How Management Consultants Read Resumes – and the Secrets Behind Landing an Interview

The resume screening process is a black box for applicants – you only know whether you’ve gotten the interview or been rejected. In rare cases, you’ll get feedback on why you didn’t make the cut, but the advice is generic (“You didn’t have enough work experience”).

If you’re interested in finance and investment banking, the best article on this topic can be found here. The Inquisitor does a great job explaining how the sausage is made.

Without reinventing the wheel, this post will shed light on how management consultants read resumes. There are some important differences between consulting and finance.

Resume screening is identical for summer internships and full-time positions.

So who calls the shots?

With resume review, it’s a team of analysts, associates, and managers. You can bet that:

  • There will be a review team of at least 3-5 persons looking through your resume independently and in groups.
  • Most of this team will have graduated from your school (undergraduate, graduate, and MBA).
  • Final decisions are made by committee.

Similar to finance, senior folks don’t get involved until interviews and offers. I’d like to think it’s because they have faith in the junior folks, but it’s mostly a question of time and value.

On your resume, the most respected input comes from someone who shares your background. So if you’re a Columbia engineering undergrad, a fellow Columbia engineering graduate on the review team will be looked to for insight on your GPA, student group involvement, and so forth.

How does the process work?

Each member of the review team will get a pack of resumes. This can range from 50-300 resumes per member. Often, consulting cover letters are removed from this pack – yet another reason why you should focus your energies on a top-notch resume.

Consultants spend more time on each resume than bankers. 30 seconds may be par for finance, but you can expect at least a minute in consulting.

One minute is still really fast. This places a premium on attention-grabbing bullets; concise, results-oriented experiences; clean formatting and styling.

After reviewing the resumes independently, the team will review each resume as a group, comparing notes and sharing insights. This is when decisions are made.

Specifically what are they looking for in each resume, and if I don’t get an interview, what could be the reasons why?

As mentioned in this post on consulting resume tips, it comes down to 3 buckets:

  1. Academic success: Good signs include high GPA and standardized test scores, challenging courses of study (e.g., multiple majors, technical degrees)
  2. Work experience: Good signs include brand-name companies, jobs where you took initiative and demonstrated impact, breadth and depth of work experience
  3. Leadership and entrepreneurship: Good signs include founding companies and campus groups, experience leading teams

The specifics vary by company, and it’s tough to elucidate specific benchmarks or cutoffs. But your resume needs to demonstrate strength in all 3 categories to get an interview at the best firms.

If you don’t get an interview, it’s typically lack of one or more of the 3. Often, low GPA and standardized test scores (this is not an ironclad rule) are the primary factor – particularly if you have solid work experience and leadership/teamwork experience.

On borderline candidates

There are always borderline candidates – those who have one clear Achilles Heel (ahem, Ms. very low GPA), or whose resumes just lack a knockout blow. For these candidates, the group takes a closer look at your resume.

This is where a great consulting resume is the difference between getting an interview and receiving a dreaded denial.

Why? Because when review teams apply a microscope, they really look to see what I’ve recommended to readers this entire time: meaningful results in your experiences that show hard-work, taking initiative, and impact.

If review teams can see #1, your story makes you a fit for consulting, and #2, you demonstrate success in a variety of situations – you’ve got an interview.

Is there a secret waitlist?

The answer is yes and no.

Yes, because specific offices, groups, and departments occasionally need to fill a gap. And to do so, they review applicants from previous recruiting cycles who didn’t make the cut.

No, because this usually happens if you make final round interviews and didn’t receive an offer. It rarely happens at the resume to first round interview bridge. But if 10 first round interviewers from your school fall sick with the flu, you may receive a call.

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