Consulting hiring timelines can be confusing. Consulting roles are some of the most coveted jobs in the corporate world. Yet, the timeline and process for breaking into a top firm isn’t always clear. And due to the significant number of variables associated with the steps of the process, the answer is anything but straightforward. In this article, we shed light on the consulting hiring timeline for each major candidate group.
Understanding the Paths to Consulting Recruitment
The management consulting industry is notoriously picky when it comes to its hiring and selection process. While firms are always on the search for top talent, their definition of “top” is strict – they are looking for the best of the best!
There are two pathways into a consulting firm – straight out of an academic program or from industry as an experienced candidate.
The consulting hiring timeline varies significantly between these two avenues.
From Academic Program
Hires from undergraduate, specialty masters, MBA, and PhD programs – make up the bulk of a firm’s annual hiring. The consulting hiring timeline for these post-grad roles are defined, which makes them much easier to navigate.
For target programs, the process begins with firms visiting campus and introducing themselves through info sessions. These serve as pitches to encourage candidates to apply and also as networking events. Candidates can chat with firm representatives to gain insight into the firm’s work, culture, and benefits.
Candidates at a non-target school, it’s up to you to get facetime with folks from your target firms. If the firms you like aren’t coming to your campus, you need to reach out yourself (more about that in a bit). Firms do hire candidates from outside of their target programs – they just need to know you exist!
The next step is to prepare your resume and cover letter – if you’re at a target program for a particular firm, you’ll apply through a resume book your school submits to the firm. If you’re at a non-target program, apply online (but not without ensuring you’ve secured an advocate first). The resume should highlight your transferable skills, impact created in each role, leadership experience (ex: clubs), and significant achievements (ex: scholarships, awards).
Candidates often overlook the importance of the cover letter, but it is also an important part of consulting applications. Why? Well, a cover letter serves as a writing sample. The recruiting team can assess your ability to communicate clearly, succinctly, and in a detail-oriented manner. Not every firm requires cover letters, but if it’s an option, you should submit one.
Around 25-30% of applicants receive interview invites. If you’re one of the prepared few, next steps include the interview rounds (digital assessments, case studies, and behavioral interviews), and offer letter. Salary negotiation is only applicable for experienced hires.
Experienced Candidate Timeline
The process looks very similar for experienced candidates, with a couple of important caveats.
First, there are obviously no on-campus events for you. So, like non-target students, you must go to the firms and network before you apply.
Second, there are no application deadlines at most firms for experienced candidates. You can network and apply at your convenience. Still, it is most advantageous for you to apply between March-May. Around here, we affectionately call this “second season.” Consulting firms hire an outsized number of experienced candidates in this 3-month window. Pay attention – the evaluation for experienced candidates often focuses more on cultural fit than just the ability to crack cases.
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Consulting Recruitment Tips
Consulting firms look for a few specific attributes that can be classified into the following categories:
Reviewers are looking for something superlative that catches their attention. This can be the school you attended or a work experience that stands out – something that displays your ability to excel in rigorous environments.
Consulting resumes are a classic case of “show me, don’t tell me.” You must demonstrate your ability to drive impact, and whenever possible, quantify that impact. Consultants think in numbers, and how quantifying their impact is how firms justify their large project fees.
Beyond your analytical and problem-solving ability, your soft skills are a ‘critical factor’ in whether you land an offer and ultimately succeed in consulting. Consulting is a human capital-driven business – it requires client management, extensive team collaboration, and the ability to influence without formal authority. This is one of the reasons why both case and behavioral interviews test your soft as well as hard skills.
Networking is Key
On my first day at McKinsey, I was told the following: “Make your own McKinsey.” In other words: network with the right people in the firm that can help you progress along your desired career path – both inside the firm and outside it once you leave.
If you want to succeed at a top firm, networking is a crucial tool for success, and one that needs to be strengthened over time. Recruiters put a premium on a candidate’s ability to connect with existing employees and build an impression with the purpose of the employee sharing the candidate’s profile with the recruiting team.
One way is to talk to existing folks at the firm about life on the job, firm culture, or anything else that interests you about the industry and/or the firm. Keep these conversations focused, however, on making an ask for a referral. Employee referrals are critical to getting your foot in the door at almost any consulting firm.
Consulting Hiring Seasons
Here are the U.S. timelines for each student group:
- February/March: Application deadline for PhD/JD/MD bridge programs
- July: First application deadline for undergraduate internship and full-time roles, PhD/JD/MD full-time roles
- August: First application deadline for MBA full-time roles
- November: First application deadline for MBA internship roles
Non-U.S. timelines usually lag by a few weeks, so you have additional time to prepare if you’re targeting international offices.
Again, experienced candidates can apply at any time, although spring is generally the best time to break into a firm. Why? Firms have recalibrated their staffing needs after filling the pipeline in Q1, and many current consultants have submitted resignation notices after receiving their performance bonus from the prior year. Above all, be proactive and reach out to people you have networked with to find the right time to apply for your specific firm and/or practice area!
Consulting hiring timelines depend on a variety of factors. Prepare your application materials early so you don’t get caught flat-footed when firms announce application deadlines. Work with our team to get your resume ready, and to prepare for the case interviews – now is the time to start!
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