How to Break into Consulting with a Non-MBA Master’s Degree 

  • Last Updated July, 2020
McKinsey Advanced Degree. Picture shows Concentrated businessman analyzing report in his hands

After applying to a master’s degree program and completing much of your coursework, it’s a big pivot to decide to pursue a career in management consulting. 

You may feel like your advanced degree (and the money you paid for it) hasn’t paid off until you get a job. 

You might wonder if you really have the economic and business knowledge you need to successfully land a position.

But, master’s degree students can successfully transition to the consulting field and there are many advantages to doing so.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • Challenges to breaking into consulting with a non-MBA master’s degree,
  • How to know if management consulting is right for you,
  • How to position your academic and prior work experience,
  • An approach you can use to prepare for fit or behavioral interview questions, 
  • Our 6 tips on applying for consulting positions as a non-MBA masters candidate, and
  • Our 9 steps for effective networking.

Let’s get started!

Challenges to Breaking into Management Consulting with a Master’s Degree that’s Not an MBA

Management consulting firms are focused on solving tough business problems, so some familiarity with business and basic economics is essential.

In addition to needing this business and economics background to solve client problems, you’ll also need it to “talk the talk” while working with clients and presenting at meetings.

There are skills such as networking that you’re less likely to pick up in non-MBA master’s degree programs that are needed to land a job in consulting. You’ll also need these skills later, once you’re working in the industry.

These considerations mean that if you want to land a job in consulting, you’ll need to put in some time to learn the concepts and skills required. 

If you’re not sure whether you’re committed or not, our article on Case Study Preparation begins with some of the benefits of a career in consulting. You can check that out.

But if you’re already convinced you want to pivot to a career in management consulting, keep reading!

How Can a Non-MBA Master’s Student Know if Management Consulting Is Right for Them

While it’s not easy to break into consulting with a non-business master’s degree, it’s certainly possible. 

Consulting firms are not looking for particular majors and no longer focused solely on business school students. 

You just need to approach consulting firms the right way. 

If you are the type of person who enjoys solving very complex analytical problems (both quantitative and qualitative in nature), working with teams, and interacting closely with senior leadership, then it might make sense to consider a pivot to consulting. 

Students should keep in mind that the problems consultants are tasked with solving are very complex–that’s why clients pay top dollar for consultants’ help. Otherwise, they’d solve them themselves. 

So if you struggle with this type of analytical thinking, consulting might be an uncomfortable field to pursue.

How Should Non-business Master’s Candidates Position Academic & Prior Work Experience

Students who have well-established careers in industry prior to enrolling in a master’s program can tailor their resume to be attractive to consulting firms by showing the recruiting team they possess relevant traits. 

The resume should show they can: 

  1. Analyze large sets of data,
  2. Work in ambiguous environments and overcome challenges in order to create significant impact,
  3. Work in team settings,
  4. Gain buy-in from senior leadership, and
  5. Are client-ready–comfortable and effective working with business leaders.

When approaching the question “Why consulting?” in the cover letter, it’s important for the applicant to not only show the recruiting team why consulting makes sense as a next step in their career, but also show that their previous experiences and roles have prepared them for a role in consulting. 

Their experience should be relevant to consulting so that the story of why they want to transition makes sense. 

They should show the reader that they truly understand what it’s like to be a consultant and that they’d add value to the team, client and organization as a whole. 

With regards to answering the question of “Why now?”, master’s candidates should show the recruiting team that consulting is the most logical next step for their career and highlight their passion to become a consultant.

The decision to pursue consulting now should feel very well thought-out. Transitioning should be a “must-do,” not just one of the options they are considering for work after graduation.

How Should Non-MBA Masters Students Approach Fit Questions & Consulting Cover Letters

When developing core stories that will answer behavioral or fit questions, master’s candidates should think about their proudest moments in their lives where they were forced to overcome a significant challenge and in doing so, were able to see/create long-lasting impact. 

If the story seems too easy or simple, then it is not relevant enough to consulting. 

Management consulting is not an easy job so the core stories that you share should highlight your ability to take on significant challenges and approach problem-solving in a very methodical, thoughtful, and effective way.

