Management consulting resumes are a frequent topic here.
For one, about 50% of reader emails are related to resumes. For two, you can’t land a consulting job without a good one.
- How to write a consulting-targeted resume from scratch
- Advanced tips in building an eye-catching resume
- Strategic mistakes that will derail your resume from getting the fullest attention
- The skills, experiences, and specific keywords that consultants and recruiters look for
- 10 “tactical” tips in composing your consulting resume
Finally, due to the 100s of questions received on this topic, we’ll have an honest discussion about what it really takes to get an interview at places like McKinsey, Booz, and more.
It’s a long article, so get ready for some scrolling!
How to build a consulting-targeted resume from scratch
If you don’t have a resume, your first step is to check out example resume templates.
In general, all resumes/CVs should include:
- A header section with personal information
- Sections for work experience, educational background, and miscellany interests/skills/activities
- Bulleted text as opposed to text paragraphs
- Key information on each experience such as your title, the location, and length of time involved
In addition, most consulting resumes do not have a lead “summary” or “objectives” section as is common in international CVs. Two reasons:
- Your summary and objectives should be communicated clearly through your achievements
- Resume readers are busy – a summary section adds little additional value
Finally, 99% of consulting resumes are one page long. Same goes for the cover letter!
If you have more than 5 years of experience, or have switched industries abnormally often, 2 pages is ok. Anything longer than that is recruiting suicide.
Advanced tips in building an eye-catching resume
Put yourself into a recruiter’s or a consultant’s shoes. At most, you have 5 minutes to review the resume. That’s actually pretty generous – average review time is probably more like 2-3 minutes.
You need to make a decision about whether this person deserves an interview in that timeframe.
You have very little time…so:
1. You focus on the candidate’s 1-2 most impressive achievements
2. You hope it’s in PDF…so you can avoid annoying formatting issues and document-opening errors
You need to determine whether you deserve an interview…so:
1. You look for the specific consulting skills that are needed in the job (more on that below)
2. You read the Interests/Hobbies section because, let’s admit, it’s the most interesting part!
3. You do an overall review of the resume’s professionalism, paying attention to alignment, grammar, and typos
Now take those steps, and think about how you can improve your resume from the consultant’s perspective.
Strategic mistakes that will derail your resume from getting the fullest attention
We’ve discussed common resume mistakes before.
Here, we won’t be discussing tactical errors like using “Justify” alignment. Instead, we’ll talk about resume-wide strategic errors.
Strategic error #1: Focusing on education without sufficient backup
It’s a bad idea to dedicate half your resume to your educational background if you don’t have the big school name or the technical/graduate degrees to impress readers.
This hurts because with only 2 minutes to review your resume, you don’t want 90 seconds of that time to be focused on your Bachelor of Arts degree from University of North Dakota (no offense).
Strategic error #2: Throwing everything but the kitchen sink
This is not new advice, but with resumes less is more. Less is much, much more.
Every recruiter and consultant can tell you about the outstanding resumes they’ve seen that were barely one page, at 12-point Times New Roman font, with 1″ page margins.
Why is this?
Because you enjoy reading them more. You can quickly analyze the key skills and successes. And most importantly, you remember them better. When it comes to resume review time, you immediately know the candidate’s story and strengths.
Finally, it shows a degree of professionalism and self-confidence to execute such a strategy.
While you don’t need to be that bold, the worst thing you can do is list 20 bullets under each job, 9 different hobbies, and 15 skill certifications.
Ask yourself this question: if a resume reviewer will only remember 5 things about my resume, what are they? Then put them front and center. Everything else is, more or less, window-dressing.
Strategic error #3: Lack of self-promotion, when your achievements can’t promote themselves
It’s great that you’ve been a software engineer for 10 years. But will a string of technical jobs at Oracle, Salesforce, and Intuit be sufficient to attract BCG recruiters?
In this situation, you’ve got to sell yourself loud and clear. Cover letter aside, you only have your resume to impress a reader enough to be considered “strategy consulting material”.
Highlight your biggest achievements. Exaggerate a little when quantifying impact. Use words like “managed” and “developed” often.
Identify precisely what skills consultants are looking for, and rewrite your resume to display those skills.
