Written by Thomas Nugent, 4 Feb 2019, and published in Business Because
Digitization and big data analytics have changed what it means to be a management consultant today.
Together with financial services and technology, consulting makes up the Holy Trinity of MBA hiring industries. Year after year business school MBA employment reports place it top of the pile, often boasting that at least one in five of their students entered the industry; sometimes it’s as high as one-third.
18% of Stanford Graduate School of Business’s most recent graduating MBA class entered consulting; 28.4% of NYU: Stern’s MBA graduates landed roles in the industry; and 33.6% and 34.9%, respectively, of Columbia Business School and Yale School of Management’s MBA classes of 2018 became consultants after graduating.
When BusinessBecause spoke to Bain & Company’s global head of consultant recruiting, Keith Bevans, earlier this year, he said that they are on the hunt for top talent from any school, but actively recruit from the global top 20.
It’s no surprise, then, that 36% of INSEAD’s MBA class of 2018, and 28% of IESE Business School’s most recent graduating class, are now consultants. Add to that London Business School’s MBA class of 2018, where 33 students landed jobs with McKinsey & Company, 29 with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), and 28 with Bain.
The big three consulting firms—Bain, BCG, and McKinsey—are often the firms on the lips of any MBA student serious about a consulting career. But what do they look for from their MBA hires? What skills do all modern consultants need? And what advice do they have for nailing the all-important application process?
BusinessBecause caught up with them to find out:
Jennifer Comparoni , Senior director, North America recruiting, Boston Consulting Group
In 2019, “as always”, Jennifer says, BCG will seek smart, curious individuals who have the drive, passion, and humility to embrace and thrive within BCG’s culture. But, there’s more. “Now more than ever, the MBAs we hire will need the ingenuity and judgment to find the game-changing insights that lie within the unprecedented amounts of data available to us today. “They’ll also need an agile mindset that enables them to adapt quickly to change and seamlessly collaborate with colleagues in our digital business, including BCG GAMMA, BCG Platinion, and BCG Digital Ventures.”
Those new skills come as BCG moves towards the forefront of digital technology and advanced analytics, Jennifer explains. They plan in 2019 to add data scientists, technologists, IT architects, and software developers to their consulting teams. MBAs, then, will need the skills to work across disciplines and lead in a way that pulls out and combines the talent of each member of their team.
So, how do they get that across and succeed during the interview stage?
“Be yourself!” says Jennifer. “Respect for the individual is a core value at BCG, and we work hard to cultivate a culture in which people feel free to be their authentic selves. “When candidates speak or act in a way that doesn’t come naturally to them, it minimizes these efforts and can even undermine their own success.”
Keith Bevans. Global head of consulting recruitment., Bain & Company
With an MBA from Harvard Business School and almost 23 years at Bain, Keith Bevans is a consulting veteran. In that time, he says the biggest change to consulting has been the amount of data that is now available. In the past, finding the data was the value; now, he needs MBAs who can discern which data source is the most reliable and accurate for what your client is asking.
“The pace of change is also radically more accelerated than in the past,” Keith adds. “When the entire way you need to work changes six months from now can you learn that and keep working?” The impact of digitalization means that you can no longer graduate from business school and say, ‘well, I’m not really a digital guy’, Keith says.
Even if MBAs aren’t skilled in the art of coding, or web development, for example, they’re going to need to know how to work with people who are—Keith explains that master of analytics hires have been increasing and are set to do so again in 2019, and Bain’s case and digital teams are fully integrated on projects. He says that he needs digital competence from his MBA hires more than he needs them to understand sustainable business practices or have a penchant for CSR—two things that often rank at the lower end of students’ preferences for their employment destination. “I’m really hiring smart problem solvers, and the discipline they’re problem-solving in is less relevant to me,” he explains, before asserting that although it’s not the crux of what they do at Bain, a lot of the social impact work done at the firm is among the most popular work in the office.
The most stressful part of the process is recruiting, and Keith says a lot of the time hires arrive on their first day relieved that they are really there, they made it. But he has one major piece of advice for incoming MBA consultants. At Bain & Company, there are senior associate consultants—people who are three years out of their undergraduate degree, have spent time with a lot of clients, and from a staffing perspective are interchangeable with first-year MBAs. “The MBAs who struggle are the ones who come in and think they have nothing to learn from the undergrads,” Keith asserts, “so you need a certain level of humility and willingness to learn. “There are people who in their own mind have never made a mistake before, but that’s not this job. The question is, how quickly can you learn from it, and prevent it from happening again?”
Brian Rolfes, Head of global recruitment, McKinsey & Company
This year, Brian says McKinsey expects to hire more than 1,100 people from MBA programs—a lot of those will come from the summer internship program, that last year brought in around 400 MBAs to the firm.
Brian wants candidates who understand that there is not one mold for a successful McKinsey consultant. “Our strength is in the diversity of our people,” he says. Nonetheless, digitalization is shaking up the consulting industry, and it seems all incoming McKinsey MBA consultants will need digital competency in abundance. “We see the expansion of consulting to include more tech, digital, and design aspects,” Brian confirms. “Our clients still need traditional strategy consulting, but they need other aspects such as implementation, design, and technical advice. “We increasingly hire people with tech and digital skills—technologists, engineers, digital and user experience experts, designers—so if you’re interested in those areas, those skills are in high demand.” Brian explains that McKinsey has been expanding rapidly in emerging markets, something BusinessBecause covered at the end of last year—demand in Central Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America are high, he says.
For MBAs keen on working for McKinsey, Brian has two key interview tips: “I advise students to genuinely be themselves and ask the questions they really want answers to, those that will help them learn about consulting and McKinsey.”