consulting resume

Application Process Consulting Resume

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This morning I had a call with a case interview coaching client about her consulting resume. This being our very first call about her consulting resume, we spent a lot of time going through the basics. We are helping her secure an interview and receive an offer. She had tried twice in the past before joining our program.

Both times it was a decline for an interview at McKinsey. This will be her 3rd attempt for McKinsey New York.

This article is going to lay out the logic of how we guide our coaching clients to prepare their consulting resumes. All coaching clients use Felix’s videos in TCO I to do their editing. Since I just had the call and it is fresh in my mind, I realized others may have the same questions and misunderstandings that she had.

My most important piece of advice about your consulting resume is not to worry. You will do fine if you just take the time and work through it slowly.

consulting resume

Tougher Consulting Resume

Even though we maintain an 80% placement rate for McKinsey, BCG, and Bain, our coaching clients have very challenging profiles. Given our very selective process to admit coaching clients, almost every client we have ever admitted has worked with one or more alternative service before seeking our help.

They usually seek us out when all other options have failed.

When they apply to us, their consulting resumes have already been reviewed, edited and updated multiple times. They have applied to and usually have been declined from several firms at least once but usually several times.

It’s like a credit score in some ways. As a result of applying so many times, being declined so many times and circulating a consulting resume that is not working, they have lowered their chances of getting in. Each subsequent unsuccessful application makes it progressively harder for them to join a firm. Firms have a memory.

The firms may give you a chance to interview, even if they are not sure. But getting a second chance is much harder. A third chance is unlikely.

A client is always easier to place if they have never applied before. So when you think about your profile, remember that the number of times you applied has altered your profile.

In this way, it is exactly like a credit score.

So editing a consulting resume for our clients is about overcoming all those hurdles. We edit with that very specific purpose in mind

Consulting Resume Visual Validation

As you go through this article it is a good idea to either print or refer to Alice Zhou’s consulting resume from Season 2 of The Consulting Offer (TCO).

Before I even read a resume, it must pass several visual hurdles.

Is the consulting resume written in the HBS format?

Since so many of our clients have been declined multiple times before working with us or have challenging profiles, they almost always have to network with a partner to avoid the likely rejection they would receive from a direct application to a recruiter.

Only partners can get them in and override a rejection.

So we write consulting resumes for partners.

Since partners graduate from many schools, we write for the most well known and most common school in the partner ranks.

So the resume must be written in a format most partners are familiar with, and that is the HBS format.

This resume is a slight deviation from the traditional HBS format because it must also be appealing to non-HBS partners.

Why make a partners’ life harder by giving him/her a format he/she does not immediately understand?

Is the consulting resume visually logical and prioritized?

People see what you want them to see. Your consulting resume must be designed so that they see what you want them to see.

Without even looking at the details we can see the blocks in the consulting resume above. We can see 4 categories of experiences. We can also see 4 activities within Yale. We see three sections of education, experience, and personality.

Everything is arranged in a clean order with little guess-work needed.

We are not forcing anyone to scrutinize the resume to understand Alice’s profile.

The biggest mistake to make in a consulting resume is to assume someone reads it carefully.

Is the consulting resume writing style dense/compact?

Bachelor of Business Sciences with a Major in Finance in the Class of 2024 at Hogwarts Business School

or

B.BS Fin., ’24 HBS

Do you see the major difference this will have in a consulting resume? Resume’s that are dense show thought and care. A resume like this requires multiple iterations of editing. We want to interview people who took the time to get it right.

After each resume editing session in TCO, you will notice Felix sometimes holds up her consulting resume on the screen to show a sea of red markings.

We make hundreds of adjustments to slowly get it done right. We do not hack out large parts of the resume. We sand it down. Sanding takes time. Chainsaws are not allowed.

This dense style allows you to add more useful content. Words like “with” “a” “in the class of” are all filler words.

They are not hard facts nor accomplishments. Adding filler words simply dilutes your resume.

Is the personal section of the consulting resume meaningful and factual?

Enjoys traveling and meeting new people and cultures.

or

Blogged visiting 23 cities in 2 years, 2K views/day.

Do you see a very big difference? The personal section should be 4 to 5 lines and contain accomplishments or activities that can be quantified.

The less impressive your school, employer or initiatives the more important is your personal section. I have interviewed people purely due to some activity in the personal section of their consulting resume.

Always include sporting achievements and a military career. Coming dead last in the Olympics is still an achievement. Serving your country in the military is the greatest achievement. Just make sure you served in a military that is allied to the military of the country where you are applying. For example, a Russian Spetsnaz should not mention this distinction on his resume should he apply to the Kiev office.

