Question on McKinsey APD vs. Experienced Hire:
First, thank you so much for providing your online materials. I recently found them and they are great!
Second, I was hoping you would help me shed some light as to my somewhat atypical career situation.
I have a Ph.D. and postdoc from a great school in a technical field, followed by almost 3 years of work experience as a "consultant" in a good, but not great, company in a diametrically opposed field (think, for example, a Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton working as a scientific advisor for a second-tier newspaper).
Now I would really like to transition to management consulting, preferably to a top firm like McKinsey.
Five years ago, when I was in my last year of graduate school, I applied to McKinsey and BCG. I got to the final round with McK and 2nd round with BCG, no offers.
Would they be interested in someone with my current background?
How can I best position myself when I apply to maximize my chances of getting an interview?
Would I be considered an APD or an experienced hire by these firms?
Finally, would I have to follow their recruiting calendar and wait until fall to apply? Ideally I would be ready to apply/interview/start as soon as possible. Thank you very much for any insight you could spare.
Most likely you would be an experienced hire and you could apply whenever you want to.
One concern I have is there is a perceived drop in institution prestige from your post doc institution to your first employer.
It might look like your career is de-celerating (vs accelerating)... and that might give a moment's pause.
If the PhD /post doc CV was really excellent and your last 3 years have involved a lot of people/client type skills, then it might be seen as a plus (be sure to emphasize people / leadership stuff in your current position in your networking and cover letters... so it is seen as you learning people skills as opposed to loss of prestige).
I think your background is interesting enough to be worth trying. It is not a guarantee, but since you got pretty close last time clearly you were competitive.
Most likely you will go through the experienced hire route. Just to be sure, you might want to call up the APD recruiting coordinator and ask them which direction is more appropriate for you. Also check the various firm websites to see if they publish guidelines.
Finally, it would really help offset any potential negative perception of your most recent job experience if you were to apply via networking.
It is a world of difference if a current BCG or McKinsey employee hands your consulting resume to recruiting and says, "Hey, you really should interview this guy," vs. applying via the internet (which just has terrible odds). For help with this, see my guide on How to Network to Get a Consulting Interview.