The consulting resume
Ana Carolina Sousa, ex-McKinsey AssociatePublished: September 25, 2022
One of the most crucial ways to land a great consulting role is by building a strong resume. If you are starting from scratch, you can find a functional guide on how to craft your resume in this RocketBlocks post. In this post, we will help you tailor your resume to what consulting recruiters are looking for, so that you stand out as a candidate and get to the interview phase.
We will go over the main goals we want to achieve with the resume, what is key to have (and to avoid) in it, and we will break down the process of designing your own resume in a way that best sells you to the consulting industry. We will provide practical tips to help you review your own resume, including analyses of actual resumes and how to make improvements.
The goal of your consulting resume
The ultimate goal of your resume should be to demonstrate to a consulting recruiter that you are a great fit to be a consultant. Simple as that. The good news is that, whether you are fresh out of college or have some professional experience in a different industry, it is still very possible to show you could be a great consultant.
This is a great pro in comparison to other roles in which candidates with experience in that similar role always have the advantage. Here, you don’t have to have “consultant” as a job title in your resume to immediately take the lead, but you do need to demonstrate you are strongly skilled for “consulting work”. Let’s understand what that means.
What is it to be a consultant (Top)
I am sure these next paragraphs will not come as news to anyone applying to consulting, but let’s deep dive together on what consultants do, because this will give us the key things to highlight while writing your resume for applications.
In very short words, consultants are hired in teams to work on projects, which intend to solve a problem of an organization. At times, the client knows exactly what they want done, and they hire a consulting firm to figure out how to do it and/or help implement it (e.g., a digital transformation). In other cases, the client does not know what needs done, but they know what kind of problem they are having. In this situation, as a consultant, you are given a specific problem and must find out how to solve it (e.g., client supply chain constraints are driving costs up, so they would like to improve supply chain processes). And, lastly, there are times when consultants get hired by a client who does not even know what kind of problem they have, they just know of a symptom they want to address (e.g., costs are at an all-time high and it is not clear what is driving it). Here, you would expect to define the problem, break it down until it is possible to work on it to find solutions, and, at times, to continue with the client to implement said solutions (e.g., a holistic transformation with cost saving targets to all company functions). This RocketBlocks post breaks down the work that consultants do in more detail.
Did this sound incredibly broad to you? Good! It is meant to be broad, and here is where your advantage lies when building a consulting resume. Most work you have done in the past is probably similar to what consultants do. Even if you just finished college, there is a good chance that you have worked on a project with a team to find a solution to a problem. Our job now is to understand how to describe your work in your resume in a way that highlights what consulting recruiters are looking for.
Now that you have a better understanding of what consultants do, let’s summarize what it is that you want to demonstrate in your resume to impress consulting recruiters.
- Consultants solve problems. Consultants are the ultimate problem solvers. Consulting firms sell nothing to their clients other than very smart brains that can drive impact. It is important that your resume clearly demonstrates you are smart (aim at brilliant), and that it is filled with examples of problems you addressed in your past work/school experiences. In consulting, we always focus on the big picture, so try to keep your “problem” examples as high-level as possible (e.g., save costs, increase revenue, improve processes, reduce turnover). Also keep in mind that every part of the problem-solving process counts: diagnosing a problem, breaking it down, running analyses, building action plans, implementing solutions, managing results. Look for each piece of it in your resume.
- Consultants drive impact. No company in the world would spend millions of dollars in hiring a renowned consulting firm, if it was not a widely known fact that these firms return 2-3 times their project costs in financial gains to their clients. Your resume must be entirely focused on the impact you have driven where you have been before. Numbers will always speak louder than words (saved $200K, improved profitability in 12%, redesigned 30 processes). Where it is not possible to even roughly estimate a quantitative impact, you definitely want to add a strong qualitative impact (e.g., retained a big client).
- Consultants work in projects. While this sounds like a detail, it is not. Projects have a beginning, an end, and a goal they aim to achieve. They need to be managed, and they are always different. These are aspects of your work that you want to emphasize in your consulting resume. It is important to demonstrate you have experience working on/managing projects, how you have achieved your goals in them, and most importantly, that you are comfortable with not having a routine. If your past work experience was routine-heavy, there is no value in describing said routines under that position in your resume. Instead, attempt to explain what problems those routines solved for your past organization, and highlight the impact of such. We will cover examples of this in the last section of this post.
- Consultants are leaders, owners, and ambitious. Leadership is an absolute must-have skill for consultants. Even as business analysts, consultants are expected to lead small workstreams on their own. They are expected to be proactive and have autonomy in their assignments. And, another widely known fact, consultants are expected to be ambitious in their careers, and grow fast. So all these features (leader, owner, ambitious) must come across very clearly in your resume. It is possible to do so, even if you have never led a team, and we will show you how with the examples in the last session.
- Consultants face the client. One of the biggest fears of a consulting recruiter is to hire a brilliant, very skilled candidate, that simply is not ready to be facing the client on a daily basis. Consulting firms literally live off the relationships they build with their clients, and while senior partners are the ones who ultimately own those relationships, analysts and associates that work with them daily certainly have power to make it or break it. This is the main reason why consulting firms do so many intense rounds of interviews, and the main reason why they use cases. While your resume is not the main tool they will use to assess if you are client-ready, if you have experience in client-facing roles, this is a huge pro that you want to make shine in your resume.
