What The Top Consulting Firms Look For in Resumes & CVs

by Victor Cheng

by 

Even if you have already secured your interviews, you should still read this article, because it explains why you were selected, what biases the firms have, and what areas of concerns the firms may have that they will likely test you on during the in-person interview.

In other words, what follows is an explanation of how the consulting firms think about recruiting new consultants.

Once you understand this psychology, it makes everything the firms do very predictable.

Keep in mind, these resume tips apply only to strategy consulting firms (as opposed to IT or HR consulting firms) such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), Bain, AT Kearney, LEK, etc…

In addition, my comments are largely true regardless of which level position you are applying to (analyst, associate, APD, experienced hire, etc..)

To start, let me dispel one myth: Resume Format.

Many people obsess over how the resume is formatted. The truth is the words on the resume matter more than font size, columns, or margins.

Simple example, if I see a resume that has the “wrong” margins but the resume says, “Harvard University, #1 in Class, Physics” (okay, I’m not even sure if Harvard ranks or has a physics degree)… I will notice the resume.

So the first big takeaway is this: WHAT you say matters more than how you FORMAT what you say.

In screening resumes, I have seen dozens if not hundreds of formats. Many different formats can work. The most important thing is the major accomplishments are easy to read.

Here is what the big firms are looking for:

1) Big Brand Name Employers or Schools

2) Academic Performance (GPA)

3) High Standardized Test Scores in Math

4) Evidence of Leadership and People Skills

5) High Achievement Career Experiences (Proportional to Length of Career)

Keep in mind, these are resume criteria for ALL levels of consulting, not just post-college roles.

Let me explain WHY each one is important.

1) Big Brand Name Employers or Schools

To be blunt, the top consulting firms are school snobs. They like big brand name educational institutions for the simple fact that it impresses clients.

If you’re an Associate making $150,000 – $200,000 USD per year, your employer is probably billing you out to clients at $600,000 USD/year. That’s $50,000 USD/month. The client is going to want to know what and who they are getting for that kind of money.

When the answer is John or Jane Doe, who has a BS from Dartmouth, a MD from Yale and MBA from Harvard, clients respond with an “Oh wow… that’s impressive” comment. It makes it easier to get new clients to say “yes”.

Now plenty of people get into the top firms (McKinsey included) that do not have such a perfect ivy pedigree… but if you got it, make sure it is OBVIOUS (it will help a lot).

Let me explain the thought process of some of these biases. The thinking is that only super high achievers get into the top schools… and the top firms really like hiring super high achievers.

This is not to say that the firms do not hire from non-target schools (they do), but they assume the highest achievers from non-target schools will work really hard to contact the firm (generally via networking) — thus demonstrating their determination.

(There is a lesson here. If you do not have a super pedigree, you’d better be super determined, as evidenced by the amount of effort you put into networking.)

In addition, it is very expensive for the firms to do on campus recruiting. So they stick to schools where the offer rate vs. applicant ratio is high (high being defined as greater than 1%)…

For example, Stanford (undergrad) is a target school and my year, 400 students applied for full time jobs, 6 offers were extended… and this was considered a very successful recruiting ratio by McKinsey).

As a point of reference, when I was recruited by McKinsey, I heard a rumor that the firm spent $100,000 USD in recruiting expense to hire ONE Business Analyst.

This figure included all billable hours of interviewers and consultants who go to on campus recruiting events as well as “hard” costs for travel, renting conference rooms, hotels, etc…

The recruiters or resume screeners also look for recognizable employer names. It is easier to understand a candidate’s accomplishment via the implied credibility of the employer name and it is also easier to convey to clients.

It is the same reason everyone wants to work for MBB – McKinsey, Bain or Boston Consulting Group — it implies something on your resume that stays with you forever.

To this day, I am known as a Stanford Grad and an Ex-McKinsey “Guy.” It is how I am introduced formally or informally when I give speeches. It stays with you for a very long time.

Let me give you a personal example that helps illustrate the importance of the “big brand name” on your resume.

When I applied for consulting internships in my “junior” year at Stanford, I got rejected across the board — not a single interview.

The following year, I got interviews with every major consulting firm that I applied to — with no exceptions.

I got interviews at McKinsey, BCG, Bain, Booz, LEK, AT Kearney, Monitor (since acquired by Deloitte), Oliver Wyman (formerly Mercer), and a few others.

(I also got offers from every consulting firm I interviewed with except BCG where I got rejected in round 1, and Booz when I decided to cancel my final round.)

So what did I do in the 12 months that made such a big difference?

Well I looked at who got interviews (most were friends of mine) and tried to figure out why they got interviews.

Their GPAs were identical to mine. Their areas of academic study were identical to mine. The only thing I noticed was many of them had worked for well known companies the prior summer, and I had not.

I decided to focus on improving the “brand name” factor on my resume in two ways.

First, I did an internship at Merrill Lynch during the school year. I worked in the evenings doing telemarketing cold calls to wealthy families in Silicon Valley selling “tax free investment income opportunities” (LOL… I still remember my phone script, I said it so many times).

By the way, this was an unpaid internship… so I worked for about 4 months every other night making cold calls for Merrill… just so I could put Merrill Lynch on my resume.

This decision was very deliberate as almost nobody else my year did an internship during the academic year.

Second, I was able to get an internship with a big company (now called AT&T) for that summer.

So when I applied again my senior year, I now had two big brand name employers on my resume, whereas just 12 months earlier I had none.

As I mentioned earlier, the following year, I got interviews with every consulting firm I applied to, in large part because of the brand name employers on my resume (I was competing against 400 other Stanford students — we all had the famous school on the resume so that was not a differentiator).

Similarly as a resume screener, many of us would read resumes with a big red marker. All we would do for hours was skim resumes while circling certain brand names on the resume that jumped out as recognizable or impressive.

2) Academic Performance (GPA)

The top firms want to know if you are smart. It helps to put your GPA on your resume. If you do not, they will either 1) ask you for it anyways and write it by hand on your resume after you submit it, or 2) assume it is low and assess your resume accordingly.

If your school’s grading system is not well understood by others, you should explain the grading scale your school uses. Most US schools use a 4.0 GPA system – perfect marks is a 4.0 GPA out of a possible 4.0.

If yours is different or you are applying from one country to an office in a different country, then you want to put on your resume some way for the reader to interpret your GPA (put your rank or put your %… like top 1% of class, something along those lines).

For applicants coming out of college, many firms will ask for your transcript to see your specific grades on specific classes. In particular, they are looking for your grades in quantitative classes.

Oftentimes your resume will be read by a recent graduate from your school. So if you went to Stanford and took Geology 101, the reader is going to know that you took “Rocks for Jocks” (the nickname for that class amongst Stanford students) and interpret your grades accordingly.

