A consulting resume is a one-page document summarizing the applicant’s education, work experience, extra-curricular activities, and other skills suitable for a consulting job. They must be black-and-white, worded concisely, and highlight a set of consulting attributes: leadership, problem-solving, and achieving.
It seems like writing management consulting CV is the “easiest” part of the recruiting process because we have all the time in the world to do it but make no mistake about it. Everybody else also has that luxury and that makes the bar for your CV extremely high. How to stand out? Let’s find out!
Tips to Write a Consulting Resume:
- Tip 1: Display leadership, achieving mindset, and problem-solving ability
- Tip 2: Focus on results, not task descriptions
- Tip 3: Use numbers to back up claims about your achievements
- Tip 4: Use professional, consulting language – don’t use cliched jargons
- Tip 5: Maintain structured and consistent language
- Tip 6: Use black-and-white formatting – colorful designs tend to be rejected
- Tip 7: Use appropriate white space to beautify the resume
- Tip 8: Adjust font size and spacings to adjust the length of resume
- Tip 9: Keep the resume within one A4 page
Consulting firms look for 3 ATTRIBUTES in their candidates:
- Leadership: the ability to influence people, communicate ideas, and work effectively in teams
- Achieving: the willingness to go beyond requirements, learn from experience and strive for best results
- Problem-solving: the ability to effectively solve problems with a structured, top-down approach
Every assessment system needs a set of standards for all scores to be based on. Consulting is a very unique industry and therefore that “scoring standard” is quite different from the conventional way. So the very first step to begin your consulting resume creation is to understand the values that consulting firms cherish, then ensure every inch, every phrase, and every word of your consulting resume must be directly tied to those values.
What are some most important consulting values? You can find this information on every firm’s website, but they are not always easy to read and understand. Sometimes, consulting firms like to use buzz and big words. To me, it all comes down to three big items below:
Achieving (or result-oriented)
Do you have such a strong desire to strive for the better? Do you have such a strong drive to pass through adversities to make things happen?
Consulting job is very tough. Being good is not enough, because it’s difficult on some level for everyone. All successful consultants I know are very “achieving”. In a resume, this is evaluated through the lenses of results, what you have done, and how difficult those tasks were!
Sometimes I just simply call this “content skill”. Can you make great consulting content? Can you effectively break down, analyze, and solve problems of various formats in various situations?
Problem solving can be easily shown in a case interview, but to show it in a resume is such a subtle art. We mostly do it indirectly through the way you describe your tasks and partially through the way to present yourselves.
When you become a consultant, you are like a general on the battlefield. Even as a new-entry, you already have control of a number of resources, and expectations around you.
Can you manage all of those flying pieces and make them all work for you to deliver the best output? Can you deliver the outcome much greater than your own capability? Can you leverage others?
Leadership is always the core value that consulting firms are looking for. Showing leadership in your resume is much more than including some cliché words like “lead” or “leadership” that everybody uses. The best way is to show them implicitly and through the results. We will discover more of that later in this article.
So, in a sense, even though on the surface you are telling about your background and experiences, what we all really try to say between the lines are:
- I am super achieving
- I have excellent problem-solving skill
- I am a natural leader
Once successfully combining all of this into one page of your resume, you are 50% successful!
At first glance, a consulting resume is just like any other resume. You have typical main sections: Personal Information, Education, Work Experience, etc.
But when looking closer, there is a world of difference. While a normal resume is a quick summary of your professional life, a consulting resume is a celebration of consulting skill sets and qualifications.
Every word, every phrase, every bullet there must scream “consulting”. If you know the consulting industry along with its culture well, every detail of your resume will look “consulting” without you even thinking about it.
#1 – Output vs. Input
We humans sometimes tend to focus on the input and forget the even more important – the output.
Input way of thinking: “I went grocery shopping”
Output way of thinking: “I went grocery shopping and ensured my whole family will have enough food for the next week.”
Consultants deal with huge input daily, and these data will only be meaningful if they lead to any output. Therefore, every single bullet in your resume must scream “result-oriented”, no matter how trivial a task is.
Why is result-oriented a crucial quality of a consultant?
Even if you flipped burgers in a local fast-food restaurant, tell the screeners about your record-breaking speed, or your perfect customer satisfaction rate!
When drafting your bullet, keep these questions in mind, as the screener will also think about it when reading your resume:
- What did you accomplish? What was the outcome?
- How impactful your action is to the overall performance?
- Is the result impressive enough? Can I trust this future consultant?
