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Mid-career shifts

Anonymous A asked on Jun 05, 2018 - 3 answers

Hi all, my question may be somewhat unusual for this site.

I am currently in a boutique consulting firm, working mostly with the international development banks and agencies on strategy and evaluation. I am interested in making the shift to one of the big firms, because (a) I would like to increase the scope and impact of my work, (b) get experience with a larger number of sectors, and (c) since I work very hard and long anyway, more rewards (measured also in terms of networks, wealth of experience etc) would be welcome.

I had the following alternative pathways in my mind currently:

1. Use my academic degree. Firms like BCG make a big point about recruiting advanced degree graduates. I did get a PhD in the last five years and could probably try to go this route. This may be easier because it allows me to get away as an expert in a discipline rather than pretending to have experience with corporate consulting.

2. Use my experience. Apply for regular positions (with the networking, of course) for consultant positions. This may be much more difficult for me since I do not have an MBA or experience in large management consulting.

In your experience do any of these approaches actually work? Do you know of people who have made this transition from a small firm to a big one? Am I missing something here?

Any tips would be really welcome. Thank you so much!


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replied on Jun 06, 2018
Bain & Company | University of Cambridge | CV/Resume writing | 770 GMAT
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Hey there,

The ease of doing this depends a bit on where you are. In the UK it is very common for people to transition 3-4+ years into their career into consulting at MBB. In fact I know several colleagues that transitioned from boutique consultancies to Bain. However, in the US (at least at Bain), this is much rarer, where the majority of the intake joins either right out of undergraduate or post-MBA.

One risk of transitioning is that you will "lose" a year or two in terms of the position you join - one of my colleagues was already at the post-MBA position at a boutique consultancies but had to join Bain as a pre-MBA position, with opportunity for fast track promotion.

Overall the best option in both cases is to network and either try get a referral or meet the people that will likely review your CV or have input into you getting an interview. The "path" you choose - i.e. try leverage your PhD and join as an expert in your field or try a regular transition depends heavily on the firm, the office, and the available positions.

replied on Jun 06, 2018
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You can also simply apply to the regular track and leverage your general background. Two friends of mine did this, including one who joined BCG after 2 years in a boutique firm and did extremely well while there.

replied on Jun 05, 2018
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You can leverage your PHDin the following cases:

  • The topic of your research is relevant for particular industries / functions and has some real life applicability
  • The quant research methods you've used make you relevant for consulting

The outcome, in this case, depends on the role you are applying for:

  • If you get a role as an industry / functional expert, your salary might be lower and the career growth a bit slower than the generalist. However, McKinsey recently added and expert trek to the partner.
  • You may also get a role as a generalist and specialize further in the topic of your PHD. In that case, you apply in a general pool but leverage your PHD expertise in your stories and later while looking for projects.

Finally why do you think you can't make a transition now? I recommend you find a person who can make a referral and submit directly. More on referral here:


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