Again there is not a cutoff and the standard will vary by school. Amongst the top undergraduate institutions, a 3.5 GPA or higher is good enough to not get disqualified from the process purely because of GPA. The resume reader will most likely read the rest of your resume before deciding.

My GPA at Stanford was 3.5 at the time I applied to the major firms… so nowhere near perfect, but in hindsight it was “good enough” when combined with other factors to get many interviews.

3) High Standardized Test Scores in Math

Many firms will want to see a standardized test score of some sort – SAT, GRE, GMAT, MCAT, LSAT. Because it is sometimes hard to compare GPAs from one university to another, the standardized test score is an easy way to compare measure of one’s math ability.

Strong math skills do correlate strongly with the ability to think in a logical and analytical way — the preferred thinking style that consulting firms favor enormously.

Since I applied coming out of college, I had only taken the SAT (the US standardized test high school students take to apply to US colleges) and I had a score of 800 on the math section (800 out of 800).

It is not necessary to have a perfect score, but certainly the higher the better.

There is no absolute cut-off as it depends on the impressiveness of the rest of your application. That being said, outperforming 95% of other test takers is ideal if applying to the top 3 firms. The standard is not as high with other firms.

4) Evidence of Leadership & People Skills

Being smart (factors #2 and #3 above) is not enough to do well as a consultant. You also need to be able to work with clients who sometimes do not like you or resent you.

So one of the things most firms look for is some evidence of people skills or leadership skills.

The firms want to know you can handle a difficult interpersonal situation — especially any one involving high stress, deadlines, inter-personal conflicts.

You will get asked about these kinds of leadership scenarios in your interview. They also look for it in your resume and consulting cover letters too.

If you have these experiences, PUT IT IN THE RESUME. It is a big mistake if you do not.

These experiences can include:

* Extra-curricular activities.

* Specific experiences at a particular job (especially people-skill type accomplishments that might not normally be valued by other employers in that industry, but would be valued by consulting firms.)

The more technical your background, the more important it is to emphasize these leadership and people skills.

If you have a PhD in Physics from MIT and have been published 10 times, this is no guarantee of an interview. Here’s why.

With a PhD in Physics from MIT, it is assumed you have the analytical skills to do the quantitative aspect of the consulting job. But now the firms want to know if you can work with people… or if you are a brilliant but arrogant ass.

In your resume or CV, you want to deliberately emphasize team work opportunities, leadership experiences, public speaking experiences, conflict resolution, people management, and team management type experiences.

Now if you had a PhD in Physics but also did sales jobs to pay your bills during school and you were the top producing sales person, that would be intriguing… and clearly someone worth interviewing.

In other words, you need to be the OPPOSITE of the stereotype for your area of academic study.

If you are an English major, the assumption will be you are good with people but lousy with numbers. On your resume, you need to prove the opposite to be true.

5) High Achievement Career Experiences (Proportional to Length of Career)

For applicants of all types (undergrad, post-MBA, experienced hires), the firms are looking for an impressive (career trajectory vs. length of career) ratio. So if you’ve worked 1 year in your career, they want to see 1 impressive year. If you’ve worked 10 years, they want to see 10 impressive years.

Things to emphasize in describing job experiences:

* Emphasize OUTCOMES, not just responsibilities.

* When possible, quantify your accomplishments with numbers.

* Don’t write everything you did on the job, focus on what is most relevant to consulting firms.

For example, if you have a very technical degree, really good math test scores, 4 years of work experience in a very technical field in a very technical role, it is a waste of space to spend too much time emphasizing your technical accomplishments.

Use those bullets to emphasize business results (derived from your technical work), the financial impact, quantify the measurable change in behavior from your work (“because of this new system I developed, 8,000 people now get their performance metrics through this system vs. 0 when I started,” that sort of thing).

If you have a liberal arts background, a liberal arts major, lots of extra-curricular activities where you showed you were a “people person”… in your job descriptions, emphasize how you built a statistical regression analysis and model to forecast prices of Gold in the commodities market. Or became a self-taught software developer in a particular job.

So the key message here is this:

Pick your job description bullet points strategically.

You don’t have space to put everything you did, so you must focus on emphasizing those things you want to convey about each job to round out your profile.

Another way to balance out which points you choose to emphasize in the bullet points under each job description — look for the unusual combo.

I remember one classmate of mine who interned at Bain. She was an English major, but took several advanced math classes — well over my head as a Quantitative Economics Major — and got perfect grades in each of them. That’s an unusual combo.

Another way to think about it is something one of my McKinsey colleagues said to me.

“We like to hire engineers with people skills. And we like to hire poets who can do math.”

If you have an unusual combination of skills, be sure that comes through in your resume. Bust the stereotype that you might get type cast in.

Thoughts on Resume Formatting 

Many different formats work, but a few general “common sense” rules of thumb apply:

* Put your education experiences at the top. Make sure the name of the school you went to is easy to read.

Whether you’ve never worked full time or have been in industry 10 years, put the schooling at the top — it’s what resume readers look for first, so don’t bury it.

(If it is buried, it is assumed that the school name must not be impressive.)

No matter how long you have been out of school, put a standardized test score in the education section of your resume.

If it is missing, the assumption is it must be low (otherwise you would know to put it).

* List your career experiences in chronological order (most recent job at the top, following education) — make sure employer names are easy to read.

* Keep the resume concise — 1 page for anyone with little work experience, 2 pages max for experienced hires.

* Use bullets to save space. Keep the points short and to the point. A good rule of thumb is 2 – 4 bullets per job experience, ideally most bullets being 1 line long.

* Make sure the font size is easy to read. Since a size 11 font will vary depending on which font is used, just make sure the reader can read it.

* Make sure to bold all school names and employer names. No need to bold your job titles. Recruiters look at employer name first, job title second.

Emphasize the things that will catch a recruiter’s eye first, draw them into reading the resume, and then discovering everything else you have to offer.

If you worked for a “no name” employer, but all your clients were famous… list the client names (possibly bold them too… might be a little over the top, but at least it will get seen).

So if you worked for “John Doe Consultants”… but the client you worked with most was Bill Gates or the founders of Google, say that!

This is not resume writing, it is marketing!

* Do NOT include everything you ever did in your life. The point of a resume is NOT to write a personal biography. The point is to SELL YOU.

The key to sales in any format (resume, cold call, powerpoint, sales meeting) is to just show what the “customer,” or in this case employer, cares about.

* Use language and descriptions that the resume reader will understand. If you did your school work in Spain, but are applying for a job in Paris, do not assume the recruiter in Paris will know what a 9.5 GPA is… explain it is a 9.5 (out of 10.0) GPA.

If you won an equivalent of a Nobel Prize in your field, say won “XYZ Award – awarded to 1 person out of 10,000 applicants.”

