Consulting firms make a point of recruiting from a wide range of backgrounds. Not many companies hire both English and Chemistry majors for the same role, nor MBAs and MDs. So, what are consulting firms really looking for in a resume?
#1. A clean document
First, resume screeners want easy-to-read documents. They review thousands of applications, only ~5% of which will be invited to interview (sometimes even less for in-demand offices like NYC or London). Given this volume and the surplus of great candidates, your resume will receive a few minutes of attention at best (and only a few seconds, at worst). Therefore, you want to present your information in a very reader-friendly manner. This means following a standard template (take a look at this article and these templates for best practices), using a professional font, using consistent and clean formatting, and avoiding clutter. The latter is important, as it will be tempting to include every potentially relevant item on your resume. Instead, you will want to prioritize only the most important content, so that nothing distracts from the accomplishments that you most want the reader to see.
#2. Proof you’re a top performer
Second, whoever is reading your resume will likely start with a scan for university and employer names and any major quantified accomplishments (things like “top 3% of class”, “$100M in savings”, or “25% increase in revenue” will naturally jump out -- more on quantifying your accomplishments here). They are looking for easy-to-find evidence that you will perform well on the job. Consulting firms, and employers in general, are not looking for risky bets. Name-brand universities and employers are the easiest way to check this box. It is not a non-starter if you do not have these; however, we’ll be honest, it is more of an uphill battle (more on suggested strategies here). You can demonstrate academic achievement through your university name, but also through your GPA, awards, class percentile, and accomplishments achieved simultaneously with school (for example, if you worked full-time or competed in varsity athletics). Similarly, employer name is one aspect of professional achievement.
#3. Evidence that you can do the job
Third, they are looking for demonstrated skills and characteristics that you will use as a consultant (we know, this sounds obvious). It is important to frame your accomplishments in a way that shows you have the range of skills that consulting firms value on the job. Keep in mind that you do not need to write one bullet per skill. Many of these skills go hand-in-hand and can be demonstrated within the same bullet.
Skill & Characteristics
What this means for your resume
Comfort with data, and the ability to extract and apply insights
Ex: Analyzed 5 years of spend data and vendor contracts for a mid-sized healthcare company, identifying ~$10M in potential cost savings
Ability to grasp the bigger picture, put structure around ambiguous problems, and come up with potential solutions
Ex: Developed framework for evaluating a potential entry into China for an online education company, informing the Board’s decision to go forward
Strong written, verbal, and listening skills. This covers a lot and can be demonstrated in many different ways. Consider the times you gave a presentation, tutored a student, marketed an event, and so forth.
Ex: Developed and taught a 10-week workshop series on language learning to build a community focused on cross-cultural education
Ability to work effectively with others to drive impact. This will be important for working with your immediate consulting team, as well as building trust with your clients and other parties.
Ex: Collaborated with 40+ stakeholders across product, engineering, and sales to align on strategic priorities and prioritize resources
Ability to lead and influence others. Even as a junior consultant, you will be doing work that advises very senior people, putting you in a position of leadership.
Ex: Recommended the development of a ~$250K consumer revenue opportunity to leadership, and built the necessary buy-in to move forward
Often also called “results-oriented,” the ability to drive the work you are doing to a meaningful outcome. This (the “so what”) should be present in every bullet you write.
Ex: Built 6 business cases that validated potential process improvements, enabling a ~15% reduction in cycle time from order to delivery
Aka grit, aka determination. Firms are looking for people who are self-motivated and naturally curious. This can be demonstrated in a lot of different ways. Were you a varsity athlete? Did you join a writer’s club even though you’re a math major? Did you work while pursuing a full-time degree? The Leadership Experience and Interests sections are great opportunities to highlight the drive. (More on this here)
Ex: Interests: Avid tennis player (2x State Champion and team captain) and language learner (studied abroad in Barcelona for 6 months)
Many of you are likely applying to generalist roles and firms, and the list of things to worry about ends here. For those of you applying to specialized roles or firms, you’ll want to also demonstrate subject matter expertise and interest in the field. If you have directly applicable work experience, then, of course, highlight it (consider allocating a disproportionate amount of space to the most relevant experiences in your resume). You can also include relevant coursework or university projects. In addition, consider tangential experience. Maybe you did not work in, for example, pharmaceutical research, but you did work for a marketing firm, and a key client was a pharmaceutical company. Note this! Lastly, we recommend you review your resume with this target industry/role in mind and adjust any language to tailor it where possible.
The shortcut to success: a referral
Last but not least, a referral often holds just as much, if not more, weight than a resume. This is the most effective way of guaranteeing your resume is given proper attention. Of course, you still need a solid resume. However, a referral can guarantee a stand-out resume moves straight to the interview list. A referral can also move a resume from the “maybe” pile to the “interview” pile, particularly if it lacks “target” universities or companies and/or impressive academic performance.
We have a whole section dedicated to networking your way to referrals here.