Overview of the Management Consulting recruiting process – from information sessions to interviews to negotiating the offer

This is post #1 of our series on recruiting. Below, we’ll touch upon the main components of the consulting job search and what we believe are the key do’s and key don’ts. Feel free to post comments below or email us with any questions and followups. We want to thank our readers for making these first 2 weeks of blogging a very interesting time – blogging is a 2-way street where the writer learns as much as the readers.

We’ve also lined up our first “personalized consultations” (for one college student preparing for summer internships and one recent grad interested in switching industries).

Now, on to RECRUITING. The key components are:

Note that each of these sections is worth a long post alone (similar to our first post, Management Consulting and the Consulting Industry 101). This is a Cliffs Notes version for now.

#1 Company presentations/mixers/information sessions

Far more common if you’re currently in school (undergraduate, MBA) where consulting firms ranging from Boston Consulting Group to Mercer HR to Kurt Salmon will swarm campuses, giving presentations, holding social mixers, etc in an effort to publicize their firm and identify “high-potential” candidates. Handling a company presentation is like, as a quick sports analogy, being the heavy favorite as a nationally ranked, Division 1 team in a game against an unranked, Division 2 team. In other words – there are 10,000 ways you can mess up, but very few ways to truly beat expectations.

Definitely Do: -dress sharp (refer to our Interview Tips page, tip #2) -meet at least 3-4 consultants/recruiters present, ask for their business card, and FOLLOW-UP to ask for advice/interview tips

Definitely Don’t: -spend the entire time talking to your friends -spend the entire time by the snack bar -hand your resume to recruiters or consultants unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED -ask 50 questions – people remember the ANNOYING APPLICANTS

#2 Application – resume + cover letter

This is where the wheat begins to be separated from the chaff. At this point, you’ve decided management consulting is a potential career path for you. You may not be 100% sold over other options (eg banking, accounting, corporate, etc) but are interested enough to invest significant time. There are many variations of how this process works: if you’re currently enrolled in school, there are typically resume submission periods followed by a selection process to determine who receives interviews. If you’re not in school (or your target firms do not recruit at your school), it typically means submitting your resume through internal friends, HR and recruiting contacts, or even in-person at job/career fairs and waiting indefinitely to hear back. Either way, a top notch resume will ALWAYS STAND OUT. Cover letters, on the other hand, present significantly more room for error and have limited upside.

Definitely Do: -build a consulting-ready resume (refer to our Resume Tips page) -make sure you have the RIGHT FIRM, ADDRESS, ETC on your cover letter -follow-up with recruiters if you haven’t received confirmation upon submission -let contacts within firms know that you have applied – they can send a positive recommendation to recruiters if they are inclined to do so

Definitely Don’t: -send more than 1 email asking about the status of your application -have more than 1 page for either your cover letter or your resume -send additional materials (eg, portfolio work, letters of reference) unless SPECIFICALLY ASKED

At some point you may need to narrow your scope – we recommend submitting resumes/cover letters to as many firms as possible, but if you’re lucky enough to receive tons of interviews you should really consider which firms are best for you so you can focus on the ones that matter. This post on global management consulting firms versus boutique firms may help

#3 Interview (phone)

Self-explanatory. Phone interviews are usually fit-oriented, and if done are either because #1, the firm doesn’t have enough resources to immediately hold in-person interviews or #2, you’re a “borderline case” and they need additional information about you and your background to decide. The approach with phone interviews should be to focus on answer quality, and less on building interviewer rapport given the difficulties of doing that over the phone. Cover the bases below and you’ll do fine.

Note that not all consulting firms will have phone interviews. Some may skip directly to in-person interviews. Some may have several phone interviews before any in-person meetings

Definitely Do: -place the call in a QUIET AREA WITH GOOD RECEPTION, preferably a land-line -ask for time if you need to collect your thoughts – but don’t take longer than 30 seconds -have a notepad handy for technical questions -ask for their email address to send a THANK YOU NOTE/FOLLOW-UP EMAIL

Definitely Don’t: -conduct the phone interview while on a train from Lumsford, New Mexico to El Paso, Texas -be too casual – it’s easier to make this mistake on the phone – remember that it is a JOB INTERVIEW. No excessive laughing. Keep discussion of personal matters to a bare minimum unless directly asked

#4 Interview (in-person)

Also self-explanatory. If you’ve made it here, congratulations! They clearly think highly of what you’ve accomplished and now want to know you as a person – your communication skills, your on-the-spot thinking and analytical abilities, your presence and personality. This is truly the most difficult part, as I can guarantee that at this point you’re up against some very qualified candidates. To stand out, the keys in management consulting interviews are to really ACE THE CASE, have well-rehearsed but NATURAL RESPONSES to non-case questions, and be well-informed about current business news. Sounds simple, but takes many many many hours of solid preparation to make this happen.

There are two components to interviews (both phone and in-person) – the case study, and the fit/behavioral questions. We will dedicate separate posts to each, but the important thing to know is that the case study accounts for at least 50% (and usually more) of your final “score” in determining whether you get an offer

Definitely Do: -everything we wrote on our Interview Tips page

Definitely Don’t: -forget everything we wrote on our Interview Tips page

#5 The Waiting Period

Like #1 Company Presentations, there’s not much upside but you can do a lot to ruin your prospects. Be patient and focus on other priorities – and NEVER STOP LOOKING FOR OTHER JOBS.

