About the Career Path
What is management consulting?
Management consulting is the business of helping organizations solve their toughest problems. Typically, a client company will hire a consulting firm to tackle a broad, high-level issue; the consulting firm will then put together a team of consultants to work with the client, on what is known as an engagement, to prepare a tangible recommendation.
What is an example of a problem that consulting firms solve and how I would be involved as a consultant?
A typical business problem in the technology industry may be “Should our smartphone business move into the video game industry, and if so, how?”; in the pharma industry: “Our company has a groundbreaking drug that shows success in animal studies, but how do we get it into the market?”; in the healthcare industry: “A new competing hospital is reducing our patient volume. How do we respond?”; in the retail industry: “How do we expand our popular restaurant chain into China?”. Notice that these are high-level, broad problems, and while they initially appear to require technical or industry experience, they can be dissected into bite-size chunks that can solved by practically anyone with a structured approach and analytical mindset.
As a consultant, you will be working with a team of other consultants and a manager called a case team. Your tasks include conducting research on internal and external sources of the client’s business; performing interviews with the client’s employees, customers and industry experts; executing analysis using Microsoft Excel and translating data into meaningful insights; preparing and presenting concise and convincing recommendations to the partners and clients via PowerPoint slidedecks.
I am currently a trainee or working full-time, can I do consulting on the side?
While the answer is yes, working as a part-time or independent consultant is entirely different from working at a consulting firm. Consulting firms are highly organized, provide their services via teams (and exclusively teams) of consultants, work on dramatically more complex and impactful projects, have strong relationships with C-level executives at major client companies, and provide comprehensive professional development and mentorship for their consultants with the goal of training future business leaders. Our organization and this website focus on careers working at consulting firms.
Who do consulting firms recruit?
The majority of new hires at consulting firms are undergraduates, and soon to finish or freshly minted graduates (PhD, MD, JD, MBA). The general rationale of this bottom-heavy recruitment process is that these candidates have a blank slate and little to no preconceived notions about industries. It also provides the consulting firms an opportunity to train these individuals in their methodologies to become successful business leaders. Very rarely do these firms recruit to fill managerial or executive positions.
I am a PhD or MD but don’t have a background in business and no prior experience. Why would consulting firms want to hire me?
PhDs are generally hired for their hypothesis-driven approaches, analytical skills, and intellectual curiosity. As an MD, you will generally be hired for your people and client-facing skills, clinical and healthcare perspectives, and team-based experiences. Regardless of a PhD or MD, a set of common soft skills including problem-solving, communication, leadership and teamwork are required.
What is the difference between generalist and boutique consulting?
Generalist consulting firms serve a wide array of industry verticals such as healthcare, energy, airlines, retail, pharmaceuticals, etc. These firms also serve a range of horizontals such as strategy, operations, finance, marketing, risk, etc. On the other hand, boutique firms serve a specific industry vertical and/or horizontal.
What are some generalist consulting firms?
The top-ranked generalist firms that actively recruit PhDs and MDs are McKinsey & Company, The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and Bain & Company. These three firms are commonly referred to as “MBB”. Other top generalist firms include Deloitte Consulting, L.E.K., Parthenon, Navigant, Oliver Wyman, etc. These firms have offices in major cities around the world. A comprehensive list of the best consulting firms can be found here.
What are some life science/healthcare boutique firms?
Some examples include ClearView HealthCare Partners, IMS Consulting Group, Health Advances, Clarion HealthCare, Putnam Associates, Trinity Partners, etc. As major domestic hubs for the life science industry are found in Boston, New York, San Diego and San Francisco areas, most boutique firms serving this industry are located there as well.
I have been working in research or medicine my entire life but also have an interest in the business side. How would I benefit by transitioning into consulting?
Consultants provide impactful solutions to big-picture, real-world business problems. For example, your work during an engagement may be implemented by the client and featured in a business periodical only after a few weeks. Making numerous, sizable impacts very quickly is typically a challenge in academia or medicine, unlike in consulting. You will also be provided with exposure to a range of industries that help you broaden your skillset and a holistic understanding of the business world. In addition, you will be working in a team-based environment, prized for being a meritocracy, and interacting with senior-level executives on a regular basis, thus providing you with an incomparable professional network. Finally, a consulting position provides one of the highest compensation packages for any newly minted PhD or MD, a well-defined and timely career progression, and unparalleled exit opportunities.
I’ve heard that some consultants leave after 2-3 years. Why is that and what do these consultants do next?
While working at a consulting firm, consultants discover opportunities that were not accessible beforehand. Some of these options include: joining a business development role at a Fortune 500 company, which may also happen to be a former client; starting their own business; nonprofit consulting; government and politics; independent consulting; returning to research or practicing medicine.
How is getting an MBA similar or different from working as a consultant?
Whether you acquire an MBA or work as a consultant, you will receive intensive business training, surround yourself with highly intelligent people, and develop an unmatched professional network.
As a consultant, the majority of your training will be “learning-by-doing” or working on the job to solve business problems; whereas, as an MBA candidate, you mostly “learn-by-studying” real business problems through didactic courses on advanced business theory. As a consultant, you focus on developing a solution to the client’s business problem but are typically not involved in its execution or implementation; however, during an MBA, you become proficient in both halves. Finally, as a consultant, you are paid as you are being trained, unlike during an MBA where you are required to pay tuition. That being said, while both an MBA and working as a consultant are fantastic ways to bolster your business training, some post-consulting positions may still require an MBA.