This may sound funny, but it has happened in the past.

Is the consulting resume format broken?

The format is broken when one bullet is not horizontally aligned with all the others and should be aligned. Another example is the wrong font, wrong font sizes or paragraphs indented incorrectly.

They all signal a lack of care and pride. Who wants to interview someone like that?

All of the above are things you should have in place before the resume is even read.

I find it personally difficult to see anything else if the format is broken.

Consulting resume writing services

Do not use a consulting resume writing service. We do not offer it for a reason. Do the hard work yourself and you will be better off.

If your profile is great, you have not already been declined 2 times in the McKinsey New York office, then yes, a resume service may be helpful. Simply because the resume is not going to matter much to your overall profile.

Our coaching clients usually have bigger hurdles to overcome. A simple consulting resume edit will not help much.

This is what happens with typical consulting resume services.

You send your consulting resume across.

The editor does a first pass making changes and asking questions.

You review the edits, answer the questions about your consulting resume and send it back.

The editor makes the final changes and you are done.

There may be 2 or 3 rounds of edits but that is the gist of a consulting resume editing service.

These are the problems with typical consulting resume services.

They assume you have listed all of your achievements. A consulting resume is just one page. If you have left out something due to a lack of space, the editor will not know about it and it is not included. The editor only edits what you give them.

They assume you correctly understood and explained your achievement. It is often hard to know exactly what you did on a task at an employer. You hope you understand what you did and you hope you explained it correctly. Without someone asking you about the details, they can only edit what you have originally written and that may not be correct. Resume writing is hard. Here are some of the mistakes clients make that we can only uncover by speaking to them.

They claim their work saved $200K when they were a part of a team that saved $200K and they had a role within the overall team. They should only be discussing their role and the benefit of their role.

Assuming that the value they added was doing lots of things on a task and listing them all in a bullet. We are only interested in that one thing that led to the overall benefit. The value is not that they did many things.

Often clients pick the wrong initiative, wrong benefit and wrong task to discuss. If they did numerous things on a task they usually pick the one the consulting firm wants to hear about, when it may not be the most impressive task.

You assume that they know what you did. Consulting resume writers do not have a crystal ball. They cannot see what you did, examine it from multiple angles and re-write a bullet to accurately capture what was done. They can only refine what you give them, so if you give them weak bullets, the consulting resume will be weak. It may be edited better, but the content will be weak.

If an editor doesn’t have the inclination nor the opportunity to interrogate each bullet how can they ever understand what you did, let alone rewrite it correctly?

If you still think editors can magically transform a consulting resume, think about any book you have ever read. Who does the majority of the work? The editor or writer? Editors help for sure but the primary work is done by the writer. Do not assume simply paying money for editing will fix the problem. No editor can truly understand what you did and capture it on paper unless they spend a lot of time talking to you.

It is not the editor’s fault. It is a function of the constraints of communicating via email and doing 2 or 3 rounds of edits.

Strategy to write your consulting resum

Step #1 – HBS Consulting Resume Template

Recreate the HBS consulting resume template (you can use a consulting resume example above for guidance) or get a copy of it. As part of publishing this article, we will be making a consulting resume template available to Premium members. Newer Premium members will be able to download a consulting resume template on StrategyTV.com and FC Insiders (long-term Premium members) will be able to download a consulting resume template on StrategyTraining.com. And you can become a Premium member here.

Do not take a PDF and convert to word format with a converter tool. Those tools lose the formatting and that is a big no-no.

Start typing your resume into the template directly. If you copy and paste from a different consulting resume format template you may over-ride the font size, font, formatting rules built into the resume. This is a nightmare to fix.

Step #2 – Ignore the 1-page consulting resume rule

Add in as many bullets, achievements, activities that you can remember. It is okay if you go to 2 or 3 pages initially. Here we are trying to find the universe of things from your past that we can use.

Your writing style does not need to be perfect. Trying to be perfect now may force you to forget things. So just capture them all.

Do not remove anything yet. Keep it at more than one page if necessary. We will bring it down to size later.

Step #3 A dense consulting resume

Density is your friend. Unless it’s mentioned in the same breath as your personality.

This is how you make a consulting resume dense and compact. Do this after a week of thinking if you have everything from the step above.

Remove all ambiguous words. An ambiguous word has more than one meaning. Like the word “assisted.” It can mean bringing the team muffins in the morning, giving the team power massages or leading the core analyses. If you leave in a word with more than one meaning the interviewer may not interpret it the same way you do.

