One of the most traditional of all MBA jobs is consulting. It’s one of the few industries where the degree is pretty much essential for both employment and advancement. And it’s an industry that has a hungry appetite for MBAs from world-class schools, year in and year out among the most aggressive recruiters at business schools.
Which top business schools produce the most consultants? The answer is an especially interesting one because the prestige management consulting firms are among the most discerning and demanding hirers of MBA talent in the world. Most MBAs hired by the consulting industry face a parade of challenging interviews in which their brainpower, analytical ability, stamina, presence and interpersonnel skills are put to the test.
The industry, led by such prestige global brands as McKinsey & Co., Bain & Co., Boston Consulting Group, and Deloitte Consuling, typically swallow up more MBA graduates in any given year than companies in any other industry. And they also dangle some of the highest starting salaries and bonuses before MBA graduates.
So which prestige schools are on top of this list? If your default answer is Harvard or Stanford, you’d be wrong. In the U.S., the number one supplier of brainy talent to the industry happens to be Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Last year, nearly four of every ten graduating MBAs (39%) accepted jobs in the consulting industry, and Kellogg’s top four employers were all prestige consulting outfits. McKinsey brought aboard 53 MBA hires, Boston Consulting Group, with 38 hires, Bain & Co. with 37, and Deloitte Consulting with 23. The next largest employer, Citigroup, hired not much more than half of Deloitte’s intake of Kellogg MBAs–12.
Only one non-U.S. school matched Kellogg in sending 39% of its grads to consulting. Is is INSEAD, with campuses in Fontainebleu, France, and Singapore, where exactly the same percentage of MBAs from the school’s 10-month program took consulting jobs (see table of top schools on next page).
How have Kellogg and INSEAD, two of the world class leaders in MBA education, become the largest single suppliers of talent to consulting? The answers are telling and provide powerful insights into both these schools.
You can trace Kellogg’s rise to prominence and its popularity among consulting firms to a decision in the early 1980s to interview every MBA applicant. Those admission interviews allowed the school to gain an edge in assessing and then attracting candidates with the best communication and interpersonnel skills in any year’s applicant pool. Year in and year out, corporate recruiters have acknowledged that Kellogg MBAs are among only a few that consistently have the best interpersonnel skills which tend to get further polish and reinforcement in a deeply collaborative and team-based MBA experience.
Even though other top schools have added interviews to their admission screens, the consulting industry numbers show that the most astute recruiters of MBA talent still recognize that Kellogg is pumping out more students whose interpersonnel and collaborative skills are well above average.
That is why 38 different consulting firms recruit at Kellogg every year. A former McKinsey & Co. partner, Betsy Ziegler joined Kellogg a year ago as associate dean of MBA programs and dean of students. During a 12 and one-half year stint at McKinsey, she hired hundreds of MBAs for the consulting firm which would assess candidates on everything from smarts to professional presence. “When we interviewed Kellogg students,” she says, “we were never worried about personal impact and for me personal impact embodies the teamwork part but also what you are going to do in front of a client and how you are going to carry yourself and behave. Our Dean Sally (Blount) uses the term ‘high aspirations and low ego and low fingerprint.’ And that remains true.”
In consulting, the MBA is a must-have degree for young analysts who want to move up the ladder to partner status. Many of those analysts come to the industry with undergradate degrees in business or economics. They’re often wanting to get their ticket punched and to do so as quickly as possible. INSEAD’s advantage here is both its prestige as one of the best business schools in Europe along with a program that allows a student to get an MBA in a mere ten months.
An extraordinarily high percentage of INSEAD students come from consulting, get their MBAs and then return to their consulting firms who pay for their degrees. In fact, INSEAD says that four of every ten grads who go into consulting are returning to their pre-MBA employers.
Of course, delivering the highest percentage of graduating MBAs into consulting is one story. Another perhaps more fascinating story is which schools most successfully convert their students into consultants.
In most cases, it is difficult to track the percentage of consultants brought into a specific MBA program versus the percentage who graduate and go into the profession. That’s largely because schools typically publish data for the latest incoming and and the latest graduating class–not before and after-data for the same class.
Using available, albeit imperfect, numbers, we calculated what you might call “the converstion rate”–the percentage of graduating MBAs who enter the consulting industry versus the percentage who had left consulting to become MBA students–varies from school to school. Not surprisingly perhaps, the highest “conversion rate” occurs at Kellogg where 23% of the incoming class comes from the consulting industry but 39% of the graduates become consultants–a conversion rate of 16 percentage points. In other words, Kellogg is producing 70% more consultants than it admits.
At INSEAD, the conversion rate is 13 percentage points and the school is turning out 50% more consultants than it admits. That’s somewhat less than Oxford’s Said School at 63%, or the University of Chicago’s Booth School at 62%, or Stanford at 59%.
Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business is also on the high end. Some 21% of the incoming class came out of consulting, but 33% of the graduates enter consulting–a conversion rate of 12 percentage points. That’s a function of the superb quality of the raw material going into Tuck, but also of its general management curriculum taught largely by the case study method. And like Kellogg, Tuck is known for its deeply collaborative and highly engaged student culture.
One of the biggest surprises might well be Emory’s Goizueta School of Business. Only 10% of the school’s Class of 2011 had pre-MBA consulting experience, but 31% of the graduates in the class ended up in consulting. The conversion rate? A whopping 68%, just two points shy of Kellogg’s conversion rates.
On the other hand, Columbia Business School is one of the few schools–and perhaps the only prominent school–to turn consultants away from the industry in which they once worked. Some 22.3% of the Class of 2011 ventured into the consulting industry after graduation, but 28% of the same entering class hailed from consulting. So Columbia graduated 20% fewer MBAs in consulting than it admitted and enrolled. How come? Partly it’s because of the school’s renown for finance which tends to overwhelm all other industries, including consulting, leading consultant career switchers to sign up for finance jobs.
At Harvard Business School, some 24% of the Class of 2011 went into the consulting industry, versus 20% of the Class of 2014 left the industry to pursue an MBA from Harvard–a conversion rate of just four percentage points.
Leading B-Schools For Applicants Who Want To Go Into Consulting
Source: School employment reports for the Class of 2011; http://poetsandquants.com/2012/06/22/b-schools-that-churn-out-consultants/ by John A. Byrne
Notes: All statistics for consulting industry, not consulting function which tends to be slightly higher. Conversion to consulting shows the percentage increase of students becoming consultants over the students who enter with consulting industry background ** Only median numbers available