The first time I heard of McKinsey, I was in a container in Afghanistan. We were counting down the days until the end of our deployment, and some of us were dreaming of what life would look like once we left the Army. A friend told me all about McKinsey, and I decided that was my dream post-Army career. The problem was, I had zero business experience, and the only “ROE” I could tell you about was “rules of engagement.”
Fast-forward several years, and McKinsey is in now my rearview mirror. But what was the bridge that got me into “The Firm”? My Wharton MBA.
Walking the MBA bridge into consulting is not unique. According to Bloomberg Businessweek’s 2021–22 Best B-Schools MBA ranking, consulting accounted for 25% of all hires among MBA graduates, with such top schools as Chicago Booth and Dartmouth Tuck sending roughly 40% of their classes into consulting. Consulting has long held the biggest share of any industry for post-MBA jobs for a myriad of reasons. For nontraditional applicants like me who want to break into business, consulting offers a sort of “continued education” with highly variable experiences through numerous industries and functions—plenty of opportunity for someone to discover their passion. What’s more, consulting doesn’t close doors; it opens almost a limitless number of them for any post-consulting career, be it corporate or entrepreneurial.
So, without further ado, here are four ways an MBA can help you land a job at MBB (McKinsey, BCG, Bain)—or really any consulting firm.
1. An MBA can bridge the gap between your professional experience and consulting.
Do you come from a nontraditional background for consulting, like me? Or do you have a gap in skills between your work experience and the expectations of consulting? An MBA helps consulting firms have confidence in your “consulting toolkit”—your problem-solving, quantitative, and analytical skills as well as your knowledge about business environments, teamwork, etc. Recruiters will find solace in the pre-vetting you’ve undergone to make it into your MBA program, in addition to the fact that you’ll be honing these skills even more in your MBA classrooms.
2. MBA programs instantly connect you to a priceless network that is invested in your success.
Once you gain admission to an MBA program, you instantly have access to an army of people whose job is to help you land that role in consulting. Whether it’s admissions employees helping you prepare for interviews or students who either came from consulting or crushed their summer internships in the field, you will not be alone on your journey. Chances are there will also be a consulting club with a myriad of free resources for you. I personally benefitted immensely from dozens of case interviews with first- and second-year students. You’ll be surprised by how generous people are with their time if you’re in their network; these were the same people I was vacationing with in Cuba. Some firms will even give stipends to currently sponsored students to wine and dine their classmates who are applying to their firm. The recruiting process is a grind, but having friends support you makes it unimaginably better. They’re all invested in your success, too.
Here’s another reason firms like to hire MBAs: your network’s value has a ripple effect. All those friends you partied with on vacation will become leaders in their own industries—and may become your firm’s future clients.
3. At top MBA programs, the recruiters come to you.
During my recruiting process at a target school, there were more social events to attend for consulting firms than I could handle. And honestly, they were quite fun—usually involving an activity like a cooking class or a fancy dinner at a restaurant I couldn’t otherwise afford. It was an easy way to build personal rapport with recruiters and consultants, who were often Wharton grads themselves, and it was also helpful for me to get a sense of the “personalities” of each firm, as they actually do vary quite a bit. Had I attended a non-target school or not been an MBA student, I would have had to travel to what would have amounted to far fewer recruiting events—which would have yielded fewer data points for my own decision making and fewer opportunities to connect with these firms.
4. The MBA internship process increases your chances of landing your ideal full-time consulting job.
Most MBA programs last two years and include a summer internship in between. Not all students receive an internship offer for their top firm choice, but for those who complete a consulting internship anyway with a non-choice firm (versus trying out something orthogonal to consulting), their chances of getting a full-time offer with the firm they wanted all along increase dramatically. Firms like to see that you’re serious about consulting, and interning at any firm will give you the opportunity to sharpen your consulting skills—which should translate to a better interview in your second year of applying. You’ll also get a second year of opportunities from the school’s resources (both official and students/clubs) as well as from recruiters who come back specifically to look at the pool again.
Of course, there are paths into consulting without having to get an MBA, especially when it comes to expert tracks and other specialties. But for those who are interested in a generalist path or increasing their chances overall, an MBA is undoubtedly the most linear route to consulting.
But beware: not all MBAs are equal. For MBB, it would behoove you to come from a target school in order to reap most of the benefits listed above. If you’d like to increase your chances of getting into a top program and, subsequently, a top consulting firm, I invite you to book a free 30-minute consultation with me or another Stratus MBA admissions counselor to discuss the strengths of your application.