Remove all subjective words. A subjective word is where the meaning is clear but the intensity is clouded by personal experience.

In “I learned a lot,” “a lot” is subjective.

We know it means many but while 2 can be a lot to one person and 34 can be a lot to someone else.

Words like relentless, meticulous, significant, major findings, competitive, energetic, eager, personable are all subjective.

Never place a summary at the top of a consulting resume with these subjective terms. Write your consultin resume without the summary and such the content demonstrates the skills you purportedly have.

WSJ Rule. Write with facts. Numbers, names of companies, sizes of companies, sizes of teams are all important. People who write such detail are less likely to be fabricating their experiences. Lots of detail does not imply more words. It simply means more facts and precision with, usually, fewer words.

Remove dead words: Words like “if” “them” “of” “from” are all words that dilute the facts in your consulting resume. You can use commas, apostrophes etc. to eliminate them.

Start with the achievement: Start with words like “Led a 3-person engineering team…” or “Realised $23MM savings at $32B MCap Auto Co….”

Follow-up with what you did and the insight: Always remember that the work you do is not important. We want to see what insight you created from the work AND the benefit of that insight. Here is an example.

“Realised [the benefit] $23MM savings at $32B MCap Auto Co., by [what you did] conducting a value chain analyses which identified [the insight] maintenance outsourcing opportunities at 3rd largest auto plant.”

Step #4 – A bonus consulting resume

Doing your job is not an achievement. A banker who is expected to generate $2MM in fees is writing about their routine work if they list hitting $2MM in fees on their consulting resume. A consulting resume is about achievements.

A strategy consultant who develops a strategy for a bank is not achieving anything. They are just doing their job. They are doing what is expected of them. You should not get a bonus for doing your job.

We define achievements as the things that lead to a bonus at the end of the year.

As you write out your bullets in your consulting resume, ask yourself a simple set of questions:

Was this task expected of me? If yes, why is it so special to include?

If the task was expected of me, did I achieve something unexpected and beneficial for my employer/client? If yes, definitely build the bullet around that achievement and not the expected work.

A good guide is to include things in your consulting resume that you believe can support any discussions you have had about a bonus.

Step #5 – Including “What did you really do” in your consulting resume

This will be the hardest part. As you are editing your bullets, you will face a tendency to not want to improve a well-edited bullet.

In this step, you need to ensure your bullets correctly capture what you did and what you want to emphasize. A bullet that all your friends say is impressive and requires no changes MUST be changed if it incorrectly explains what you did and/or does not emphasize the correct benefit.

Let’s look at this bullet. It looks fine. But is it?

Realized $23MM savings at $32B MCap Auto Co., by conducting a value chain analyses which identified maintenance outsourcing opportunities at 3rd largest auto plant.

The bullet should be edited if you were one part of a team that identified the savings. The bullet is also wrong because you realized nothing. You can only realize a benefit when it is implemented and the savings appear in a bank account.

So, in this case, the bullet should be changed to.

Identified $23MM savings at $32B MCap Auto Co., as part of 3-person team conducting a value chain analysis, via maintenance outsourcing opportunity at 3rd largest auto plant.

This is the part that takes up time and the part no consulting resume editing service can do since they don’t know what you did.

Step #6 – Hiding flaws in a consulting resume

There will be a strong urge to hide errors in your consulting resume that you assume can never be discovered.

After all, the two bullets below look very similar. Who will ever know what you really did?

Realized $23MM savings at $32B MCap Auto Co., by conducting a value chain analyses which identified maintenance outsourcing opportunities at 3rd largest auto plant.

Identified $23MM savings at $32B MCap Auto Co., as part of 3-person team conducting a value chain analysis, via maintenance outsourcing opportunity at 3rd largest auto plant.

And that is what many people will do. They will not change it.

And you will not have a problem getting an interview.

You will have a problem in the PEI/FIT section when the interviewer wants to know what you exactly did. Expect these lines of questioning as they review your consulting resume.

How did you realize the benefit?

Did you lead the implementation?

Did someone else lead the implementation?

$23MM savings are very large. That is impressive. How were you able to complete such a significant value chain study in such a short time to find such a saving?

This is a normal line of questioning even if they believed you did the work.

Why would I hire someone if they cannot even remember what they did? Even if they genuinely forgot, why would I hire someone who cannot recall critical moments of their life despite selecting the moments to present and spending months practising their answers?

So think of this process as helping you really understand the detail for PEI/FIT.

Best practice for each part of the consulting resume

Education section in a consulting resume

Education should always be at the top of a consulting resume. No matter your experience, we will always go looking for your education so place it at the top. Don’t hide it. And definitely, don’t be embarrassed about your education. A degree is a tool. It’s what you do with it that matters.

