Understanding Firms’ Selection Criteria

Before starting your application journey, the very first thing is to understand the recruitment process and selection criteria of those management consulting firms. I assume that you have carefully considered those four critical factors outlined in my first article and really committed to the management consulting position that you are targeting, since the consulting application process is probably one of the most time consuming and complicated job hunting experiences you will encounter. Without deep commitment, you are much less likely to succeed.

Now, let me first explain what the process will look like. Although the exact steps may vary from country to country and firm to firm, the overall approach is very much like this.

Step one is your online application. Offline applications are very rare and mostly for high level positions, such as partners who will usually not follow the standard application process at all. During this first step, you will need to provide materials like your Cover Letter, Resume and Transcripts/Test scores (GMAT, GRE, etc.).  Step two is your first round interview. Step 3 is your second round interview. And step 4, fingers crossed, is when you receive, negotiate, and accept your offer. During Step 2 and 3, you will usually receive 2-3 rounds of management consulting interview modules. Each module consists of an Introduction, Fit interview, Case Interview and Q&A.

With some tier one firms like M.B.B, candidates will be required to do a computer based test before commencing Step 2. This computer based test is very much like an advanced version of Integrated Reasoning and Quantitative in GMAT. Although the interview modules in Step 2 and 3 are the same, the interviewers are usually more senior in Step 3, such as Principals and Partners. And the difficulty of both Fit and Case Interviews is much higher in Step 3.

The interval between each step can vary from 1 day to 2 weeks. In most cases, the outcome of the online application will be revealed in 2-3 days. And firms will give candidates 1-2 weeks to prepare for their first and second round interviews. Remember, as a candidate, you are usually allowed to pick a day to interview that suits you best. So, be strategic! If you think you need more time, ask for the interview in 1-2 weeks’ time.

The four steps of the application process form a funnel where only the best candidates are kept in after each stage, as illustrated in the graph below.

Keeping this recruitment funnel in mind, let’s talk about the management consulting selection criteria. You may point out that a firm’s business landscape could be very different in different countries, and each firm could have a different industry or functional focus. Could there be one selection criteria for all firms? The answer is NO at a tactical level but luckily YES on a strategic level!

On a tactical level, consulting firm candidate selection practices have thousands of shapes around the world. For example, McKinsey usually only accept candidates from China who graduate from Tsinghua, Beijing, Fudan and Jiaotong Universities. BCG Australia prefers Ph.D. candidates from hard science majors, such as maths and physics. Bain in Europe likes experienced hires more than graduates. But all those differences are on a tactical level. On a strategic level, all the management consulting firms are looking for candidates who are consistent achievers, with demonstrated leadership skills, and natural problem solving ability.

Alright, this is super important. If you forget everything from this article, you should remember this one point. Let me repeat. Management consulting firms are all looking for three qualities: High Achiever, Strong Leader and Natural Problem Solver.

Regardless of the firm’s preference of candidate background, interview methods, or industry focus, they always, always, always use these three criteria when recruiting. So, when you are preparing your application or having an interview, your overarching attitude should be: how can I demonstrate these three dimensions in the most efficient and effective way?

For instance, when you are preparing your resume, think about which experience best shows your extraordinary achievement, leadership, and what problem you solved and how the outcome made an impact. Or, when you are having a fit interview, think about how to articulate your experience in a way that can highlight your leadership, achievement or problem solving capabilities in the most logical and convincing way.  During the fit interview, always follow the STAR structure when describing your experience: Situation-Task-Action-Result. This structure is preferred by many consultants and recruiters in the management consulting industry. Don’t worry, I will discuss more about the STAR framework in a later post.

Now, you may ask, why do all firms look at these three dimensions? The answer lies in the nature of being a successful consultant: to always fulfil the changing requirements of clients, to take initiative and lead project teams, and most importantly to be a true lover of solving all kinds of challenging business problems. If you don’t have these qualities, it will impose a huge hardship on your firm, colleagues and yourself.

Now, you are already 50% ready to succeed in the management consulting recruiting process. You have learned about the recruitment journey, and the ultimate strategy of all the firms. Using fishing as a metaphor, once I have taught you how to fish, it is just about time for you to catch the big fish by yourself.

In the next article, I will dive into how to prepare your online application so that you stand out from thousands of applications under the scrutiny of application scanners. The astonishing fact is that, on average, 80% of applications will not be put through to the first-round interview. Hence, you have only one shot, probably less than 3 minutes, to impressed HR.

Stay tuned!

Mike Ni believes that technology is the engine of the future, while business capability is the wheel!

Image: Pexels

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