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. it must be black-and-white, worded concisely, and must showcase the 3 consulting attributes: leadership, problem-solving, and achieving.
1. What is a consulting resume?
At first glance, a consulting resume looks like any other typical resume. It is as basic as can be: personal information, education, work experience, extracurricular activities, and maybe interests.
That said, with closer inspection, there is a world of differences when you compare consulting resumes to normal ones. 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 bullet point you list must scream “CONSULTING!”. It might sound funny at first, but you will get it once you understand the consulting field better, your resume can look “consulting” without you having to think about it.
Consulting Resumes Are Output-Based, Normal Resumes Are Input-Based
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 a huge amount of input every day, and these data are only meaningful if they lead to any usable output. Thus, every bullet point in your resume must lead to a result, no matter how trivial a task is.
Even if all your working experience consists of flipping burgers at a local fast-food drive-through, tell the screeners about your record-breaking speed, or the perfect customer satisfaction rate you got!
So keep these questions in mind when you draft your resume, for screeners will also be asking the same things:
- What did you accomplish? What was the outcome?
- How impactful was your action to the project/company?
- Were the results impressive enough?
- Were the results fact-based, measurable, and verifiable?
Consulting Resumes Are Specific, Normal Resumes Are Vague
Quick example: I once participated in the Paragliding World Cup event.
A vague way to “brag” is: “I finished strong.”
A specific way of “bragging” would be: “I ranked #3 out of 90 pilots in the competition.”
Consultants hate it when things are not specific and certain. They are trained to bombard candidates with follow-up questions every time they come across unspecific communication. Not talking in detail is a one-way ticket to failure. So do not make this mistake.
But don’t you worry, because this mistake is easily avoidable, by adding into your resume quantitative components, i.e. numbers and statistics, or by using qualitative descriptions. You can see many examples of these techniques in our Consulting Resume Toolkit.
Consulting Resumes Are Implicit, Normal Resumes Are Explicit
Explicit: “I have excellent negotiation skills.”
Implicit: “I negotiated the biggest deal in the history of the company, resulting in XX% revenue increase.”
Don’t just outright say you are “good at” something, as concise as it is. Employ objective information, facts, and data to back up your claims. Consultants are very fact-based so they will not believe you unless you have facts to prove you have done something well.
Consulting Resumes Are Cold While Normal Resumes Can Be Flexible
As much as you should stand out, do not attempt to do so through your resume format. Impress the screeners with the content, not fancy presentation.
Other industries like advertising and marketing would appreciate an out-of-the-box resume, but consulting will not. You should apply the same rule you do dressing up for interviews: as conservative as possible. Conservative in this field means professional.
Don’t get me wrong, consultants do appreciate creativity, just in the right places. You should reserve that creativity for projects instead. For resumes, stick to the traditional format template, which I will get to in part 5 of this article.
Consulting Resumes Have to Be Perfect While Normal Resumes Can Be Forgiving
Remember, it is harder to get into big consulting firms than Ivy League Schools. Screeners go through an absurd amount of resumes only to narrow down to less than 100 candidates for interviews. Hence, you cannot expect them to be forgiving and ignore your mistakes.
Every space, every dot and comma, every word must be perfect. You have only one A4 page to convince them you have the potential to be a consultant, so it is natural that any mistake you make will be detected and there goes your resume.
Always double-check, or even triple-check your resume. Getting someone to proofread it for you is also a good idea.
Consulting firms look for the following 3 ATTRIBUTES in their candidates:
- Leadership skills: The ability to influence other people, communicate ideas, and synergize with team members effectively.
- Problem-solving ability: The ability to effectively solve problems with a structured, top-down approach.
- Achieving mindset: The willingness to go beyond the call of duty to learn from experience and strive for the best results.
Every assessment system needs a set of standards to base the scoring on. Management consulting is a very unique field and therefore requires somewhat unconventional grading criteria. That is why the very first step to beginning writing your consulting resume is to understand the values that consulting firms cherish and to make sure that every inch of your resume reflects those values.
