Reader FAQ – “Designer” Consulting Resumes, Late Applications, and Plan Bs

October was the peak of full-time recruiting, and it shows! You’ve bombarded us with insightful questions about resumes, interviews, applications, and how to pick up the pieces and consider alternatives to consulting when you don’t make the cut.

While each question comes from a unique personal perspective, many of the issues apply to our entire reader base of consulting wanna-bes. Here we share some of the best questions from this last month. Enjoy!

If you have a question, be sure to email us! As always, if we share the Q&A exchange with the MC community, we’ll preserve your anonymity.

Q:  I would like to know if you tailor resumes for consulting companies that are specialized in Brand Strategy & Design? I’m talking about companies like FutureBrand, frog, Lippincott, etc.

A:  We tailor resumes for all kinds of different consulting firms – pricing consulting, economic consulting, brand strategy consulting, IT consulting, marketing consulting, healthcare consulting – the list goes on. While the experience of our editor (Jenny Rae) is based on breaking into and reviewing for M/B/B, we translate what it takes to get into the toughest firms for many different industries.

How do we do this? Our content is best practice, we offer a very comprehensive line-by-line review (twice!), and we provide many different options for style that range from purely functional (get as much on there as possible) to options with more panache and white space. We invite your input before we start and half-way through to make sure we’re on the same page. And we guarantee that you’re thrilled – or we keep going until you are.

We edit about 600 consulting resumes a year – so we see a LOT of resumes. Many of those are from folks who were referred to us by prior clients.  MC resumes get people interview offers – our interests are aligned, because when we get them an interview offer, we get to work with them more to prepare for the interview.

This next question was written as a series that we responded to inline.

Q:  I’m interviewing with BCG and McKinsey. Would you mind if I asked for your advice on the two? What I should think of besides people personalities? Here is what I was thinking. For a long-term career outlook I’m looking at a few basic categories to evaluate my options:

Q1:  With my background, entering the firm at the post-MBA level, what is the retention rate and what is the probability of long term success (path to moving up)? 

A1:  The retention rates are low, but honestly they are not low because people get fired – but rather, you’re likely to get better offers that don’t include as much travel or involve more upside/equity, more focus on implementation, or more managerial responsibility.

It will be marginally easier to make partner at BCG (not as many partners), but that’s so far away you shouldn’t factor it in – if you’re a top performer, you’ll make partner at either firm.

Q2:  I know that not everyone who starts at the firm as an Associate is willing to stay or going to succeed. So for someone with my background, what will it take to make it all the way to the top of the firm? What does the firm offer in terms mentorship to ensure success for its recruits? 

A2:  There are tremendous amounts of support. It’s really tricky for you not to succeed if you are a natural networker, a good manager and a savvy politician. Plus, you’ll need to work your tail off. Your background won’t hold you back – only lack of desire will.

Q3:  What are some of the tools outside of direct mentorship that are available to ensure success and can I start working with these to prepare myself before I begin to ensure a smooth transition?  

A3:  Yes. We’re working on a book about this now – getting the jump on success and starting ahead of the curve. But at the end of the day it’s simple – die on your sword to start with to establish yourself as a winner, don’t get upset when things are tough, and build a team of people who rave about you. If you produce top results and build political good will, you’ll succeed.

Q4:  What are my chances of launching a successful start-up if I decide to leave the firm after 2-4 years? 4-6 years? 6-8 years?  

A4:  It’s not correlated. Besides, what are the factors of success you mention?

Having a good idea – not related. Building a strong team – not related. Being well-funded – possibly related but not directly correlated. Being willing to take risks? Sometimes, the longer you stay, the more risk-averse you are.

Q5:  How are the partners and associate partners? How accessible are they going to be for the various firms and how involved are they in the development for the associates and managers? 