It should always be a solid 2 to 4 line paragraph. Do not use just a little of the last line. It should look like a rectangle. This rectangle guide applies to the bullets and personal section.

GMAT is not that important in the West. GPA is far more important. I don’t think Ihave never hired anyone with less than a 3.5-3.6/4.0 GPA but I hired many people with lower GMAT scores. You don’t need to include GRE or GMAT score breakdowns. They have little value in the West.

CFA, CIMA, CMA, CA etc. are all valuable and important designations. Definitely add them as a separate paragraph. Include achievements so that the paragraph is a full two lines. In emerging markets, these designations can be very helpful.

Online degrees and courses can be included but they lack prestige in the West. Harvard courses that are not formal degrees have the same lack of weight. In my view, they weigh down a resume and diminish your formal degree. In the West at least, a good GPA from an accredited school is always going to have more weight than an MIT online course.

No matter which accredited university you attend, a 4.0/4.0 GPA is going to get attention and most likely an interview. So do not worry about brands, rankings and so on. Just study, become intelligent and have it reflected in your GPA. The rest will take care of itself.

Always include your GPA, because it is going to come up at some point. You could leave it off if it is low but be prepared not to apologize for it when you are asked about it. Be factual and not apologetic.

There is no excuse for a low GPA. So you should not even try. There is a simple logic trap many fall into when citing health problems etc. While it is true health problems may have negatively impacted your grades, there is no evidence that being healthy would have led to stellar grades. Because if that were true, all healthy people would have 4.0/4.0 GPAs.

Related to grades the firms have women who escaped across the Berlin Wall, consultants who were once refugees etc. In the back of the interviewer’s mind, you are always being compared to them. This may sound harsh but it is the truth and you need to plan your life knowing the truth.

We want to hear about the non-mandatory activities you led while at university, like a club. A VP is not a leader. He/she is a sub-team leader. There must be an achievement linked to that leadership. We look for balanced people who did things they were not required to do. If you did something off-campus while you were studying include it.

Only include real awards recognized by the university. Getting the highest grade in a marketing paper is an achievement only if the university cites it as an award. Like the “Mary Alice Award for Best Marketing Paper.”

Listing a prominent publication is fine here. But keep it to the most important ones or a summary like 4x 1st Author Papers in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Alice broke out her publications as a separate section. You may do it but it is not essential. We know you are a Ph.D. Listing the publications is not required since we need no further convincing of this irrefutable fact. Try to convince us you were a better Ph.D. does not help you convince us you can be a better consultant.

Include scholarships and the name of the scholarship.

Listing achievements to raise money for clubs is dicey. $2,000 may be a lot of money but it never looks good on a resume. Anything less than that is just not worth including unless it is part of a long list of accomplishments so this does not diminish the rest of resume.

If you did any of these four things below, I would always interview you even if the recruiter or associate rejected the application. Irrespective of your grades or school. In every office I worked I asked the recruiters to send these resumes to a partner to review.

If you did all 4 things then I think you are such an awesome human being you should join my family by marrying my son or daughter. If you are below 18 years of age I am open to adopting you.

StartUp founder. Not a StartUp planner which is what most students are. Planning a StartUp and working on a business plan is not the same as founding a StartUp and running a StartUp. Running a tutoring business is not a StartUp, unless there is a business here that does not involve you trading cash for coaching time. Coding an App by yourself, releasing it and forgetting about is not a StartUp.

Editor-in-Chief of the Yale Law Review. Editor in chief of any formal university recognized and/or sponsored/endorsed publication will work.

Digital Marketing Assistant to Senator/Mayor/Congressperson/Governor. Any role in a government organization, especially, for re-elections is going to look good.

Military service. If you served in the military you would need to have something very wrong in your application to not receive an interview.

Experience section in a consulting resume

Everything that is not education and personal goes into the experience section of your consulting resume.

Do not have a section called leadership. To do so is to imply everthing outside that section involved no leadership on your part. You should be a leader in everything you do. Or at least try.

If you have 17 years of experience it is fine to leave out roles where you have worked for just 1 or 2 years. Especially, if there are not many achievements in those roles.

Promotions within a company must be clearly displayed using the format we used to show Alice’s different roles in Yale. This allows the interviewer to see the roles are all part of the same company.

Each bullet should be a full 2 lines and 3 lines at most.