#2 – Specific vs. Vague
Talking vaguely often goes as a combo with the above mistake. Effective people always talk with specifics. Consulting people are shaped to be specific. And they are trained to ask follow-up questions every time encountering non-specific communication. So if you write vaguely in your resume, we screeners will notice really quickly.
For example: I had just participated in the Paragliding World Cup event.
A vague way to brag is: “I finished strong.”
A specific person will say: “I ranked #3/90 pilots in the competition.”
It is easy to make your bullet sound specific, by adding quantitative components, i.e. numbers, or by using qualitative description. You will see many examples in the Consulting Resume Toolkit.
#3 – Implicitly vs. Explicitly
In common thinking, the more effective you are, the more direct your communication should be, right? In many cases, it is true. However, when talking about yourselves, the way to go is through objective information.
We don’t write: “had excellent negotiation skill”
We write: “negotiated the biggest deal in company history, resulting in XX% revenue increase…”
#4 – Cold vs. Flexible
We want to stand out in terms of content as much as we can. On the other hand, we want to stand out in terms of formatting and presentation as little as possible.
This is somewhat similar to how we dress up for interviews: As conservative as possible. Conservatives here will be perceived as professionals.
You should strictly follow the standard format: one page, black and white, traditional font size, ordinary spacing. The easiest way to get eliminated is to use creative formats. Screeners do like creative people. You have to show your creativity through texts, not through colors or graphics.
#5 – Forgiving vs. Perfect
Consultants spend countless hours perfecting their PowerPoint slides to the finest details. Every space, every dot, every word is perfect. Your resume should be flawless. If you want to be a consultant and all you can show is the one-page resume, chances are that any small mistakes will be detected and the thing will get discarded very quickly.
The key thing is to double check, triple check or even quadruple check your resume, and get someone to help you with proofreading it is a good idea also!
First, it’s space-efficient. You can squeeze in a lot of information there. Every square inch on the page is utilized just right. No wasted open space and no over-busy area.
Why are McKinsey people so excited about this resume template?
Second, it’s also easy to read and skim through. Selections of font types and styles seem to make different sections stand out from each other. If you screen hundreds of resumes in a day, you will appreciate this a lot.
Third, it is also beautiful in a cold and professional way, exactly how McKinsey wants to come across as. We consultants are business-oriented and straight to the point.
Such a template can be found in our free Prospective Candidate Starter Pack – along with many other free materials such as case books, case interview framework library, and sample screening tests from McKinsey, BCG and Bain. You can download it by subscribing in the form below:
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McKinsey Resume Template Tips
This is a plug-and-play template. Just download, input your information, and you are good to go. It is generally easy to use. But to absolutely maximize its potential, be mindful about some following items:
- Make sure everything fits roughly into 1 page. We know it’s challenging, but yes, one page only! Don’t go 2 pages or anything like 0.7-page.
- Aim for about 600 words (+/- 100) with font size 10. My tip is to just write it without worrying about length first. Then adjust in the end.
- Feel free to adjust the page margin. After writing, if you find yourselves with too much or too little words; increase or decrease the page margin a little.
- Feel free to adjust font size. Same with the above. But remember +/- 1 around 10 only.
- Don’t change the font type though. Size and margin can change but font size must stay the same as defined in the template.
- Take 10 feet back, look at your resume again, do you like how it presents itself? Okay, maybe not 10 feet. But you get the point. Take a step back, review your resume from the top view; you will notice any odd elements should there be any.
Consulting Resume Toolkit
- Behind-the-scenes video – how real resumes are screened
- 60 actual consulting resumes with diverse backgrounds
- 5 rewritten resumes with walkthrough videos
- Mistake codings, terminology dictionary, and grading sheets
4. Consulting Resume Heatmap
When scanning resumes, do screeners look at everything equally? No.
There are typically a few more important areas. I interviewed dozens of resume screeners across McKinsey, Bain, and BCG offices and asked them what do you look at more often in a resume. Amazingly, we all somewhat point to similar areas of focus. Below is an example of resume heatmap to show you these important focus areas!
- There is a big emphasis on GPA: We all know that GPA is not everything, but it’s the most convenient number to look at. If you have a good GPA, great. If not, see my article about the McKinsey GPA Cut-off! The SAT or any other test number in the education section also gets some attention. Good news for people with a low GPA.
- For the text, the names of schools and companies are important.
- But the best is yet to come. The first bullet of the most recent job is by far the most important part of your resume. That’s where you should gather your best self and score a home run.
- Next, we have the second bullet of the most recent job and the first bullets of any other job is less important but still, attract some attention.