6 Tips for Master’s Degree Students Who Want to Break into Management Consulting.

1. Get some training on basic economics and business concepts. 

Khan Academy has a great course here.

2. Make sure you’re interested in solving business problems. 

Check out our page on Case Study Interview Examples and read through a few. Are these the type of problems you’re interested in solving?

3. Answer the questions “Why consulting?” “Why now?” in your cover letter. 

See our page on Consulting Cover Letters to learn the best way to do this. 

4. Develop core stories that will answer behavioral questions addressing “fit”. 

Check out our page on Consulting Behavioral Interview Questions, for more info on what they are and how to answer them.

5. Network, Network, Network. 

See the next section for tips on how to do this effectively.

6. Include offices in your home country on your list of top choices. 

Keep reading to find out why.

9 Steps for Effective Networking for Non-MBA Master’s Students

Non-MBA master’s students are hired least often for generalist consulting roles. Because of this, you really need to network with consultants at firms you plan to apply to. 

  • Do your homework. Take the time to get to know the firm before having networking conversations with consultants. 
  • Look for consultants with backgrounds similar to yours. This improves your chances of hearing back from them.
  • Have an agenda for networking calls. Prepare a list of questions ahead of the calls.
  • Don’t run over your allotted time (unless the consultant insists.) Consultants are extremely busy so be efficient and conscious of their time.
  • Think through your elevator pitch. Have a succinct way to tell someone about your background. Your story should be concise, easy to follow and it should be clear to the reader why your next step should be consulting. Show them that you have what it takes to be a successful consultant on the call.
  • Ask consultants questions about their experience. People love to talk about themselves. Also, ask for their advice on your recruiting approach. 
  • Get connected to the relevant recruiter whether that be at the school you attend if you go to a target school, or in the office(s) you plan on applying to, or both. If the recruiter isn’t familiar with you, your application might get passed over if that particular office typically focuses on the more traditional hiring streams, like undergraduates or MBAs. Some offices/firms are less open to masters students. Do research on LinkedIn, on the firm websites, and ask consultants at those firms. 
  • Look on firm websites for specialized consulting roles that match your background/experience. These roles tend to get fewer applications than the generalist role so they are less competitive.
  • Don’t spam several people at the same firm. Most emails will get forwarded to a recruiter and it is not a great look if you are reaching out to too many people at the same firm, especially if you are merely copying and pasting an email just hoping to get a response. This will actually hurt you. 

If You’re Attending a Master’s Program Outside Your Home Country, Apply to Offices in Your Home Country

Only a handful of firms sponsor visas, so do your research on this before applying and selecting office preferences. You can always ask the recruiter–they’ll tell you since they don’t want to waste either party’s time.

If you prefer to stay in the US but are open to an offer in your home country, put your home country somewhere on your office preferences (even third choice is fine). 

If there is an office listed as a second or third choice that doesn’t have as healthy of a pipeline (typically the case for international offices), they might pick you up for interviews since they tend to be more open to candidates who put them down as a second or third choice.

Most consulting firms are very global – you can always request a transfer once you have your foot in the door and have spent a year or two in an office. Just don’t mention a transfer until after you have an offer or this could hurt you.

In this article, we’ve discussed:

  • Challenges to breaking into consulting with a non-MBA masters degree,
  • How to know if management consulting is right for you,
  • How to position your academic and prior work experience,
  • An approach you can use to prepare for fit or behavioral interview question, 
  • Our 6 tips on applying for consulting positions as a non-MBA masters candidate, and
  • Our 9 steps to effective networking.

Still have questions?

If you have more questions about how to pivot into a career in consulting from a non-MBA Master’s program , leave them in the comments below. One of My Consulting Offer’s case coaches will answer them.

Other people considering a pivot into management consulting have found the following pages helpful:

Learn More About Applying to Management Consulting Firms as a Non-MBA Master’s Candidate

My Consulting Offer has helped almost 85% of the people we’ve worked with get a job in management consulting.

For example, here is how Pal pivoted from a master’s degree in chemical engineering to a job at Strategy&.

We want you to be successful with your consulting interviews too.

Schedule a free call with a member of our team. We’ll show you how to make the pivot into a job with a top consulting firm.