These are phrases that any resume reader can understand.

YOU MUST UNDERSTAND THE AUDIENCE before you write your resume.

Do NOT assume they have the sufficient background to appreciate your accomplishments, you need to explain them on your resume.

Good luck on your recruiting process. Also keep in mind that my website has over 450 articles, all on the topic of case interviews.

If you are looking for more information on a specific topic, just go to:
http://www.caseinterview.com/search

Additional Resources

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{ 72 comments… read them below or add one }

Ridwan Kazi July 16, 2013 at 11:45 am

This article was great Victor! The breakdown and examples were especially useful. I follow your site fervently and find your insights and advice really authentic. I have a few questions if you would be able to give me some advice. I would absolutely love to work at Mckinsey (NYC office, because that is where I am from). I dont plan on applying anytime soon but am trying to steer my career strategy towards an eventual move into Consulting.
I am currently working for a fortune 100 engineering company (Deere & Co.) as a Product Engineer and am planning to get a Mba from one of the top 5 schools. My concern is if I do make it to the one of the schools and then apply for a spot at Mckinsey, would my company and Mba school be enough brand naming for me to be considered?
In regards to GPA, my undergraduate GPA was quite low although I still managed to acquire a job at Deere which is consistantly considered a top engineering company. Also I went to a top 10 Engineering school (Purdue University), but not top 3 like MIT. Would these things be detrimental to my future application? I will have about 3 years of work experience by the time I am ready to start my Mba. I was hoping that if I can secure a high GPA at the top Mba school, then I could use that for my GPA on the resume.
Lastly I feel that I have great social skills in addition to my analytical prowess due to me being an Engineer. Although I am quite technical I have a varying array of interests, ranging from quantum physics/mathematics to economics to immigrant identity in the western cultures to cultural/social processes of thought in eastern cultures compared to western and the art of Comedy. Would any of this be relevant to making me stand out as unique?
Im sorry for the obnoxiously long comment lol, but I am hungry for some direction in my endeavor to get back home with the great prestige and opportunity of working for Mckinsey and am trying to get the best strategy to do so. Thanks for all the help so far.

Reply

Victor Cheng July 24, 2013 at 2:21 pm

Ridwan,

Short answer: When you have a Harvard MBA, a lot is forgiven or forgotten.

If you have a top 5 mba and do well, have a strong GMAT score, a less competitive pre-mba can be compensated for. Yes, it is noticed — but if the overall trajectory of your resume is strongly upwards, it can be a compensating factor. It might not be enough to get into the top 3 firms, but certainly the rest of the top 10 is a definite possibility.

The GMAT score will be crucial for you. The interpretation you want the reader to have is 1) smart enough to have gone to harvard for undergrad, but for whatever reason the opportunity didn’t exist for this person at that time.

In terms of the low undegrad gpa at a non target school, the interpretation you hope for is the person was smart, but lazy as an undergrad… and for a variety of reasons, got serious and the more recent accomplishments and test scores reflect being smart with the work ethic.

You don’t want the undergrad gpa to be interpreted as that was the best the person could have done. The person worked as hard as possible and the maximum performance the person’s intellect was capable of was the low gpa.

Now if that happens to be true, it will most likely be reflected in a gmat score in a range similar to the undergrad gpa. But if the GMAT score is substantially higher than the undergrad GPA and the mba GPA is excellent, the interpretation (which they will never public admit) is the person was smart but lazy in college. (Or smart but suffered from illness while in college, or had some family tragedy, or some other non-intellect factor)

Action Items: GMAT 720+, get into top 5 mba, graduate at top 20% of your class.

-Victor

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Ridwan Kazi July 25, 2013 at 11:18 am

This is great! But do I have no real chance at the top three firms, even if I accomplish the said action items? I have become very keen on being able to work at Mckinsey and from many of the stories I have read on your site it seems that people who have not gone to target schools as undergrad were still able to work at the top 3 firms. I was under the impression that if I worked hard enough with all the material and advice you provide and also network well at one of the top 5 Mba programs, that I would have a fighting chance. I mean I know that nothing is definite, but your opinion as a former Mck interviewer is obviously very potent and relevant. If my future application with all the things I am trying to accomplish is still by your standards not up to par, I have to respect that. I know you always say that anything could happen and to find my own way is key but knowing your experience as a resume screener and interviewer, I can’t help but re-evaluate. Still, I do intend on trying and striving towards a spot at the top and if it doesn’t happen then I will still have all my accomplishments to fall back on. Anything you can give me so to bolster my future candidacy would be of immense worth and focus, this is the path I have set out and my determination to go to Mck is absolute. Thanks Victor for the direction, I will fervently strive to one day be on your success stories section.

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Alex August 5, 2013 at 2:45 pm

Hi Victor! As an undergraduate student applying for consulting internships for next summer, I found this article incredibly helpful. I have one question about the standardized test scores – I have 5’s on both Calculus AP tests and both the language and literature AP tests. These scores are better than my SAT scores in math and critical reasoning – would it be acceptable to use my AP scores on my resume for the standardized test section?

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Seth August 15, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Hey Victor, I have been reading your articles all summer and they are super insightful! Question: Would any of the firms hire someone with a B.A. majoring in Biology and English who is medical school bound? I am going to medical school September 2015, and have a gap year. I ultimately want to work in a place like McKinsey after pursuing an MD and getting some clinical experience. How should I proceed?

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Robert Blake October 16, 2013 at 9:44 am

Hi Victor,

Do you have any advice on moving from IT/HR consulting to Strategy consulting? Outside of going back to get an MBA or other advanced degree, I’ve heard the paths are extremely limited.

Best,
Rob

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Moses October 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm

Hi Victor,

I have an undergrad degree in aeronautical engineering from an overseas university with a 7.00/10.00 GPA, and I’m currently working on my Master’s in Aerospace Engineering at Penn State University. My GPA will only be around 3 when I’m done, however I have 710/800 in Quants and 700/800 in Verbal from my SAT in senior year of high school. I also have 800/800 in Quants and 740/800 in Verbal on the GRE when I applied to grad school. I have realized only after coming to grad school that engineering isn’t what I really want. I have pretty good critical thinking and analytical skills. And I have been told my communication skills are very good too. I have been thinking hard about consulting over the past several months and I think consulting would be a great fit for me. What do you think are my chances of getting a top 10 company to give me an interview shot with the above criteria? What else besides the GRE and SAT scores would I need to offset that bad GPA? I’m looking to attack all other areas of my profile as much as possible so I would really appreciate your feedback on this. Thanks! Thank you for this great site too!

Regards,
Moses

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Mhlaba Somabonde October 29, 2013 at 1:47 am

Hallo Victor,
Helpful and insightful article. You have answered all my questions. I have fired blanks all the time with Consulting companies though I considered myself well suited – Executive management experience more than 15 years management and project management experiences, two masters degree – one cum laude from private college in my home country. Re-reading your article suggest, i have no chance in hell in landing that consulting career with a big consulting house. What a pity.

