The question of how to join a management consulting firm as an experienced hire from another industry or another consulting firm is one that is often asked. The traditional route is to apply and go through the standard interview process as an MBA summer intern or post-MBA consultant. However, there aren’t a lot of sources out there that cover the non-traditional way and that is something you will learn about in this article.
Now, there are a lot of variables in play – which firm in which industry you are coming from and which role in which specific office you are moving to – which can make for unique experiences. However, I believe that my own and my former colleague’s experiences as experienced hires into other consulting firms are fairly representative of what you can expect.
First Step: Getting the Interview
Many individuals hoping to make such a move initially become interested in consulting after working alongside consultants engaged by their firm. Or in the case of a former management consultant, you want to experience different industries or functional capabilities. This was true for me as well. At my previous company, I was focusing on a specific sector (which is not a bad thing at all if you know this is your long-term aspiration and you want to be an expert in the field), which gave me huge breadth of projects in different geographies. However, I wanted to try out something new.
When I became interested in moving, I communicated this to the Partner, who was my mentor back then. (Tip: Being transparent can either work in your favor or go against you. You have to evaluate what kind of relationship you have with your senior, what type of person the senior is, and whether he/she will support you.) Then he/she connected me to a Partner at another firm who referred me for an interview. Similarly, a former colleague reached out to a Partner at another firm for a casual coffee chat and next thing he/she knew, he/she was in the interview process as an experienced hire.
It would be very rare to get an interview as an experienced hire without at least having the right connections (the higher the seniority, the better). Ideally, though, you should also have had the opportunity to work alongside consultants from the firm that you wish to move to. Cultivating the right connections for a recommendation is crucial.
Beyond this, somewhat unsurprisingly, your chances of getting an interview will be a lot better if you have a background in strategy consulting. A post-graduate degree – preferably an MBA, though consulting firms also value PhDs – will also make you more attractive. Having prior experience in competitive fields/firms would also give you an advantage over other experienced candidates. Just don’t apply through the company’s career portal and expect to hear back. It sometimes works but with the least probability of success. (Note: if this is the only option, optimize your initial resume and cover letter and ideally have these reviewed by a consultant from the relevant firm.)
Next Step: The Interviews
Now, once you have made it to interview, the significance of networks, recommendations and previous jobs all largely falls away. The decision as to whether to hire you will be overwhelmingly based on your interview performance.
Bear in mind experienced hire interviews could be multiple rounds with no set of defined timelines. (Note: Both me and my former colleague’s interviews consisted of 5-6 rounds, spanning across 2-3 months).
Whilst experienced hires will often encounter significant differences in the selection process as compared to those coming straight from university, other portions of selection are very much maintained – and for good reason.
In terms of differences, an experienced hire will most likely be evaluated for a specialist or expert role and hence the initial screening criteria will be decidedly more stringent and tightly defined. At the interview though, candidates are all treated and judged precisely the same, regardless of their level of experience.
This policy makes sense for consultancies. Their interview process, across both case and fit components, assesses exactly the skillset at which consultants at any level need to excel. Firms will always trust their direct measurement of your abilities and character via interviews and tests over and above anything that is written on your resume. As a rule, interviewers will never take the simple fact you have held a role to guarantee that you have the skills associated with that position.
In summary, based on our experiences the interview process consisted as following:
- Round 1: Phone call with experienced hire HR recruiter (30 minutes) – Covers fit, reasoning behind the switch, and why the specific firm
- Round 2 – 4: Mix of phone and in-person interviews with current junior/senior consultants (45-60 minutes each) – Covers fit and standard case interviews
- Round 5 – 6: In-person interviews with Partners (30-60 minutes each) – Covers everything, and the format is unstructured (do your due diligence on the Partner, for example, their industry/function expertise, their past experiences, etc.)
It is important to note that, although consulting firms do consider the amount of experience you had on your previous job, you can generally expect that your role will be lower in the hierarchy than your previous work (this will come down to negotiation). If you want to make the transition to a consulting firm, with all the advantages that entails, you will have to check your ego and accept that it might mean starting a few rungs down a new ladder. A lot of experienced hires I know have had leadership or other senior roles in their previous jobs but were hired for less-senior roles in the respective firms after successful interviews. That said, they all accepted those positions, as they realized that the move was worth it!
Jason Oh is a Senior Consultant, Strategy & Customer at EY. Previously, he was a Management Consultant at Novantas with a focus on the financial services sector, where he advised on pricing, marketing, channel distribution, digital transformation and due diligence.