There are a few other exceptions to what is shown on this heat map. You should already figure these out by understanding the spirit.
- If you have another job with a well-known firm, chances are that the first bullet of that job gets more attention.
- If you have a bullet too long or too short, attention flows to somewhere else.
- If you make some obvious presentation mistakes, so much attention will flow there.
- The better your resume is, the more time and effort the screener will give. So his or her attention will flow downward in this funnel, so your third bullet, your fourth recent job will get read.
Typically, a great bullet has 3 parts:
A. The work
B. Explanation of the work
C. The output
For example: (A) went grocery shopping – (B) at the most crowded supermarket – (C)ensuring adequate food supply for the whole family for the next 7 days
There are a few things you should notice:
- The work: use strong yet simple verbs in the present or past tense, depending on the time of course.
- Explanation of work: this is NOT the place for results. It’s just an elaboration of the above part. But 3 things you can do to show off your consulting traits here:
- Be very specific, as specific as possible
- Highlight the difficult nature of the work
- Create a “consulting feel” by using consulting wordings and terminology
- The output: this can be either qualitative or quantitative.
Some more example:
“Managed consulting engagements (A) – with P&L responsibilities (B) –generating $700K in 2012; exceeded profitability goal by 8% (C)”
“Conducted market research, identified addressable markets, developed market segmentation and recommended entry strategies (A&B) –resulting in a 97% increase in potential revenues and a 125% increase in valuation (C)”
In this example, Part A and Part B merge together yet all the ingredients are still adequate. Qualitatively, the description of his challenging work is specific with some decent consulting wordings in Part A&B and nice and direct results in Part C.
Once you master this, you can be a little more flexible, playing around with the underlying principles and still write good bullets without strictly following the above formula. As long as you have all the ingredients, there should be no problem.
Having a perfect resume is not enough – you also need a perfect consulting cover letter. Most people don’t get it right – they write it as if it’s a resume – with cold, hard facts. You won’t stand out from the crowd that way.
Here’s a guide to story-telling in consulting cover letters – how to capture the screener’s attention while still demonstrating consulting qualifications!
6.1. Winning Resume – How to make mine a winning resume?
The winning one shows us good points of organizing his experience properly with a nicely formatted resume. Let’s see which key takeaways we can pick up from this one!
While this resume is not 100% similar to the official McKinsey resume template, all the principles were met. It has good spacing throughout. Space distribution is just right. The heading font type is slightly different but it looks nice and professional. Overall, this resume is very pleasant for our eyes to look at.
Skimming quickly through a few bullets, we see sharp, specific, and result-oriented writing. Let’s dive even deeper!
- Always put the most impressive achievement into the first bullet. We see this candidate places the “800/800 GRE” and the “top 10%” right to the best place for them.
- Cover up your average/low GPA with other distractions. 3.68 is not a bad GPA, but it is not great, so adding more information like being on the Dean’s List or 15% of engineering undergraduates is beneficial for this resume.
- An ideal bullet length is between 1.5~2 lines. All 3 bullets under “Independent Studies” did just that!
- Every inch, every word, every bullet must scream “consulting”. We see here that the candidate being result-oriented even right from the get-go (it’s rare to see full-fledged bullets under “Education”).
- Finally, it helps to have an Ivy league brand: “Yale School of Management”
- Good brand name with relevant experience. Deloitte is a famous company. And to have 5 years working in consulting-related positions there is for sure a plus point. However, please notice that this is by no mean a must to apply to management consulting. You can still pass without that brand name or that consulting experience. Good to have, but not a must!
- A balance between qualitative and quantitative. The first bullet of the first job is always important. The candidate perfectly nails it here. Besides the perfect length and result-oriented writing, there is another subtle thing I really like. Notice how the bullet contains both qualitative data (migrate client’s finance operations) and quantitative data (reduce overhead by 20%). Many people just went crazy for numbers but in fact, you can say a lot just by qualitative description!
- Action, result, explanation. This is my formula for writing great bullets as talked about in the Resume A-Z article. Here on the second bullet of Senior Consultant: the action is a re-engineered workflow process, while the result is 40% faster financial close process and explanation is by coordinating a team to identify and resolve issues… Again, a little deviation from the exact formula (action, explanation, result); but the spirit is definitely there!
- Consistency. There’s no bad bullet in this whole Professional Experience section. Every single bullet is really well crafted: perfect length, perfect rhythm, specific results, sharp writing. No matter where the screener lays his eyes on, for sure he will land on a good one.