Definitely Do: -wait patiently and if you have upcoming interviews, prepare for those -if you have no response after 1 week of the “final interview”, send an email to the recruiter asking if they need anything more from you regarding your application; CC one or two consultants you interviewed with or talked to extensively in the process

Definitely Don’t: -assume you have an offer and stop the job search process -send an email a day to recruiters/consultants at the firm inquiring about your status

#6 The Offer!

CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve done it. It’s extremely difficult to receive offers from management consulting firms – their scale is simply an order of magnitude smaller than financial service firms (as an example, McKinsey’s New York office, one of their largest, occupies about 10-15 floors of one skyscraper. Goldman Sachs in New York has 3 skyscrapers all to itself). Now is time for thorough due diligence and diplomatic negotiation if necessary regarding final terms, start date, etc. Again, congratulations on a job well-done and welcome to the challenging and wonderful world of strategy and management consulting.

Definitely Do: -thank them nicely for the offer -send an email to firm contacts that you’ve met through the application process and thank them/notify them as well. Set up time to discuss the offer and ask questions of them -gather as much information as you can from current and former employees, friends, books, etc -ask your primary HR contact with any “administrative questions” eg salary, benefits, etc

Definitely Don’t: -accept the offer immediately unless you are 100% sure that’s the job for you -ask non-HR contacts any “administrative questions” unless you know them well -immediately negotiate details of your offer without fully informing yourself first. And as a general rule of thumb, don’t negotiate anything that won’t SIGNIFICANTLY change your decision or satisfaction in the job


Still wondering if you’ll make it through recruiting on top? Our Networking Bible is an excellent resource that gives you insider tips on what not to do, what to do and how to leave a memorable impression throughout the whole recruiting process.


  • SD

    Merry Christmas,thanks for another thoughtful guide on your Christmas Eve!

    I read part of in the lib the other day, it’s inspiring and great to see another living examples of the rich dad series…

  • kgao

    Thanks SD – what’s the rich dad series? Sorry not understanding your reference here…

  • steward

    Sorry for commenting an incomplete sentence :P

    I saw the 4-hours-a-week is no your blogroll, I read part of that book and also found that inspiring. kinda like Robert Kiyosaki’s series :)

  • Consultant99

    Kevin – good post, here are some random thoughts additionally on company presentations and cover letters.

    1) Resumes and CLs should be submitted in PDF whenever allowed. Every resume screen finds us holding a half-dozen resumes where the font isn’t found, the margins are messed-up, it’s set for A4 rather than 8.5 x 11, or any of a million other problems that wreck havoc on your careful formatting. Worst of all, “track changes” might be turned on! Putting it in PDF avoids all these problems.

    2) All those people you’ve met in the recruiting process (and maybe some of the things you learned from them) should be mentioned in the CL. This shows that you’ve been active and involved in the process, and those people will be called upon to testify to their interactions with the candidate during resume screening. The most important people are the graduates from 2-4 years ago who have the most influence on the process.

    For MBAs, getting to know someone at the firm who understands your background can be helpful. For example, if your entire career pre-MBA was at the most desireable employer in Peru and there’s a Peruvian at the firm you can meet, ask that person to send the school team a note explaning your background. The school team might not know anything about how great your background is.

    3) Get to know the people on campus, i.e. the former interns (for college seniors and 2nd year MBAs) and the former employees (for MBAs). These people are often solicited for their opinions in the resume screen, and they are easily accessible.

  • kgao

    Consultant99, thanks again for some great insights. I agree that PDF should be used whenever possible, and if you do submit in .doc, definitely check for ‘track changes’. That can be an embarassing mistake. And great tip about meeting people on campus and mentioning those you’ve interacted with in your CL. Both can make a crucial difference.

  • mac

    I’m an undergrad currently beginning to prep for recruiting and I was wondering if you had a game plan? ex: read vault guide to consulting once, case in point twice, practice behaviorals for 1 week, cases for 1 month, etc

  • anonymous

    Hi! Thanks for this super-amazing guide! I haven’t seen things like background checks and references discussed for consulting jobs. Are these not carried out in the consulting industry? Secondly, how much exaggeration is ok / how much detail do they ask when checking references?

    Hope you can help!

  • Kevin

    Hi anon – background checks and reference checks are definitely a part of the recruiting process for management and strategy consulting jobs. I would not take any risks when exaggerating accomplishments – that will backfire 9 times out of 10. When conducting reference checks, a prospective employer will typically double check dates, relevant details from your resume, and ask broader questions regarding your role, contributions, and general reputation at the prior firm. Hope that helps, thanks!

  • monica

    I am a recruiter. I wanna know how to talk with the consultant in proper manner..can u give me some example? I will be thankful to you..

    Thanks monica

  • Omdjin

    What is the meaning of primary HR contact? anyone can help?

  • excellent post. really appreciate the way you write. nice keep it up!

  • Carla Max

    I drop a comment whenever I appreciate an article on a site or I have something to contribute to the discussion. Usually it is a result of the fire displayed in the article I read. Specially this post Job Interview is awesome. Thanks for the suggestions.

  • mihir patel

    Really appreciate the depth of analysis of each and every point you mentioned. 

  • jennyrae

    The director of Human Resources or the individual in charge of recruitment from your particular school, if you are a student.

  • Pingback: Booz & Company Interview Preparation | Management Consulting Jobs()

  • Mike

    What do you guys could recommend to prepare to mental math? I got tons of time in subway that so far used only for reading and LOMS

  • ex-McK

    to Mike – FinMath in App Store, just found iPhone app to improve Financial Math.
    Honestly, quite challenging, so far only got to Associate level