The truth about GPA, SAT, GMAT, career changes, and office selection: a weekly roundup of reader questions

This site has been growing by leaps and bounds in the past weeks. I want to thank readers for making this happen.

Next week, you can look forward to:

  • Release of “The Consulting Bible” – an interview guide complete with the 60+ most common interview questions, sizing questions, and custom-written cases
  • Continuation of the “Life as a Consultant” interview series which started with Booz Allen and now continues with contributors from Bain, Oliver Wyman, and ATKearney as well as perspectives on working overseas, transitioning from finance, etc
  • More “Core Content” posts including articles on resumes, interviews, consulting lifestyle, and thoughts on my time at McKinsey

In the past month, I’ve had the fortune of helping 20+ people break into consulting. Unfortunately, I need to increase prices as I can’t handle demand. I will be changing the format of my coaching service (to become distinct “resume” and “interview” products). Look for these changes by next week

Now on to the questions! These are the most common and interesting ones to hit the comments and my inbox, and I figure many readers are interested in the answers.

Is there a GPA cutoff for management consulting? What is a strong GPA? Poor GPA?

Instead of saying “it depends”, here’s my take: if you have a 3.5 and above, you should be safe for most recruiting screens. If you have below a 3.5, other factors come into play – such as the strength of your undergraduate institution, the difficulty of your major, whether you have multiple degrees, etc.

3.7 and above is generally a strong GPA.

3.2 and below is generally a poor GPA.

Of course, the strength of your work experience and extracurricular experience always matter and can shift GPA perceptions.

I’m a senior in college and applying to consulting firms fulltime. Unfortunately, I have a really low SAT score from high school. Will this hurt my chances? Should I retake the SAT?

If your SAT score is below 1300, it could hurt depending on the firm. I would strongly recommend against retaking the SAT. There are better uses of your time. However, if you believe you can take it right now with no practice and score a 1500, no one will stop you.

If you have a low SAT, focus on the areas where you can make a difference – a great GPA will go a long way. Shoot for leadership positions in school, gain part-time work experience during school and recruit for quality firms over summer and post-college.

Same applies to GMAT. I’d think of 700 as your cutoff level there

Since graduating from college/graduate school, I’ve worked in several jobs and have built a strong work resume. Unfortunately, my educational background is weak – I didn’t go to a “target school” and had a low GPA in my time. How much will this affect my chances?

I’ve received many people asking variations of this theme. Here’s my advice:

If you have strong work experience – world-class firms, multiple promotions, a record of accomplishment, leadership, and risk-taking – the most important thing for you now is not your undergraduate GPA, but how you can get your resume in front of recruiters and decision-makers. Unless you plan on going back to school and utilizing their recruiting channels, it will come down to networking. There are a couple sources I suggest you hit immediately:

  • School and work alumni networks
  • Extended personal network (friends and family)
  • Headhunters – preferably the ones that don’t charge an upfront fee but work through referrals to specific firms
  • Pounding the pavement – meeting consultants at industry conferences, tradeshows, career forums, etc

Your educational record will play a part in your overall candidacy, but a minor one. If you have 5+ years of work experience, those years will be the focal point of any interview and resume screen. Your goal now is to get that opportunity.

I’ve heard that some offices are “easier” to recruit for at big consulting firms such as Bain, BCG, Mckinsey, Booz Allen. Should I apply to the smaller, “easier” offices?

This myth is partly true, partly false.

It’s partly true because selectivity varies by office at GMCs. Smaller offices may prefer a weaker candidate who ranks them #1 and has a rationale for that ranking (eg, it’s their hometown, they’re interested in the region’s dominant industries) to a stronger candidate who doesn’t rank them at all.

It’s partly false because selectivity can vary significantly in the smaller offices year-to-year. Particularly in the current hiring environment, smaller offices may make offers in the low single digits (if any).

Here’s your takeaway: if you’re a very strong candidate, it won’t matter to which office you apply. If you’re a borderline candidate, you may want to give office preferences a closer look – but only if you have good personal and professional reasons to do so.

Thanks for reading. For more background info and if you’re new to Management Consulted, here are some recommended posts: The Consulting Industry 101; Investment Banking vs Management Consulting; Day in the life of a Management Consultant; Overview of the recruiting process. UPCOMING POSTS: Continuation of the “Life as a Consultant” series; Top 10 tips for mastering the sizing questions (aka mini-case studies)

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I offer a coaching service to help people break into management consulting and top business jobs – from resume editing to simulated interviews/case studies to Q&A and networking. We’ll prepare you to master the recruiting process, stand out from the 1000’s of other applicants, and land multiple job offers

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