Reply

Chang November 5, 2013 at 10:30 am

Hi Victor,

Should post-college graduates abridge resume to 1 page?

Reply

Victor Cheng November 7, 2013 at 6:20 pm

Chang,

In terms of resume length, the rough rule of thumb is one page per decade of post college work experience.
Victor

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Anithamaragatham - November 9, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Dear Victor,

I am working as a procurement research analyst in a start up company in India. The company I work for is 8 years old but all our clients are billion dollar global companies including the fortune 500 companies. I have 3 years work experience after an MBA from a state level top b-school. I am aiming at the big 4. Do I have a chance? Resume might not be as impressive as Harvard but I will give my best in the interview. My question is am I even in the race?

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Victor Cheng November 9, 2013 at 7:29 pm

It’s hard to tell. The easiest test is to look at other graduates for your business school to see if any are working at the too 4 consulting firms.
Victor

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Andre December 5, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Hi Victor,

Just wanted to give you some Kudos for that helpful article.
Good work.

Greetings from Germany,
Andre.

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dkp December 20, 2013 at 2:52 pm

Hi Victor,

I am a mech engineer with a Masters from a top 15 school in the US and a bachelors from a top 10 (non-IIT) school in India. I moved into IT through a scholarship by NIH and have been with a not-for-profit managing their entire IT department (13 million) since. I’ve been admitted in SBS (Oxford) for a MBA. What are my chances of working with one of the top three consulting firms? Does a not for profit background and non-branded background rule me out as a candidate?

Thank you
DKP

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Karina January 14, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Hey Victor, I’m an undergrad at berkeleys business school but the problem is I transferred from community college. Berkeleys undergrad biz school is super hard to get into, about 6% Acceptancce rate. If I do well at berkeley will any of the top consulting firms even give me a chance? Please feel free to be honest. Thanks

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Victor Cheng January 15, 2014 at 4:17 pm

Karina,

By itself, I don’t think it is a deal killer. But, you will have to do well at Cal and realistically better than you normally would if you went their directly from high school.

My college roommate at Stanford was a community college transfer. He was a Stanford Computer Science major with a 4.0 GPA — needless to say nobody cared how he got into Stanford, only how he performed as he left.

Incidentally, the “story” you want to imply (assuming it is true) is that you went to community college to save money (which most consider an acceptable reason to go) but were qualified to attend an elite university (and your high gpa at the elite university is indicative of your ability to perform at a high level).

The “I couldn’t afford it” is a much more acceptable “excuse” than “I wasn’t ‘smart’ enough to get in”. It would help to have a super high SAT, GMAT or GRE score too.

-Victor

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Karina January 15, 2014 at 4:41 pm

Thank so much for the reply victor. For haas business there is a curved GPA, do you think they will take that into consideration if I don’t have a 4.0? I think I should have a 3.75-3.8 is that ok?

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Victor Cheng January 16, 2014 at 2:44 am

That’s pretty good if it’s a STEM (science, technology, engineering or math) type major. Resumes get reviewed on the whole picture. You don’t need everything to be perfect, but if one thing is low something else on the resume needs to stand out as a compensating factor. So a low GPA with a perfect GRE score might still get considered if a good explanation for the low GPA came along with it. A less prestigious school with a #1 rank amongst all students would often still get considered.

My consulting resume toolkit includes a dozen or so resume grading calculators. You can find the link somewhere on the website, probably at the top.

If everything across the board is poor, that’s a deal breaker. If one thing is poor, but the rest exceptional that’s a possibility. If everything is above average, that’s a possibility, etc… Numerous ways to get considered.

Victor

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Karina January 15, 2014 at 5:04 pm

Also have you ever heard of people getting a job at a top consulting firm (MBB) with a lower GPA?

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Victor Cheng January 16, 2014 at 2:45 am

3.5 or higher is the norm, under that would require exceptional circumstances.

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Deepti January 16, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Hi Victor,

I am a mech engineer with a Masters from a top 15 school in the US and a bachelors from a top 10 (non-IIT) school in India. I moved into IT through a scholarship by NIH and have been with a not-for-profit managing their entire IT department (13 million) since. I’ve been admitted in SBS (Oxford) for a MBA. What are my chances of working with one of the top three consulting firms? Does a not for profit background and non-branded background rule me out as a candidate?

Thank you
Deepti

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Victor Cheng January 27, 2014 at 11:57 am

Deepti,

The non profit background does not rule you out. The lack of brand is an issue, but can be compensated for. Oxford is a target school so that is going to be of enormous help for you.

The lack of brand employers can be compensated in few different ways. If your prior work achievements were exceptional, that will help. Your performance at Oxford will be heavily scrutinized. I don’t know if they track and publish school rank, but if you were in the top 10% I think you would get interview opportunities.

The final compensatory factor would be to network, meet people in the firms you want to target, and get them to recommend to their recruiting departments to interview you.

The above maximizes your chances of getting the interview. Then you have to perform exceptionally well on the case. It can not just be an marginally acceptable performance (which someone with a stronger background might be able to get away with in the first round), in your case it really needs to be exceptional starting in round 1 to offset the perceived risk of hiring someone without a brand employer background.

From an interviewers point of view, it is extremely, extremely difficult to turn down a candidate in round 1 who did exceptionally well. It is VERY hard to do that. If there is a resume issue, the thinking most interviews will do is they will struggle with the decision, and then decide to pass the decision to the round 2 interviewers.

Victor

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Victor Cheng January 27, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Deepti,

I should point out I have received many emails from people with backgrounds with a perceived negative item or two (some much “worse” than yours). They have gotten into the top firms. BUT, and I can’t stress this enough, they were EXTREMELY motivated and probably put 100 – 200 (the highest I’ve ever seen is 300+ hours) hours into case prep and several hundred hours into networking. It can be done, but the “worse” the resume (and I don’t consider your resume bad, the Oxford piece is quite the accomplishment but the lack of brand employers is a valid issue in the eyes of consulting firms) the harder you just worker AND very importantly the EARLIER you must start. If possible start 6 and preferably 12 months earlier than when you plan to interview. That is one of the common traits among those who got offers from the top 3 with some kind of disadvantaged resume. Flat out, they wanted the offer badly and were willing to put in the effort.

Victor

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Deepti February 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Hi Victor,

Thank you for your reply. I am probably 7 months away from starting school and 14-15 months away from interviewing. What do you recommend I do to get started? I am a slow learner but a hard worker so what should my first step be? Is there a course I can join or should I get started with your videos?

Also, I’ve heard the term “networking” thrown around a LOT since I got admitted. Is there a good place to learn networking 101? What should I be doing now to get placed a year later?

