How do I join a strategy consulting firm?

Joining a strategy consulting firm and becoming a strategy consultant is a real obstacle course. 1% is the rate of selectivity between the number of applications received each year and the number of places available.

July 8, 2021 Préparation

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Comment intégrer un cabinet de Conseil en stratégie - Couverture

Joining a strategy consulting firm and becoming a strategy consultant is a real obstacle course. 1% is the rate of selectivity between the number of applications received each year and the number of places available. For example, Clarisse Magnin, Director of McKinsey France, told Alexandre Mars in a podcast that in 2022, McKinsey France received 12,000 applications, of which only 120 were accepted. These candidates not only had the right academic background and professional and associative experience, but had also passed with flying colors one of the most difficult and selective recruitment processes, where others failed. From preparation to offer of employment, candidates go through a number of tests to get into a strategy consulting firm: screening, online tests, interviews.

To give yourself the best possible chance of becoming one of the 1%, our article outlines the essentials for joining a strategy consulting firm.

Processus de recrutement - Conseil en stratégie

Prerequisites for joining a strategy consulting firm

Comment intégrer un cabinet de Conseil en stratégie - Tableau des écoles

Be a student at a Top 4 business or engineering school

The first prerequisite for joining a strategy consulting firm is your academic background, which will be the first thing looked at on your CV. Firms recruit from target schools, which historically include the Top 5 business and engineering schools, and to a lesser extent Sciences Po Paris and Université Paris Dauphine. These target schools fall into two categories: Rank A and Rank B. Statistically, 81% of consultants at McKinsey, BCG and Bain come from an A-ranked school.

  • Rank A: HEC, ESSEC, ESCP, Polytechnique, Les Ponts, Les Mines, Centrale Paris
  • Rank B: Sciences Po Paris, EM Lyon, EDHEC, Dauphine

In addition to the school in which you are studying, strategy consulting firms pay close attention to your admission path. We give priority to students from preparatory classes for business and engineering schools, followed by students Admis Sur Titre (AST), first from prestigious foreign universities, then from the best French universities.

Professional and community experience: what strategy consulting firms like best

To join a strategy consulting firm, you need to have completed at least one or two six-month internships. In terms of work experience, firms particularly value demanding, selective internships, with a substantial workload and significant responsibilities. As in the case of schools, it is possible to rank professional experience in order of importance in the eyes of strategy consulting firms. In 90% of cases, current consultants have professional experience, either as an intern or on a permanent contract, in one of three categories:

  • Category A: Strategy consulting, M&A, Private Equity
  • Category B: Strategic company management, start-ups
  • Category C: Management Consulting, Auditing

Firms also appreciate candidates with associative experience, as it enables them to develop significant responsibilities and demonstrate commitment outside the classroom. J-Es are highly valued because they have the advantage of operating like a firm, with assignments with companies. But all associations are equally interesting, whether you're president, treasurer, head of partnerships, communications or development. Last but not least, for top strategy consulting firms such as MBB, Roland Berger and Oliver Wyman, international experience is a must for the recruitment process.

All these experiences are valued because they testify to certain skills and qualities developed by the consultant that are sought after by strategy consulting firms. In addition to technical knowledge, firms are looking for candidates capable of solving problems quickly, demonstrating rigor, structure and strong analytical skills. The best profiles also have excellent written and oral communication skills.

Atypical career paths: these profiles also join strategy consulting firms

Despite a selectivity rate of 1% and a reputation for fairly closed recruitment, strategy consulting firms sometimes recruit candidates with atypical backgrounds. The diversity of their profiles is an important source of wealth for the firms, and they are gradually trying to open up to candidates, particularly those with :

  • Double degrees: taking a double degree with a target school or a recognized school in a particular sector will enable you to stand out from other applicants.
  • Significant international experience: dual nationality, internships abroad, academic career at prestigious universities abroad, mastery of a rare language
  • Subject expertise: technical expertise on a particular theme or sector
  • Entrepreneurial experience: entrepreneurs deal with a wide range of business issues, have a great deal of responsibility and know how to work under pressure.

