The prospect of making a career switch to consulting from an unrelated field motivates many an applicant to seek the MBA. The opportunity is that consulting firms are very open to recruiting MBAs from a wide array of backgrounds. The challenge, however, is that “consulting” has become an all too reflexive career goal for business school hopefuls who are less certain of their post-grad plans.
Having been a gatekeeper on both sides of the equation – first as a corporate recruiter for Bain & Company and then as Wharton’s Associate Director of MBA Admissions – I can attest that your savvy positioning is essential for standing out from the crowd. So what’s the best way to present your MBA candidacy for working at one of the top consulting firms in a way that’s persuasive to the admissions committee?
My Fortuna Admissions clients who have successfully positioned a desired move into post-MBA consulting have several things in common. I’ve captured them into five top tips for making a compelling case for your career switch to consulting:
1. Pause to self-reflect. If you want to use the MBA to start a different career path, get introspective about why you want to work in consulting. What is it about consulting that’s intriguing and interesting to you? What qualities have you cultivated that lend themselves to a consultant position, and what in your background makes this a logical pivot? What will consulting offer to you, and what will you be learning that will advance your career? Asking these types of questions can surface insights that will help both clarify and focus how you present yourself in an MBA application.
2. Do your research. It’s important to solidify in your own mind what that ultimate role might look like in a consulting firm. This means going on the websites of the consulting companies and looking at the specific positions on offer post-MBA. What do those roles entail and what kind of skills are they’re looking for? Spend some time exploring your ideal scenarios at specific consulting companies, whether it’s one of the big ones like McKinsey, Bain or BCG, or something more boutique. What part of the practice would you work in given your passions, talent and experience? Consider reaching out to a school’s consulting club, which may allow you to reference conversations with students that strengthen your application. Doing your homework is essential for making a case that’s sincere and persuasive to the admissions committee.
3. Know exactly what you’d bring to a consulting role. What are you poised to bring to the role that another candidate might not bring? Think about transferable skills. How does what you‘re doing in your job now translate into a future role? For example, if you come from teaching you’re probably skilled at managing large groups and liaising across different levels of an organization. If you hail from a medical background, you’re likely to work well under pressure. And if you come from the military, you may have an array of leadership experiences that translate into many possible future roles. Show the admissions committee exactly what you are bringing to the MBA class and use your experiences to tell a story.
4. Connect your specific skills to what recruiters are looking for. Keep in mind that business schools carefully consider your employability. Top MBA programs care about whether you will get a job when you finish – after all, The Economist and Financial Times (FT) use career placement data to help determine whether it’s Stanford GSB, Wharton or HBS that gets that coveted #1 spot each year.
A 2017 FT survey revealed that the top five skills employers sought in MBA grads was: 1) Ability to work with a wide variety of people, 2) Time management and the ability to prioritize, 3) Understanding digital impact on businesses, 4) Ability to build, sustain and expand network of people, and 5) Ability to solve complex problems. What experience can you highlight that that positions you to be an appealing candidate for one of the top firms?
5. Convey a logical career plan.Finally, it’s vital to share compelling reasoning that consulting is the right next step for you. This means developing a linear story to link the role you’re currently in with the one you’re aiming for, and beyond to what you intend to do with that consulting experience in the long term.
For more on how to present a desired move into post-MBA consulting, view my short video strategy session with Fortuna Director Caroline Diarte Edwards.
Michel Belden is an Expert Coach at Fortuna Admissions and former Associate Director of Admissions for Wharton’s full-time MBA program with a background in corporate recruiting. Fortuna is composed of former admissions directors and business school insiders from 12 of the top 15 business schools.