How to Get a Job in Consulting, According to a McKinsey Consultant

Marion Steward
  • Sidi Koné has worked for consulting companies such as the Boston Consulting Group and McKinsey.
  • He spoke with Insider about what the job was like and what to expect during the application process.
  • Applicants might speak with people six or seven times before a contract offer was made, he said.

Getting a job in one of the big strategy-consulting firms isn’t easy.

“About 90% to 95% of applicants are rejected,” said Sidi Koné, a job coach who’s worked at the Boston Consulting Group, McKinsey, and the German Football League.

Koné helps people who want to apply to consulting firms such as BCG, McKinsey, and Bain & Company. 

“Strategy consulting is traditionally about attacking emerging challenges for which there are no proven solutions yet, thinking them through, and formulating recommendations for action,” Koné said in an interview with Insider.

Companies, NGOs, and even governments come to consulting firms with their problems

Consultants analyze problems, including growing complaints from clientele or high employee turnover, and try to work with the client to find a solution.

“They say a year in a strategy-consulting firm is about the same as three to four years in another company. Because you simply get so many different projects, naturally all with corresponding intensity,” Koné said. 

“These are usually topics where there’s a lot of pressure,” he added.

Koné said there were many claims about working in strategy consulting that were wrong

“Many forums on the internet say that you need to study business or economics. That’s absolutely not true,” Koné said. 

Most firms were also upfront about the fact that the academic background was secondary, he added. He continued: “What they need is a well-balanced combination of different skills and abilities.

“You should bring a certain drive. You should enjoy taking on problems and solving them. You need a certain curiosity about problems where there’s no standard path to a solution. If you have half a heart attack every time you get into these situations, you might not be the right person for the job.”

Koné said people weren’t listing results on their résumés, which he said was something the companies looked for: “Time and time again, I see people list what they’ve done in their career but don’t say what the ultimate result of their work was.”

Applicants should also enjoy analytical thinking and be able to think outside the box, he said, adding that international profiles that included experience abroad were also welcome.

A candidate’s chances could also increase if they showed that they had experience teaching or training others, Koné said, “because an important part of working with clients is explaining our thought processes and solution approaches to them.”

Interviews at strategy-consulting firms differ from those in other industries. They’re carried out by consultants rather than HR or recruiters.

Those consultants were specifically trained for this, Koné said. 

Candidates may still be asked about their personal goals, career aspirations, and personality, he added, “but the most striking difference is the so-called case study that every applicant has to do.”

This is a business situation, often taken from a previous consulting project, where the applicant has to give a presentation on how they’d approach the issue and how they could come to a solution for the client. 

At prestigious consulting firms, applicants didn’t do this just once, Koné said. “You may talk to different people up to six or seven times before a contract offer is made,” he added. 

This, he said, was to test whether applicants could think through and discuss such issues in a consistent and logical way.

“Before you start regular project work, there’s usually training and onboarding, which varies a bit from company to company,” Koné added. 

Depending on their background, onboarding could take a little longer before they were assigned to their first project — but it was usually several weeks, he said.

The salary-comparison platform Glassdoor said entry-level consultants at McKinsey, called business analysts, earned $107,600 a year on average

Koné said it was becoming increasingly common for people with work experience in other fields to move into consulting. 

So depending on when and how applicants applied, they could get different starting salaries — base pay for analysts typically ranged from $91,000 to $106,000 a year, for example, Glassdoor indicated.

“The starting point is already relatively high. But that’s not even the bottom line,” Koné said. 

“Because of the rapid development and high level of responsibility you have, there’s also a big salary increase from year to year,” he added. “Within the first four to five years, you can increase your starting salary by more than 50% again.”

If an applicant reached more senior positions, their academic background could also play a role. 

“If you’re advising the Ministry of Health in a country, for example, it makes sense if the senior partner studied medicine,” Koné said. 

Consultants usually work directly with their clients’ management and key decision-makers, getting insights into different areas through the various projects. 

“When you work in this environment, you very quickly become attractive to other employers, often on the client side as well,” Koné said. 

After a few projects, consultants may want to specialize in a certain area or may be poached by a client. That was a common reason people eventually left consulting, he said.

Koné left strategy consulting to start his own business

“I can’t argue. It’s a high-pressure job where you definitely work a lot, even late into the night. It’s very demanding,” Koné said.

He added, “Personally, I needed the opportunity to have more control over my own working hours.” 

This is a translation of an article that originally appeared on Business Insider Deutschland on March 2, 2022. It has been edited for length.

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