- Take every chance to show your result-oriented nature. Many people overlook this last part of the resume. But this candidate took it very seriously. We can see results even in the last bullet.
- Well-rounded consulting skill sets showed. Not only ace each and every bullet, but it’s also important to take a step back and evaluate the resume with a top-down view, based on an evaluation sheet I share in the Resume Toolkit program. Here we see a wide range of consulting traits, from analytical to people aspects.
6.2. Failed Resume – What can you learn from it?
Coming to the next one – a failed one. This candidate made various mistakes that I have pointed out in the Remarks. Take a look at my comments and other tips below!
This candidate comes from Oxford – top school in the UK, and having that name in your resume attracts considerable attention! This is a nicely formatted one, but when diving deep inside you will see various flaws, let me show you.
- Never include your nationality: in the United States, companies are prohibited from making hiring decisions based on candidates’ race. Therefore, the HR person would not take a risk on your resume but stay away from yours, which hinders you a chance! Read more about the auto-failed mistake when submitting to McKinsey, BCG, Bain below.
- Try to make it easy-to-understand: They may not know well about the difference between the US and the UK grading system. If you can not explain clearly, they will discard it! Include your ranking at school, how competitive you are compared to other students, or you can even convert your score into an international scale!
- Always be specific and result-oriented: I commented multiple times on this resume because of its unspecific description. Screeners do not know anything about you in advance, and the only source to get to know about you is through your description. Be specific about what you did, how you completed, and its impact. This helps win the screeners’ heart!
- Make it perfect: Consultants are detail-oriented and they can not stand many mistakes in just a one-page resume. This candidate shows various grammar and spelling mistakes, of course, he will fail right at this point. Proofread your resume thousands of time until it is perfect, don’t ever submit one with any single mistake!
- Avoid non-MECE sections: Breaking the problem down in a MECE way is the typical habit of any consultants, and they hate looking at non-MECE stuff. This candidate didn’t break the extracurricular activities and skills into two separate parts, which violates the MECE rule.
7. Consulting Resume – 13 Auto-Fail Mistakes
7.1. No contact information
If they can’t call you, you are out … before they even try to see if they want to call you or not. This is easy to fix. Before you forget, go check your resume right now and have a peace of mind that you got it! Then take it one step further, make sure you use smart spacing to make your contact info really easy to read. For example, don’t write 0172572951. Make it: 0172.572.951
7.2. Religious/ Political viewpoint
These are sensitive subjects and the resume is absolutely not the place to express your viewpoints. It’s a professional document after all! You are expected to stay neutral. If you have previous working experiences at NGO/ NPO in this field, use professional terminologies to describe them!
7.3. Photo – Gender – Race
At least in the United States, making hiring decisions based on Gender or Race is strictly prohibited. So if there is any trace of gender and race in your resume, the screener would not risk it. They would just stay away from your resume right away. Not good!
7.4. 2 pages
2-page resumes are a nightmare to handle in the screening room. We don’t care about your long history and impressive experience. If it’s 2-page long, 99% of the time we discard it right away or at best, just judge the first page. And it’s hard to get hired in those situations.
So try hard to make the best use of the space. Write clean and concise bullets. No history too long to fit into 1 page.
7.5. Creative template
I personally love creative resume templates. But if I am to hire a trusted pilot that I bet my life with, for sure I would pick one with a good old professional template. Consulting people, for the same reason, would stay away from creative and colorful resumes. To be safe, just use the official template accepted at BCG (and McKinsey, Bain) we provide above.
7.6. Spelling / Grammar mistakes
Simple as it may seem, thousands of candidates make this mistake due to carelessness. How can we trust that they won’t make that mistake in future consulting documents? These are absolutely auto-fail mistakes. And I am sure, if you double-check your resume 5 times, you will come out clean! It’s just a matter of commitment and respect for your career.
7.7. Formatting mistakes
If you cannot format a 1-page resume neatly in low-stress situations, how can you handle a big volume of complicated documents under time pressure? Always put your content with left alignment, delete unnecessary spacing, organize bullets structurally. Don’t forget to keep various elements’ format consistent throughout.
7.8. Verbal language
Your resume is a professional document, don’t use any verbal expressions or wordings. Consulting people take this very seriously. Don’t fall for those consulting jargons you find online either. Instead, use consulting content wordings. Find a list of that in the Resume Toolkit program or the link above.
7.9. Talk behind anyone’s back
You may have quitted your recent job because of complaining customers, an annoying boss, or trouble-making colleagues. However, your resume is definitely NOT the place to mention these things. Screeners don’t give a *** about whether those things actually happen or not. All they know is your negativity. Try to reflect your previous experience in a neutral to positive voice, focusing on your accomplishments!