So why are the 3 aforementioned attributes, or values, so demanded?
A consultant is like a general on a battlefield. Even as a fresher, you are given a certain amount of control over a handful of resources, and a lot of expectations are put on you.
Can you manage and assemble all the loose pieces to deliver the best output? Can you take the initiative to finish the project? And most importantly, can you delegate others and help them achieve your envisioned results as well?
This is the quintessential skill that every consultant must have. You are expected to be able to effectively break down, analyze and solve problems of various sorts in various situations. How else can you consult other people on their business problems if you do not know what to do with them?
Problem-solving is always expected to be showcased in case interviews, but before that, you have to sell it on your resume. Worry not, I will show you how you can express it through your task descriptions.
In other words, are you result-oriented? Do you have a strong desire to achieve what you have never been able to do before? How do you cope in the face of adversity, do you go straight through?
The consulting field is very tough, being sufficient will simply not suffice. Progress isn’t something you get when you don’t push past your limits. All successful consultants I know are very driven, and you need to emulate this and show it in your resume.
(BONUS) The Consulting Resume Heatmap
There are typically a few more noteworthy areas in a resume. I interviewed dozens of resume screeners across McKinsey, Bain, and BCG offices and asked them what they look at more often in a resume. Surprisingly, we all somewhat point to similar areas of focus. Below is an example of a resume heatmap to show you these important parts!
When scanning resumes, do screeners look at everything equally? Of course not.
- There is a big emphasis on GPA: Sure, GPA is not everything, but it sure is a convenient way to get a general evaluation. In case you don’t have a good GPA, don’t worry because other test scores like the SAT can substitute.
- University and company names also receive a lot of the attention
- The first bullet point of the most recent job is by far the most important part of your resume. This is where you can score a home run.
- The second bullet point of the most recent job or the first bullet point of others receive less attention but are still just as important.
There are, of course, exceptions to what is shown. For example:
- If you had worked at a prestigious firm, chances are the first bullet point of that job will get the most attention.
- Bullet points too long or too short will lose attention.
- Presentation mistakes will steal attention from important points.
- The better your resume is, the more time and effort the screener will spend on it. If it has made a great first impression, the screener is more likely to read the third and fourth bullet points you have written.
3. How to Write a Consulting Resume
It is time to get down to brass tacks and start drafting your very own consulting resume. For this part, I will only walk you through the basics, which I will go into deeper later in the article. This is to give you an overview of what you need to do so you can effectively manage your time while writing a consulting resume.
Step 1: List Out All Your Jobs and Achievements
Although I said before that a consulting resume should fit one A4 page only, for this step, do not worry about the length yet. Write down everything you could think of: education, working experience, extra-curricular activities, achievements and qualifications, and the description for all of those things. You will trim it down later. Taking things out of the resume is easier than adding them in.
Step 2: Tailor Each Bullet Point in a Consulting Fashion
Remember the difference between consulting resumes and normal resumes? Each bullet point you write must at least fit the 5 criteria (output-focused, specific, implicit, cold, and perfect) to meet the eyes of screeners at a consulting firm. And that is the bare minimum requirement.
This step is a crucial point in writing a consulting resume, and for that reason, I have designated a whole separate section for how to write each bullet point perfectly after this, so stay tuned.
Step 3: Tailor the Visual Format of the Resume
Consulting is a field where creativity is extremely valued, for without it one cannot hope to solve unfamiliar problems day in day out. That said, reserve that creativity for when you get the job, do not show it on your resume. For this part, stick with a conservative look, just like how you would dress on your first day of work.
Other than that, you also need your resume to have a professional font and is skimmable. That said, this is such an important pillar in writing a consulting resume that it deserves its own big point, which we will get to later.
Step 4: Trim the Resume Into One A4 Page
After having listed all the crucial bullet points, it is time to do some magic to make everything fit into one A4 page. You can either (1) omit content or write more, or (2) tweak the format of your resume, e.g. adjust the page margin or font size.