Thanks so much. Your reply was very helpful.
Deepti

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Lea January 16, 2014 at 9:08 pm

Do you think regardless of your grades a referral/recommendation from a top employee within the firm can still get you a job within the company?

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Victor Cheng January 19, 2014 at 10:26 pm

No. It might be possible to get a case interview opportunity based solely on the relationship, but absolutely impossible to get the job offer at the top few firms without doing well on the case. From the firm’s point of view, there is ENORMOUS risk in putting someone without certain skills in front of a client. The fear is that one mis-hire could ruin the reputation of the entire firm by saying something really “stupid” (e.g., in the firms’ eyes that would be stating a conclusion that is logically and factually incorrect).

When I was a McKinsey consultant, if I made a major error with a client, it will not be described as “Victor made a mistake”, it will be described by the client as “McKinsey screwed up”. THAT is why the firms are so intensely focused on the case interview. That are totally paranoid about the scenario I just described.

-Victor

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Lea January 20, 2014 at 12:16 am

Hey Victor, thanks for letting me know. What books do you recommend for case interviews? Or any tools that would help with acing case interviews? Thanks.

Lea

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Victor Cheng January 27, 2014 at 11:50 am

I’m a bit biased on this one. I recommend my own book Case Interview Secrets. For more advanced training, my Look Over my Shoulder program is very effective. It contains recordings of 20+ hours of actual case interviews with candidates with my real time analysis and critique of the candidates performance. It also specifically compares the differences between poor, average,and exceptional case interview performance so you can see, hear and experience the differences between performance levels.

Victor

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Lea January 20, 2014 at 12:20 am

Also if you do well in your interview (that is if you got an interview through an employee) and your grades aren’t top notch, say maybe a ~3.4-3.5 can you still secure a job at one of the three (MBB)?

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Victor Cheng January 27, 2014 at 11:46 am

Yes absolutely. I had a 3.5 GPA coming out of Stanford. I would really try to get or keep your GPA at 3.5 or higher.

It also depends on the selectivity of your school. So a person with a 3.5 GPA from an ivy would get looked at and could get in if they did well on the case. Someone from a top 200 university would be expected to have a higher GPA to compensate for lack of ivy. The same is true if the major is not technical or math oriented. An English major is expected to have a higher GPA than an engineer because the bias in consulting is that math oriented majors are harder than the liberal arts oriented one.

Victor

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Alyssa March 6, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Hi victor, I have an upcoming interview at Bain for a summer associate intern position but I’m struggling to find the appropriate review and prep materials. Do you think case in point would be a good place to start? Or is it a bit advanced for a summer intern interview? Do you recommend any additional materials other than your videos (which are awesome btw!!) but I’m just stressing and want to be as prepared as possible. Thanks!!

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Victor Cheng March 7, 2014 at 2:08 am

Alyssa,

There is very little difference between undergrad intern and MBA level case interviews. The standard is high mainly because clients demand it regardless of whether a consultant is an intent, and undergrad, or a MBA. Logic is logic. Math is math. Accurate conclusions are accurate conclusions.

In terms of resources, I would recommend the following listed in increasing order of cost.

My free videos and email newsletter

My book Case Interview Secrets http://www.CaseInterviewSecrets.com

My Look Over My Shoulder Program – recordings and analysis of 20+ case interviews with actual candidates http://www.caseinterview.com/loms

Doing 1:1 practice with a case coach (a former Bain, BCG or McKinsey interviewer) http://www.CaseInterviewCoach.com

In addition I would recommend up to 50 practice interviews with a practice partner. If you don’t have one locally you can search for one at http://www.caseinterviewpartner.com

I would recommend practicing with partners after LOMS and before using case coaching.

Good luck,
Victor

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Alyssa March 6, 2014 at 7:23 pm

Oh also sorry I forgot to mention I’m an undergraduate not an MBA student. Thanks!

Alyssa

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Matthew Bell March 10, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Victor,

Thank you for the helpful advice. I have sent an online application to Deloitte for their NextGen Leaders program and their minimum GPA requirement is a 3.2 according to their website. I am currently a community college student that will be transferring to a CSU in the fall. I’m anticipating a 3.4 overall GPA at the time of transfer. Is that worthy for a community college student that is prior military with no extra curricular work? Any advice or recommendations to help myself stand out? Thank you.

Matthew

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Weiye Deng April 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Vector:

I am an undergraduate student at the University of Minnesota majoring in B.S Economics. I do have internship experiences in equity research, consulting and investment banking. My current GPA is 3.5.

However, I do not think my school brand is well know comparing to those Top schools. Also, two of the internship experiences that I had is from China which I think it’s not a big brand for US employer. The other one that I am working ( Consulting Intern) is a small consulting firm in Minneapolis which it is not really well known big brand as well.

My question is:
1.Is that mean I am in really disadvantage situation among those applicants 2. Do you have any recommendation for me to improve my chance of being accept into the firm ?

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Chu May 5, 2014 at 5:21 am

Hi Victor, I have been working in science research / project management for several years, but am now looking to switch into MC. Do you have any advice on additional ways to enhance my resume and training prior to applying? My education background includes a Masters (science) from Cambridge. I have also previously started an entrepreneur business venture.

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Muk May 27, 2014 at 4:53 am

Hi Victor,

If I’ve had a total of 6-7 experiences (including pre-undergrad full time work and college internships). Is it necessary to include everything in my resume? An interviewer (non-US, non-top 50) brought it up during an interview and said I should, even if it means exceeding the recommended 1 page length.

Also, say I am working for a startup that isn’t doing that great and so decide to take another job (while still working for the startup), do I need to mention both as my current experience in my resume?

What I am trying to understand is if a resume is indeed just a marketing document where you provide only the most relavent information or if its mandatory to list every position you’ve ever held. Just for full disclosure, I always mention all my work experiences during the interview process itself (I am not really trying to hide anything).

Thanks a ton. Really appreciate the help.

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Victor Cheng June 1, 2014 at 5:05 pm

Muk,

I think most people are somewhat split on this decision. I personally see the resume as a marketing document. Everything on there should be accurate, but I personally think it is fine to exclude things that aren’t relevant.

For example, I do some volunteer work at my kids school. I helped them remove weeds from the garden next to the playground. One could argue it is a “job”. But it isn’t relevant to my reader.

Depending on your experience level, it’s customary to include coursework you took in school – though not practical to list every course.

That’s my personal take. Again, a number of people will disagree with this point of view.

Victor

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Victor Cheng June 1, 2014 at 5:06 pm

Muk,

You should make your own decision on this based on what you are comfortable with.

