MBB Consulting: Salaries, Trends, Myths & the MBA
The management consulting career path is considered integral to the early career and/or the professional aspirations of countless MBA applicants that our team has advised over the last two decades. MBB is the acronym that many young professionals use to describe the upper echelon of management consulting: McKinsey, Bain, & BCG (Boston Consulting Group). We’ll cover an array of topics related to management consulting, such as:
- What is the management consulting career path?
- Which consulting employers are the most coveted?
- Do consulting employers, like MBB, find it harder to recruit talent?
- What consulting firm is known for the best and worst work/life balance?
- What are pre and post-MBA positions and salaries?
- What hiring changes are underway among the top consulting firms?
- Compare and contrast: McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Deloitte (MBBD)
- Tips for MBA applicants with consulting in pre or post-MBA plan
- Sample MBA application essays
- Burning questions among current MBA students about the consulting career path
As a traditional industry, the management consulting career has held consistent gravitas and respect among all sides of the MBA universe, including applicants, admissions officers, MBA program career centers, and the employers who recruit from the MBA programs.
Today, we’re taking a 360-degree view of the management consulting career path. We’ll tap into the expertise of Davis Nguyen, CEO of My Consulting Offer, a team of former McKinsey, Bain, and BCG recruiters and consultants who work with aspiring consultants to land interviews and win offers. Since its founding, at least 85% of My Consulting Offer’s clients receive at least 1 consulting offer with many receiving multiple.
We also cull advice from the former MBA Admissions Officers on the Stacy Blackman Consulting (SBC) team. Specifically, we’ll learn how applicants from the consulting career path can differentiate themselves from the traditional pool. Plus, we’ll tackle how applicants who have pre or post-MBA consulting careers can best position themselves—especially as they aspire to the elite business schools of Harvard, Stanford, and Wharton.
The Importance of Having Something Extra
A former HBS Admissions Officer on our SBC team shared, “Consultants are the bread and butter of Harvard’s MBA program, and there is an assumption that this is THE desired profile. The reality is that this subset of the population is heavily oversubscribed. If you come from a consulting background, you must be able to demonstrate your unique leadership abilities and that you are progressing at a pace ahead of your peers. You should have something that uniquely defines you in addition to having outstanding academic stats.”
Later in this overview, we explore this and other best practices, including sample MBA admit essay excerpts.
If you’d like feedback on your MBA profile and recommendations for target business programs through a free candidacy analysis, please request a 15 minute email or phone consultation.
Davis’s team at My Consulting Offer just released its 2022 report that sheds light on the high-paying advantages for MBA full-time hires at these highly-coveted employers:
Now that we have your attention (money talks!), let’s explore further.
What is the MBB consulting career path?
Here are key insights shared by Davis Nguyen of My Consulting Offer.
Q- Are MBB consulting employers still the most coveted across consulting, or have any lost their luster?
A- The short answer is yes. About 76% of the clients we work with when we start their planning and ask, “what is your dream firm” answered McKinsey, Bain, or BCG. The longer answer is that MBB’s preference among candidates is lower than before since (1) other firms have started emerging with specialties and (2) candidates are now more interested than before in these specialties.
For example, we’ve had clients who get multiple offers, including at least one MBB, and decline it for another firm. For instance, we had a client who put “McKinsey” as her dream firm and came from a social impact background. But when she discovered and got an offer from Dalberg, a top social impact consulting firm, she opted to sign with Dalberg.
We see this happen many times each month. As another example, recently we had an MBA who declined her BCG offer to join a life science consulting firm because she came from a life science background. She wanted to continue on that path post-consulting and the exit opportunities at the firm she chose were more aligned with her longer-term goals.
Q- Do MBB consulting employers find it harder to recruit talent with FAANG / tech becoming so dominant?
A- We hear from the firms we keep in touch with that FAANG/ tech companies and even startups are competing more and more for similar candidates, and even our clients debate between signing their consulting or their tech offer. Nonetheless, firms are still seeing higher numbers of applications coming in.
For example, last year, McKinsey saw over 1 million applications coming in, an all-time high. Bain, BCG, and other firms also saw an increase in applicants.
What are the top non-MBB employers for consulting?
A- This will depend on what you are optimizing for, such as, for example, the top healthcare consulting firm, or the firm with the best training that has an office in a particular city. We have a list here of top non-MBB firms.
