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Ultimate guide to experienced hire recruiting for consulting

How to source opportunities, apply and prep for interviews at MBB as an experienced hire

Kenton Kivestu, ex-Google, ex-BCG, Founder at RocketBlocks
Published: April 8, 2021

Experienced hire context | Finding opportunities | Applying to opportunities | The interview process

Experienced hire recruitment can be a murky, confusing environment. Compared to campus recruits, experienced hires experience much more irregular processes, weird timelines, and unclear standards.

In this post we try to make sense of this process for you, walking through what an experienced hire is, how they fit into a consulting firm, what firms are looking for and why experienced professionals are recruited, and the step-by-step process necessary to get the job offer.

Experienced hire recruiting process for consulting for firms like McKinsey, BCG and Bain.

The most basic distinction is the delta from the usual suspects in consulting recruitment: on-campus undergraduates and MBA students. In essence, experienced hires are anyone in the recruitment pipeline that are not campus recruits and are already in the workforce.

Typically, experienced hires have 2 to 4+ years of experience working in an industry job, but they could also have over a decade of relevant experience if hired into the top level of a firm.

How do experienced hires fit into a firm? (Top)

Experienced hires play a variety of roles at firms, but this can be broadly broken down into generalist and niche/specialized roles.

An experienced hire recruited as a generalist fits into a consulting team just like a homegrown, campus recruit. They play a variety of roles in a team and are staffed flexibly into projects that tackle different industries or functions. These hires generally come from industry roles or, in some cases, from other consulting firms.

In some cases, especially for firms with emerging practice areas, experienced hires are used to fill expertise gaps that strengthen their offering. You might have 4+ years of banking analytics experience and, thus, fit perfectly into a brand new team that tackles those sorts of projects. You might be a subject matter expert (SME) on medium-scale technology acquisitions that could give a smaller due-diligence consultancy some muscle in their proposals.

The most obvious contemporary example is the massive push towards digital offerings in consulting. These teams require a TON of diversified expertise, from data scientists to user-experience designers to IT specialists. Especially in the larger consulting firms, core consulting staff do not have these skills. These firms acquire this expertise through acquisitions and recruiting experienced industry hires with relevant experience.

If you want to learn more about digital offerings in consulting, check out these RocketBlocks profiles on BCG Platinion, BCG Gamma, Bain Vector, McKinsey Digital, and McKinsey Analytics.

"Deloitte has been rapidly expanding their Analytics and Digital offerings. I was recruited into my role there because of my technical expertise, which was sorely needed on the team." - Senior Consultant (SQL/Python) at Deloitte

How do they fit into the org structure?

Depending on their level of experience and expertise, experienced hires can fall anywhere in a consulting firm's org chart. Seasoned industry professionals could be brought in as managers. Extremely seasoned professionals that have deep industry connections, like in the case of poaching a company's COO, could enter a consulting firm as a Partner (this is really rare, though).

More commonly, experienced hires come in at more junior roles. Industry hires with 2-4 years of experience usually slot into Consultant/Associate roles, giving them the chance to build their consulting tool kit and more effectively prepare for management positions. In some cases, usually for recruits that are just on the edge of being ready for management, these hires are given special titles like "Senior Consultant" and have a faster track for promotion.

Professionals hired at the Analyst level usually have less than 2 years of experience. These recruits typically either missed the bus on consulting recruitment in their senior year, are unsatisfied with their current role, or are looking for a new challenge. In our conversations with people in this situation, experienced hires at the Analyst level are treated almost identically to campus hires once they're at the firm.

"I was working in wealth management at a large bank and it didn't quite fit what I wanted in my early career. I was able to take advantage of my school's career services, where BCG recruited on campus, to give consulting recruitment a shot. I'm now considered a part of that year's class of Associates." - Associate, BCG

The biggest delta here from campus recruitment is that firms are typically looking for meaningful work experience and/or specific expertise, whether that be technical or otherwise. Besides that, most of the evaluation criteria are very similar. They want impressive, accomplished, and ambitious people.

Generally, firms are looking for the following:

  • Academic excellence: Recruiting teams want to see that you've attended top tier schools and/or had very good grades. While this becomes less important the farther removed you are from your graduation year, it's still an easy indicator of talent for recruiting teams.
  • Strong work experience: Firms want to see that you have thrived in your current role, ideally at a top tier company, and can demonstrate that you've made a significant impact while you've been there. Great indicators of this are strong performance reviews, early promotions, and specific examples of significant impact like leading a team or achieving a key milestone.
  • Specific domain expertise: As we've mentioned, firms are usually looking for people who can supplement an existing practice area or fill expertise gaps that they're looking to bulk up on (e.g., digital offerings).

Finding opportunities (Top)

Finding a campus recruiting opportunity is extremely easy: show up on campus in the fall and drop your resume off at the resume drop box for your firm of choice. "On-cycle" recruitment is extremely standardized, happening at the same time every year with little to no variation (besides maybe logistics, as we saw this past year due to the impact of COVID-19).

Experienced hire opportunities are more erratic. While certain firms, like Big 4 companies, always have open positions that you can apply to, smaller firms and MBB usually don't. You have to be on the lookout for recruitment drives at growing offices or open positions in specialized roles and be diligent with your networking.

"I found my opportunity at BCG through a lot of networking. I happened to have a friend at the firm who pointed me towards a recruitment effort, and submitted an application online as soon as I could." - Newly minted Consultant, BCG

For this purpose, LinkedIn is your best friend. One strategy that we found was common was following your target firms and their employees, especially recruiters, on LinkedIn to stay up-to-date on open opportunities.