Victor

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Nicholas June 9, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Victor,

First of all, I really appreciate everything you put on the website. All of it is very useful and immensely informative.
I d0 have one question that I am curious about.
My resume lists all of the things you listed above: A high GPA while committing over 40 hours a week to coaching/volunteering with various organizations. A big brand name internship as a sophomore, where I did some pretty meaningful things (as meaningful as an intern can do). Plenty of leadership/team experience. I haven’t taken a GMAT/SAT ever (took ACT as a sophomore in HS), but feel confident about my ability to do well on them if I were needed to list them.
However, I go to The Ohio State University, which is not exactly prestigious (although it is climbing up the rankings every year… Go Bucks!). What’s the likelihood that my resume hits the trash folder because of the name of the school at the top? Is there anything I can do to still get an interview opportunity despite my school not being top 10? Lots of networking, I presume?

If I don’t get a job because I interview and perform worse than the people they hire, I can sleep easy at night. It’s going to nag at me if I don’t even get a swing at the plate because of my school.

Anything you’ve got would really be appreciated.

Thanks Victor,

Nicholas

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Victor Cheng July 2, 2014 at 11:45 am

Nicholas,

Your assessment of the situation is fairly accurate. There is a huge bias against non target schools. Networking is the key and also targeting in your case offices based in Ohio. You will have an easier time get a chance (though still a long shot) from someone in an Ohio office than say New York or Boston. Other than, anticipate getting an informal case interview by phone or over coffee (unannounced) to determine if someone you meet wants to risk their reputation by recommending you for a real interview. You have to nail the case in the interview for the interview. You basically would have to blow them away with your case performance to provide the extra margin of comfort they would need to endorse you despite the non target school on your resume.

Victor

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Shivina Mittal July 12, 2014 at 3:25 pm

Hi Victor,

Your article is very helpful. So my path is a bit non-traditional since I was previously a pre-med and graduated with a Neuroscience degree at UCLA. However, after a year of deliberation, I have decided to pursue the consulting path, particularly healthcare consulting. I did get an 800 in the math portion of the SAT’s and my quantitative skills have always been very strong but I do not have much coursework at UCLA that further demonstrates that. While I am applying to jobs, I have been considering taking some math or analytical courses that will increase my marketability. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about my approach? All of this is very new to me but your website has been a huge help!

Thanks so much and looking forward to your response,

Shiv

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Victor Cheng July 15, 2014 at 5:37 pm

Shiv,

From a consulting firms point of view, if you got an 800 on the math SAT and presuming your in major gpa in a hard science was pretty good, it’s safe to say you can add, subtract, multiply, divide and calculate a percentage. (Truly that is 95% of the math used in consulting).

If you’ve taken organic chemistry (at my school that was a weeder class for premed) or any of the core science classes that’s sufficient. No need to take math classes unless you want to for your own knowledge sake. If you were going to take more for you own benefit, I would recommend an intro statistics class and an intro economics class — both quite useful even outside of consulting.

Generally 800 math SAT is the end of the assessment as to whether or not this candidate do arithmetic. (at least at the resume screening portion of the process).

If I were screening your resume, I would presume you could do math. I would be curious to see your gpa in neuroscience. Did you excel or did you just get by? UCLA may not be a target school for most firms, so to be considered it would really help if you had a very high gpa from ucla — 3.9 or above ideally.

So the lack of ivy is a bigger constraint for your background than lack of a math class on your transcript. Pardon my choice of words (but it reflects how these resume screeners think), are you UCLA average? or are you UCLA exceptional? The former probably not going to get an interview, the latter is a definite possibility.

At the ivy’s the presumption is the talent pool is a higher caliber, so the firms will go lower on the gpa scale. So a 3.5 Harvard is equal if not better than a 3.9 UCLA (as an illustrative example).

A 4.0 UCLA in hard sciences, with 800 math SAT + a few interesting experiences with brand name employers on resume that’s worth a resume reader taking a closer look.

-Victor

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Sunny Huang July 13, 2014 at 9:17 pm

Hi Victor,

Thanks so much for your helpful article! I just have a question after reading it:
I’m a Stanford undergrad and have the great brand name, so now I’m wondering how to differentiate myself in my extracurriculars. What sorts of extracurriculars do you think would be impressive? I’m currently a chair in student council and am team lead in the Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students. Are there other areas you’d recommend I get involved in?
I’ve also competitively played the piano in high school (performed at Carnegie Hall and won other awards), but I stopped playing in college because I thought that student council and other leadership might be more relevant to consulting recruiting, and that continued involvement with piano might not be as important for consulting. Is this true?

Thank you so much!
Sunny

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Victor Cheng July 15, 2014 at 5:29 pm

Sunny,

I think you are somewhat asking the wrong question. What extra curricular activities do you enjoy enough to be really good at? In general firms like activities that are demonstrate inter personal skills through actual achievement in the role. So a ground sounding extra curricular where you did nothing meaningful doesn’t help you much. If you landed a bunch of great extra curricular titles, but didn’t actually have to interact with anyone in those roles, it will be very obvious at the interview that your inter personal skills seem inconsistent with the interpersonal skills your resume would imply.

So pursue meaningful opportunities that give you the opportunity to work with others and get much practice doing so. It’s important to BE good, not just LOOK good.

Also to me it is impressive you played at Carnegie Hall. It’s different. Is it directly relevant to consulting? No. Does it stand out as different? Yes. Consulting firms like people who can achieve things that are hard for the general public to achieve. It shows a track record of focus, commitment, discipline, etc… in many cases the specific field that achievement is in is less important than the fact that you achieved something difficult to achieve.

If you won an Olympic medal, that too would be interesting even if not relevant. The hard part in the resume screening part of the process (see my consulting resume toolkit for more specific details and actual resume examples) is you need something that sticks out as different from the crowd.

When I was at Stanford, 400 undegrads applied. My guess is 40 or so got 1st round interviews, 6 got offers. Keep in mind many of the 400 didn’t even know what a case interview was.

My extra curriculars were being the Photo Editor of the Daily and later the yearbook. Hardly directly relevant to consulting, but it was what was interesting to me at the time, I worked 30 hours a week at it, and got to cover some breaking news events (riots/protests, vice presidential candidate announcements, etc..).

The range of who gets interviews can be quite wide. Try not to over think it and to game the system. Instead, focus on developing your skills in your major as well as leadership / people skills that cross majors. Also it doesn’t hurt to do what you enjoy if it means you will put more effort into it and developed greater competence at it.

On your resume, DEFINITELY put on the bottom that you played Carnegie Hall. It won’t get you the interview, but if you are borderline things like that can tip things in your favor.

Good luck,
-Victor

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Hayley July 24, 2014 at 4:38 am

Dear Victor,

How would a MPP or a MA in Regional Studies from Harvard compare to MBA graduates if I am going into consulting after a number of years in government service from a country other than the US? (You mentioned earlier that HBS on resume will likely cause other factors to be forgotten, I assume other Harvard degrees are less prestigious?)

