Consulting careers – making the switch with an MBA
Consulting careers – making the switch with an MBA
From Bain, BCG, and McKinsey, we meet the Cambridge Judge alumni making the switch into consulting and propelling their careers forward with an MBA.
Making the jump to BCG from a career in e-commerce
Shashank Srivastava (MBA 2019) came to Cambridge Judge Business School (CJBS) with a plan, “I wanted to leverage the MBA as a platform to jump into a consulting career.”
Coming from a background in e-commerce in Dubai, and before that as an in-house business analyst in India, he knew he wanted to shift careers, “And it’s a fact that an MBA enables you to do that.”
It certainly worked for Shashank, who will soon celebrate two years as a consultant at BCG in Dubai, “The best part of the job is that it is so interesting. Every few months you shift focus, you work in a new industry, you meet different challenges.”
Global careers outlook for strategy consulting recruiting
Sadia Cuthbert, Head of Careers at CJBS, reports another strong year for consulting recruitment, with a continuing upward trend.
“For the 2020-21 class, we again saw an increase in the numbers going into consulting. I encourage students to remember that it is not just the large strategy firms. People come here with the MBB of McKinsey, BCG, and Bain as their first ambition, but we encourage them to look further afield as well.”
Cuthbert points out that in financial terms, only 12% of the global consulting market is dedicated to strategy, “There is a burgeoning of mid-sized consultancies, developed by people who have left the MBB, who are producing some very interesting job opportunities. But specialist consulting firms, either function or sector specific, are also increasing, especially in technology and finance.”
Cuthbert and her team recommend MBA students fixed on the MBB route to enter the structured hiring programme, preparation for which starts even before they arrive in Cambridge in September; her team provide plenty of support over the pre-arrival period and in the first term for the crucial CV and covering letter writing and interview skills.
“But it depends very much on how prepared students are. If they are not strong at cracking cases, if they are not feeling very confident, then we might suggest that they wait and look for the experienced hire roles, which typically come up later in the academic year. Especially as there is usually a freeze period before unsuccessful candidates can reapply.”
Transitioning to a position at Bain
Another Cambridge MBA alumnus, Bob Winslow (MBA 2021), has just started as a consultant at Bain & Company in London. “Going into my MBA, my aim was to transition to consulting. But with a degree in maths and architecture and then nine years at the start up Festicket, I had an odd background. And I got no offers from the first round – not even invites for interview!”
Bob was undeterred, “You have to go into it with your eyes open and understand the whole process may be more challenging for you. Always be ready to hop up to the top tier, but at the same time recognise you may be in a different race from your peers.”
He credits his classmates with getting him to where he wanted to be. “What helped most during the MBA, aside from the education, was having a group of people around me who were all working for the same thing. There was lots of help on case practice. And my peers often had so much more knowledge of the intricacies of consulting than me!”
McKinsey bound with a sustainability focus
One of the fellow students Bob turned to for advice was alumna Rishika Daryanani (MBA 2021). Before coming to Cambridge, Rishika spent five years at Accenture in the San Francisco Bay area, working in emerging technology consulting for energy companies.
“The one expectation I had of my MBA was that I would be able to explore. I selected projects specifically to make sure consulting was what I wanted to get back into.”
After working for the first time with a small startup for her Cambridge Venture Project, Rishika’s Global Consulting Project took her to Inditex, the holding company for retail giant Zara, to work on sustainability. And for her summer internship she found herself at The United Nations.
“I felt rejuvenated! This wide variety of experiences helped me decide that consulting was the path I wanted to follow and then to position myself to go into operations consulting with a sustainability focus.” Rishika starts her new post at McKinsey & Company this year.
Projects form a vital part of the Cambridge learning experience. Our projects allow you to put classroom learning to the test as you progress through the programme. The networking and the experience with clients from different sectors can lead to opportunities and pathways into future career sectors.
Finding balance in consulting careers
Hai-Ly Nguyen (MBA 2017) has been at McKinsey in London for over four years and was recently promoted to Associate Partner. Now on maternity leave, she is happy to confirm that work-life balance is possible as a consultant.
“At my firm there is a strong sense of creating your own experience and choosing what works well for you. We do work hard but it does get easier, especially when you have a strong team behind you. Though in your first year of consulting there isn’t always a recipe for you to be in control of your time because there is just so much to learn!”
Hai-Ly had arrived for her MBA knowing very little about the world of consulting, “I tried different programmes, some organised by Cambridge Judge, some by the recruiting companies themselves, before I made my mind up. Now I am very intellectually fulfilled, and I have a sense of satisfaction with my work-life balance as well.”
Telling your story and selling your brand
Shashank Srivastava advises MBA students looking to pivot into consulting to focus on their personal development as a critical aspect, which is often overlooked. “It’s easy to focus on case studies. But you need to be ready for questions about your previous career choices and decisions, as a test of character. Develop your personal side as a strength.”
That’s a message Sadia Cuthbert endorses, “The consultants are looking for leadership, the ability to work in teams, drive, and a passion for results. From the first term at Cambridge, we help our students to tell their story and then to sell their personal brand.”
It is a very competitive marketplace, especially for the MBB jobs and Hai-Ly Nguyen emphasises the need to stand out from the crowd, “If you are applying for a generalist post at a strategy consultancy, you need to have a theme. And then make sure it screams out from your CV.”
Consulting is a very rewarding career choice and recruiting experience at Cambridge has shown that it is a highly achievable target for people from a range of different backgrounds – with the right preparation, as well as engagement with our careers team and resources, you can make the leap.