How a management consultant resume is screened at McKinsey etc

Today we’re going to discuss how a management consultant resume is screened at a major consulting firm like McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte etc. In other words, I’m going to talk you through what generally goes through the mind of a screening officer when they receive a management consultant resume. I will talk about some tricks and techniques that you could use to improve your management consultant resume.

Before we go any further, it is important to point out that the format and style of the resume we teach are also very effective for banking, industry, technology companies and even start-up jobs. The content also will look great on your LinkedIn profile. So even if you will not end up in management consulting, investing in putting together a resume in the style and in a format we teach is a great investment to help you have a successful career.

Now, let’s assume you sent through your resume to McKinsey, Bain, BCG or Deloitte and they are looking at your consulting resume. I’m going to look at your resume independent of GMAT scores, cover letter, essays, testimonials and anything else that you may have supplied.

1ST WE LOOK AT THE FORMAT OF A MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT RESUME

The first thing we do when opening up a management consultant resume is we look at the format. What do I mean by format? The format plays a big role in how we think about you.

If you use a bad format, it does 2 things. First, it distracts us from the most important information that you want to share with us. Second, it gives us the impression that this person obviously isn’t networking in the right circles. He probably doesn’t have friends at any major school or in management consulting. Otherwise, they would have looked at the format and told him to redo it.

On the other hand, a good format allows you and allows us to focus on the right things, and it creates an impression in our mind that you have the right circle of friends and a good professional network who helped you ensure your management consultant resume is in the right format.

So, make sure you’re using the right format. The Harvard format, Kellogg format, Wharton format, and Stanford format are all very good. We use the Harvard format. You can go with any of them. We like the Harvard format because we think it really focuses on the core or the substance of a consulting resume, as opposed to using a text and font sizes to play out who you are. We do not reccomend to go for unusual formats that come from unknown schools.

CONSULTING RESUME EXAMPLES

Before we go any further you are probably asking yourself where can I see consulting resume examples? As you go through this article it is a good idea to either print or refer to Alice Zhou’s management consultant resume from Season II of The Consulting Offer (TCO).

management consultant resume

Now let’s continue.

2ND, WE SCREEN YOUR EDUCATION

The next thing we look at is the school you went to. If you went to Stanford, for example, the interviewer knows Stanford is a great school. So you could be a good candidate. But if you didn’t go to a good school, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. It just means that you have to convince the interviewer that you’re a good candidate.

People seem to assume that everyone who joins McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte etc. must have gone to the Ivy League schools. It’s not always the case, especially when it comes to undergraduate degrees because there are many graduates who get in from many outstanding schools out there that many people have never heard of. Ten to twenty years ago it was different, but today the recruiting is much more diverse.

We will look at your school first, then your grades or GPA. Good school, good grades, obviously thumbs up. We also look if you were a club president or part of any honor society? Did you win any awards or scholarships?

We look at postgraduate, then undergraduate. Postgraduate carries more weight than an undergraduate. If you don’t have a postgraduate school, then your undergraduate school carries a lot of weight.

However, undergraduate GPA is very important, and unless you did something exceptional in your graduate studies and are truly articulate, the undergraduate GPA is going to be the deciding factor.

3RD WE SCREEN YOUR WORK EXPERIENCE

Next, we look at where you work/worked. We look at 3 things.

First, we look at who you work for. In other words, the name of the organization. Is it a good organization? Obviously, a well-known organization that has a reputation for doing outstanding work and churning out outstanding executives looks good on your management consultant resume.

Next, we look at how long you worked there. If you served a 2-month internship at General Electric Finance it’s not going to sound as impressive as serving 3 years and being promoted.

And last, we look at what you did. I’ll look for a bullet starting with 2 words: led xyz or analyzed xyz. If I don’t see them in a management consultant resume, I wonder, “What did this person do”, and think to myself, “Have they ever led anything, or analyzed anything?” That is what consulting firms want. They want people who lead; they want people who analyze things.

FINALLY, WE LOOK AT YOUR OTHER PERSONAL DATA

Finally, I look for the most interesting part of your management consultant resume, which I call other personal data and it has the potential to create a very compelling vision of who you are and make you stand out compared to other candidates who went to similar schools, received similar grades and have a similar level of achievement after graduation.

Other data are your other activities or things like you belong to the Rock mountain climbing club, or you play professional volleyball, or you’re a car enthusiast and rebuilt an entire 1996 Lamborghini, etc.

MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT RESUME SCREENING FROM TOP-DOWN

So from the top of your management consultant resume you have your name, address, telephone number, contact details. Then we look at your resume in this order:

  • The format. Is it a good format?
  • The school you went to. Is it a well-known or unknown school? Your postgraduate and undergraduate degree, your grades, academic awards, honor societies, leadership activities after school or on an academic basis
  • Where you worked. How long you worked there. What you did when you worked there
  • Finally, we look at other additional data. Are there other activities and other additional data that’s not superficial?