Each bullet can be about a separate client or you can have different bullets covering different achievements at the same client. If you have 4 bullets about 4 different achievements at the same 30B revenue client, do not start all the bullets with “For a 30B revenue client….” For each of the 4 bullets, it is better to refer to the different divisions within the same client, assuming the divisions are different. Or use the Yale-type grouping since this can also help.

You do not need to have a lot of bullets. The quality is what counts. So focus on quality and consistency.

If you are a Ph.D., you are banned from using the word novel. It is overused. And there may also be a very good reason no one did it. Maybe the novel technique creates no value?

Use judgment when listing accomplishments. Dedicating 3 lines to a bullet where you increased revenue a mere $20,000 is unlikely to be impressive.

All bullets must have some objective measure of a benefit to the client and/or employer. If you do not include the measurement of the value you created it is difficult for the interviewer to assess your resume.

If this is indeed your second or third attempt, consulting firms will ask you to get more experience before applying. You can take the time to gain more experience or rewrite your existing bullets to show you have deeper insights into the work you have already done.

Firms want you to gain experience to improve your skills before reapplying. If you can show them you already improved without the experience, that will be acceptable.

We have clients who interview 3 times at the same firm within 1 year. It is not easy but possible. We prefer this since they don’t forget their training.

The personal section in a consulting resume

The personal section matters in a consulting resume. It should be 4 lines as a solid paragraph. There is no need to separate things into languages, charity etc..

Don’t list the technical skills that we expect you to have. Do not list Excel, PowerPoint and Word Skills. It must be something specialized. And that’s only if you must list them. Generally, don’t. Most people have never heard of FORTRAN and will not care that you know the language. Same for Cobalt, MS Access etc.

We want to see that you do things outside of work and studies, that you work with a team and that you take a leadership role. Forming, leading and performing for a rock band would work well here. Some firms like Bain take this section particularly seriously.

If you came dead last at the Olympics or any major competitive achievement, list it. Yet, focus on having qualified versus coming dead last.

Charity work is fine, but do not overdo it. Spending other people’s money is not an admirable trait. Show us you worked in areas that make money too.

I personally mark down applicants who avoid charity work in their home country and fly off to foreign locations to help the locals. I am probably not the only partner who does this. It seems like they picked the foreign location as a partial vacation and so that they could advertise their charitable credentials.

Since each consulting resume is tailored you can see we added many non-personal items for Alice that were not mandatory. That is the only reason we included it. Our view was that if Alice did them for her personal benefit, even though they seem formal and professional, it would work in the personal section of her consulting resume.

The goal is to show you are an interesting person who is not successful merely because you work and study all the time with no social life.

Do not include marital status, visa status, gender or political views. People will tell you they are open-minded and non-discriminatory but they usually are not.

Listing cooking or baking skills are fine. But at least use the right names when listing techniques.

Finalizing your consulting resume

Wrapping up a resume is not a short process. When I edit client consulting resumes, I print out a copy and leave it on my desk. As I had an idea to tweak a bullet, better explain a point etc., I would make a note. Sitting down for 1-hour blocks at a time does not work. Insights do not follow a schedule.

You should do the same. Print out a copy of your consulting resume and keep it with you.

This process of iterative tweaking will take about 4 to 6 weeks to get it right. If you are wondering why it takes so long go back to the beginning and remember the profile of clients we tend to have. They typically have made their profiles very challenging by facing repeated declines etc. So we need to leave no stone unturned.

Once this is done, the consulting resume is still going to be over one page since we have only edited the content for its crispness and accuracy. Now we have to decide what to include. Include bullets that show you achieving something versus doing your job. All other bullets should be removed.

Don’t change the margin to fit in bullets. Edit down bullets or remove them completely.

Once this is done, send the resume to three people who know you well. This includes friends who are consultants.

Take their advice with some skepticism. Use your judgment. Your profile is different from anyone else’s and your consulting resume has been edited to fix your unique problem.

Once you make any necessary edits, you can use the consulting resume verbatim to create a Linkedin profile.

You are welcome to post any comments and questions below. As you can imagine we receive many requests for help and as much as we would like to respond to them all, we just do not have the time. To ensure our responses reach as many readers/listeners as possible, questions will only be answered in our iTunes podcasts. This allows us to offer both thoughtful and meaningful answers that help improve your career. If you ask a question please offer as many details as possible. It is difficult to offer customized and valuable feedback if the details are vague or missing. It helps to provide more facts and leave out your interpretation of what happened. It is better to write “Duke MBA, graduated 2 years ago and working in Wells Fargo Technology Support,” than “a Top-10 MBA, recent graduate working for a large bank’s internal technology team.” The advice we offer would be very different for each and we would select the first type of question to answer.

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