Top 5 Consulting Resume Mistakes by Ph.Ds, Postdocs, and Other Advanced Degree Holders

Bridge to BCG and McKinsey Insight are events aimed at Ph.D.s, engineers, med students, JDs, post-docs, interns, practicing MDs or residents. These magical BCG and McKinsey consulting seminars are crash courses, extended job interviews, and sell weekends all rolled into one.

If you get invited, show up, and stand out, you’ll put yourself in good stead with the folks at BCG and McKinsey, and will be in a perfect position for the guaranteed interviews that are one of the many prizes of these fabled weekends.

The Bridge to BCG and McKinsey Insight workshops offer a comprehensive look at consulting and a great inroad to one (or two) of the most prestigious firms in the world. Opportunities like this don’t come along every day (actually, once a year for a choice few and never for most), so if you do want to transition into consulting, you need to make the most of it.

As we’ve been working our butts off to get your applications ready for these extended workshops, we noticed a few mistakes that kept appearing over and over again, so we put them in a list of the 5 most common so you don’t  fall into the same traps.

5 Resume Mistakes Advanced Degree Holders Should Avoid At All Costs

1 – Focusing on the irrelevant

We get it – you’re smart. Like, really smart. All power to you for your impressive brain, but all those brains don’t mean your resume is good.

When we say good as opposed to impressive, here’s what we mean: will it make top firms want to hire you?

Allow us to elaborate.

Have you ever seen someone solve a Rubik’s Cube in 6 seconds? It’s very impressive.

But if you’re one of the chosen few who can solve a Rubik’s Cube in 6 seconds, should you make it a featured section of your resume? NO.

Similarly, you’ve been studying some really nuanced thingy-ma-thingy [fill in super impressive scientific term here] for 4 years, and have become a world-renowned expert in it.

However, you grandmother still has no idea what you do because you can’t explain it in a simple way.

If you’re applying to a consulting firm, especially a top firm, you need to highlight the commercial applicability of your experience. If you’ve gotten to the point where you’re an advanced degree holder, you definitely have a lot of experience. You probably even have a lot of impressive experience to those in the know. However, is it (for example, knowing how to do a Western blot in your sleep) going to make you an asset to the firm you’re applying to?

If not, don’t include it.

2 – Assuming “we accept academic resumes” = Free for all

Again and again (and again and again and again), we receive 3-4 page long resumes detailing every piece of research and lab work a particular person’s done, lists of every conference they’ve attended, what they had for lunch 3 days ago, and an-in depth review of their favorite physics book. While this is all great, it isn’t what consulting firms are looking for.

Imagine meeting someone in an elevator and introducing yourself to them, only for them to launch into a 5-minute rundown of their entire life? Yawn.

For top level consulting firms, a business style resume is a must. Even if they say an academic resume is acceptable (and they do – McKinsey is the worst offender here), don’t take them at their word. Knowing how to read an academic CV and wanting to read an academic CV are two very different things. A business style resume will never, ever put you at a disadvantage.

A business style resume is short, clear, easy to read and screams, “I am going to add value to your business because I have multiple dimensions and clarity of speech within a limited format!” On the other hand, academic resumes say, “I know lots of crap about lots of very specific stuff. Isn’t that awesome?”

Remember, when you’re applying to a top firm like McKinsey or BCG, you’re basically asking them to pay you the best rates available in return for your work. One of the first things they’re going to be looking for is evidence you can speak, think, and act in a way that isn’t totally at odds with high level business.

Can you guess a really easy way to show you can do that? That’s right, a business style resume that focuses on 3 key areas: Academics, Extracurricular Leadership, and Experience.

3 – Too long and not metrics-driven

“I really wish that resume had been longer” said no one ever.

We’ve yet to receive a resume that doesn’t have potential (the elephant trainer wanting to join consulting was a stretch, but still we built a cohesive story for him). It’s just that a lot of the resumes we do receive are long-winded, full of technical language, and fail to pinpoint the key issues.

Consultants, by nature, want to get to the beating heart of things immediately and they like to use metrics as their road maps. So when you start acting all APD and saying, “I did this, this, this, this, this and some of this, followed some of this and then a little bit of this,” the person reading what you wrote lost interest about 5 minutes ago.

Ideally, you want to say, “I implemented X, which saved $Y, and made my entire department Z times more awesome.” It’s not that words are bad. Far from it! It’s just that metrics and metric-driven conclusions are what consultants live for.

Plus, a 1-page resume from an academic is like a magical unicorn. You can’t sacrifice the quality of your content, but you sure can put just the most important stuff on 1 page and make it super easy on the reviewer.

4 – Too little focus on teamwork

When you work as a consultant, you have to know how to work well with others. It’s a must. Any good consulting firm is going to want to see evidence of that running all the way through your resume. As an advanced degree holder, the chances are you spend your fair share of time locked away in a room or a lab, poring over books and research journals, only to translate your hard work into killer grades.

Even doctors and lawyers have this plight. You’re working “with” people – but really more alongside them. You aren’t on a team together – just in the same office.

While being around people in and of itself is good, and working well independently is good, neither is good enough. Being the brilliant loner just won’t cut it in consulting. Consultants hunt in packs – that’s just the way it is, and top firms only hire individuals who can demonstrate they know how to be team players.

If you’ve done some extracurricular community work, for example, don’t just brush over it. Give it some real estate on your resume. Include something about the work the organization does and maybe something about your role within it.

Make sure you include entrepreneurial experiences, extracurricular leadership, community work, teaching – anything that says that you have the ability to relate well to others, resulting in (naturally) some fireworks and lots of productivity. You’ll appear more interesting from the get-go.

5 – A lack of 3 dimensions

Among the fitness community is a phrase that fits in perfectly with this common mistake: “Friends don’t let friends miss legs day.”

Have you ever seen someone who clearly spends all of their time working on their upper body and totally disregards their legs? “Listen, bro, I don’t care how solid your triceps are, you have the legs of a baby goat and you look top heavy.”

To be an ideal consulting candidate, you must be well-rounded, like an NFL running back, and not one dimensional, like a vain gym rat. This is why just having really great academic scores or academic experience on your resume won’t land you a top job.

The ideal candidate has a mixture of top-notch academics, relevant and commercially applicable work experience (ideally in the private sector, even if just for a few weeks or months), and great extracurricular leadership experience too (not just teaching, but a different type of experience like student council or Alternative Spring Break).

All of what we said may sound daunting – and it should be. Like moving countries, moving industries involves learning new customs, norms and language. Every single resume we receive has potential, but APDs most often overemphasize things that won’t impress the person reading it, skip over the stuff that’s going to make you stand out and miss your chance to make an impression.

Get your resume up to solid gold standard and grab a professional edit from MC here.

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Filed Under: consulting recruiting