We received the following query via email from an experienced hire candidate looking to make a transition to McKinsey. We will answer this in an open forum on the site since we think it is relevant to many of our readers. You can apply our process to determine your chances own changes of moving across. [To the candidate: We would need to see your résumé to accurately assess your chances.]

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“You’ve got a very stimulating website which I’ve been directed to by one of the online “tutorials” on the YouTube site, which I also found exciting and well presented.

However, one small issue seems not to be addressed, as far as I’m aware, and that is the issue of experienced hires without a business/MBA background. I recently attended a McKinsey and Company recruitment event and had the opportunity to speak with a director and a few associates who have strongly encouraged me to submit an application. In fact, I was told that at the present time, they are particularly anxious to recruit “experienced hires” and they were very keen to point out that prior business experience is definitely not required and I got the impression that they would prefer a blank canvass from that point of view. My background is in medicine, dentistry, higher surgical training and [deleted]. As mentioned, I’ve enjoyed the online tutorials available on YouTube but they seem to assume an existing knowledge of the business and financial world.

My first question therefore is do these tutorials represent the type of case interviews administered to all potential applicants to the large management consultancy firms?

I’m also very interested in the online book and would like to know if this, or indeed any other information source you supply, can help someone like me in my potential application to one of these firms or do you think that perhaps the pathway for the experienced hire has yet to be addressed by Firmsconsulting?

Many thanks for your consideration and keep up the good work!”

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Given the above, do experienced candidates without an MBA/business background have a reasonable chance of moving up to McKinsey, Bain or the BCG? If so, what does it take?”

Advice for experienced candidates is covered throughout the blog. To save you time I have pulled it all together in this one post. We offer selective career coaching for experience hires, MBA’s and current consultants. In this post we will show you how we would assess this candidates chances and whether he has a shot at making it.

Step One: Resume check. It is always better to prepare your résumé and then determine your chances. Prepare a one-page resume using the Harvard format. Things look very different when they are committed to paper.

• What degree does he have? Is it a graduate degree? Did she do well; as in getting an 80% average or more or finishing with a distinction? Having a masters or doctorate will definitely be a bonus. Being a medical doctor could also count in your favor, but again it depends on the actual experience you have and your age.

Great grades are important and can overcome the problems of graduating from a weaker school.

• Where did he study? Is it a good to great school? Most consulting firms have target schools. These are schools from which they regularly recruit. If you are not from a target school it is also not a problem. Great grades are important and can overcome the problems of graduating from a weaker school.

• Was the degree full-time or part-time? Part-time degrees will not count for much. We have heard of students being recruited with part-time MBA’s and doctorates; however this is the exception and not the norm.

• Do any of the consulting firms recruit from this school? This is not a decider, but it does influence the decision.

• What is his experience? Did he enter as a technical specialist and then start managing people or did he always stay in a technical role? No one answer is better than the other. It really depends on the other answers and the picture we get when they are viewed together.

Therefore age is critical for technical specialists seeking entry to management consulting. Older technical specialists find it harder to adapt to new careers.

• How old is he? A 30-35 year old candidate without an MBA, but specializing in a technical field is fine. There is still time to teach you business and help you grow into the firm. The older you are, the harder it will be to change. Assuming you are 40 years old, you should be able to show proven excellence in your field, and the ability and willingness to adapt to management consulting. Therefore age is critical for technical specialists seeking entry to management consulting. Older technical specialists find it harder to adapt to new careers.

• What is his experience? Having no business experience is not at all an issue. Consulting firms are hiring you for your problem solving ability and not your business knowledge. They would always pick talented and smart people who can solve problems over someone with some experience in business.

• Any blue-chip experience? Just because you were in a technical field does not mean you could not have worked for GE, P&G, and Mercedes and so on in R&D. Blue-chip experience is counted and is generally more valued than working at a smaller or lesser-known firm.

• What kind of leadership activities has he been involved in? The more time you spend out of school, the more this becomes important.

• Does she have a medical degree or similar advanced qualification? Medical degrees do stand out. They take longer to obtain, they usually require much higher qualifying grades and they show an ability to work with people. All other things being equal, a medical degree would be an asset.

• What was your rate of progression? Smart and capable people will always show a consistently rapid progression in their careers. Consulting firms look for this.

So let’s look at some scenarios.

Scenario 1: Let’s assume the candidate is 32; same background as in the question above and has a medical degree from Harvard Medical School and graduated with a 3.4 GPA. He was successful as a doctor and tried to specialize in surgical training but only spent a year in this field. He has a healthy social life and maintains a full list of hobbies. He would have excellent chances on paper, though his low GPA will raise some concerns which will need to be tested via the interviews..

Scenario 2: If the scenario was the same but he was 40 years, the chances would diminish unless the candidate demonstrated great success his field, could explain why he never considered business before and why he is willing to make the jump now, and can demonstrate the ability to learn business problem solving (this is shown via the ability to solve cases).

Scenario 3: Same as scenario 1 but he was 45 years old. His chances would be very slim.

