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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{ 35 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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