I have a question about the consulting career track that wasn’t listed here, where can I get more information?
We would like to refer you to our Introduction to Consulting guide, which includes the complete slideshow and videos from our annual introductory meeting. If you do not find the answer to your question there, please feel free to reach out to us.
About the Application Process
What are consulting firms looking for in a successful candidate?
For PhD and MDs, consulting firms are interested in your soft skills over your technical skills or domain knowledge. They would like you to demonstrate concrete examples of problem-solving, leadership, teamwork, communication, conflict resolution, working with people, etc. In addition, an undivided interest in solving business problems, preferably demonstrated via hands-on experiences, helps determine the best candidates.
What are the materials needed to submit an application?
Most applications require a consulting-style resume and cover letter. Your soft skills and interest in business should be highlighted in both these documents. Some firms may require transcripts from graduate and undergraduate educations. Other firms may require you to answer short essay questions or pass their very own quantitative aptitude tests.
We recommend registering to become a Training Member to gain access to our Resume and Cover Letter Workshop slides and videos to fully understand how these documents are distinct for applying to consulting positions and how to design successful ones. If you do not find the answer to your question there, please feel free to reach out to us.
I’ve heard that consulting firms typically recruit from Ivy League institutions or the top 10 schools. How can I be competitive if I attend a “non-target” institution?
Besides honing your soft skills during your PhD or MD tenure, rigorous networking is paramount for getting interview invitations, especially for applicants from non-target institutions. Actually, receiving an interview invitation at a top consulting firm can be just as difficult as succeeding within the interviews!
We recommend registering to become a Training Member to gain access to our Networking Workshop slides and videos to fully understand the tactics and strategies that lead to interview invitations. If you do not find the answer to your question there, please feel free to reach out to us.
What is the hiring/recruitment timeline for consulting firms?
The annual recruitment cycle for PhDs and MDs typically begins in March when firms begin their on-campus recruitment events. Some firms, such as McKinsey, BCG and ClearView Healthcare Partners, offer a multi-day summer program for PhDs and MDs that allow you to walk in the shoes of a consultant at their firm. The deadlines to submit applications to the summer programs occur in March and April. Recruiting for full-time positions usually takes place one year in advance. The deadlines to submit applications to full-time positions are generally in summer or fall with start dates as early as the next fall. Occasionally, some firms hire in the spring as well while some boutique firms have rolling applications all year round.
We would like to refer you to our Introduction to Consulting guide for a more comprehensive answer. We also recommend registering to become a club member to receive reminder emails for upcoming application deadlines. If you do not find the answer to your question there, please feel free to reach out to us.
I’ve heard that consulting interviews include something called a “case interview”. What exactly is that?
A case interview is a unique interview format that assesses your problem-solving, analytical and communication skills. During the interview, the interviewer will typically play the role of a client, while you, as the candidate, will play the role of a consultant. Therefore, the firm is determining whether you are already thinking like a consultant even before being hired! To make this decision, you will be asked to analyze a hypothetical, vague business problem, while providing a succinct, cogent and data-backed recommendation. Most firms employ successive rounds of interviews, each containing multiple case interviews–entering the subsequent round requires passing interviews in the previous one, thus resulting in a process that can last many weeks from invitation to job offer.
The majority of consulting firms today will ask you to “drive the case”, in which you will develop a highly structured approach to solve the problem, decide which avenue to analyze first, request the necessary data, conduct your analysis both qualitative and quantitative (no calculators!), draw conclusions and finally, deliver your recommendation. However, this process is typically not entirely left up to the candidate as interviewers may nudge you in the correct direction, identify dead ends, ask questions that help with your analysis, or even ask you to double-check your numbers! A few consulting firms, such as McKinsey, employ a less open-ended approach in which the interviewer will lead and navigate you through the case. Besides one-on-one case interviews, some firms also have group case interviews, written case interviews and presentation-style case interviews.
Unlike typical job interviews, preparing for case interviews requires dozens of hours of practice that should ideally be spread over the course of a few months, regardless of whether an interview invitation is expected. We recommend registering to become a Training Member to gain access to our case interview prep book rental services and weekly case practice sessions. Keep an eye out for our upcoming Case Interview Workshop series as well, exclusive to Training Members. If you do not find the answer to your question there, please feel free to reach out to us.
What is a fit/behavioral interview?
The fit interview assesses your teamwork, leadership, communication and conflict-resolution skills, and usually occurs immediately prior to the case interview. As consulting is a client-facing industry requiring exceptional people skills, the fit interview serves to identify if a) you are amicable and social, b) you would potentially make a valuable addition to the interviewer’s team, and c) you would fit into the culture of that specific office.
We recommend registering to become a Training Member to gain access to our Fit Interview Workshop slides and videos to fully understand how to convey your soft skills and professional stories effectively to the interviewer. If you do not find the answer to your question there, please feel free to reach out to us.
I am currently employed full-time. How is the recruitment process different for me?
As a working professional, you will typically be placed in the “experienced hire” track. In addition, depending on the amount of time that has elapsed since completing your PhD or MD, you may also be placed in this track. This recruitment process for experienced hires usually occurs on a rolling basis and many firms do not have a formal application process. Therefore, networking may be even more crucial to receiving an interview invitation. However, the application documents and interview process are usually identical to that of traditional hires.