Strategy consulting firms require a number of important and highly demanding prerequisites, which may enable you to pass the screening, the gateway to the recruitment process.

Read also: Everything you need to know about strategy consultants: assignments, careers, salaries

Pass the screening: be among the 25% of candidates in the 1st round of strategy consulting firms

Screening is the stage at which candidates are selected to join the recruitment process of strategy consulting firms. It is based on 2 elements: the CV and the cover letter. But a third element, often underestimated by candidates, plays an important role in getting through screening: networking.

Networking: an underestimated step for candidates to strategy consulting firms

Comment intégrer un cabinet de Conseil en stratégie - Networking

Examples of events organized by Oliver Wyman, Bain and BCG

Networking is an important part of the application process to join a strategy consulting firm. The aim of networking is twofold. Firstly, to find out more about the firm, its missions, specific features, competitive positioning and internal organization. This will enable you to add to your motivation, quote consultants in your cover letter and personalize your answer to the question "Why join us? It will also provide you with up-to-date information on the recruitment process. The second objective is to be co-opted by the firm you're applying to. The more senior the consultant who recommends you, the more weight the recommendation will carry. This is true of all strategy consulting firms, even those that claim not to coopt. When it comes to networking, there are a number of channels you absolutely must use: your close network, your school network, LinkedIn and the firms' recruitment events.

The best CVs and cover letters for joining a strategy consulting firm

The first thing strategy consultancies will look at is your CV. Writing your CV is a step that needs to be taken before you start preparing for the job. It's no surprise that a CV to join a strategy consulting firm needs to be clear, precise and sober. There are some basic rules on form that must be respected: no photos, no typographical errors (typos, spelling mistakes), no double spaces. You must write it in English to demonstrate your command of the language, and its structure must be as follows: education, professional experience, associative experience, skills and interests. The graphic style of your CV should be the same from start to finish. The names of your schools and diplomas, as well as those of your companies and functions, should be aligned on the left and ideally written in bold. The dates and locations of each experience should be aligned on the right. Finally, put three to four bullet points for each experience, presenting what you've done, illustrating your missions and giving the results achieved. Include figures whenever you can, as CV reviewers at strategy consultancies particularly appreciate this.

The second element of your application is your cover letter. Even today, this is still the most common requirement of strategy consulting firms, although it is not always read. It must be clear and personalized. The classic structure is to write it in three paragraphs, the order of which can be interchangeable. You can start with (1) a paragraph explaining your reasons for applying to a strategy consulting firm, and in particular to this one. You can then go on to explain that these motivations are the fruit of (2) your academic experience and (3) your professional experience. The part about the firm is the most important: it should not be generic and should enable you to differentiate yourself from other candidates. From the outset, we recommend that you mention one or more of the firm's consultants with whom you have had dealings. Finally, for both your CV and cover letter, have several different people read over them several times to ensure that you have a perfect version, both in terms of content and form.

Passing online tests: the new trap for strategy consulting firms

Online testing has historically only been offered by McKinsey, BCG and Bain, but is now used by the majority of strategy consulting firms: Roland Berger, Kearney, Advancy, LEK, EY-Parthenon, Monitor Deloitte, etc. Depending on the firm, online tests are carried out before or after the screening stage, to reduce the number of interviews for the best candidates. In general, you will have a maximum of 1 to 2 weeks to complete them once you have received feedback from HR. The tests take the form of quizzes or multiple-choice questions that test your numeracy, logic, business acumen and English. Find out about online tests in advance of your recruitment process, when you are networking. Then, train regularly, even if this should represent no more than 5 to 10% of the time allocated to your preparation. You can work on GMAT-type exercises, the Graduate First platform or use the free tests from organizations used by strategy consulting firms to administer tests, such as SHL. Finally, for the most complex tests or those that take the form of a game, you may be able to find explanatory videos on YouTube.

Successful interviews: the toughest test for strategy consulting firms

On average, only 25% of candidates pass the screening and are invited for interviews. Traditional strategy consulting firm interviews consist of three parts: 15 minutes of fit, 40 minutes of case studies and 5 minutes of Q&A.