Whatever you do, make sure everything fits into one page. It is challenging, but one page only! If your resume needs to reach a second page, it is too long; and if it is only 0.7 pages long, it is too short. Everything must fit roughly into one page.
Step 5: Review It Yourself and Ask Others to Help
There is no limit to how many times you should review your resume. Do it as many times as possible, and do it early. Because the product you submit to your consulting firm of choice will have to be perfect, you need to scrutinize the document thoroughly before applying.
And ask around for feedback, you will need at least an objective opinion. Not only so, but you might also want someone experienced to proofread your resume for you. You can never be too careful.
Step 6: Correct mistakes and make improvements
After you have reviewed and got someone to proofread your resume, it is time to do the final touch-ups. Make sure everything is perfect before you apply for any job openings. It is as simple as that.
4. How to Write Each Bullet Point Perfectly
Bullet points are the essential building blocks of a great resume, without them, there is no passing. Even if you don’t have the perfect experience and you didn’t go to a prestigious university, your bullet points have to reflect the potential consultant in you.
Typically, a great bullet point consists of 3 parts:
- The work
- Explanation of the work
- The output
For example: Went grocery shopping (A) – at the most crowded supermarket in town (B) – ensuring adequate food supply for the whole family of 3 for the next week (C).
So how do we approach this structure?
- The work: Use strong, yet simple verbs in the present or simple past tense, depending on the time of course.
- Explanation of the work: This is an expansion of what the work is, what it entails. You need this part to emphasize the context of the work.
- Be as specific as possible;
- Highlight the difficult nature of the work
- Deploy business terms accordingly and accurately.
- The output: In other words, the results. This can either be qualitative or quantitative, but has to be accurate and to the point either way.
To make this easier to understand, let’s take a look at a few specific examples:
“Managed consulting engagements (A) – with P&L responsibilities (B) – generating a profit of $700,000 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 the second example, parts A and B have merged together, and this is totally okay – the job description remained specific throughout and the author managed to put in decent consulting wordings and terms, along with direct results in part C. Once you internalize this knowledge, you will find that you can be a bit more flexible and still write good bullet points.
As long as you have all the right ingredients, there should be no problem. And one of the indispensable ingredients is the vocabulary to write effective work descriptions. In our Resume Toolkit, you can find a secret list of technical terminologies and verbs that will make your resume sound much more “consulting”.
5. Visual Format of A Consulting Resume
Choose a conservative, black-and-white design
Remember what I said earlier about formatting the resume? No creativity, especially in the visual department! In the consulting field, everything is approached with discipline and tried-and-true frameworks, so everything printed on paper has to be conservative and scientific.
Moreover, this is actually a no-brainer since your resume will be printed in black ink on white paper anyway, so do not try to impress screeners with colorful designs.
Use a serif font, preferably Times New Roman
Serif fonts are the foundation of any professional document, especially in a business setting. They look clean and easy to read. Please do not use fun fonts to impress recruiters, they will not appreciate it.
And when in doubt, use Times New Roman. Of course, you can use other serif fonts if you want, but I’d strongly advise against that. You can never go wrong with Times New Roman, so if you really want to change the font, make sure it is a serif font and looks professional.
Utilize white spaces to ease the reading experience
Remember that screeners have to go through hundreds, if not thousands of unexceptional resumes a day, so they can only spend a small amount of time on each. Thus, they will definitely appreciate a resume that is easy on the eyes, meaning skimmable.
Adjust the line and paragraph spacing so your bullet points don’t get cramped together. 1.15 or 1.5 spacing will do just fine.
6. Consulting Resume Examples (A Passing & A Failing Resume)
6.1. The good resume that passed
This resume demonstrates good qualities of proper organization and formatting. 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 (which I will get to later), all the foundation principles are met. There is good spacing throughout, heading font types are slightly varied but look professional nonetheless. It provides a pleasant reading experience
Skimming quickly through a few bullets, we can see sharp, specific, and result-oriented writing. Let’s dive even deeper!