Q-What are the top boutique or industry-specific consulting firms?
A- This list can also be sorted by specialty.
Q- How many applicants apply for a given position? What is the passing rate for top, MBB, firms?
A- This will vary depending on firm, city, and title. The pass rate will vary as well depending on multiple factors. But taken as a whole, last year MBB took about 4% of applicants.
Q-What firm is known as the most challenging for maintaining work/life balance?
A- This will vary depending on the team more than the firm since your team and the team project drives the project scope. But as a whole, McKinsey consultants tend to log in more hours than others, holding all else equal. However, McKinsey also has one of the best leave of absence programs. So, it really depends on the team/project and less on the firm.
Q-Which firm is known for the best work/ life balance?
A-Same as above, it comes down to the team and project more than the firm. But if you are looking for a strategy consulting role that has better than average hours than other firms, internal consulting fits this well from internal consulting teams for the firms themselves, such as Bain’s internal consulting team to corporate consulting teams such as CapitalOne’s.
Q-What are examples of front-office, coveted titles for consulting?
A- Job titles will vary from firm to firm, but levels are: Pre-MBA level Consultant (called Associates, Business Analyst, Associate Consultants, and Analysts). Post-MBA level consultant [note you don’t need an MBA to be in this role] such as [Associate, Consultant], Manager (Engagement Manager, Project Leader, Manager, Case Team Leader), Principal (sometimes called Senior Manager or Associate Partner), and Partner/Director
Q-What are examples of mid-office (less coveted, lesser paid) titles in consulting?
A-If being client-facing is less of an interest, firms also have teams that specialize in, for example, data (such as BCG GAMMA) and digital work (such as Bain Innovation Exchange)
Q- What changes have there been recently or on the horizon among the top consulting firms with respect to who they hire or what they look for?
Five trends to note
- Growth of specialist roles. Generalists are still hired, and that number is still growing as well, but the rise of specialist positions because of the firm’s investment in specializing has been on the rise.
- Online assessments are more common. Online assessments such as McKinsey’s SOLVE make it possible for more candidates to be considered who might have the raw stills but might not have been in an area that a few years ago, McKinsey and other firms would have flown a team out to recruit from. Now with online assessments, firms can evaluate more candidates.
- Non-traditional backgrounds are becoming more welcomed. Gone are the days when everyone in your incoming class came from Harvard, Wharton, or Stanford. This is because hiring efforts have reached more people, such as having online assessments and remote interviews that got turbocharged in 2020 when hiring was happening, but interviews weren’t happening in person.
- Emphasis on 1st year MBA hires. Consulting firms are investing more and more on their internship class to perform well and get return offers to hit hiring goals and use 2nd year recruiting to fill additional growth if there are more needed hires.
- Push for diversity – there are more and more internal efforts to hire people from diverse backgrounds such as women, minorities, and military veterans. Most major firms have their own affinity groups that are in charge of making sure more people apply from diverse backgrounds, such as Pride@BCG, the McKinsey Black Network, and Womxn at Bain (WAB), just to name a few.
Q- What are typical exit opportunities from the top firms?