Scenario 4: Same as scenario 1, however he is 40 years old but has a doctorate in physics from Stanford and only worked in physics labs. This is still tough. Age is a big factor here. It will come down to the candidate’s determination, school and his success in his career. Yet, it is still slim.

So as you can see; lack of a business background becomes more important the older a candidate becomes. That’s because the older he is, the more important it is for him to demonstrate excellence in his technical field, yet the very same excellence raises questions about his reasons for changing careers and his ability to make this jump.

How does the candidate dress? Is this someone we could imagine in front of a client?

Step 2: Does the résumé and reality match?

Let’s assume, we looked at the résumé, and the candidate fell into scenario 1 or 2. We would then arrange for a discussion via video-conference to look for the following:

• How does the candidate dress? Is this someone we could imagine in front of a client?

• How does the candidate speak? Are they engaging, articulate and presentable?

• What are the candidate’s values? Is integrity important?

• Is the candidate worldly? Does he know what is happening in the world? Does he have a considered view-point and can debate topics?

• Is he confident? Can he stand his ground and intelligently debate?

• Does he command attention?

• What is his etiquette?

• Is he curious about the world?

Many of these things can be taught. So do not worry if you feel you may be weak in some areas. We use video-recording to see your improvement areas.

This is how we rank candidates:

• He has all the attributes.

• He does not have all the attributes but she can be coached and taught.

• He does not have key attributes which cannot be taught.

If you are ranked in the first 2 groups, then its fine and we allow you to join our coaching program. If we think you lack key attributes which cannot be taught, then we would decline, since you would be unlikely to get in even with the best coaching.

Explicitly answering your questions

Yes – McKinsey, Bain and BCG like to hire experienced candidates with graduate degrees in other fields, even if they have no business background. So if you are a particle physicist, medical doctor or ethnobiologist, it will be fine, provided you fulfill the criteria above. BCG, in particular, likes specialists from other fields. That is not to say McKinsey or Bain is less friendly to them, we just know BCG tends to more actively seek candidates with other backgrounds.

Typically if you met these criteria and where young, you would slot in at the Associate level which is the same level as all new MBA graduates. Your career path may be a little different but not in any particularly worrying way. You would just need greater exposure to internal business training and you would easily receive this.

For interest, Michael Wolf who led McKinsey’s Global Media Practice only possessed a BA in international politics from Columbia. No master’s degree and no business background. That is one prominent example but there are many others.

Assuming you were an extremely talented scientist from Johnson & Johnson and had risen to the senior ranks of the R&D unit, you would not necessarily come in at an Associate levels. Firms do make exceptions and sometimes bring in candidates on accelerated development paths. Sometimes you join as an associate with the intention to be developed rapidly or in other cases you join as an associate manager. However, this applies to exceptional individuals. You can also join as a specialist, which is more common if you have some deep skill the sector teams would want.

The tutorials DO NOT assume knowledge of business. All those concepts we discuss in the tutorials are typically difficult the first time someone with no business background sees them.

Either way, you would need to demonstrate the core problem solving skills so that you could work in any sector. You are not allowed to specialize until later, unless you actually join as a specialist.

The tutorials DO NOT assume knowledge of business. All those concepts we discuss in the tutorials are typically difficult the first time someone with no business background sees them. However, I can assure you that with training and reading the correct material you will be well prepared you for the case interviews. All candidates, business and non-business, are expected to go through the same cases as the ones in our tutorials. They are easy, and fun, once you learn the techniques. So to answer your first question – Yes, all candidates go through these questions.

To get into the leading firms, you will need the following:

• Excellent cover letter.

• Resume in, preferably, the Harvard format.

• Coaching on the overall experience.

• Ability to answer all five types of case questions.

• Ability to handle the FIT/PEI cases.

The first three mean nothing if you fail the cases. McKinsey will, and regularly, turns down many Harvard MBA’s who fail the case interviews, and plenty do not even get an interview. It is all about demonstrated competency. Some lesser firms will be impressed with a great resume, but the top firms want you to prove your problem solving ability.

The first three are relatively easier to do. The fourth and fifth area are more important. You need to learn this.

About the book: I would urge you to get it. Simply because it introduces you to a day-in-the-life of a McKinsey consultant through a real project and was written to teach you about all the concepts they use. It is also written in an entertaining format so you can really understand the issues and problems at a client. It has been a very popular book and we are building more around this. We wrote the book because we know we would have appreciated someone giving us a book like this when we worked at BCG and the like. It has proven to be popular and will give you a real-project overview.

To Summarize:

Summary: Yes, you still have a shot; provided your grades are good and you are starting out in your field. However, age is working against you. The more elapsed time since graduate studies equals fewer excuses for not succeeding at your chosen career or notching up more accomplishments. Ironically, the greater your success here raises questions about why you want to leave and your ability to learn the consulting techniques.

Next Steps: Polish your résumé and you need to apply as early as possible. However, if your grades are not good, you may want to consider getting an MBA to improve your chances, though a very weak undergraduate GPA is not easy to overcome for anyone, unless you graduate extraordinarily well. This is why I ask undergraduates to really take their time during their studies and finish well. You need to really prepare for the case interviews, speak to consultants in these firms and learn the soft skills to impress the interviewer.

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