- The most impressive achievements are put into the first bullet where screeners look at first. This candidate certainly knows how to divert attention to his 800/800 GRE and being in the top 10% of class at Yale.
- The candidate provided context for his 3.68 GPA (which while not bad, is not great either): being on the Dean’s List/top 15% of engineering undergraduates.
- An ideal bullet point length is between 1.5 and 2 lines. All 3 bullets under “Independent Studies” did just that!
- The candidate clearly demonstrated his result-driven mindset from the get-go – it is rare to see full-fledged bullets in the Education section.
- Good brand name with relevant experience. He worked for 5 years in consulting or consulting-related positions at Deloitte, which is also a famous consulting firm. This is by no means a prerequisite to be a management consultant, but it certainly helps to catch a screener’s eyes.
- A balance between qualitative and quantitative. The first bullet of the first job is always important, and notice how it contains both qualitative data (migrate client’s finance operations) and quantitative data (reduced overhead by 20%). Many people just went crazy for numbers but in fact, you can tell a lot just with a qualitative description!
- The candidate stuck to my aforementioned formula: The work, the explanation, and output. You can see that in the second bullet.
- Every bullet point is consistently well crafted: perfect length (1.5 – 2 lines), perfect rhythm, specific results, sharp writing. The screeners will find a good point no matter where they lay their eyes on.
- The candidate took every chance to show his result-oriented nature. Many people tend to overlook this part of the resume, but not this candidate, who took it very seriously. Results are everywhere, in every bullet point.
6.2. The bad resume that failed
- The candidate took every chance to show his result-oriented nature. Many people tend to overlook this part of the resume, but not this candidate, who took it very seriously. Results are everywhere, in every bullet point.
- The candidate included his nationality, which is a deadly mistake. In the US, companies are prohibited from making hiring decisions based on candidates’ races and nationalities. HR will stay away from resumes like this, which drops your chance to virtually zero. Read more about the auto-failed mistakes below.
- Potential miscommunication: The candidate wrote his expected grade is “1st in Finals (2:1 in Prelims). The grading systems in countries are different, so you should make it easy for everyone to understand yours. You should include your ranking to showcase how competitive your performance is.
- Unspecific bullet points: This candidate failed to include any quantitative results in his bullet points.
- Grammar mistakes: This candidate made various grammar and spelling mistakes, which signals to the screeners that he might not be detail-oriented, leading to an auto-fail. DO NOT submit your resume if there is even just one mistake!
- Non-MECE sections: The candidate put extra-curricular activities and skills into one section, which violates the MECE rule. If you plan on including these 2 sections, break them apart.
7. Consulting Resume Template (McKinsey, BCG, Bain, and More)
Where to download the template?
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:
Firstly, it is space-efficient. You can squeeze in a lot of information and expect no wasted open space or cramped area.
Secondly, it is structured and easy to skim through. Font style diversity makes different sections stand out from each other. Screeners who go through hundreds of resumes a day will appreciate this a lot.
Why are McKinsey consultants crazy about this resume template?
Thirdly, it is professional and elegant, exactly how McKinsey wants to present itself. We, consultants, like no-nonsense and straightforward things like this.
How to use the template?
Though the template I provided is pretty much plug-and-play, you can tweak it a bit in case you have too much blank space or your content cannot fit one page. If you find yourself in one of those situations, be mindful of the following points:
- Make sure everything fits roughly into one page. One page only! Not 1.3 or 0.7 pages!
- Aim for about 600 words (± 100) with font size 10. My tip is to just write everything out without worrying about length first, you can always adjust later.
- Feel free to adjust the page margin (not too much of course). After writing, adjust your margin to accommodate your content.
- If you need to adjust the font size, stay in the 9 -11 zone.
- Do not change the font.
