The Management Consulting industry has significantly evolved over the last 15 years. As Global Consulting Firms attempt to satisfy their insatiable appetite for growth, we have seen a variety of methods adopted to ensure this is achieved. Be it through mergers, acquisitions, or penetration of new geographies or content areas, the consulting industry has become a battleground where end clients are often spoiled for choice.

To cite one example, we can examine the Big 4 Accountancy Firms. In the past 15 years, three of these Big 4 Consultancy’s have acquired a well-known Strategy House in the hope that they can dictate the narrative and more effectively control the parameters of execution and implementation services for which they are typically more well-known for. For years they have been “boxed in’ by clients who see their strengths aligned to the Implementation of a roadmap typically created by a Top Tier Strategy House. Implementation services, that have often been associated as something that is easier to carry out and therefore should command a lower rate card.

Some argue that walking the client through a roadmap and assisting them in achieving their optimum operating model can be even more difficult, than the creation of that roadmap. Therefore, it is somewhat of a paradox that these services have typically been carried out by consultants at a cheaper rate. There could be a number of reasons for this, the two most obvious are that implementation projects tend to be significantly longer in duration and the landscape of consultancy’s offering these services is much broader and therefore much more competitive.

The outcome, if end-clients choose the wrong consultancy focusing only on price, can become a long painfully drawn-out process whereby the program is extended for much longer than they initially planned for, simultaneously bleeding their budgets before realizing it would have made more sense to opt for the consultancy who could have got it right the first time (albeit for a higher price).

When speaking to candidates about the differences between delivering strategy vs execution engagements we were somewhat surprised that the general consensus was that the execution and change management process of work was equally and, in some cases, more challenging than the strategic and diagnostic assessments. Candidates cited that there was nowhere to hide, and results had to be seen in order for any execution to be deemed successful. Clients often had scarce capabilities inhouse and therefore relied extensively on consultants to undertake the idealist roadmap.

Top Tier Strategy Firms have recognized the vacuum here and begun to aggressively target this market share. We’ve seen the creation of numerous sub-brands focusing on execution and implementation, perhaps, because the creation of a Strategy Roadmap is no longer able to maintain the same desirability as it once enjoyed. The realization that this immaculately presented slide deck is essentially worthless without proper assistance to implement and execute has suddenly empowered clients to become more demanding in what they expect. Consequently, the same Strategy firms have been rethinking and repackaging their offerings, particularly those commending 5k – 10k USD daily rate cards for senior staff members. With many offering a one-stop-shop where ideas, innovations, and roadmaps are created, then implemented and executed. The benefit to the client is that consulting firms can be held accountable to the strategies they create and are naturally in the best position to achieve the desired outcome, having worked with that client from day one. In addition, the access to their global talent pool also allows them to offer a much broader knowledge toolkit, increasing the probability that they can enlist a consultant who has experienced a similar challenge or project scenario at some point in his/her historical career.

The major downfall of the one-stop-shop is that it is heavily reliant on the service of one firm and unless the client has strong enough in-house capabilities, they leave themselves completely exposed to advisory services from a select number of individuals who are commercially incentivized to optimize revenue streams. It is therefore imperative for clients to build their inhouse expertise so they can impartially decide what path to take.

Last post, I went through a few different tips & tricks that I’ve learnt over the years of working the market, to increase candidates’ chances of passing interviews successfully. Today, I’m going to go through some advice for putting together an effective CV for strategy consulting positions.

Firstly, the main things that we as recruiters look for in a CV for our clients are:

  1. What company the candidate currently is working at – most companies have a target bunch of companies that they wish to recruit from, so it’s important that you currently work at a “target”.
  2. What school the candidate graduated from (and G.P.A) – top-tier strategy consultants are expected to be the best of the best, thus our clients seek candidates who have been high achievers throughout their education and usually expect G.P.As of 3.7 and above. Anybody coming in at a Consultant level is expected to hold a top MBA or an extremely relevant Masters from a leading school.
  3. What is the career progression like at their current organization – again, strategy houses are looking for high-achievers. They know the progression timelines and if a CV indicates that a candidate has been stuck at a level for three years, it indicates they are not the top-performers and may be getting let go of.
  4. How many job changes they have had in the last few years – strategy consultancies invest a lot of money and time in developing a strategy consultant to grow into a future Partner. Too many job changes will ring alarm bells as to their loyalty.

If all four of these points are satisfactorily addressed, then you’re well on your way to having a CV that will get you an interview at a top strategy firm.

The next thing to do, is make sure that you tailor your CV for the market you are applying for. If you’re applying for a purely Oil & Gas focused position and your current work experience is 75% Oil & Gas / 25% finance, then stick to highlighting your knowledge in O&G.

Impact is another massive thing that employers look for. Yes, you might have worked on a cost-optimization project for a large multinational energy corp, but what was the outcome? What did you achieve by doing this? If you saved the company $15m in operating costs through the work that you did – highlight it! If the digital transformation exercise you did for a global bank rolled out worldwide – mention it!

One more bit of advice, is make sure you highlight experience that is relevant to your level. If you’re applying for a Manager position, ensure you mention occasions where you have led a team or a project effectively, it only needs to be one or two lines, but make sure it’s there. Also, demonstrate an occasion where you have mentored or developed more junior members of staff – all the top firms look for candidates who will help the juniors grow. For higher levels, ensure you include information about revenue targets and achievements.