A5:  The smaller the office, the better the interaction – regardless of the firm. McKinsey and BCG will be almost identical on this. Besides, relationships are partly up to you – the firm never considers itself responsible for building long-lasting relationships between levels. Just plan to take a lot of initiative, and you’ll be fine.

Q6:  Organizationally what is the real structure of the firm? Is it very hierarchical or is it best idea wins?

A6:  As much as the firms say they are meritocratic, both of them are still hierarchical. What does this mean?

Ideas can come from anywhere, but the boss still gets credit. When push comes to shove, what the partner wants to present will always win unless you have insane data to back up something contradictory.

You can get promoted early, but only by 6 months. And you can make partner in your 30s – with a handsome paycheck to go along with it. But so can everyone else you start with.

Q7:  How is the work/life balance? I know early on the focus on work is very important but does this taper off or is the intensity the same? What is the vacation structure/flexibility?  

A7:  You’ll work a ton, but you’ll have time in part of most of every day to chill. The firm will own you at first, but not every day of every week will be like that and at the end of the day the job’s really not that hard. You’ll have plenty of vacation but time it right so you don’t have to work on vacation (although you should know it will happen at least once). Work/life will be slightly in favor of BCG but varies more by office and travel schedule than anything.

Q8:  What makes the firm unique in its offering compared to its rivals? 

A8:  McKinsey has an established name which corresponds to better name recognition and a better network. It’s rare that McKinsey hasn’t seen a problem in an industry before – many firms use them because they can say, “I solved that exact problem for someone else in the industry just last year.”

BCG is more accessible to clients and has a reputation for being more collaborative and for developing new thought leadership.

However, the decision is often made based on the personality click of the partners with the team at the client. If a CEO loves the McKinsey people, they’ll work with McKinsey or vice versa.

Q:  I am a senior at a target school majoring in history with a 3.92 GPA interested in a career in consulting. However, it’s already almost nearing the end of interviews for the top firms. I wasn’t ready because I originally planned on applying to law school but had since changed my mind.

What are my options right now? Should I still bother to apply online for post-grad consulting positions or will I most likely have to wait for next year and can only apply to summer internships?

A:  You’re going to be too late for the top firms.  Best case scenario is to:

  • Apply for other firms (not top firms) that are still recruiting, if any
  • Apply for other comparable companies (name-brand companies, like P&G or GE)
  • Apply for summer internships come spring (but you won’t be eligible for consulting internships) and then apply to transfer during next year’s recruiting cycle

If you’re really interested in consulting, you’ll want either other short-term or long-term relevant experience so you can parallel in.

Q:  I am in my first year of my two-year commitment with Teach For America, but I am already thinking about how I can move on to management consulting after my commitment. I graduated from a top school with a 3.3 in Economics, but without too many leadership positions, though I did join a consulting club. I also failed to get a summer internship during my time in undergrad.

I am wondering what is the next step for me. Should I consider applying to a masters program to raise my GPA? Are there internship opportunities for recent graduates? Is it too early to begin thinking about B-school?

A:  You’ll face an uphill battle because of your low undergrad GPA, especially for the top firms –

1.  Definitely work on getting an internship, even if it’s just to volunteer for a start-up. You need real work experience, or you have no shot at all.

2.  B-school is a good option. Look at Tier 2 schools. See if TFA will support the pursuit of your MBA as your education option.

3.  Get our Consulting Roadmap ($35 or register as a member on our site to get it for free). It will tell you everything (from A-Z) you need to get started, including how to create a plan to bulk up on weak areas.

Q:  Once my resume is perfected, what sorts of other opportunities should I explore in case I do not secure a consulting internship? Would 3 summers in government be a turn off to top firms? Would diving into industry (Target, Proctor & Gamble, etc.) be a better move? 

A:  You want diversity (so not government, unless it’s a really impressive role) or a brand name.  Banking or industry would be the best (if consulting doesn’t work out). Going abroad/working abroad would be another eye-catcher. A start-up would be another good option for experience, but less wow for the resume.