A-It varies depending on personal goals and even firm, but some common ones include:
- Tech at an established or public company—usually in a strategy, operations, analytics, or product
- Startup—usually as a founder, chief of staff, operations, product, business development, or marketing
- Private equity/Venture capital in various roles
- Non-profits in strategy roles
- Other large corporations—can range from biotech to consumer goods to transportation based on the person’s interest and consulting history
Other ones that are becoming more and more popular:
- Independent consulting
- Internal consulting, or taking an internal role at the firm you are at, such as going from Bain to Bain ADAPT
- Arts, which includes writing
Compare and Contrast MBBD: McKinsey, BCG, Bain & Deloitte
|McKinsey||Boston Consulting Group||Bain & Company||Deloitte|
|Starting title post-MBA||Associate||Consultant||Consultant||Senior Consultant|
|Academic prerequisites||No hard cut-offs for scores or prerequisites|
|Professional prerequisites||No “must-have” since consultants can be hired as generalists; for those coming for post-MBA roles, it is assumed that they will have at least 1-2 years of working experience before joining the firm (but this is already mostly filtered by the business school with programs such as 2+2 or Silver Scholars)|
|Sponsorship for the MBA||Yes (must have been a Business Analyst before at McKinsey) and commit 2 years after to return post-MBA to McKinsey||Yes (must have been an Associate before at BCG) and commit 2 years after to return post-MBA to BCG||Yes (must have been an Associate Consultant before at Bain) and commit 2 years after to return post-MBA to Bain (reneging or failure to stay for full commitment results in interest penalty)||Yes – GSAP, Graduate School Assistance Program, at least 2-year tenure requirement before being eligible, but must leave before Manager. Requires sponsorship by at least 2 partners and approval by a panel. Must return as Sr Consultant for at least 1 year to get 50% of the MBA fees reimbursed and 2 years for 100%|
|Stereotypes||As a firm, McKinsey has earned the nickname “The CEO Factory,” because of the sheer number of ex-McKinsey CEOs found in Fortune 500 companies.*||Imagine BCG as the middle child – the nerdy one. You can think of BCG as the brother who carries a pocket protector in his pocket, with rimmed glasses, who probably went to MIT and came up with a groundbreaking thesis that has changed the world.**||People often think of Bain as the little sibling who is very eager to prove themselves to the rest of the family. Because they’re the smallest and Bain typically has the least resources, they have to get very creative in their approach.***||The online commentary can reference Deloitte, which can be included when referencing MBBD, as the 4th sibling.|
* Some prominent examples of this would be Sundar Pichai, CEO of Alphabet/Google, Vittorio Colao CEO of Vodafone, and James Gorman, CEO of Morgan Stanley. Just to name a few. McKinsey is also the first of the big three and was founded before the others and has the largest global footprint of the Big 3. So if you imagine McKinsey, BCG, and Bain as three siblings; McKinsey would be the oldest brother who might dress a bit uptight sometimes, is older, and has the most work experience and thus and is convinced he is always right because of said experience
**Quick back story on how BCG started. If you look at McKinsey, they essentially believe that best practices can be applied across companies and across industries and that one should not constantly reinvent the wheel, hence the reason behind their global staffing model. BCG disagreed with this approach, however. Instead, they exclaimed “not every situation is the same. We should take a very academic and rigorous approach to this.” In fact, you might have heard of terms such as a two by two matrix for growth, Porter’s Five Forces, and so forth. These are all theories spearheaded by BCG. The idea with BCG is that their goal when they go in and work with a client is they want to be able to make every engagement, every case, every project unique and different from the last, because of the specific unique context and situation faced by said client.
*** They are also the “youngest” because they have historically recruited more positions at the undergraduate/master’s level so unlikely BCG and McKinsey which have a “diamond” shaped level (the fattest part being the post-MBA role); Bain is a pyramid-shaped where the base (entry-level) is the largest part of their consulting staff. Thus you can imagine that more events tend to be geared towards and put together by those in their early 20s than at McKinsey and BCG.
Tips for applicants who have MMB consulting in their pre or post-MBA plan
Q-Is consulting a common career path for MBA students to pursue?
A-Yes. We’ve outlined industry outplacement data for MBA graduates, gleaned from the MBA career reports here:
|Consulting Industry||Finance Industry|
Q- How can I stand out?
A- The former Stanford Admissions Officers on our SBC team advise, “The GSB is looking for best performers or an interesting twist. Having pursued a paradigm-shift effort at work or otherwise is often helpful. Highlight differences such as special talents, experience, adversity, to separate from the pack.”
Similarly, the former Wharton Admissions Officer on our team recommends that applicants “Demonstrate strong interpersonal skills in the Team Based Discussion interview as a vital way to stand out from the traditional applicant pool.” Firm sponsorship, any feeder firm leverage, and identity-driven passions shown through externship or secondment are valuable in the MBA admissions process.
Above all, make sure you are an interesting person outside of work. What makes you unique?
Q-What skills or attributes do consultants have that MBA programs appreciate and what is disliked?
A- Problem-solving, analytical, competitive, deep intellectual and critical thinking. Any air of entitlement is discouraged.
If you’d like feedback on your MBA profile and recommendations for target business programs through a free candidacy analysis, please request a 15 minute email or phone consultation.
Q- Can you share sample essay excerpts from successful MBA applicants?