7.10. Low GPA
Although there is no “hard” cut-off bar for GPA, it is still the first number screeners would notice. A less-than-3.0 GPA will most likely not advance you to the next rounds. If you have a sub-3.0 GPA, you have to make it up with really really great achievements in almost everything else.
7.11. Word file
Sending a Word file to apply for jobs is always a risky move, as you don’t know how it will turn out on others’ screens and printers. Your beautiful formatting may turn out to look terrible. Plus, screeners normally would just discard a word document anyway. Remember to export your resume to PDF and you know your resume looks exactly how you want it!
7.12. Bad file name
You may name your resume “Resume.doc” and it seems to work ok within your own computer. But each office receives thousands of resumes, and it is a nightmare for them dealing with thousands “resume.doc”. Before you forget, rename your file as “2020_Your name_Resume.pdf” now to avoid all of these troubles.
7.13. No email title, no attachment, no body text
They will start to judge you from the moment your email comes to their mailbox. The screener knows whether you are reliable or not by the way you carry yourselves through an email. No professional consultant would send an email without a subject title, a thoughtful email body, or an intended attachment. Triple check your email before sending it!
Tip 1: Start writing your resume early
Resume-writing is a long process.
That’s something most applicants don’t realize, so they get rejected. They don’t have enough time to write that “perfect resume” to make themselves stand out.
It’s almost intriguing that people can spend hundreds, even thousands of hours to perfect their various skills – but most candidates only spend a few hours to a few days at most on their resume, even though it’s one of the most effective investments in the workplace.
Resume-writing is a very, very long process that can stretch months or even years. It should be continuously updated with new experiences, new highlights, new achievements in your professional life. That way you will have ample time to review, to ask for feedback, and to make incremental improvements.
If you haven’t got down to writing yet, start now. Begin with a “master resume” listing all of your notable achievements, in a consulting fashion (because it’s way easier to turn a consulting resume into a “normal resume” than the other way around – as many of my customers have found out – mainly due to the highly detailed nature of consulting resumes).
Tip 2: Review your resume multiple times
Reviewing should also start early, and a resume should go through at least a few dozens of reviews before submission.
We, humans, tend to make mistakes, sometimes without even realizing it. And because you need the “perfect resume” to apply for top consulting firms, you need to review again, again, and again to iron out all possible errors.
Ask for a lot of feedback – preferably from a working or former consultant (this is one instance where networking becomes extremely helpful) because they know exactly what screeners look for. In fact, they are the very people who screen those resumes. If you happen to not have any connections in the industry, an alternative is to use consulting resume review services, such as the Resume Review package we offer on this website.
You also need to do a whole lot of reviews yourself, in different settings – on the computer screen and in paper, when you’re feeling good and when you’re feeling down, when you’re energetic and when you’re tired. The basis of this approach is your mental and physical state as well as your surroundings will affect your perspective – consequently, you will be able to spot different errors in your writing. This very article was also edited using that exact method.
Tip 3: Use benchmarks to practice
“Competitor benchmark”, to be precise – try to look for resumes of other applicants, assess the quality of your own resume vs theirs, and see if there’s anything you can learn.
Only by looking through their resumes can you know what you’re up against – and prepare yourself in the best possible way.
The only problem here is getting your hands on the resume of your “competitors” – surely, you can’t just ask them to show their resumes on a forum, and you don’t simply go out to find fellow consulting applicants in the streets.
Back when I was applying for McKinsey, I faced the same problem as you today; that’s why I came up with the Consulting Resume Toolkit – which contains 60 actual resumes submitted to McKinsey (of course, with the full consent of their owners). All are accompanied by extensive feedback using systematic error codings for the most common mistakes.
Some students ask me whether they should include their ranking at university or even postgraduate study. And my answer is always YES. By including your ranking in class, apart from your GPA, the screener has a broader view about your academic background and how good you are compared to your peers! If you have a good ranking or any title at school, put it in your resume to impress the screener. They are happy to see clear results and more important, this helps assess your ability!
Most people think the two terms are synonyms, but in fact they are not. Here is the difference:
- A resume is a one or two page summary of the applicant’s skills, experience, and education. It is often brief, concise, and tailored for each job.
- A curriculum vitae is a comprehensive list including your detailed educational and academic backgrounds as well as teaching and research experience, publications, presentations, awards, honors, affiliations, and other details.
