If your heart is set on McKinsey and you're wondering 'Should I get an MBA?', the short answer is no – you do not have to have an MBA to break into McKinsey. Here at Management Consulted we’ve known candidates, and have even coached a few, who got offers with McKinsey with no MBA. Some of them were just out of undergrad, others had Advanced Professional Degrees (JD, MD, etc.), or were experts in their field.
So does that mean you have the same chances at breaking into McKinsey with or without an MBA? Not exactly.
You may not have to go to business school to get an interview with The Firm, but an MBA is still the best way to break into McKinsey.
McKinsey’s reputation for creating CEOs and other business leaders speaks for itself. There’s a long list of McKinsey alum who are proof that a career at McKinsey will take you places. And there’s more than one reason why the most prestigious management consulting firm has been a top destination for MBAs for 75+ years.
5 reasons why an MBA is great for breaking into McKinsey:
1. You’re making it easy for recruiters
McKinsey recruits MBA candidates for 2 reasons. #1, it’s easy – they’ve set up a recruiting system that’s super efficient for them, targeting the best schools, and #2, the success ratio from target MBA programs is higher, meaning they have to spend less time and money on finding candidates they want.
When you’re an MBA candidate at a target school, you’re already part of the recruiting pool. You’ve been automatically granted access to the secret recruiting system of the firm.
2. You’re demonstrating consulting skills
With an MBA from a top-tier school, you're demonstrating that you have the baseline skills and characteristics required in a consultant, like the ability to multi-task, awesome prioritization skills, and a results-oriented approach.
3. You've answered the "Why consulting" question
When candidates apply from random backgrounds - imagine a dual degree in philosophy and math, a stint with Teach for America, and a summer internship with the State Department – their applications beg the question, "why is this person interested in consulting?" With an MBA, you've already answered that, so the focus is less on "why consulting?" and more on "why our firm?"
4. You've created a valuable network
You'll make some great connections in your MBA program. Lots of the people you went to school with will one day be leaders, experts, and business owners in their own industries. Your access to these people gives McKinsey access to them - as future clients.
5. It’s been proven. McKinsey hires MBAs – it’s a fact
McKinsey is among the biggest employers of MBA graduates, hiring over a thousand MBAs globally each year. Brian Rolfes, McKinsey's global head of recruitment, says MBA hiring is integral to McKinsey's recruitment strategy.
We just covered all the reasons you should get an MBA if you want to work at McKinsey, but what if you're not in that boat? Maybe you want to break in after undergrad, or mid-career? What are your options then?
3 ways you can break into McKinsey without an MBA:
Access your network to connect with current or former McKinsey consultants. Use tools like LinkedIn to hone in on people you know who know McKinsey-ites. Your goal is NOT to ask for a job. The key is to get advice – recruiting insights, resume feedback, info on which offices are hiring, which locations are more competitive, etc. Leverage insiders to get your application in front of a recruiter.
2. Strong undergrad education
McKinsey does have an undergrad recruiting program, so if you stand out as an exceptional undergrad, you’ve got a chance at joining the firm as a Business Analyst.
In your undergrad application, you'll need to demonstrate: Pedigree – Ivy League and other top brand name schools like Stanford and UC Berkeley are best; Degree – Economics, Business, Finance, etc. show your ability to be analytical. Unrelated degrees can be a much harder sell (Spanish, Communications, etc.); GPA – The higher the better. You won’t even be considered if you’re below a 3.5; Leadership – Something very impressive, like Student Body President, prestigious awards and honors, etc.
3. Expertise in a specific area
Obtained either through an advanced degree (JD, PhD, Masters) or through work experience in a particular field (health care, medical, operations, law, IT). In both cases, you’re demonstrating that you’re an expert in your field. Just having worked in an area for 10 years doesn’t make you an expert...the time itself must be backed up with expertise. The more you know about something very few people understand, the more attractive you’ll be to the firm.
This article was first published in April 2013 and updated in January 2021.