Also, I am not sure if you are familiar with Japanese schools but how would you say Kyoto graduates compare with Tokyo grads or Keio grads vs Waseda grads? Are they on par on the prestige factor or are there differences?

Sincerely,
Hayley

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Victor Cheng August 15, 2014 at 11:24 am

Hayley,

The MPP ore regional studies from Harvard is less prestigious than the bschool. It also depends what country and office you apply to. If you apply for the Boston office, you have no differentiation. If you apply for the Moscow office, any Harvard is better than no Harvard.

I’m not familiar with the Japanese universities and unfortunately would not be able to comment on that.

Victor

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Alena July 24, 2014 at 2:50 pm

Victor,

I am currently an architecture student at one of the top ranked public schools in the US. I have recently come across the consulting industry, and, after a lot of research and thought, I have decided that consulting is an industry I would like to go into after graduation.

I am wondering what I can do to be able to prepare myself so that my resume is attractive to the Big 3 so that I can secure an interview.

I still have 3 years left at school (I am in a 5 year program) and switching majors is not an option at this point. I have a 3.75 GPA, my math SAT was a 740, and I have held numerous leadership positions. I am currently the president of the School of Architecture council, and I represent our college at the University-wide level. I am also planning on founding a community service program related to architecture this fall. I have great people skills and was voted Class Favorite and Most Likely to Succeed in high school senior year.

What can I do to become more appealing to consulting firm recruits? I have no business background and I am afraid this will hurt me. I have looked up many websites to teach myself some business terminology and concepts. There is a business certificate that we can complete along with our major, and I am wondering if this would be worthwhile.

Thank you so much, I look forward to hearing back from you.

-Alena

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Victor Cheng August 15, 2014 at 11:21 am

Alena,

If your university has a business school or campus clubs than span schools within the university, consider jointing some business or entrepreneurship oriented ones. Yes it hurts you to not have some indication of interest in business in your background. Certificates carry very little weight generally.

The issue is two fold: 1) looking like you have interest in a business career, and 2) actually understanding basic business concepts. The first helps you get the interview, the latter to pass it. You can’t be googling every term you here in an interview. It’s just not practical.

For the former, consider business oriented activities. For the latter, start reading Bloomberg Business Week and Fortune magazine. The first for short news articles, that latter for indepth profile articles that go into depth about the issues of specific companies. Google any terms or concepts you do not understand.

Other options. Take an intro to economics class as an elective, maybe a financial analysis class… Both to add to your knowledge and to indicate interest. Many free classes online on these topics as well.

Victor

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Leyton August 15, 2014 at 10:28 am

Victor,

Hello, I was recently accepted to the No. 15 US News Business School (UT-Austin) for the Part-Time program. I have 4 years work experience, a 3.3 Undergrad GPA in Aerospace Engineering (Texas A&M), currently work as a Software Engineer at Dell, and a 670 GMAT (44Q, 38V). I’ve taken the GMAT once before and scored a 560 (33Q, 34V), but this time, I really studied hard for the GMAT (Manhattan GMAT).

I really want to enter the world of management consulting at one of the Big 4 (not MBB, but Deloitte, PwC, KPMG or E&Y), and plan to supplement my low GMAT with extracurricular activities (Graduate Consulting Club), networking, and planning to switch career trajectories in about a year to a hybrid engineering-finance role at Dell before I graduate. Should I retake GMAT given my profile?? It’s been weighing heavily on my mind..

Thanks in advance!

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Victor Cheng August 15, 2014 at 11:16 am

Leyton,

For MBB you really need over 700 on the GMAT. Since your goal is Big4, you’re probably in the range at 670. Whether or not to retake it depends on your opportunity cost and likelihood of improving the score by a significant enough amount to warrant the effort. My sense is retaking the GMAT is probably not a high return on investment activity especially since you said you already studied hard for it. Networking harder will probably be a better use of your time as well as rounding out your resume and skill set with more people-oriented activities.

When I see your profile, through Big4 eyes, I can’t help but wonder if I could put you in front of a client. If a client says you are wrong and does so in an aggressive or slightly combative way, will you be able to confidently and respectfully disagree and persuade the client otherwise?

If a group of junior clients on your team are bickering, do you have skills to smooth out the situation?

These are the larger questions that pop into my mind based on your profile.

Victor

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Ria August 20, 2014 at 3:00 am

Hi Victor,

I just completed my undergraduate in Business with a top notch school in India( But I am afraid no one outside India would be aware of the prestige on my institution.) I wish to work for 2-3 years, then apply for an ivy league school in USA, after which I aim to eventually get into MBB.

Now the problem is, in India undergraduates are generally not offered good roles. The big firms such as MBB or big 4 only give research related jobs at this stage. And I have a offer for an analyst at a small firm. Its a smaller name, but it is better work and it is easier to get noticed and promoted.

Now, in order to achieve my long term goal of top school + MBB, do you suggest I take the job at the smaller firm but better work, or should I look for a job in the bigger firm but bad work?

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Victor Cheng August 26, 2014 at 11:20 am

Ria,

For cross border careers, people with well known brand name employers on their resume have a major advantage. You have to decide if the benefit out weights the downside of potentially less interesting work. In addition, it helps to be at peace with your choice even if the second step of your career doesn’t work as planned.

No easy answers on this one.

Victor

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Kay August 21, 2014 at 8:16 am

Hi Victor,

I’m thinking of pursuing a masters degree in management science instead of an MBA; simply because an MBA is longer and I do not want to work for 3 or 5 years before I do my masters. Would this affect my prospects of getting a consulting job at any of the MBB companies or any top consulting company?

Thanks in advance.

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Victor Cheng August 26, 2014 at 11:22 am

Kay,

Yes. Most likely you would be slotted with the post undergrad candidates. Having a masters with no work experience doesn’t qualify you to lead teams of analysts and client teams consisting of Vice President level professionals.

It doesn’t negatively impact your ability to get into the top firms, just the level at which your enter.

Victor

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Joel Ang August 26, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Hi Victor,

Does one page CV applies to UK office applicants (from UK university)?

Thanks,
Joel

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Bill September 1, 2014 at 9:01 pm

Hi Victor,

I wanted your opinion on a quick question. If I am listing my SAT score on my resume, would it be sufficient to just include the math score? I got an 800 on the math but 650 in reading and 730 in writing and I’m not sure if the reading score in particular would raise any kind of red flag (if other applicants’ resumes have for instance very high Math and reading scores).

Thanks!

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Victor Cheng September 2, 2014 at 1:30 am

Bill,

You should list the full score and all the sub scores. If you only list one sub score, they will either send it back to you to complete or just reject the app assuming the others scores are too low.

