We have listed some of the most common reasons applicants fail to get traction during consulting applications and during their networking as well.
Does not understand management consulting. This is very, very common. A candidate attended a business school dinner or presentation by BCG and was dazzled by the prestige, power, lifestyle, salaries, respect and awe inspired by the firm. Excited to be part of this establishment, the candidate wants to get in. There is nothing wrong with wanting to join the top firms for this reason. Yet it is not enough. It is like wanting to marry a woman just because she is beautiful. That is slightly insulting. Life in management consulting is tough and brutal.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to join the top firms for this reason. Yet it is not enough. It is like wanting to marry a woman just because she is beautiful. That is slightly insulting.
Candidates need to understand that the glamour is not a lifestyle but an outcome of doing demanding and not-so-glamorous work. See some behind the scenes stories here and here. The candidate needs to do proper research and understand the company. They need to understand the values and what the firms are looking for. If your reason for wanting to join the top firms is because they hire the best people, then you do not really understand management consulting. Have you thought about how this will impact your career trajectory, lifestyle, family planning, further education and so on? Candidates who can answer these reasons make it.
Does not know why they want to be in management consulting. This is linked to the point above but slightly different. Top firms are looking for people who are creative thinkers and can make up their own minds. They have sketched out a future of where they want to be and feel strongly that management consulting is part of this future and can state several clear reasons why they want to be in management consulting. The following reasons will likely lead to a rejection in your real interview:
• I saw the presentation and was impressed with the work you do.
• I think I can do the work and I am a fast learner.
• I studied marketing in school and this area is appealing to me.
• In my business studies we had a discussion about management consulting and I found it interesting.
• I like helping businesses succeed.
• I want to be a strategist. [Do you know the difference between strategy and operations? ]
• My friends work at Bain and I liked what they discussed.
These are all high-school answers. They sound like a teenager who knows nothing about the world and is just coasting through. You need to distinguish yourself from the pack, and have a reason for wanting to join. If you do not have a clear answer, then maybe you should not be in management consulting. Have you considered an investment bank, corporate or something else?
These are all high-school answers. They sound like a teenager who knows nothing about the world and is just coasting through.
Does not have the core attributes. We meet some really nice people. Unfortunately we find that some really nice people are that way in the hopes of making up for missing core attributes. You must have the following skills and track record to get in. Knowing a consultant or partner will not really help you. If you do not have the following, ask yourself again why you want to get in:
• A disciplined problem solving mindset. Management consultants solve problems. All kinds of problems and the ability to structure problem solving is a fundamental skill. See our video guides here. Could you do this?
• A track record of academic excellence. If someone spent 4 years undertaking an engineering degree and graduated with a C or B average I would like to know why. Why would this person be willing to spend 10% of their working life on something and not give it their all? Where is their pride? A track record of excellence demonstrates to the interviewer you can commit your mind to excelling even when you do not particularly like something.
• Balance. Top consulting firms do not want people who required every waking hour of available time to study and never had a life. They want people who were smart, but balanced this with a life outside of studies, developed social skills and learnt how to manage multiple things. Those who needed to study all the time just to make the grade will not make it.
Curiosity is a critical characteristic. It is a trait which separates the consultant who takes things at face value and the one who digs behind the scenes.
• Curiosity. Do you know how many times we meet candidates who are not curious? Curiosity is a critical characteristic. It is a trait which separates the consultant who takes things at face value and the one who digs behind the scenes. It separates the consultant who needs to be constantly told to do things and those who take the initiative. In 2008 we once met a US candidate who had never heard of Sarah Palin! Where did she live? In a vacuum! If you cannot pick up information that is being forced upon you, you have no hope of finding things. Moreover, it shows she is not aware of important issues happening around her.
Poor resumes. This is still far too common. Any cursory search on Google will pull up tons of information on the correct way to prepare resumes. Sending badly formatted resumes tells us this candidate is not serious. While we offer a résumé service, we would rather polish a good resume than convert a Lada into a Lamborghini. And what happens if you sent this bad resume directly to BCG? If your résumé shows a lack of pride and basic grammar, you will be rejected. Badly formatted resumes are a common, fatal and unnecessary mistake.
Does not understand the meaning of “experience”. Frankly speaking, management consulting firms understand problem solving better than anyone else and most likely do not need your experience. Candidates love waxing lyrical about the ‘experience’ they gained at Wal-Mart, Nabisco or some investment bank when they interned there. It’s okay to put this in, but do not for a second think this experience will make up for a lack of problem solving skills. Experience shows you can work in a corporate environment. That’s about it. You still need to show problem solving skills.
Not dressing the part. Frilly suits, glitter nail polish, colored hair, strappy high heel shoes with open toes, poorly fitting suits, overdone makeup and chino’s should only ever come out for a 70’s Show reunion or Halloween. You need to dress the part. When we coach candidates everyone is so brand obsessed. The brand is good, but the cut of the clothing is far more important. If you do not know what cut is, go to a suit store and ask them for two suits. One which is fitted and one which is not fitted or has a basic cut. Try them on, take a photo and look at which is more professional.
Not learning the case method. There is not a lot to say here. If you do not understand the case method perfectly you are doomed. You will not get an offer. MECE, 80/20, hypotheses, decision trees, logic tests and brain-teasers should be perfectly comfortable to you. Ignore this at your peril.
Lacking values and integrity. I particularly find it annoying when a candidate does not understand the importance of values in management consulting. Fortune 500 companies trust consulting firms with their deepest secrets. How can values not be important?
Unwilling to learn. This actually ties up many of the comments above. Business schools, engineering schools, investment banks and even Fortune 100 companies do not teach you the fundamental problem solving skills you need. Be willing to learn this. Do not be arrogant. If you want to make it in management consulting be ready to learn the core skills. Just because you were a top-notch lawyer from Harvard law does not at all imply you have all the skills. Create the right, positive attitude and be ready to learn.