Comment intégrer un cabinet de Conseil en stratégie - Phases d'entretien

The fit part, the basis for success and the most important part for winning an offer

The fit part of the interviews plays a decisive role in the recruitment processes of strategy consulting firms, enabling recruiters to answer three fundamental questions:

  • Is this person made for consulting?
  • Is this the right person for my practice?
  • And finally, do I want to work with this person?

One of the most effective approaches to preparing for the fit part is to draw up a detailed chronology of your life. This personal chronicle should include elements such as your academic background, exchange experiences, internships, and even personal aspects such as sports, associative activities, volunteering, and your passions. For each period, it's essential to reflect on several aspects:

  • What you've done
  • The reasons that led you to make these decisions
  • Outstanding experiences, highlighting powerful anecdotes and challenges met.
  • What each experience has given you, both personally (development of qualities and skills) and on a human level (encounters and social intelligence).

Then prepare the classic questions, especially those that always come up at the start of fit interviews with strategy consulting firms: introduce yourself (the pitch), why strategy consulting, why this particular firm. The fit is often the most important factor in securing an offer from a strategy consulting firm, provided you have succeeded in your case study.

Prepare for the fit part of strategy consulting interviews with our bootcamp

The most dreaded test for strategy consulting candidates: the case study

The case study assesses the candidate's ability to solve complex problems, and generally consists of solving a problem already dealt with by the interviewer on one of his or her assignments. First you need to learn and customize your case-solving frameworks. It's advisable to draw inspiration from existing frameworks, but the key to success lies in the ability to customize them to the specific context of each case. Next, you need to train in pairs, with a maximum of 3 or 4 students. The idea is to quickly get up to speed with the right people and then potentially do cases with others. Some additional recommendations:

  • Case frequency: 4 to 5 cases per week, including at least one in English.
  • Timing for applications: apply when you are ready, generally from 20-30 cases, without forgetting that you continue to practice during the actual interviews.
  • Balance during the maintenance period: during the maintenance period, the number of cases performed should be moderate, to avoid saturating the system.

During your training sessions, we recommend careful management and daily monitoring of your case studies.

  • Case follow-up: create a follow-up table with key information such as the name of the case, the practice partner, the type of case, feedback from the buddy (practice partner), your own impressions, and points to work on.
  • Case sheets: create case sheets summarizing important aspects, cost-cutting levers, innovative solutions, etc.

In short, success in the case study test to join a strategy consulting firm relies on mastery of frameworks, structured preparation and judicious time management. By following these tips, you'll be better prepared to face the challenges presented by this crucial phase of the recruitment process.

Master the technical basics of strategy consulting interviews with our e-learning course.

The Q&A phase: leaving the best last impression

The last phase of the interview, the Q&A part is not the most important, but it does leave a final good impression. It's an opportunity to show your curiosity about the interviewer and to reiterate your motivation for joining this specific strategy consulting firm.

Before the interview, you'll normally have the name of the interviewer in advance. If not, ask HR. So, take the time to look at the background of the consultant who is interviewing you, and think about the questions you could ask. Also, take notes during the interviewer's presentation at the start of the interview, so that you can come back to certain points if necessary. Of course, some questions may come from a discussion you've had at some point during the interview, but you absolutely mustn't make the mistake, for example, of discussing the case study again. Finally, don't hesitate to bounce back on the answers given by your interviewer to create a real exchange during the interview.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask at the end of an interview:

  • What current changes in your practice are you particularly excited about?
  • I saw in your background that you worked at Microsoft. How does this experience serve you today in a strategy consulting firm?
  • What advice would you give to a new consultant about to join your firm?

In a few words, the secrets of joining a strategy consulting firm

Joining a strategy consulting firm is a major challenge, with a selectivity rate of just 1%. The rigorous process begins with strict academic prerequisites and a strong emphasis on professional and associative experience. Despite this selectivity, atypical profiles are sometimes recruited, underlining the value of diversity. Passing the screening process requires special attention to networking, and meticulous preparation of CVs and cover letters. Mastering interviews is a crucial step. In short, joining these prestigious strategy consulting firms requires perseverance, preparation, and the ability to stand out in a highly competitive process.

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