- Consulting firms use in-house recruiters to help them find college and MBA students for jobs.
- But they also rely on external recruiters to fill entry-level and senior roles.
- Business Insider spoke with 10 independent consulting recruiters and career coaches on the advice they'd give to candidates who are interested in consulting roles, or how they can develop transferable skills.
- Mark Rich, a consulting headhunter at Whitehouse Pimms, said getting your name in a recruiter's exclusive database and establishing a personal connection with the interviewer are some ways to increase your chances of landing a consulting job.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
If you want to work at a big consulting firm like McKinsey or PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), knowing recruiters is key to getting your foot in the door.
Firms like McKinsey, Bain & Co., and Deloitte use internal recruiters to find MBA and bachelor's candidates on college campuses.
But leading consulting firms also work with external recruiters to hire entry-level or poach experienced, senior-level hires. There are also online platforms including Management Consulted, My Consulting Offer, and MyConsultingCoach that connect job seekers with career coaches who help candidates perfect their résumés, cover letters, and interview responses. Many of these coaches have previously worked at big firms, and they offer an inside scoop to what it takes to land a role.
There are niche areas within consulting, such as turnaround, bankruptcy, and digital transformation, that are usually filled by recruiters of more experienced consultants. Firms also work with external recruiters to shuttle talent to and from the "Big Three" (McKinsey, Bain, and BCG) and the "Big Four" (PwC, KPMG, EY, and Deloitte) to other opportunities in the industry.
Read more: Meet the recruiters hiring for 6-figure jobs at consulting firms like Bain, McKinsey, PwC, and KPMG
Entry-level consultants with MBAs can make up to a $170,000 base salary, which doesn't include performance or signing bonuses. An advisory principal, for instance, can make $230,000 at Bain, $804,751 at PwC, or $950,000 at KPMG.
Business Insider spoke with 6 external recruiters and 4 career coaches about how they work with leading consultancies to find talent, and how you can stand out in the applicant pool.
Here's what they said about how candidates can increase their chances of landing six-figure consulting jobs.
Rory Verrett, the founder and managing partner of Protégé Search, explained that recruiting and retaining diverse candidates should be front and center.
A former lawyer, Verrett got his start in recruiting at two of the large executive search firms, Spencer Stuart and Russell Reynolds Associates, before starting his own firm and focusing specifically on recruiting diverse candidates.
"By design, I engineered the firm to have diversity at the core of what we do, not just as one, ancillary area," he said. "My firm is focused on hiring diverse clients at the executive level, and my experience in that area comes from understanding the gaps that exists in big firms and why they haven't been able to fill those well so far."
Verrett notes that even though the coronavirus pandemic has shrunk the size of the consulting market from $160 billion to $132 billion, its still important for candidates to find the right fit and not necessarily jump at the first opportunity in a tough job market.
"You have to be careful, but opportunistic, and look at what makes sense for your long-term career trajectory," he said.
Jenny-Rae Le Roux, managing director at Management Consulted, explained that much of a consulting is about sales and relationship-building.
Management Consulted, a careers-resource company that helps graduates land consulting jobs, works with more than 5,000 job seekers at over 75 universities each year.
Le Roux took over the company as managing director in 2012. Since then, she's led the company to become the go-to site for consulting salary and job insights. The platform has more than four million subscribers. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, Management Consulted created a mentorship program that groups together volunteer McKinsey, Bain, or BCG consultants with six-member student teams to serve actual clients.
"We are staffed by 'recovering consultants,' all of whom have moved on from direct client-facing roles but remain passionate about the industry," Le Roux said.
Successful independent consultants are great at sales, and they are great at building strong relationships, she added.
"To sell on future work with the same client or get referred out to a client's contact, you also need to deliver," Le Roux said. "So it's not just junk bond sales. It's sales with substance."
Davis Nguyen, former Bain consultant and founder of My Consulting Offer, advised against cold-applying to every consulting firm that's hiring.
Nguyen is a former Bain management consultant who left in 2017. He founded My Consulting Offer, a more than $10 million consulting recruitment company that coaches students to land jobs at top firms like McKinsey, Bain, and Boston Consulting Group.
My Consulting Offer has more than 600 clients who are undergrads, business-school students, master's and PhD students, and experienced hires. Nguyen's company also specializes in helping candidates leverage unconventional careers to land consulting jobs.
For job seekers to stand out in an application and land a consulting offer, Nguyen recommended that you focus on applying to firms that you actually see yourself working at.
"There are hundreds of consulting firms," he said. "And if you try to apply to all of them, you will get overwhelmed and receive lukewarm responses because you don't have the time to invest in getting to know the firms. That will show when the recruiter reads your application and thinks 'Who is this?'"
Chad Oakley, chief executive officer at executive search firm Charles Aris, said it's important to remember that the "Big 3" and "Big 4" are still hiring, and the job market isn't as dire as it was during the Great Recession.
Oakley started his career as a Deloitte consultant and has worked as a recruiter for more than 15 years. He's helped place candidates during up and down economies, including during the Great Recession. He said that for today's candidates, it's important to keep calm and remember that while hiring is down, it hasn't reached 2009 levels.
