guide aut


I would start with a counter-question: what is your definition of excel?



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Content Creator
replied on May 08, 2020
#1 BCG coach | MBB | Tier 2 | Digital, Tech, Platinion | 100% personal success rate (8/8) | 95% candidate success rate

Hi there,

Let's simplify here using what you've learned from casing :)

To thrive in top consulting firms, you need to:

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 replied on May 08, 2020


On top of what has already been said before, MBB have welcome training programs to onboard new joiners on Excel, Powerpoint ,...

Also, MBB have developed in-house tools helping (e.g. Office add ins) consultants being more efficient. It takes a bit of time to get familiar with all those tools and to be fully efficient but it's more about practicality than intelligence !

Hope it helps.


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