Victor

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John September 3, 2014 at 7:52 am

Hi Victor,

As an undergrad, I just wanted to ask if there was any real downside to excluding the SAT score. When I had a McKinsey consultant look into my resume (without the SAT score), he made no mention of a SAT score. I actually just graduated from college after this summer semester, and was thinking it might not make sense given I took the test about 4-5 years ago and have already graduated from college. What do you think?

Thank you for all your help! Much appreciated!

John

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Victor Cheng September 4, 2014 at 1:21 am

John,

Best case, a recruiter will call you to ask you for your numbers. Worst case, they reject you out right assuming the scores must be poor. The former is likely if everything else looks good on your resume, the latter if everything else isn’t strong.

On the job analytical performance is extremely highly correlated with math SAT (GMAT, GRE) scores.

Victor

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Francisco September 17, 2014 at 10:47 am

Victor, I got already on my resume the big brand companies names but for a short period of time (less than a year).

Would you still suggest to keep the brand companies names on my resume?

Sincerely

FS

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Victor Cheng September 17, 2014 at 11:37 am

Francisco,

Generally speaking yes as it looks better than being unemployed. If it is only for 3 months and it is not clearly an internship, then you might want to think twice.

Victor

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Mini September 18, 2014 at 1:45 pm

Hi. I am a PhD student at Cambridge University, UK. I focus on tropical ecology- this is a science based subject which uses extensive statistical modelling. Prior to this I completed an MPhil in Environmental Sciences from Oxford Uni (with a 2.1) and a General Engineering degree. I will finish my PhD in late 2016. I would like to work in consulting and specifically target McKinsey. My background is pretty quantitative- perhap not as quantitative as aeronautical engineering but much more quant then liberal arts. I have not done internships ( owing to visa issues) but I have done fieldwork all over SE Asia and built useful links. I have several peer reviewed publications to my name. Should I try to gun for McKinsey?

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Victor Cheng September 18, 2014 at 5:48 pm

Mini,

Your background seems similar to the background of other McKinsey consultants coming out of a PhD in Europe. I don’t know the UK grading system, so I can’t comment on your marks. Everything else seems comparable and I would encourage you to apply.

Also the level of math used in consulting 90% of the time involves adding, subtracting, multiplying, dividing, and calculating percentages. McK looks for quantitative backgrounds not because the math is difficult but rather because those with quantitative backgrounds think in a particular way that’s very useful in consulting.

Victor

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Michelle September 22, 2014 at 10:15 am

Hi Victor,
I first wanted to comment on the number of posts you have replied to. I’m really surprised you get back to so many people! That’s awesome and greatly appreciated.

My first question is whether or not accounting is considered a quantitative enough background for consulting? I see most applicants are in engineering, science, economics, etc. I have excellent grades and a Master’s in Accounting but I wasn’t sure if this was an automatic deal breaker.

Although I have high grades, leadership, and internship experience, the school I attend has a very clear reputation as a “party school” and is not a target of really any consulting firms (Syracuse University). Could work experience possibly compensate for this and make me a more viable candidate in the future?

Thank you so much for your help!

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Victor Cheng September 22, 2014 at 8:57 pm

Michelle,

Your school will be a bigger issue than your major. Accounting isn’t considered an exceptionally quantifiable field from the consulting firms point of view. If you had strong standardized test scores, it would be fine.

Networking can compensate for a non target school, a slightly below average GPA, or some other weakness is a candidates application, but it can’t compensate for more than one weak spot in most cases.

I’d say the top 3 would most likely be out of reach for you. The rest of the top 10 would be a stretch (depending on your overall application) if you networked a lot and did a ton of case prep (several hundred hours between the two activities).

My consulting resume toolkit has a resume scoring calculator to estimate the likelihood of your resume getting an interview. For networking advice, do a search on the site for “networking” and “non-target school” as there are several success stories from others that you can learn from.

Good luck,
Victor

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Andrew Huhn October 29, 2014 at 10:44 pm

Hi Victor,

Thanks for all the useful information. I am looking to break away from science and start a career in consulting. I have a BS in psychology from Michigan State with a 3.95 gpa, and am currently working on a PhD in neuroscience from Penn State College of Medicine (3.5 gpa). 730/800 quantitative on gre (no sat – got started at community college). What are my options and what firms should I be targeting? Should I try for an internship while I still have time?

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John Robertson November 7, 2014 at 10:01 pm

Hi Victor,
I obtained a PhD from MIT Aerospace but my GRE was not the highest when I initially applied (Q700/800). How much do you think this will work against me when applying to MBB? Should I re-take the GRE just for boosting the numbers? Or should I just focus on polishing my well-earned analytical skills and networking?

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Victor Cheng November 8, 2014 at 6:32 am

John,

A PhD in Aerospace from MIT qualifies you do add, subtract, multiply, divide, and calculate percentages which is 90% of the math used in consulting. At this point, I wouldn’t worry about the GRE score. Make contacts via networking. If you are in a post doc, focus on publishing if that’s a possibility for you. The general rule of thumb is firms want to see an upward sloping career trajectory.

Victor

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Sharath November 15, 2014 at 12:25 am

Hi Victor,
You inspired me a lot. Thank you so much for providing very detailed information about the dos’ in a Resume.
I am a Master’s student (Industrial Engineering) at UIUC. I am looking for summer internship in consulting firms. I graduated from Government College in India. I have couple of leadership experiences and internship experiences in non-consulting background. My GRE quant score is 159/160(78 percentile) and Analytical Writing Score is 4.5/6.0. In my undergrad, I was in the top 7% of the class. What can I do to have a career in consulting? Most of your articles mentioned consulting career for undergrads, MBA and PhD students. What is the scope for a Master’s student like me? I recently got an email from our graduate coordinator about internship opportunities in Mckinsey. Could you please suggest the points I should emphasize in my Resume? Do I stand a chance to be considered for the internship?
Thank you
P. S: Thanks much for your book. I just got that and it is awesome!

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Steve November 18, 2014 at 4:13 pm

Hi Victor-

Thanks for all the great comments. I’m wondering if MBB is a possibility for me- I graduated with a 3.3 gpa from Emory and majored in Economics/Math. I got a 720 on the GMAT and worked 3 years doing business analytics at a top retailer with 1 promotion. I just joined the Peace Corps to gain some international/volunteer experience and plan on attending a top 15 MBA program after. For MBB I am concerned about my undergraduate GPA but would definitely welcome the opportunity to work in an international office if that helps my chances.

Thanks!

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Victor Cheng November 20, 2014 at 10:47 am

Steve,

Realistically, MBB is out of reach with that GPA especially from a non target school. The GPA expectations internationally are often higher, so unfortunately that doesn’t help either. I would suggest targeting the next two tiers of firms.

Victor

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