"Consulting, surprisingly, is in pretty good shape this year, and what that means is that hiring has not stopped, which was the issue in 2009," he said. Hiring in the "Big Three" and "Big Four" will decrease, Oakley told Business Insider, but will not stop like it did in 2009.
When it comes to landing a role in a more competitive job market, Oakley's advice is to go to the right school and "crush the cases."
"That's 90% of the 'Big 3' and 'Big 4' decision criteria," he said. "And if you're not from one of the classic schools, network like crazy."
Leah Frank, former recruiting specialist at Bain and McKinsey and enrollment manager at My Consulting Offer, encouraged candidates to network with consultants as part of their job search.
Frank was a recruiting specialist at both Bain & Co. and McKinsey, where she did five full recruitment cycles and reviewed about 50,000 applications. Now, She's an enrollment and program success manager at My Consulting Offer (MCO).
In an interview with Business Insider, Frank said she decided to join MCO because she's passionate about building coaching programs that actually work.
"I know how stressful, competitive, and overwhelming it can be to get into consulting from being on the other side of it," she said. "I want to help more students and experienced hires who just need a little extra guidance and confidence to get their foot in the door."
Since joining Nguyen's company in 2019, Frank coached around 400 students and experienced hires through their job search process, she said. Her biggest piece of advice for candidates is to not be afraid of networking.
"Consultants at all levels at these firms are supposed to network as part of their job at the firm, so they expect to do this and a lot of them actually enjoy it since it takes them away from client work," Frank noted.
You should treat networking like you'd treat a relationship with a mentor, and avoid approaching it like it's an interview, she said.
Atta Tarki, chief executive partner and managing director of ECA Partners, recommended candidates broaden their geographic search.
It may be your dream to land at McKinsey's New York office, but Tarki, who started his career as a consultant at BCG in Munich, said that flexibility with your geographic preferences as well as your firm is the best way to land a job that will put your consulting skills to good use.
"At the office level, if you know where they have gaps in staffing, you can find pockets to fill," he said. "The candidates that are flexible in terms of location are the ones who have a big advantage. Very few candidates are willing to move for a job, and a more local job market might be a good thing if you have a specific skillset and know you don't want to compete with a national talent pool anymore."
Tarki added that specializing could be a good way to stand out, but cautioned that focusing on some struggling sectors, like the ailing retail industry, may not be as effective.
"Don't be a generalist, be a specialist — but candidates only have an advantage if the sector is still needed," he said.
Mark Rich, partner and managing director at Whitehouse Pimms, recommended that you get your name on a recruiter's database and work to make a connection with employers.
Throughout his 20-year tenure as a headhunter, Rich placed over 400 candidates to engagement manager, partner, and other senior-level roles at consulting firms. Though he's recruited for giant consultancies like the "Big Four" firms and McKinsey, he worked primarily with boutique firms to poach talent.
Rich said his typical client is looking for people who are either two to three years post-business school or have six years of relevant experience without an MBA. Oftentimes, these candidates are already working with a consulting firm and have a ton of experience under their belts.
"Our clients look for people who have worked in a certain industry or have a very specific skill set," he said. "We pretty much know who the best candidates are when they come to us because we've built a tremendous database over the years."
Whitehouse Pimms' database is formed through conversations with former and current consultants, and their acquaintances. Getting your name into that database can increase your chances of landing a senior-level consulting job, Rich added.
When it comes to interviewing with an employer, the expert recruiter recommended that you try to make a connection and be personable with the interviewer.
"When you're assessing people who are already at a senior-level, they're all bright people with the right credentials," Rich said. "But it's the passionate candidate — the person who makes the connection with you — who gets the offer."
Shanti Venugopal, a former recruiting specialist at McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group, stressed that candidates research their targeted firms.
Prior to joining MCO as an enrollment specialist, Venugopal worked alongside McKinsey's recruitment training group for 18 years and also led Boston Consulting Group's staffing plans in Southeast Asia. She's helped over 100,000 candidates land consulting jobs, she shared.
In an interview with Business Insider, the expert said job seekers should come up with a list of target firms and research them to understand each company's core values. Having a clear overview of your dream employer's mission can help you draft a catered application.
"Ensure your resume and cover letter are succinct and impactful, take the time to thoughtfully present it in a compelling manner," she added.
Nick Patterson and Richard Rosser, the cofounders of Movemeon, recommended that you tap into an alumni network.
Movemeon, a career platform that connects people to freelance and corporate consulting jobs, was founded in 2012 by former McKinsey consultants Patterson and Rosser. The company serves as an online community for nearly 50,000 job seekers and works with about 250 consultancies worldwide. It works with firms like EY and L.E.K. Consulting, according to the company's website.
In an interview with Business Insider, Patterson and Rosser explained they're working for two job markets: One for corporate clients and another for freelancers who are looking for short-term contracts.
"People were a bit worried and suspicious of freelance work four to five years ago," Patterson said. "But nowadays, we see people leaving base salary jobs in order to fit into a freelance project or two, and then going back to a full-time job. They want more career freedom now."
When it comes to exploring job opportunities, the founders said that tapping into an alumni network can not only help you potentially connect with more people, but a conversation with someone who worked at your dream firm can also give you a better sense of what it's like.
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