THINGS TO PONDER WHEN WRITING YOUR MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT RESUME: EDUCATION

Just because you went to a school ranked 99th in your country or the world it doesn’t mean you have no shot. A lot of blogs and forums claim that only the Ivy League school graduates get into consulting firms. It’s not true. A lot of them do get in but consulting firms are certainly not dominated by Ivy League graduates anymore.

In fact, consulting firms have a rule. They will look at any accredited school. They look beyond superficial measures like merely going to Yale, Princeton, etc. to determine if you have a good profile. They look for people who have the drive, determination, ambition, people skills, problem-solving skills, and communication skills.

So, if you’re a strong candidate, it doesn’t matter what school you went to, firms will still look at your profile. If you have gone to an unknown or a relatively lesser-known school it probably just means that you have to try harder to explain what school you went to, and bring out more data points to show that you’re a very solid candidate.

Consulting firms also have a policy of trying to get in locals to staff their offices. For example, when Bain or BCG builds an office they bring in foreign consultants to build up the office. But, over time, they will try to get in the locals to grow them within the firm. Maybe some of the locals are trained at foreign universities, but most of them are trained at local universities.

We have worked with candidates like that who went to a school that is ranked 90th or below in the United States and got offers from all the firms.

TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT RESUME WRITING: WORK EXPERIENCE

When it comes to work experience, people generally describe their work very badly. As I mentioned earlier, I look for 2 words “led” or “analyzed”, but when you write out a bullet you should write it in the following format: the context or why you did something, what you did or the actions you took and the results of those actions.

Preferably, the results should be numerical. So you can say, for example, how much value you generated.

Sometimes it’s not numerical. That’s fine but try to write out what the result was even if it was not numerical. For example, you could say,

“Raised $50K conference funding from Yale alumni and healthcare companies; 90% converted to long-term sponsors for 2019 conference.”

Notice what we did there. We wrote out the context, what candidate did and the results of their actions. We didn’t write in lengthy details like “put together a list of potential sponsors” etc. We also focused on just the most important thing done. Doing many things is not an accomplishment.

Also, stay away from saying things like, “Clients tried to hire me.” I’ve seen people doing that. Ok, if you want to say that you are highly in demand in your local market you can find a way to put that in your cover letter. Just don’t put in your management consultant resume. That doesn’t help your resume. The reason is because we don’t know the standards of the firm making you the offer. They could have low standards. By listing what you did to get the offer, we can judge for ourselves.

TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT RESUME: OTHER PERSONAL DATA

A lot of people treat it as if it’s not important. However, in many cases, it’s the most important section to help your profile stand out. Can you imagine how many top graduates coming from all the best schools around the world like the United states, Europe, Canada, Australia etc. apply to major consulting firms? It’s very hard to distinguish between candidates, even when you have very good grades. But if you do something pretty exciting, like you trekked across Cambodia, took a year off and built a network of schools and made them self-funding, etc., those things make you stand out.

Do not put in superficial things like I like eating out. I don’t see how that should be in additional data, but candidates do that a lot. If you’re going to put in extracurricular activities you should make sure that it’s something semi-professional, something where you belong to a league, something that you’re doing in a competitive spirit, or at least in a team-based spirit where you have to perform to the best of your ability because people are counting on you, or you’re being graded for it.

That always sounds a lot better than saying, for example, I like traveling because when I was a child my father worked in the military and I traveled around the world. So, don’t put in things like that, either.

Also, a lot of candidates say things like I backpacked through Thailand. It actually means nothing. If you backpacked through Thailand in the 1960s then it’s exciting. Now it’s a tourist destination. Any single 18-year-old female student from Brown University could also do that. So, it’s no longer exciting or a sign of someone who is really taking life by its horns and trying to do something exciting and build something for themselves. If you backpack through North Korea then you can put that in your management consultant resume.

Or some candidates say I play sports. That’s nice but what sports do you play. How often do you play it? Once a week, or once a month, or once a year. Are you in a professional league?

Interviewers can read between the lines when they don’t see the details. So you need to put in the details and rich information that allows the interviewer to understand the scope of what you’re doing. For example, how often do you do it? When do you do it? For whom do you do it? Are you being graded?

I pretty much skim through this section in 60 seconds. If I’ve decided this person is interesting then I’ll go through it in detail.

Having said all that, what truly makes you stand out are the school you went to, who you worked for and what you did there. The additional data is going to make you stand out only if it’s truly exceptional. For example, maybe at the age of 13 you played for the national baseball team representing the United States at a professional baseball tournament or something like that. That would help you stand out.

It’s not recent but it does show that you understand teamwork, you understand competition and you did something quite different from everyone else. But it’s very rare that the additional data alone is going to be enough to swing the vote in your favor to get a consulting interview. Though it can. Launching a start-up (versus planning one), serving as editor of a journal or working in a political campaign tends to get interviews.