Regardless of your career and industry, you can exhibit the same parallel skills that are employed by Bain consultants every day.
Research and analytics? Check.
People leadership and project management? Check.
Client sales and relationship management? Check-plus.
The skills, experiences, and specific keywords that consultants and recruiters look for
Consultants are generally looking for the following skills and experiences in resumes:
- People management and team leadership
- Client interaction – both sales and relationship building
- Technical and quantitative analytics and research
- Proven-track record of success at prior jobs as demonstrated by promotions and increasing responsibilities
- Quantifiable individual and team-oriented results
This will vary by academic background, years of work experience, and so forth.
To demonstrate the above, great key phrases include: directed teams, led meetings, managed clients, proposed and implemented, increased performance by, reduced costs by…
You get the idea.
Further reading: Insider secrets to Bain recruiting
What it really takes to land an interview at the best firms
We’ll avoid a discussion of specific accomplishments, because with consulting hiring, there are exceptions to every rule.
Hundreds of Princeton graduates are rejected sight-unseen by Bain Consulting every year, while a University of Wisconsin grad was able to secure a first-round McKinsey interview.
As a broad rule of thumb, the following will help differentiate your resume from the rest of the pile:
-A top-tier educational institution (undergraduate or graduate)
-A prestigious role at an industry-leading Fortune 500
-Starting a venture-funded company
-Doing something truly world-class (such as receiving a Marshall fellowship, publishing research in Science/Nature)
Without one of the above, you’ll need to focus on the following:
1. Make your cover letter and resume air-tight
2. Network at every available opportunity. As Ramit Sethi likes to say, great networkers build relationships before they need them
3. Consider graduate educational opportunities that will “upgrade” your candidacy
4. Search low and high for boutiques and regional consulting firms that have more idiosyncratic hiring rules
5. Start your own consulting shop!
That said, here are the 10 very specific tips to apply when writing a consulting-ready resume:
1) Read your resume for typos. Then read it again. Then have a friend read it. Then read it again. It is critical that there are no mistakes of any kind – grammar and spelling both. While you think mistakes can be overlooked, the funny thing about consultants (and this applies to other industries as well) is that once they find a mistake, it’s all they remember.
Last year, I was doing a resume review and noticed someone had mispelled “consulting” into “consluting”. While the rest of the resume was good, I didn’t forget this typo – and when we were on a resume review call, the team lead brought it up, and you know what? Everyone else on the team had noticed it too.
2) Align everything and space everything equally. Everyone’s seen those left-by-the-road-to-die resumes, the ones with horrible spacing issues, 3 different font sizes, looking like it came out of the printer crooked. While that is an extreme, proper spacing and alignment make a resume more visually appealing and are indicative of an attention to detail that are critical to any consultant’s early success. One of my mentors during the recruiting process put it best when he said:
“If someone’s resume doesn’t have properly aligned columns, it tells me that they either don’t care or don’t pay attention to detail. And if they don’t pay attention to detail, then how are they going to build a model that has the right numbers? Or a presentation that’s ready for the client to see?”
3) Put your name in a large font. This is often overlooked, but do not put your name in the same font size as the rest of the resume. If your resume is typed in standard 12 font size, I would recommend a name at least 24 font size. Why? Because recruiters/interview screeners can churn through 200-300 resumes within 3-5 hours (giving 1-2 minutes per resume!). The last thing you want is for them to mentally think “hey, this person is fairly qualified”, move on to the next resume, and then forget your name.
This is just for safety purposes. Most screening processes compile resume scores in Excel spreadsheets, and this systematic process ensures your resume won’t be overlooked even if your name is.
But there are many application situations where this will be helpful – think boutique firms, random resume drops, headhunters, etc. You want your name to stand out so people connect you with your qualifications.
4) Make sure your contact info is updated and you check your email frequently. I’ve heard horror stories of applicants for financial service jobs submitting resumes with emails that bounce, phone numbers that are disconnected, and so forth. While the firm may eventually get in touch with you, a first impression is set and you’ll get off to a bad start. Use your primary email address and a working phone number.