"I followed a number of firms and recruiters from my target offices and after a while, I started to see a few posts about an experienced hire recruiting effort at Bain. I jumped on the opportunity immediately. I don't think I would've known as quickly if I wasn't leveraging LinkedIn." - New Associate Consultant, Bain and Company

Using LinkedIn to connect with current employees and build awareness of your interest is also valuable and can help you figure out what type of role would be good for you.

"For a few months I had been setting up virtual coffee chats with consultants from my target offices and used those to get connections with people higher up in the food chain. I ended up getting a message from a manager I had spoken with about an opening in her team asking me if I was interested in submitting an application." - Analytics Consultant, Deloitte

Your other best bet is to look out for events either specifically for experienced hires or applicable diversity groups. Attending experienced hire open houses both demonstrate your interest in the role and give insight into that firm's process and what they're looking for. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) networks at different firms also put on events open to interested candidates that can give you more visibility. Groups like Pride@BCG and Womxn at Bain (WAB) host networking events for interested professionals and events like McKinsey's Diversity Connect specifically target those in under-represented minority groups.

The bottom line here is that finding a role is a mix of casting a wide net, being diligent about your networking, and taking advantage of a firm's outreach efforts. You can't shine in an interview without first finding an open position!

Got experienced hire interviews?

As a former pro athlete, the approach you take to casing—breaking casing down into its fundamentals and providing a huge library of resources to drill those foundational skills—really resonated with me. The fact that I was able to earn an offer from BCG as an experienced hire in such an unusual and competitive year is largely attributable to having Rocketblocks in my back pocket -- Sarah Alexander, Professional Tri-athlete, BCG

Submitting your application (Top)

When submitting an application, experienced hires need to take a slightly different angle than the usual campus recruit. Your story isn't just about "Why consulting?" It's "Why consulting after doing X job?"

Your resume should be crafted to describe your impact at your current company, highlight your significant accomplishments, and showcase how your skill set fits in well with the needs of your target firm.

Your cover letter will also take a different tact. Telling the "why consulting now" story can be difficult to articulate. Take time to make sure you've crafted a compelling story and use the insights from your networking as the basis of your discussion.

Just like campus recruiting, though, the most important part of this process is getting your resume and cover letter actually seen by the right people.

Getting a referral

Getting a referral is a crucial step that can be a huge advantage in terms of getting your foot in the door for an interview. It's basically someone within the firm "going to bat" for you to highlight your profile and get your application in front of decision-makers.

Firms usually have either an informal or formal process for referrals:

  • Informal process: An informal process usually involves someone within the firm forwarding your resume to the recruiting team while endorsing your qualifications for the open position.
  • Formal process: A formal process usually involves an internal form submission where someone highlights your name, or something like a special link sent to you to resubmit your application to a preferred pool of applications.

Whatever the process is at your target firm, getting a referral should be a high priority, especially for experienced hires. The majority of successful experienced hires we spoke to said they had a referral from a connection within their target office.

"I applied online but also asked a connection within the office to refer me and check in on my application. I think this was a huge help towards getting my first round interview." - Newly minted Associate, BCG

Leverage the network you created when finding opportunities and attending firm open houses to find people who would be willing to take this step for you. The worst outcome is they say no, but the best outcome could be the difference between a rejection email and a first round interview invite.

The interview process (Top)

The timeline

Most experienced hires experience a similar process to campus recruits but during a much different time of the year. Experienced hire recruiting can happen at any time of the year, not just during the fall.

Because these interview processes occur "off cycle" they can sometimes last longer than what you typically expect given the length of the on-campus process. We've heard reports of processes taking anywhere from 1 month to a year and a half, though that last example was due to disruptions from COVID-19. What you can typically expect is a bit more lengthy process, typically 2-3 months of interviews, before receiving an offer decision.

Interviews structure

The typical process is not significantly different from a campus hire. An experienced hire we spoke to at BCG had a phone screen, a first round interview with two fit and case portions, and a final round of the same format. That's exactly the same as the on-cycle process. The fit and case portions are also almost identical to the campus process, except in the case of specialized hires.

But this typical process can go haywire. We've heard reports of experienced hires getting up to five interviews! We've also heard reports of more rounds of interviews than is typical, and receiving more in-depth fit questions relating to previous work.

In the case of experienced hires recruited for a niche skill set, the interviews will likely involve some sort of evaluation or discussion of that skill, which is hard to prepare for in the traditional sense of consulting interview prep.

Interview preparation

Lucky for you, the cases administered in experienced hire interviews are usually very similar to the ones given to the typical campus recruit. We at RocketBlocks have free guides that walk you through what a case interview is and how to approach preparation. There are tons of other free resources out there, too, to get you up to speed and ready to crush your cases.

đź’ˇ Shameless plug: Our consulting interview prep can help build your skills

We recommend a three pronged approach:

  • Use the best materials out there: Watching high quality example cases, getting your hands on great sample cases directly from your target firms, and using instructional MBA casebooks like this one from Darden is the best way to prepare. High quality materials in, high quality performance out!
  • Drill the atomic case skills: Cases can be broken down into a set of defined skills. Understanding what these are and targeting them helps you in the same way soccer drills help professional soccer players. They don't just play a bunch of games and hope to get better. They play a game, identify weak points, drill those weak points, and then come back a much better player.
  • Practice live, mock interviews: For both cases and fit questions, live practice is the best way for you to get ready for your interviews. Whether it be with a paid expert, a current/former consultant, or a peer, these sessions are the best way to build your casing "muscle memory" and figure out your weak points.

P.S. Are you preparing for consulting interviews?

Real interview drills. Sample answers from ex-McKinsey, BCG and Bain consultants. Plus technique overviews and premium 1-on-1 Expert coaching.