WHAT YOU SHOULD FOCUS ON IF YOU’RE PLANNING TO APPLY IN A YEAR? 2 THINGS

First, write your management consultant resume keeping your competition in mind. A lot of candidates write up their management consultant resumes and say this is the best resume they could put together because it’s much better than the one they had 2 months ago. That’s great, but how is your management consultant resume going to stack up against your competition?

You’re not competing with yourself 2 months ago. Are you?

You’re competing with other candidates from other good schools or even your school. So don’t make comparisons to the management consultant resume you had 2 months ago. Compare to the resumes of those who will be trying to get the same interview slot with you at consulting firms. It’s not difficult to find some good resumes on the Internet for you to compare. You will find resume examples of real candidates in The Consulting Offer. You can access all candidates and seasons when you become a Premium member.

Second, and this is very important. If you’re planning to apply in a year, think to yourself what are the weaknesses in your management consultant resume today. Then, what you’re going to need to do in that next one year to overcome those weaknesses and rewrite your consulting resume.

For example, one of your weaknesses could be that you don’t have a very quantitative background due to your odd major at some liberal arts college. Maybe next year you could do a couple of things to overcome that like you can prepare and write a GMAT test or you can take a quantitative course. Put those into your consulting resume.

Now, here’s why the 2nd point is so important. What you’re doing is you’re writing your management consultant resume as if it’s the version you’re going to hand in a year from now. And a year from now you would have done the GMAT test or that quantitative course, then you can put it in your management consultant resume.

So, write your resume the way you want it to look in a year from now. Put in the courses you expect to do, the grades you expect to get, etc. This is going to serve 2 purposes.

One, it gives you a target to work towards, and two, it forces you to achieve your objectives within the pre-set 1-year time frame. In the end, if you end up not achieving those objectives, you can take them out before submitting your management consultant resume.

MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT RESUME WRITING IS A CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT PROCESS, AND YOU SHOULD START EARLY

A lot of people hold the idea that writing their resumes is just a one-time event. They will sit down and think that they’re going to do it over the weekend. Those people don’t know what they’re doing, and as a result, they’ve got a really poorly written consulting resume.

A good management consultant resume isn’t written overnight, in 1 week or 2 weeks. It’s a process of continuous improvement. For a lot of candidates, it takes us months to write their resumes. We would write up one version and then we think about it to make it better and better.

People from all over the world like the United States, Canada, France, Argentina, Australia, Thailand, Russia, Germany, Switzerland, or even tiny place like Monaco submit their resumes to us, and we see a lot of resumes from schools like Harvard, Stanford, INSEAD, Ivey, Queens, Waterloo, etc. So we see the trends taking place in the world, and we can guide candidates in terms of what they need to do to make their resumes better.

You may not have that kind of access to us, but you can still follow our recommendations to write your management consultant resume. What you should do is write out your management consultant resume, and then don’t work on it for a week. Instead, put it up on your fridge, or somewhere you can see it regularly, ideally every day.

Every time when you look at it, think about what you could do to make it better. Look at it for just 5 or 10 minutes when you have coffee in the morning, then make a little pencil note of the change you want, but don’t do any full updates just yet. Give it a week or two. You will notice that every time when you do that you will come up with some ideas to make your management consultant resume better and better.

ARE LOCAL NUANCES REALLY APPLIED TO CONSULTING?

The other thing you need to consider is local nuances. A local trait or nuance is something that occurs in just one part of the world. For example, German candidates like to put their photos on their resumes. I’m OK with that if it’s a local trait. When I was in consulting, we even interviewed German candidates and it wasn’t such a big issue. Or some candidates like a 2-page management consultant resume.

But if you’re applying to consulting firms you must ask yourself, “Is that local trait for a general a resume also applicable for a management consultant resume?” Because many international consulting firms like McKinsey operate on a global model, which means the way they review resumes in Switzerland is the way they review resumes in the United States, or in Australia, etc. If you’re applying to the New York office, for example, and sending in a 2-pages consulting resume with a photo you’re automatically telling the recruiter in New York that you don’t understand the New York office, you don’t understand the culture in the United States, which is a big deal and mostly it will get you dinged.

You won’t even get a call for an interview. So make sure that whenever you want to build any local nuances into your management consultant resume, ask yourself, “Is this nuance also applicable for a consulting resume?”

I always encourage people to write a 1-page management consultant resume following the format we teach in The Consulting Offer (see an example above). Even in Europe and Australia.

CLOSING NOTE

I’d like to add a closing note. There is no resume that cannot be improved. We’ve seen many well written resumes which we totally reoriented, totally rewrote and it became much better.

So even though you’re exhausted and have given it all to prepare your management consultant resume, and even though you think you’ve done your best, ask yourself, “How is my management consultant resume going to stack up against my competition in the next 5-6 months?”

That’s is what matters at the end of the day.

***

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Cheers, Kris

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