As a small but important detail, try to avoid outdated email domains (like AOL). Consultants pride themselves on being technologically savvy, and seeing an applicant with a email@example.com address raises several questions, such as “does this guy still use dial-up?”; “has she not heard of gmail?”; and so forth. Remember, readers – covering all bases is the name of the recruiting game.
5) Avoid conspicuous gaps in your education and work timeline. A few months is ok. Anything longer than 6 months is a no-no. This is another situation, like typos, alignment, etc – where questions lead to more questions and peoples’ impression of your resume can take a turn for the worse. My blanket advice here is that 9/10 times, you can fill in the timeframe with something substantive (eg, nonprofit work, part-time schooling, global travel). For the 1/10 times where you can’t easily explain your situation (eg, family issues), do not mention this in your consulting cover letter. You want to downplay, not emphasize. But make sure you have your story straight and response ready, because there is a very good chance it will come up during a first round interview
6) Keep it to one page only. Obvious to some, but a very common mistake. Nothing says “I don’t know what I’m doing” faster than a 4 page resume.
If you absolutely cannot fit the things that you want to say to one page, play around with font-size, line-spacing, character-spacing (all features within Microsoft Word). But I guarantee you should be able to.
Some firms ask that you convert your resume to PDF prior to submission, or have an online submission method that automatically converts to PDF. Please check the results of both to ensure that your resume stays at one page in length.
And leave white space! Do not make your resume too “text-heavy”. Interviewers are quickly turned off by resumes that are packed with content. This will make them less interested in reading your resume AND cause them to overlook important pieces
There are exceptions to every rule as indicated above. Those with sufficient work experience and/or high job turnover can spill over onto a second page.
7) Have a line on personal interest/hobbies and keep it sensible and specific. One line only.
Interests: Competitive tennis player. Avid hiker (climbed Kilimanjaro last year). Amateur pastry chef.
Interests: Likes to play lots of sports. Loves hiking mountains and has hiked Kilimanjaro in the past. Enjoys cooking.
As you can see, the “Bad” example:
#1 lacked specificity – everyone “enjoys cooking”. few can call themselves an “amateur pastry chef”. it makes you stand-out and increases the chances that reader who also likes making desserts will relate to you
#2 rambled and used flippant language – avoid the words “like” and “love”, as they can sound trite. do not turn the “Interests” line into a personal statement or paragraph
8) Focus on results. Preferably quantifiable results. Consultants are very “results-oriented”. They will be looking for similar attributes in your resume.
Instead of saying “Re-built online database to reduce errors and increase entry speed”, say this: “Constructed new online database, resulting in 50% fewer input errors and 33% more entries in an average day”
Instead of saying “Edited Human Resource interview questions to correct grammar, typos, and to tailor them for summer interns”, say this: “Optimized HR interview process by eliminating grammar and typos in questions; created the first-set of questions tailored at internship applicants resulting in 3 internship hires
Not every impact has to be quantified – but consistently focus on the impact of your work and not the steps taken, a very common mistake. This will convey that not only did you get work done, you did important work that showed clear results for your employer. High-five.
9) Do not include high school - SAT/standardized test scores are an exception. Whether you just graduated college or have 10+ years work experience, high school information does not belong on a professional resume. Place your SAT/standardized test scores in your “College” section. If there are major awards/prizes received while in high school (and this is only of the Westinghouse Science Prize magnitude), you can place them in the “College” section. An “Elks Lodge Scholarship” does not count.
10) Focus on the rule of 3 - 3 major work experiences, 3 bullets on each one. Simple “guiding principle”. Only exception is your primary job (the one experience you would like to highlight to any resume reviewer) – you should have more than 3 bullets. Have an “education” section with 3 bullets. And so forth. This rule ensures you don’t include 8 bullets for each experience, which is a sure-fire way to signal that you don’t know what you’re doing and overwhelm the reviewer with unnecessary information.
That rounds up our comprehensive review of management consulting resumes.
Do you have more questions about how to make your resume the best it can be? Want more insight into the candidate selection process at M/B/B firms? Check out our Consulting Resume and Cover Letter Bible - 98 power-packed pages, including 24 easy-to-use templates, to take your resume from good to great!