There are two factors that may affect your decision of using a CV or resume:
- Field factor: Businesses go for resumes – Academia go for CVs
Applications for business fields are often reviewed by a standardized process under time constraints. Because of this, brief and concise Resumes are much preferred.
Management consulting firms like McKinsey, Bain, or BCG definitely belong to this group. So according to this factor, resumes are definitely the format you should use.
The people I have seen many times in our Consulting Feedback service are the people coming from academic backgrounds applying to management consulting. These people very often don’t change their mindset and habit throughout the application process and their resumes, or more like CVs, show it.
- Location factor: exceptions for Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Asia
While businesses generally prefer resumes, there are exceptions in various locations. In Europe, the Middle East, Africa, or Asia, business employers are more likely to accept CVs.
So management consulting applicants in these above locations should check with the specific HR recruiters to be 100% certain. But when in doubt, a resume is always preferred!
Some did ask me what was the typical vibe inside the screening room, and I always replied “Busy, Boring and Tired!”
We screeners have to work with a lot of resumes. And this is on top of the already heavy workload we do as junior consultants at the time. Resume screening is not high in our priority list. There’s no KPI, no bonus, no nothing in doing this. This is just something we do as a goodwill for the office. The real reward only happens when we come across a really good resume. And for some reason, we can sniff it very quickly.
If you ask, most screeners will tell you that he or she spends about 60-90 seconds per resume. But the honest number is much lower. After roughly 10 seconds, we have already formed an opinion about a resume and depending on the situation we may spend another 30 something seconds to confirm our thoughts. Over 80% of the time, the initial impression ends up being the final decision. During those 10 seconds, there are certain areas that we look into more closely. Those are areas you MUST rock – I did give you a key about it in the heat map section. Look at it seriously and find your way out there!
When writing each bullet, we focus on the micro details. But it pays to zoom out from time to time and evaluate your own resume from the top-down view.
Does it show off a well-rounded set of consulting skills and qualifications? Maybe it shows more than enough analytical skills while missing out on the leadership and people part?
Each screener has a slightly different version of the “grading system”. But all the general ideas are pretty much the same. Some screeners do it in their heads while some others would even put grades on an excel sheet next to a carefully drafted grading table.
Over the years, I have talked to many screeners and accumulated everything into a magic resume grading sheet. This is like the average grading sheet that a normal and typical screener will use, either implicitly or explicitly. See this in the Consulting Resume Toolkit.
Yes! Your resume is a cold hard sheet, while the cover letter is more like a human. It tells stories highlighting your personality and how you will come across as a person. In the massive application pool, you should stand out with your own story by attaching your cover letter together with your resume. Impress the screener with your unique selling point, elaborated in your cover letter. If you have not got any ideas about the cover letter, check out at the Complete Guide to your Cover Letter!
As you may have realized if you read this article carefully- what you did in the past is not as important as the experiences and qualities reflected in the process.
That means you can include academic experiences in a consulting resume. However, there are two caveats to this, which I will discuss later.
For now, first things first – do academic achievements show consulting-fit experiences and qualities?
The short answer is that they can. The long answer is, academic projects (presumably at college level or higher) usually involve problem-solving in a structured, fact-based manner, as well as teamwork – matching the required skill set of prospective management consultants; what remains is to write your resume so that it portrays those academic experiences in the best possible light.
What are the caveats, then?
- Academic experiences are generally less favorable than business experiences. After all, consulting is about solving business problems, and even though academic projects can help you demonstrate quite a few consulting characteristics, it’s not the most suitable way. If you have a few years of work experience, use that instead (unless your academic experience is truly extraordinary, such as inventing a cheap, reliable test kit for the COVID-19 pandemic.).
- Try not to use technical terms when describing academic achievements – consulting people are business people, generally, we don’t speak the language of the “ivory tower”. Screeners are extremely busy and tired, they won’t bother to Google your technical terms – your resume will head straight to the bin if it’s not tweaked for consulting language.
There will be a few differences here and there, but the basic principles will remain the same.
Boutique or MBB, they are all management consulting firms, so they tend to look for the same kind of people – good leadership abilities, high achieving mindset, and structured problem-solving skills. Your “personal resume template” will need to somehow convey all of those qualities and experiences to the screener, in the best possible way (even if boutique consulting firms may not have the luxury to recruit the “creme de la creme” as MBB firms, you should still strive for the best as it increases your chances of passing).
However, one crucial difference between boutique firms and top consulting firms (such as MBB or consulting divisions of the Big 4) is the scope of their operations – while the large consultancies can touch on every industry, function, and location imaginable, their boutique counterparts focus on one or at most a few specialties, such as healthcare (industry specialization), sourcing and procurement (function specialization).
