MBA Careers: How to Successfully Transition into Consulting

Consulting firms are popular, which means competition for jobs at the top firms is intense. What can you do to shine if you do not have any consulting experience?

Each year, Bain & Company recruits 200 people into its 10-week summer associate (internship) program, the majority of whom will be MBAs. The prestigious consulting firm says prior industry experience is not needed. In fact, Bain & Co values a variety of backgrounds; past interns have been doctors, teachers and even a professional drummer.

“We absolutely hire MBAs with all types of experiences,” Keith Bevans, partner and global head of consultant recruiting at Bain & Co, tells FIND MBA. “Students that are successful have the analytical skills to crack tough problems and the people skills to inspire teams and clients. Those underlying skills can be found in a wide range of careers.”

Zoe McLoughlin, head of consulting at London Business School and former recruiting manager at the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), says that most firms share Bain & Co’s view. “The big strategy consulting firms tend to hire candidates post-MBA for their transferrable skills, rather than for specific knowledge or experience,” she says. “For this reason, it is a very popular choice for career switchers and we see a lot of students transition from careers in the military or legal profession, to consulting after their MBA.”

Kelly Wilson, executive director of MBA Admissions at the Tepper School of Business, adds: “Career switchers comprise a large segment of the MBA applicant pool. The MBA is a perfect way to retool and pivot to a different industry or function.”

The Top 10 MBA Programs for Consulting

And according to Stephane Ponce, global consulting lead at INSEAD, career-switchers do not just get hired by consulting firms, but can enjoy rapid career progression too. “We have seen students who worked as engineers or investment bankers who joined consulting firms who have done really well and moved up the corporate ladder to partner level,” she says.

Consulting is among the most popular MBA career paths. At INSEAD, around half of the MBA cohort will be hired by firms including McKinsey & Company in any given year.

Just why is the field so appealing to MBAs? “It gives them exposure to all types of industries, from tech to consumer goods to private equity,” Ponce says.

It is also challenging, with consultants tasked with solving the most difficult challenges faced by multinationals.

Ponce adds: “The fast career progression, the high level of compensation, the international mobility programs in place in large firms and the excellent career opportunities post-consulting, make the sector particularly attractive.”

How to pull off a career transition into consulting

So how do you use an MBA to get into consulting? The key is to translate your achievements and skills into the language that consulting firms use, says McLoughlin at LBS. You should show how you have solved creative problems and influenced key stakeholders to achieve success — essentially what a management consultant does.

“If, however you identify gaps, like quantitative ability or relationship management, then the MBA gives you a great platform to develop these skills both in the classroom and through extra-curricular activities like internships or involvement with student clubs,” McLoughlin adds.

While it’s important to demonstrate technical ability, soft skills are equally as important to consulting firms, according to INSEAD’s Ponce. “They want to find well-rounded individuals who have strong communication and presentation skills, and who can work very well with senior clients and their teams,” she says.

At Bain & Co, Bevans recalls a standardized test tutor who “blew him away” with their communication skills. “The skills to explain complex problems in a crisp, clear way was a strength,” says Bevans. “That made this person really effective with clients early on in their career, and an awesome coach to team members.”

Utilize your career services team

Do not forget to utilize your career services team. Eunice Bii used an MBA at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business to transition from an analyst role to consultant. Bii works at BCG in New York city and says she used her MBA’s career services to better understand the consulting recruitment process. Consulting firms usually require several rounds of interviews and case studies in which candidates solve business challenges.

“We talked about how to leverage my strengths when networking and at the same time, being honest about the areas I had to work on before interviewing,” she says.

McLoughlin adds: “The case interview is obviously a critical part of the recruitment process. But being fantastic at cases is irrelevant if you don’t also build rapport with your interviewers and have some great stories to tell.

“The fit interview is the chance to really shine a light on your individual strengths and students neglect preparing for this at their peril.”

Bevans says the best interview candidates at Bain & Co ask questions that show they have done their homework in advance. But those whose responses appear too scripted can let their applications down. “It’s fairly obvious when someone is putting on a show, and I’d really encourage interviewees to stay true to themselves during the process,” Bevans says.

That means using your prior industry experience to your advantage, whatever field you come from. Ultimately, consulting firms not only accept people from non-traditional backgrounds, but covet them.

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