page title icon Why Is It SO Hard To Get Into Consulting?

People often ask me is why it’s so hard to get into consulting. And it really is pretty tricky.


Above all there are just not many roles at top consultancies.  The reason for this is simple.  On a single consultancy project, the “hard yards” that the analysts do not take that much time.  If you compare this to a law firm or an investment bank, their basic cases or M&A projects require huge number of staff hours.  And thats only to carry out their most basic bread-and-butter work. They literally need to recruit this many graduates to do the proof-reading at a law firm and the number crunching in a bank. 

For consulting, recruiters are looking for maybe only 20 to 30 students each year.  If you compare that to recruiting at Goldman Sachs or Clifford Chance, they are recruiting closer to 100.   Of those 20 to 30, some will also have their jobs on the back of internships.  So, when you apply you can assume that about 30% of jobs are already taken by students who got in the summer of the previous year. 

Role type

Due to the limited numbers, consultancy firms usually hire a single type of generalist consultant.  Therefore, if you do not fit this all-purpose general model, you might struggle.  Consultancies also want people slightly to the left or right of this perfect generalist.  That means that they probably want a certain amount of economists, engineers, a good gender balance etc.  The numbers are really against you. An investment bank whereas requires back office, middle office and front office staff for its operations. This is because consultants do not lean on their colleagues in the way bankers do.  A consultant’s project resources rely entirely on the client, whereas an investment banker needs their colleagues to help with cash flow, operations and market research to back up their work.  McKinsey can do consulting projects without ever referring to their own resources.  This would never happen at a bank.

Kchoi with more on why its so difficult!

Spare time

It is also the case that when a consultant is not working on a project their time is fallow.  In contrast, a junior banker could be working on updating the bank’s stock book or developing a pitch for a new client.  A spare consultant is a loss-making instrument for the firm.  That means that a consultancy will avoid hiring anymore consultants than it absolutely needs.

And the inexplicable…

Bizarrely, those few spots attract many more applicants than most other jobs in the financial services. Consulting is attractive and has a reputation that it requires slightly less numeracy than similar positions. This attract humanities students, making the job market even more competitive.   Of course, it is no secret that the skill-set, learning curve and exit opportunities make it the graduate’s dream, as well. 

Booby traps

Now, with those things in mind, the actual process replying is slightly different to other jobs. Other jobs have an extensive online process including psychometric and numeracy tests and perhaps even a recorded section. Consulting does all of this in addition to multiple interviews.  It is not unusual to make two or three interview trips to a single company for an application, during which you might have two or three interviews in each. 

Crucially those interviews include the infamous case study.  These can be perfected with extensive practice but they are rarely a dead cert. That means that no matter how good you are, where you might have 100% success rate on a numeracy test, a case study can trip up anybody.   Consulting truly is a hard nut to crack.

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Analyzed by Will B

My name is Will. I am a Cambridge graduate and consultant working in London. I started this website to share insights, guides, and more about consulting. Learn more about Will.