What that means for the applicants is they need to demonstrate highly relevant industry experience – if you’re aiming for, say Putnam Associates (a healthcare consultancy), you will benefit greatly from a Harvard Medical School bachelor’s degree and a few years of work experience with pharmaceuticals. Nonetheless, I have to stress again that you’re still writing a consulting resume, so you must demonstrate all the consulting skills and qualifications required – leadership, achieving, and structured problem-solving.
I’m going to be brutally honest here – all the tips and techniques laid out in this article require that you – the applicant – have the necessary “substance” in the first place. If you don’t have that substance yet, the best thing you can do is to go out there and get it.
Career is a long journey – you’ll be working for at least 40 years after graduation, so if you neglected building up your profile for a consulting job, there is ample time to make up for your mistake. And even if you don’t get the job, it’s not the end of the world! You can still find other careers just as rewarding as consulting, financially, and emotionally.
Now, suppose you want to apply for consulting immediately and you want to make the best of the modest experiences you have – I can still offer a few tips:
- Emphasize the consulting skills and qualifications even in the smallest tasks you did. Don’t just say you “conducted customer surveys” as an intern, say that you beat every other intern in that job by finishing it within 60% of the allocated time.
- Change the wordings to make small tasks sound bigger than they really are: instead of “registered 200 social accounts for the company’s website”, go for “increased the company’s online presence by 200% and streamlined the process for future social media SEO optimization tasks”.
- Refine your presentation – make sure your resume looks neat and easy to read, eliminate each and every spelling/wording/grammatical mistake, be consistent, and highly structured in both format and language.
- Use networking to help you pass the resume screening – it’s perfectly legitimate. Having a consultant/former consultant in your desired office vouch for you will dramatically improve your chances.
Generally, your GPA should be above 3.6, and for GMAT, the threshold is around 700.
Again, I should clarify that there are no explicit rules or requirements for GPAs or any kind of academic scores for that matter – see this article on GPA Cut-off at Top Consulting Firms for more details – but anything less than extraordinary will not impress consulting resume screeners.
If that’s the case, how do you prove yourself to be “extraordinary”?
Along with the scores, you may want to include your ranking or percentile – this helps the interviewer perceive your score better since grading standards vary from one institution to another. Ranking or percentile is extra helpful if you come from a country with unfamiliar grading systems (Germany, for instance).
Do keep in mind that the ranking should say “I am the best” – something around the top 5%, or even better, top 3%. “Top 10%” is good, but a lot of applicants at top consulting firms belong to that group, so you won’t stand out. And if it’s “top 20%”… don’t even mention it.
What if your GPA is low? Should you write it in the resume?
In the first place, what consists a “low GPA” can vary from one school to another – so if your GPA is somewhat low (in consulting standards, anything below 3.6 is “low”), but you do come from a leading school in your country and you’re among the best students, make it known by including the rankings.
If your GPA (and ranking) is just “unremarkable” – somewhere in the 3.2-3.6 range, you can include it in the resume, but make sure to show outstanding achievements elsewhere – such as work experience, extracurricular activities, or other academic achievements. Rest assured, those highlights can make up for a low GPA.
However, if your GPA is “low”, as in abysmally low – you should omit it from the resume. You’re not hiding anything – you will provide it if asked for. The screener will cast some negative doubts upon your application, but it’s still better than making a bad first impression with a 2.5 GPA. Again, you need to absolutely overwhelm the screener with consulting skills and qualifications everywhere else.
Think of it as some nice little spices – not the main dish. Consultants are extremely result-oriented – no matter how much effort you put in nurturing your start-up, it won’t be much appreciated if it’s a failure. Successful startups are rare, hugely successful startups are extraordinary, but failed startups… we have that every day, everywhere. It’s not even special.
If you’re still fresh out of college (1-2 years of work experience or less), and you haven’t achieved many outstanding feats so far, such entrepreneurial experience is nice to have. Of course, don’t emphasize it above your other, more successful experiences. The longer you work, the less important it becomes, and at some point, you will need to remove it from the resume, to make room for better career highlights.
I also have a tip to make the best out of that “failed experience” – it’s (you’re probably tired of reading this again, but it’s true) showing outstanding performance, even in failure. When a startup breaks, it’s not always the case that everything is bad – there can be good points – such as excellent sales figures – and bad points – such as severe conflicts between major shareholders. You need to highlight the good points of that start-up experience, to make up for the negative connotation of failure.
No, but yes.
