I have recently become interested in management consulting, and I realized that I’m at a disadvantaged position without an MBA degree. When I applied to grad schools, I did not realize that in the US, many companies (management consulting in this case) almost recruit exclusively from MBA or PhD programs, especially during economic downturns. I believe I have the right qualifications (GMAT Quant 99 percentile, background in economics, Ivy League school master and 3-year investment banking), and I believe if I had wanted to (or foreseen the need to…), I would’ve been able to get in a top MBA program.

But when I asked a BCG recruiter if I could join the coffee chats they organized for B-school students, the answer was “no”. Booz and Deloitte only have positions in public consulting open for my school, both of which require US citizenship, which I don’t have. Up to now, I have only received a McKinsey internship interview invitation. A lot of companies don’t have formal internship programs for non-MBA master students.

I’d like to maximize my chance of getting in the industry, but I’m a bit frustrated that I can’t get through to HR. What would your advise be for someone like me? Send unsolicited emails to HR?

One thing I learned when looking for my first job was to network and to reach out to alumni. However, things work differently at grad school (and in the US…) – B-school alumni are not accessible to a non-MBA student like me. I feel that I’ve hit a wall, and I almost wanted to start applying to business schools. Although on the other hand, if I do manage to become a consultant, I probably would enjoy my current degree more – I am interested in business, but I am also interested in international relations and public policy and there aren’t that many places where you can learn these things.

In Europe and Asia, it’s not imperative to have an MBA to enter the industry. It almost seems to me that doing an MBA is a “signal” a student sends to employers – he/she is not only qualified, but also serious about consulting by investing 2 years worth of time and money in a degree that tends to lead to a job in consulting. Or is it that most of the companies simply don’t have the resources to cast their nets wider, except McKinsey?

My Reply:

Most firms recruit MBA candidates because 1) it’s easy, 2) the success ratio is higher. Many firms, the main exception being McKinsey, just aren’t set up to recruit non traditional hires on a formalized and systematic basis. This will vary somewhat by region, and I sense BCG is doing a lot more of this in certain parts of the world than they used to.

I’m not surprised you are hitting a wall with Human Resources. This is because HR people in consulting firms are often assigned to specific recruiting efforts – one person in charge of Harvard, one person in charge of Stanford, etc.. So when you apply with a non-traditional background, it is often not in anyone’s job description to evaluate your candidacy.

Also, even if they did like your application, they would have to set up an interview schedule just for you. When they recruit at a school, they will set up an interview day for dozens of applicants. It’s a lot more efficient on their end.

That being said, what should you do?

The simple answer is to network. Use every resource you have to meet actively working consultants in the firm you’re trying to get into. This DEFINITELY works… and it works VERY well. But it is a lot of work.

Basically, request “informational interviews” from friends of friends… or friends of family members. If you set a goal to do 20 of these, I’m pretty sure you will get a first round interview (assuming a strong consulting resume and a correspondingly strong consulting cover letter) out of it. I know many people who have taken this route successfully.