Yes, the top consulting firms hire large numbers out of HBS, Booth, Wharton, Kellogg, et al year in and year out. And yes, firms do give preference to their target schools.
But, there is a pathway you can take to break into consulting from a non-target school (whether you’re an undergrad or MBA). Let’s dive in to the specific targets you need to hit to give yourself the best shot at breaking into the industry.
Steps To Break Into Consulting From A Non-Target School
Craft An Irresistible Resume
The first step is to craft a resume that screams “top performer” in every line. Your bullet points must display the transferable skills you applied and the impact you achieved through your experience (internships, academic projects, leadership roles, etc.). Bonus resume tip: use metrics in every line!
Network Your Butt Off
Networking is everything when it comes to breaking into firms like McKinsey, Bain, BCG and Accenture from an off-the-radar school. You need to pursue every avenue you have available to build a connection that can lead to an interview invite. Leverage your network, attend networking events, and reach out cold to connect with the right people. Read our in-depth article on networking to get started, and leverage our Networking Course.
Apply Early If You Can
If firms (like MBB) release multiple application deadlines, apply to the first one if possible. Applying with the first wave gives you the best chance of landing an interview because firms fill spots as they go.
Leverage Diversity Pathways
If you can, take advantage of available diversity channels. Most consulting firms have a range of affinity/diversity groups that you can connect with. These groups often offer sponsorship to candidates that results in an interview invite. In addition, search on firm websites to find any diversity-related events or conferences. These give you a chance to rub shoulders with people who can give you insight into the process, connect you with the right people, or even get you an interview invite themselves. Find specific info on diversity groups inside of 200+ consulting firms in our Consulting Firm Directory.
Start Your Prep Early
If you’re at a non-target school, getting started early is critical. If you’re an undergrad, start the process your sophomore year. Your plan should include firm research, networking, building experience, and more. In addition, many firms offer summer leadership programs (EY, PwC, BCG, etc.) that give you a feel for the company and a foot in the door. We encourage you to apply for these programs if you fit the criteria!
Get Relevant Internship Experience
Getting relevant internship experience is an important piece of the puzzle. Starting in your sophomore summer, you’ll want to seek out opportunities that allow you to gain the skills that firms are looking for. What are those skills, exactly? Data analysis (quantitative and qualitative), leadership, stakeholder management, presentation, etc. are all relevant.
In addition, interning with a brand name company (in any industry) certainly helps your experience stand out. If you’re early in your career and want your non-consulting internship experience to stand out in future consulting applications, focus on brand name more than function when evaluating opportunities.
Short on opportunities? Create your own internship! Alternatively, apply to a program like Strategy Sprint. Strategy Sprint is a virtual, 1-week consulting project led by an MBB consultant. You get skills training on the core consulting skillset and relevant experience for your resume.
Pro tip: firms care about consulting classes, but they value real-world experience much more. Do both, but if you have to choose, prioritize the real-world experience.
Bonus Tip: Don’t rest once you have an interview
It would be a bummer if you did all the hard work to receive a well-deserved interview invite, but then bombed the interview. While it’s true that you’re on a mostly even playing field in the interview rounds, if the firm needs to break a tie between you and another candidate, they’ll take the candidate they know better. Very often, this will end up being the candidate from a target school background. That’s why it’s critical you crush your interview prep and leave no doubt about your potential for success as a consultant.
Breaking into consulting from a non-target school is achievable! Need an expert hand to guide you through the consulting prep process? Check out Black Belt, our premier prep program that has helped thousands of folks from non-target backgrounds break into the industry!
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