8. 16 tips for Consulting Resumes
Tip 1: Write Your Resume Early
Writing a resume is a long process, and you will need to spend weeks or even months on it to make the perfect product. You have spent years building education and working experience already, don’t waste them all by giving your resumes only a few days.
Tip 2: Review Your Resume Multiple Times
I have said it before and I will say it again – check your resume relentlessly. One mistake is enough to get you disqualified, so do not stop reviewing your resume until you are 100% it is spotless.
Tip 3: Practice With Benchmarks
Look for resumes of other applicants, assess the quality of your own resume versus theirs, and see if there’s anything you can learn.
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 the owners). All are accompanied by extensive feedback using systematic error codings for the most common mistakes.
Tip 4: Put in Your Contact Information
If they cannot reach you, you are automatically out; the screeners don’t even have to think further if they want to call you or not.
To be extra detailed, use smart spacing to make your phone number easy to read. For example, try 0172.572.951 instead of 0172572951.
Tip 5: No Religious/Political Viewpoint
These are sensitive subjects that have nothing to do with your desired positions. You are expected to stay neutral, or HR will stay away from your resume. If you have previously worked at an NGO or NPO for a cause, keep in mind to use professional terminologies that do not express any beliefs.
Tip 6: No Photo/Gender/Race
Hiring decisions made based on any of these 3 factors is strictly prohibited, at least in the US. The screeners will not risk the PR crisis for just 1 resume, so it is best to not include your photos, or your gender, or your ethnicity in your resume.
Tip 7: Do Not Reach the Second Page
2-page resumes are a nightmare to handle in the screening room. I have worked in the recruiting process before, and 99% of the time we discard 2-page resumes right away, or just skim the first page if you are lucky. No matter how impressive your experience is, a 2-page resume will put it all to waste.
Tip 8: No Creative Formatting
Personally, I love looking at creative resume templates. But if I were to hire someone whose job is to steer an entire company away from bankruptcy in a stressful working environment, I would for sure go with someone who sticks to protocol.
Tip 9: Spelling/Grammar Mistakes
Whether you are incompetent at English or you were careless, it is a red flag for screeners. How can they trust you to not make the same mistakes in future consulting documents?
Tip 10: Formatting Mistakes
If you cannot format a 1-page resume properly in a low-stress situation, how can you expect to handle a big volume of complicated documents and reports with really tight deadlines? Stick to the template I have provided you tightly!
Tip 11: Spoken Language
Since your resume is considered a professional document, please stay away from any informal expressions or wordings. People in the consulting field take this very seriously.
Always use tried-and-true terminologies in your resume, just like what you can find in the Resume Toolkit Program.
Tip 12: Do Not Talk Behind Anyone’s Back
Whatever the reason for your stopping working at your previous job, do not talk bad about it, especially on your resume. Screeners do not have time for gossip or drama, and they certainly do not appreciate the negativity you bring.
Tip 13: If You Have a Low GPA, Make Up for It
Although there is no hard cut-off bar for GPA, one that is lower than 3.0 will most likely not advance you to the next round. If you have a sub-3.0 GPA, you have to make up for it with really great achievements, be it a working experience or a good score on a standardized test.
Tip 14: Submit Your Resume in PDF Form
Submitting your resume in a DOC or DOCX file is a risky move since you have no guarantee it will look the same on others’ computer screens and printers. Your beautifully formatted resume may be botched horribly, and screeners know that, so they will spend significantly less effort and time on it.
Remember to export your resume to PDF if you want to preserve it!
Tip 15: Name Your Attachment File Carefully
Each office receives thousands of resumes in a recruiting batch, so a file named “Resume.pdf” will most likely get lost in the process. Before you send your email, rename your file in this format: “Year_Your name_Resume.pdf” to avoid the hassle.
Tip 16: Send the Perfect Email
The screening process starts from the moment the office receives your email. Any email without a title, or an attached file, or a cover letter, or body text will be immediately disqualified.
Consultants have to communicate through email day and night, so they will take this very seriously. Don’t waste all the effort put into your resume by sending a poor email.
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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