Good networking with consultants at your desired office will vastly increase the chance of you passing the resume screening.
The point is, even if you are a “creme de la creme” applicant, the screener will have to go through hundreds of others just like you. In a boring, tiring, and busy setting. So unless your resume is super outstanding, or your have some “other tricks up your sleeve”, there is a pretty big chance of your application heading for the bin – remember, this first round is where most applications are eliminated.
One of those “tricks up the sleeve” is networking – provided that you have the necessary “substance” for management consulting, having a working consultant vouch for you can almost guarantee a seat in the PST/Potential test/Online test (or even straight to the interviews if you’re lucky!). This might sound somewhat shady to outsiders, but in management consulting, the trick is completely legitimate – the job requires extensive people skills, and successful networking is one of the ways to prove that you meet those requirements.
So get out there, go to networking events online and offline, or cold-contact through LinkedIn, get to know a few consultants at MBB firms, and show them your merit. It’s a long process, a lot of them will simply refuse, but it will pay off if you have the resilience.
In fact, there are industries where networking is a must to have your resume accepted – such as Investment Banking – the importance of connections in those industries is almost scary.
Management consulting, although conservative, is still more open, and you can get in without networking – i.e go through the online application process as most candidates do. The hard part of this method is about standing out in a forest of applications – and you can maximize your chance by applying the rules and tips in this article, as well as in our Consulting Resume Toolkit.
To be honest, a colorful resume will definitely catch the screeners’ eyes. Just not in a positive way.
Consultants generally love the cold beauty of neat, clean, black-and-white papers. Yes, you can make such a resume beautiful – just spend a few minutes on Google and you’ll find countless ways to make Times New Roman on a white sheet attractive – mainly by using appropriate margins, spacings, text formats, and font size. We do have a section on the visual format of resumes and cover letters in each respective article – just scroll up again and you’ll see.
A nicely formatted, formal resume exudes professionalism and mature personality – traits much desired in the management consulting world. In contrast, sending a resume full of lively shapes and colors will only tell the screener that the applicant is childish and unprofessional. Yes, management consultancies love creative people – but they have to be creative in problem-solving, not in the arts.
Colorful resumes also suggest that the applicant has not done enough research in advance – if they did, they must be aware of the industry’s conservative and highly formal work culture. The worst-case scenario is a resume using a colorful template – which gives the impression of the applicant being both inappropriate and lazy (if you want to look creative, you have to create something, not using an off-the-shelf template – try to do that when applying for a designer position, you’ll see the resume getting rejected very quickly).
On the other hand, formal, official templates are completely fine and in fact, encouraged. You can find them on this very website, in our free Prospective Candidate Starter Pack!
From a purely business perspective, I am inclined to say “Yes” because I offer a Resume Review Service myself. However, an honest, objective answer is somewhat more complicated.
Now, having former consultants from top consulting firms – such as McKinsey, BCG, or Bain – reviewing your resumes will of course drastically increase your chances of passing the resume round. This stems from the fact that we are the people who screen your resume -we know exactly how to sound impressive and win the hearts of consulting resume screeners.
The numbers speak for themselves. The price of resume review services are often less than $70 for every edit – in MConsultingPrep’s case, it’s just $29; let’s assume that you need three reviews, which amount to $87. That $87 will give you a 80% passing rate in the resume round where more than half of the applications get eliminated. And at the end of that recruitment process, there’s a job worth $120,000 per year. (see this article on Consulting Salary for more details)
That’s definitely worth the investment, isn’t it?
However, having been through the very same position as you – the reader – I also believe that resume-writing is a long-term process, and that resumes are highly personalized items – in other words, the best person to write your resume is no one but yourself. You possess extensive knowledge about your own qualities, experiences, and personalities – we, the resume reviewers – can only know you on a surface level, through the information you provide us.
For this reason, I created the Resume Toolkit – at the heart of this package are 60 real consulting resumes at varying levels of experiences, qualities, and estimated passing rate, along with comprehensive materials on how to write the best consulting resume for yourself.
At $79, the Toolkit is nearly equal to three reviews, but the number of reviews you can conduct for yourself using this product is infinite. In our trials, the product proved equal or even superior to the Review Service over a long period.
What’s the bottom line?
If you want excellent returns in a short time, Resume Review Service will suit your needs; but if you have time to practice (which, by all means, you should!) a Do-It-Yourself product like our Resume Toolkit. And if you’re unsure or want the best of both worlds, there’s our Consulting Resume Premium Package – which includes both reviews and toolkit – for just $99 – which means there’s a $10 discount on your purchase!
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