Applying to Consulting Firms via a Headhunter


Your website is truly fantastic and helpful for anyone wishing to join the Top 3 management consultancies.

I just received my candidature rejected for an interview with Bain because according to them, I don't have the right degrees.

I have a Master's in Public Administration degree from [major U.S. State University] and a Bachelor's degree in business administration (from a university in my home country). I am currently a strategy consultant with [technology and consulting corporation] in [European country] and have 6+ years of experience in the consulting field in Europe.

In academic fields - I've always been the top of my class - both in undergrad and graduate school. I have done a ton of extracurricular activities throughout my studies and demonstrated leadership skills in anything I do. I thought I was the perfect "type" of profile for MBB.

Now, you are the guru in this field, so I would really appreciate you telling me (and many of those in similar situations) - do you really need to have an MBA from the top schools to get an interview with MBB?

Many thanks for your reply and for keeping your wonderful website running!

P.S. Maybe this detail is important in my case - I did not apply directly with Bain but went via a headhunter who is currently screening potential profiles for Bain. The interview with the headhunter went fantastic and I was very optimistic about finally meeting Bain for interviews.

My Reply:

Your background doesn't disqualify you from consulting, but it is a less common background. You have two weak spots in your background, first is the [major U.S. State University] - not a target school, not an Ivy League school. In addition, you have a non-traditional degree.

Again these factors alone don't disqualify you, but they don't make you an obvious "safe" choice for a headhunter to present to Bain. Headhunters do not want to look bad in front of their clients. They are biased towards presenting "safe" choices to their clients.

You are not a "safe" / obvious choice. My guess is the headhunter did not want to risk being criticized for "wasting their time" with a non-obvious choice. I have my doubts as to whether or not any Bain employee even saw your application. You might have been kicked out in the prescreen.

So given these downsides, what you need to offset them is to apply to Bain directly and via networking. Online applications are heavily favored towards traditional candidates with easily recognizeable keywords on their resume (Ivy League schools, GMAT/GRE scores above a certain number, specific business degrees).

Since your background doesn't fit the standard mold, you need someone who already works within Bain (typically not in the recruiting department) to get to know you, realize you have the skills needed, and to endorse your candidacy with Bain's recruiting team.

You can read more about this in another article I wrote regarding applying to the top firms from a non-target school.

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1 comment… add one
  • APPOLINAIRE TCHOUABE Jan 9, 2012, 6:59 pm

    MR CHENG, Thank you for all your case studies materials; they are very great preparation prior to entering a consulting firms.Mr cheng l really need your advice.
    i hold a bachelor and a masters in french and a marketing minor from a regional central Africa university in Yaounde cameroon.I have seven years of experience working for a fortune 500 company coca cola and toyota as a marketing and sale manager, promoting sale, developing new accounts for business growth to boost sale.l also have five years of french teaching.I AM HUNGRY OF MANAGEMENT CONSULTING CAREER.With an excellent fluency in french can I apply for a global marketing strategy position with Mc kinsey?or should I wait untill having my mba? What are my strenghts and weakness?
    Thank you for replying.

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