The next important thing is the general look and content of the CV. I’m going to highlight some BIG no-nos first of all to make sure you avoid (please note, that this advice is solely related to the strategy consulting market).

  1. CVs with images – Irrelevant and takes up valuable CV real estate.
  2. CVs with company logos for where you’ve worked – Again, same issue as before – plus, the formatting can get messed up and look sloppy when people use different versions of Word.
  3. Anything more than 2 pages long – Clients of ours are looking for very similar things to what I described at the beginning of this piece. They don’t need a comprehensive list of every project you’ve done, they want to know what you do, where you work and how much of a high-achiever you are. If it’s a technical role, they need to know your proficiencies, if it’s an industry focused role, they want to see a couple of examples of your work in that market. 
  4. Landscape CVs – Just no, not remotely professional.
  5. CVs with any form of table – Completely unnecessary and doesn’t display correctly in some formats.
  6. Colourful CVs  I appreciate how some people enjoy a bit of colour in their lives, but leave your CV professional and black and white – you’re applying for a consulting role, not a creative role.
  7. CVs with your photo on it – Strategy Consultancies are the most diverse bunch of individuals you could ever imagine and they don’t care how you look. Leave photos off the CVs (this does still mean though that you’re expected to be presentable at an interview – if you have a skull & crossbones tattooed to your forehead this may affect your chances).
  8. CVs with a chart that measures your capability in something with an “out of 5” level – Probably my biggest pet-hate at the moment and something I’m seeing gaining popularity. If you are a beginner in Hadoop, or intermediate in MS Paint, don’t put a chart in there demonstrating your ability in it as “1 out of 5” or “3 out of 5”. Just leave it off or mention you’re learning it.

Harvard Business School has a great template (which I’ve slightly modified to make a little more relevant) that is an excellent foundation for putting together an excellent CVs. If you stick to the points I’ve made above and use this template, you should be set up well for success. Click here to download the CV Template.

Thanks again for reading, any questions or queries, let me know! Hope you’ve found this somewhat useful, feel free to share among your network.

Dan –

Strategy Consulting interviews are notoriously difficult and lots of time is needed in order to prepare for them. Here are our top tips for nailing the all-important interview and landing your dream job!

  1. Purchase / borrow some industry-standard case preparation material. “Case in Point” is an excellent resource that we have here at NSI HQ and use daily to increase our knowledge of the process and to give candidates an idea about what to expect.
  2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Just because you’ve completed an MBA at INSEAD / Harvard or you’re a Manager at a tier 1 firm, doesn’t mean you’re a shoe-in. The most successful candidates are the ones that set aside a few hours a week to study. Meet with peers who are working for these firms or other alumni to sit down and go through cases together, if you’re struggling to find people, speak with your professors who I’m sure will be able to give you names of people willing to help. We’d recommend going through around 50-100 cases in preparation to an interview.
  3. Do your research on the firm you’re interviewing with. When a consulting firm hires a new member of staff, they are making a significant investment – especially if a candidate has come from a headhunting firm like ours. It’s not acceptable to think your 4.0 GPA, shiny new MBA and perfect case solving abilities are going to be enough to land the job – these firms want to know that YOU want to work for them over their competition and will remain loyal to their cause. Not demonstrating enough motivation or excitement for a position is one of the biggest factors why candidates get rejected. Make sure you read the latest news on the firm, understand who the key members of staff are in your industry of interest (and who your interviewers are if this is revealed to you). You also need to give a satisfactory answer as to why you want to work for x over y.
  4. Brush up on your mental arithmetic. Often in the interview process, a candidate will be thrown a curveball – would you be able to comfortably answer on the spot, “What’s 17% of 50?”. There’s many tips and tricks to answering these questions – a great resource is “Secrets of Mental Math” by Arthur Benjamin. Did you know that when working a percentage out, you can swap the numbers to potentially find the answer quicker – when you look at what is 50% of 17, it’s a much easier challenge that 17% of 50 and gets to the same answer (8.5!).
  5. Managers and above – realise what the company wants to get out of the interview. It’s not unusual for an interviewer to steer an interviewee in the right direction to crack a case – however, if you’re interviewing for a manager job, YOU need to be the one that is steering the case and not being led to the right answer. These companies want to see your leadership qualities so have examples ready about times you have been a good leader, developed more junior staff etc.
  6. Build a rapport with your interviewer. Another factor that can often get overlooked – especially when doing a “marathon” interview session, is that you need to be able to demonstrate your ability to engage with someone on a personal – not just intellectual level. Are the firm going to be comfortable with putting you in front of an important client? Basic things like smart, clean attire, a firm handshake, regular eye-contact, regular note-taking will leave a good impression in the interviewers mind. A few big no-nos are:
    1. interrupting an interviewer when they are talking
    2. poor punctuality
    3. no eye contact / fidgeting
    4. complaining about a misstep in the process (an interview delay, a last-minute change of interviewer)
  7. Don’t bad-mouth your existing employer. Obviously if you’re going from x to y, the awkward conversation will come up about why you want to leave them and join the new firm. It’s important to be diplomatic and give genuine reasons for interest. Tearing into your current company usually rings alarm bells and can come across rather unprofessional and desperate. A big reason for candidates being rejected is again, linked to motivations. If a company feels that you only want to join them because you hate your current company and will do anything to escape, then things will not proceed.

Hopefully this was useful and feel free to comment if you have any thoughts!