Are you a practicing management consultant applying to business school? If so, you have several advantages over the general applicant. Mainly, your success as a consultant for a major firm reveals that your work ethic, analytical abilities, and team-playing skills are probably better than most people’s. As a result, MBA programs will likely give you the benefit of the doubt when they initially crack open your file. Similarly, if you work for a major consultancy, the adcoms won’t have to wonder about the nature and reputation of your employer. More than likely, then, as a management consultant, you have a resume that business schools will pay attention to.
The management consultant’s challenge of standing out in the MBA application
Here’s the thing: your prodigious 3.75 GPA and 750 GMAT score won’t be enough in themselves to get you into the top business schools, because as a management consultant, you are a member of one of the largest pools of would-be MBAs. You will face fierce competition in the admissions sweepstakes.
Your challenge will be even greater if you are a self-employed consultant. Frankly, admissions committees might need persuading that you do in fact run your own small business – that “consultant” isn’t just a euphemism for “unemployed.” Convince them through your essays by spelling out in greater detail the real impact you’ve had on each of your clients: describe concrete, specific accomplishments vividly, and back them up with numbers. Clearly, the self-employed consultant is an entrepreneur – with all the cross-functional, leadership, and decision-making responsibility that term implies. Make the adcoms see this and believe it.
Tips for highlighting your uniqueness in the overcrowded pool of management consulting MBA applicants
Given the number of management consultants applying to business school each year, what can you do as a consultant-applicant to stand out? Highlight your uniqueness as an candidate in every way you can. Generally speaking, your “uniqueness factors” fall into two categories:
- Professional or career-related uniqueness
- Service-related or personal uniqueness
Professional or career-related uniqueness
This might be the hardest area for you to differentiate yourself in because most of the consultants you are competing against will have experiences similar to yours. But don’t despair. Even here, establishing your professional uniqueness is eminently feasible. Focus on your or your firm’s consulting niche, your leadership experiences, and your goals.
Yes, it’s early in your career, but already, you have probably identified certain types of engagements where you shine or particular clients or industries that you feel really passionate about. Talk about them. If your resume and experiences enable you to justifiably call yourself an “environmental consultant” or a “human resources consultant,” then use this kind of differentiating language. It will help you stand out. Likewise, your firm itself might be known for a niche expertise that separates it from its competitors. Perhaps it specializes in working with government agencies or law firms, maybe it devised its own proprietary model of Porter’s Five Forces, or perhaps it was the first major consultancy to open an office in Kazakhstan. Any and all of these distinguishing features can help you create a memorable and distinctive profile.
Most consultants early in their careers have not yet had opportunities to demonstrate real leadership. If you have had such experiences (e.g., you personally led a team of three junior associates in cutting a Fortune 100 firm’s customer service response times), make the most of them in your essays. How did you motivate your team to work 100-hour weeks to meet the client’s absurd deadline? When the client complained about one team member’s solution, how did you resolve it?
We’re not advocating that you conjure up unusual career goals just to impress the adcoms. We’re suggesting that you really examine your goals and make sure they are more than just “make partner at Bain.” Many of your fellow consultant-applicants will make exactly this mistake: vagueness. If your goal is to create a new kind of “middle-tier” consulting model for small-cap firms or to apply a new analysis model in an untried part of the world, by all means, spell this out. Provided your goals make sense given your experience, “niche-ifying” them in this way can enhance the seriousness and distinctiveness of your application.
Service-related or personal uniqueness
This broad group of uniqueness factors can encompass everything from your hobbies and personal obstacles you’ve overcome to your volunteer work with civic, philanthropic, religious, or sports organizations. Many times, applicants who have trouble making their professional experiences stand out find that their community activities or personal backgrounds come to the rescue.
For example, if your job hasn’t given you leadership experiences, your three years on the board of your community’s dance company can certainly show your comfort with management responsibilities. And even an applicant whose consulting engagements have a “plain vanilla” quality can greatly compensate by focusing on their difficult childhood in Zanzibar, their poetry awards, and their previous career as a baseball umpire.
Moreover, you can use your community activities and personal interests to dispel the stereotypes that adcoms might unwittingly apply when evaluating your application. Management consultants, for example, are sometimes perceived as relying on “biz speak” cliches to communicate ideas and focusing only on the “big picture.” Your community involvements could counter these negatives by showing your ability to care about the real-life problems of everyday people and to speak about them in simple, human terms.
Finally, though any community involvement is great, even this category can sometimes unintentionally convey a “rubber stamp” message if adcoms keep seeing the same community organizations in application after application. So, if you have volunteered substantial time with an organization that’s off the beaten path or perhaps even an organization you founded, consider giving extra emphasis to these experiences in your essays.
Get the help you need
Management consultants have many natural advantages when applying to business school. However, the sheer number of high-quality candidates from this traditional MBA pool makes it imperative that they capitalize on every one of their uniqueness factors. But knowing which factors to focus on and which stories will best highlight these factors can be a challenge.
Accepted’s consultants can help you reflect on your experiences, select the anecdotes that best portray your singular self, and weave them into compelling essays that grab the admissions committees’ attention.
Former associate director of admissions at the Yale School of Management, director of MBA admissions at MSU Broad, and consultant at Cardiff Business School in the United Kingdom, Esmeralda Cardenal has guided Accepted clients to acceptance in various graduate programs since 2014, including MBA and master’s in finance, business analytics, data science, sustainability, and public policy. Want Esmeralda to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!