Breaking into Management Consulting with an MBA versus without an MBA
You’re at a crossroads in your life, and you know you want to take the next step. You know that you’re interested in consulting, but you’re not sure if you can break in with your current credentials, and you think an MBA might help. What do you do?
For 80% of job-seekers, I would offer the following advice: apply to consulting firms right now. Just as some people mistakenly think consulting/finance is usually necessary for an MBA or alternative program like an MBA online, some people mistakenly assume that a top ten MBA is usually necessary for consulting. Most people with a few years of work experience can find some way to explain how their past accomplishments relate in some way to business or consulting.
Get started by doing the following things:
- Update and perfect your resume and cover letter.
- Create a list of 20-25 consultancies that you’d love to work for, with notes on each one. You can start with a ranking such as the Vault Top 50 Consulting Firms and researching each firm; but keep in mind that rankings aren’t everything.
- Create a 3-column table in Word or Excel for brainstorming. In the left column of the table, create a list of traits that make good consultants (e.g. leadership, teamwork, analytical skill) Then, in the middle column, write out in specific detail 1-3 accomplishments or experiences that demonstrate each trait, including results and what you learned. Finally, in the right column, write down a potential situation you might encounter as a consultant where you could leverage the experiences described in the middle column. This brainstorming session may help you convince yourself and recruiters that you are already suitable for consulting, even without an MBA.
Most large consulting firms like McKinsey and Deloitte have dedicated research groups that support client service teams – while this may not be your ideal job, it can be a good transitional role while gaining exposure to how the industry works. Finally, consulting firms hire people mostly for their demonstrated traits and skills, which are more important than past affiliation with any organization. Have you lead teams and demonstrated success in doing so? Have you pursued challenging problems and shown measurable results? You need to be good at telling your story to reflect those traits and skills.
Another key point: many people don’t realize that they can pursue a high-paying and fulfilling job with great training and advancement opportunities outside of McBain Group. There are great consulting firms out there looking for people with skills and personality traits like yours, especially if you write a great resume and cover letter and ace the interview process.
If you are still obsessed about prestige, consider that 2 years working at a top 50 consulting firm is an excellent springboard for applying to a top 10 consulting firm. This springboard may be even better than an MBA and you will also be over $200,000 richer than if you had gotten an MBA.
Finally, consulting firms often offer MBA-like training. McKinsey sends many of its non-MBAs to a 3-4 week mini-MBA boot camp to learn the most important tools and concepts. In 1993, 61% of new McKinsey recruits had MBAs, but that number is now down to less than half, which demonstrates that McKinsey believes it quickly train non-MBAs to be consultants. You should research the training opportunities at a firm if that is important for you.
The conclusion is simple: in most cases, if you are considering a consulting job, it is best to apply now.