“To prepare myself to tackle social problems, my short-term goal is to work on strategic issues for companies across multiple industries in management consulting, for a firm such as Booz & Co. in its Strategy and Leadership practice. I see management consulting as a boot camp in problem-solving which will help me face the challenges of running a social venture.”
“In order to succeed as a venture capitalist, in the short-term I plan to complete an MBA from Kellogg and work as a management consultant for a strategy firm specializing in technology companies. This consulting experience will broaden my exposure to multiple disciplines of growth strategy, business operations, finance and resource management. I believe that a successful technology company is born out of a complex interplay between a deep understanding of technical knowledge and creative insight of an entrepreneur.”
“My long-term career goal is to give back to the small business community by building on my Columbia education and short-term post MBA goals – tackling business problems in management consulting. My current experience as an entrepreneur has allowed me to experience several different aspects of business, including marketing, accounting, management, etc. which I believe will help me contribute to the Columbia classroom and my goals. These goals are my passions and I hope to achieve them within 10 to 15 years.”
“Those who know me will also tell you that my career goal is to follow this passion, becoming a Management Consultant for a company like Bain in its Travel, Hospitality & Leisure practice. After gaining the skillset necessary at a larger firm, I plan to transition to a smaller, niche consulting firm in the industry, eventually achieving the rank of Partner. There, I will lead the practice to ultimately help our clients offer rewarding travel experiences.”
What do current MBA students ask about the consulting career path?
Again, we turn to Davis Nguyen for his insights on the top questions that current MBA students ask about the management consulting career path.
Q-Is it easier to get an offer during Year 1 or Year 2?
A-Firms are emphasizing more and more on filling their hiring goals through 1st year recruiting and building their internship class. This doesn’t mean that you can’t get a full-time offer in Year 2 because you didn’t recruit in Year 1 or you didn’t get an offer in Year 1. Many people still do, including our clients.
But this does mean that if you are considering consulting, I would recommend applying in Year 1 as well to increase your odds and at the least gain the experience of consulting recruiting, which is different from other types of recruiting.
Q-What are common misconceptions that MBAs have about getting a consulting offer?
A-There are a lot of common myths that we see people “pre-rejecting” themselves with that aren’t true. Five of the common ones are:
- “I don’t have a big name school or company on my resume”
- “I was rejected before, so I will be rejected again”
- “I didn’t have a business background before business school so I won’t be considered”
- “My GMAT/GRE is low so I will be automatically rejected”
- “I had a low GPA from my undergraduate degree so I am wasting my time applying”
Q- I recruited before my MBA, but didn’t get an offer. Will firms hold this against me?
A- No. Being rejected before does not mean will be automatically rejected again. Firms actually like it when you have a sustained interest in consulting and in between your applications show the progress you have made. We have had numerous clients who before joining their MBA had been rejected a year or even a few months earlier and were able to get an offer when they applied as an MBA student.
Q- Does the city preference I list on my application affect my chances?
A-Yes. The city you list will affect your chances of being interviewed and given an offer. There are many factors that go into play here.
Q-If I don’t attend a target MBA school such as HBS, Wharton, Kellogg, does it mean I can’t get an offer?
A-While it was true before that firms had their “core list” of business schools and if you didn’t go to that school or were doing a non-traditional MBA you wouldn’t be even considered, but those days are over. As hiring becomes less globally centralized and more regionally focused, local offices are able to consider which schools they want to recruit from.
So, we have clients who didn’t attend a T15 or were on a part-time MBA get offers from McKinsey and other amazing consulting firms. There is more to the recruiting process than the business school you attended. Make sure to reach out to the right people and demonstrate the right traits on your application.
This overview has been prepared from the generous insights of My Consulting Offer, which is to aspiring consultants what Stacy Blackman Consulting is for aspiring MBAs. My Consulting Offer is a team of former McKinsey, Bain, and BCG recruiters and consultants who work with you one-on-one, step-by-step to land you interviews and help you pass your interviews.
To date, 85% of the clients they work with have become management consultants at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, and other top firms. Clients have called them, “the closest thing to a guaranteed consulting offer.” If you are interested in consulting and want a proven, stress-free, step-by-step process for getting a consulting offer, check out how My Consulting Offer can help you.
If you’d like feedback on your MBA profile and recommendations for target business programs through a free candidacy analysis from a Principal at Stacy Blackman Consulting, please request a 15 minute email or phone consultation.