Designing your consulting resume
Now that you have a clear idea of what you are trying to sell, let’s get to action. If you already have a resume, you can start with it, and just add anything you might be missing as we go. But from here on, I will assume you will be starting from scratch.
Step 1 is to write down all of your relevant work experience, even if at first it sounds irrelevant or unrelated to consulting. From extracurricular projects during school to sports team captain. From startup CEO to retail manager. From military to nonprofit volunteering. I swear there is a very good chance all of this will help you with step 2, and that unconventional experience is still very relevant to consulting recruiters.
Step 2 is to write down problems you have solved and results you have achieved within those experiences. Try to somehow quantify all of them, even if using rough estimates. Use bullet points to list down more than one relevant result from each role.
Step 3 is to prioritize your experiences. If you have too many things listed at this point, it is time to select which ones are more impressive to consulting recruiters. Or, in other words, which ones had stronger impact / more significant quantitative results. Keep in mind the five things stated in the previous section that you want to demonstrate as you select them out.
Step 4 is to fine tune the wording you used before proceeding to add them to your resume – consultants speak a very particular language. Use action verbs like lead, create, own, design, drive, grow; and impactful adjectives such as client-centric, cost effective, process-oriented, end-to-end, optimized, scalable, sustainable, world-class.
Key things to include and avoid in your consulting resume (Top)
Let’s get practical. Here is a list of things you want to add (and things you do not want to add) in order to best sell your application through your resume.
Add to your resume:
- Professional experiences that delivered impactful results (ideally quantitative), in bullet-point format.
- Leadership experiences – this can be leading a work team, a sports team, a project, a small student organization, anything. It is important to add results here too.
- GPA, GMAT scores, and/or any other relevant achievements that demonstrate you are brilliant.
- Any relevant experience you have in client-facing roles.
- Any experience participating and/or managing projects.
- Other relevant things you did that demonstrate you are smart, good at delivering results, client-ready, comfortable with ambiguity, and thrive without routine. Good examples for each of these key features are, respectively: GPA, quantitative outcomes of your experience, exposure to clients or senior leadership, conducting creative processes, and any experience that was project oriented.
- Adverbs: assertively, holistically, proactively, efficiently.
- Verbs: lead, create, manage, drive, design, enable, leverage, grow, implement, optimize, re-engineer, streamline.
- Adjectives: client-focused, process-centered, end-to-end, world-class, cutting-edge, agile, scalable, sustainable, cost effective, goal driven, impactful, effective, efficient, strategic, actionable.
- Nouns: benchmark, impact, result, target, innovation, best practice, action plan, alignment, best practice, data analysis, market research, initiatives, methodology, model, improvement, solution, synergy.
Remove from your resume:
- Description of routine tasks you used to perform, or any other professional experience without a result/impact associated. Remember to transform every experience into a bullet-point format.
- Excess. Less is more, so if your resume is too long or wordy, you definitely want to prioritize your experiences and remove what is excess.
- Style. Note from the resume examples below that consulting resumes follow a traditional format that is standard to the industry. Stylish formats, uncommon fonts, and any colors, images and graphics are in general undesired.
Consulting resume examples (Top)
Now let’s see how it all plays out with some examples. In this section, we will analyze four resumes: three from undergraduate candidates and one from an MBA candidate with significant professional experience. The green color coding indicates strengths, yellow areas could be improved, and red areas need improvement.
Consulting resume #1: Undergraduate candidate
- Wording is good, using individualized action verbs to start each bullet, and focusing on activities relevant to consulting.
- Emphasis on consulting skills, such as financial analyses, financial planning, product development, and market research.
- Less is more. 4 years of experience should yield less bullet points than this. Though there are some cases where a job could have more bullet points, 2-5 bullets points is the ideal number for someone early in their career.
- Mainly, there are several bullets focusing on routines or activities without impact or results. Those should be removed or rewritten (yellow: rewrite with result focus; red: support activity/routine, so remove).
Consulting resume #2: Undergraduate candidate
- Successfully presented the research experience in an attractive way for consulting recruiters by using strong-impact achievements and highlighting analytical and project management skills.
- Focused on results, not on means. Use of numbers whenever possible.
- Separate section for leadership – like mentioned before, any roles count and can be very helpful, as long as you emphasize achievements, impact, and your own success in leading.
- Can improve with adding customer-facing experiences; the only similar item is the poster presentation, which would not be as appealing to consulting.
- It can apply the “less is more” principle by removing activities with less impactful results.
Consulting resume #3: Undergraduate candidate
- If you are attempting consulting straight from undergrad, this is a strong example of how to capitalize on your summer and extracurricular experiences to build a consulting resume.
- It checks all the boxes we have mentioned in the post: problem solving and analytics, leadership, project-oriented, customer-ready. Great wording, ideal amount of bullets. And without a professional career outside of college yet!
Consulting resume #4: MBA candidate
- Most bullets have impactful achievements, and there are a good amount of quantifiable results presented.
- Leadership, project management, and analytics skills come across very clearly.
- Use of strong action verbs in each bullet.
- Many of the bullets are routines without impact associated. The ones marked in yellow are consulting oriented and could be rewritten with a results perspective, and the ones marked in red seem to be purely routine ones and those are not attractive to consulting recruitants.
- Some of the bullets are written with too much information that could either be eliminated or rewritten in a summarized way. For instance, the Zenith Media experience is a strong one, but it is written as you would tell it in an interview. A resume bullet does not need to go into this much detail.