Well, let’s embark on the journey.
First things first, your consulting application is the most important part of the recruitment process for two reasons. Firstly, it is your very first touch point with the firm. The HR person will look at your Resume, Cover Letter, and Transcript and decide whether you are qualified to attend a first round interview. Remember that only 20% of applicants will pass this filter. Secondly, it is your chance to thoroughly review and assess your willingness, ability, and suitability to be a management consultant.
There are thousands of articles telling you, as an aspiring consultant, how to prepare your application. However, most of them are very tactical, except several paid ones such as Victor Cheng and Prep Lounge.
I recommend we start from the big picture, in other words, strategic level. Before submitting your applications, you need to make sure you have worked through three crucial steps:
- Understand what the firm is looking for in a candidate
- Craft exceptional application materials (Cover letter and Resume)
- Finalize and perfect your application
Now let’s have a look at these one by one.
Firstly, to understand what a firm is looking for in a candidate, you need to find out who is involved in the selection. Big consulting firms receive hundreds of applications every week. To identify the best candidates, they review and filter candidates using three gates.
Gate One is the application scanners where some hard bottom lines are established by each firm, for example M.B.B set GPA requirements (usually top 5% in class), undergrad school must be on the preferred list (such as top 3 in the country), and GMAT score higher than 700 for MBA candidates. If the candidate fails to meet those hard numbers, their application will be automatically eliminated. I have even heard of some firms using software to scan applications, so that applications receive no human consideration at this stage at all!
As a candidate, it is crucial to make sure you meet the numbers of your target firms. The way you can know them is by asking HR or talking to a consultant at that firm. They are usually happy to share with you. However, they may tell you that these selection criteria are “good to have”. Here I want to be very honest. It is true that these numbers are not mandatory, but only under the condition that you have an extraordinary reputation or are an industry expert. Otherwise, as a fresh graduate, these hard numbers are the only thing that reflects your distinction objectively.
After that, Gate Two is HR, who will read through your Cover Letter and Resume to understand your motivation to be a consultant, previous study, and work experience. As mentioned before, they are looking for a candidate who is a High Achiever, Leader and Problem Solver.
Once HR is satisfied with your profile, your application will be handed over to a real consultant who probably has a similar working background to you for confirmation. This is Gate Three.
Keeping this information in mind, the next step is to craft your exceptional application materials: Resume and Cover Letter. Building an exceptional Resume and Cover Letter requires a good framework and templates. What consulting firms appreciate is candidates who can show them why they are High Achievers, Leaders and Problem Solvers in a logical, convincing, and inspiring way. There are hundreds of ways to do that, and many of them work equally well. But, let me give you a framework that worked for me when I applied for McKinsey and AT Kearny, and many of my friends who have received offers from M.B.B firms.
The Cover Letter is all about two things: Why You Choose This Firm and Why Should This Firm Choose You. Try to think about your cover letter following this structure.
The most important part of this framework is “Why You”? Think really carefully about what are the two most impressive experiences that showcase your ability to be an excellent consultant. And then articulate them by getting straight to the point. Finally, make sure that your cover letter is less than one page. No HR person in the consulting industry has the patience to read a longwinded letter.
The next application document is your Resume. Remember that HR will usually read your cover letter first. If he or she is interested in your cover letter, then your resume will be scrutinized carefully. So, when it comes to your resume, it must be a further proof of what you mentioned in your cover letter. For instance, if you say that you are passionate about using technology to change the financial industry, then your resume should provide evidence to demonstrate details of your achievement, thought leadership, or problem solving in related projects.
The way to articulate your experience on your resume for consulting positions is quite different from other industries. My best advice is to use a strong verb to start the sentence and R-O-A format to structure the sentence. R-O-A stands for Result, Objective, and Action. For instance, if you want to say “I planned and executed a strategic project to improve heat recovery efficiency of the whole system in German”; Using my tips, you should instead say “Improved national heat recovery system efficiency by 40% in German through planning and execution of xxx project.” The difference between the two is that the latter articulation better demonstrates your achievement and problem solving skills.
Finally, when you think you are ready with your cover letter and resume, don’t trust yourself. Ask people to review your application documents. You should find someone with strong English writing skills to review your grammar, spelling, and turn of phrase. You should also ask friends or colleagues who work in HR or, even better, as a CV scanner. You should try to find as many consultants as you can to look at the content of your cover letter and resume. Ask them, “if you were required to review my application, would you pass me through to a first round interview?”
The key message is that one review of your application materials is not enough. Do as much as you can. Be as carefully as you can. Choose every word as carefully as you can. The reason is simple. You have only 3 minutes at most to impressed HR. If you fail at this stage, then your other efforts and achievements are all in vain.
Mike Ni believes that technology is the engine of the future, while business capability is the wheel!